We didn’t actually plan it this way, but this issue of Bay Nature rocks(!): Three of our articles have ample helpings of geology. I apologize if you are one of those otherwise perfectly decent nature-loving folks who claim that geology makes their eyes glaze over. Perhaps this issue will change your mind!
Count me among those who have come to love geology. First of all, rocks are the basis of everything else that goes on in nature: Without rocks, there’s no land, no trees, no insects, no birds, no us. Geology gives the land its infinite variety of shapes. So understanding the rocks and how they were created, transported, and transformed is the basis for understanding any landscape, especially one as complex and varied as the Bay Area’s.
Secondly, rocks can be drop-dead gorgeous. I trace my own interest in geology to a trip to the Colorado Plateau 30 years ago. There, the rock layers are so exposed–and so breathtakingly beautiful–that it’s impossible not to be curious about them. Here in the Bay Area, our underlying rocks are often covered in vegetation (or houses). But in the Berkeley Hills, where huge chunks of rock seem to grow right out the hillside–and along the Sonoma Coast, where ocean waves and plate tectonics have created rock gardens of unbelievable beauty and complexity–I find it hard not to ask, “Why?” and “How?” Geology is the way to scratch that intellectual itch.
But my interest in rocks (not really “geology” at that point) actually goes back to the earliest years of my life, when I was growing up in New York City, where my “backyard” was Central Park. As soon as my friends and I were old enough to escape the fenced confines of the playground, we moved to the nearby outcrops of dark gray-blue schist, which underlies much of the park. These enormous rocks were the perfect canvas for made-up games of discovery and adventure, and far superior to the playground jungle gym for testing our physical prowess.
Some 40 years later, the rock outcrops of North Berkeley held a similar attraction for my son. We scrambled together up the rocks at Grotto Park and Indian Rock, finding good routes and enjoying the views from the top. As a parent, I had to hold my breath when he climbed into a particular tight space between two boulders at Indian Rock, imagining the gruesome outcome if our active East Bay geology suddenly expressed itself. But it didn’t, and my son survived to grow up and return often with friends to these same rocks, which served as great outdoor hangouts–nearby adult-free zones with views. (Kids climbing on rocks . . . hmmm, not a bad subject for our “People in Nature” photo contest! Deadline is Oct. 20; details at baynature.org/photocontest.)
I no longer scramble up rocks with the same physical agility I had at 5–or for that matter, 45–years old, but I’m grateful to local geologists like Doris Sloan for helping me scramble around the Bay Area’s rocks with some intellectual agility, and thereby giving me a more solid grounding in the physical world of the region. I hope you also find firm grounding in the natural history of the Bay Area in this, and every, issue of Bay Nature.