Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Highway8A Introduction I

April 16, 2001—Reno, NV
About to leave for Spencer Hot Springs.
Mostly sunny, cool, breezy.
I am a geologist, and these are going to be notes that I write in little journal books I carry around. ...a whole lot of them are going to lack any structure at all, but if you know a geologist, you know that that is the way he expresses things. Notes: there is no continuity in a geologist’s life, not in an active, busy one, anyway.”
Rick Bass, Oil Notes
When I started this book — which I've variably titled Mojave Exploration or Highway 8A depending on which section I was writing — I wrote longhand on yellow sheets of lined paper, typed stream of consciousness on an old Mac powerbook, jotted shorter notes in spiral-bound journals, kept scribbled references from myriad phone calls on torn bits of paper, and penciled carefully in one or two of the little yellow field books that geologists are known to carry around out in the field. And so I sat, one blustery spring day, getting ready for a trip to the hot springs, while at the same time trying to get started on starting, trying to write some kind of introduction or prelude to a book consisting of scattered pieces. It was my idea at the time that I'd write every now and then, as though mapping in some field area, writing notes that might go with the stories that were already partly written, but which are even now incomplete. And so I began that day with a field book, a book designed to be carried securely in the side pocket of a Filson vest while out in the field — "the field" being that great beyond where we geologists go to do our fieldwork. And so I began....

This field book, the one I am writing right in now, is being written from the perspective of my future; it is being written by my future self, my self as an old woman — an old geologist — an old geologist with a long memory. My long memory has mixed the past, present, and future into one package the way some geologic rock formations have been pushed, shoved, and squeezed — even sliced and diced — into stratigraphic or tectonic packages where every resulting contact between individual rock formations involves some kind of geologic activity: deposition, mountain building, erosion, folding, and faulting. Because of my geologic memory — my intricate, enduring memory — most of the things I’m writing about happened long ago when I was young and clambered over the rocks and hills freely and easily: like a mountain lion or coyote, like a desert fox. Now I’m a silver fox with the long memory of an elephant, the memory of an ancient mammoth.

Most geologists have long memories. We have to. It’s not just so we can retain enough brain cells to survive the beer, gin and tonic, and tequila sunrise nights that so often go with being a geologist, though it does help to have enough brain cells to begin with so enough will remain later. The long memories most geologists have are primarily concerned with knowing how to delve into what has been called Deep Time.

Most people think the past is gone — that it is not present, that it is not now. This now, however, becomes past before I can even say “now,” and so maybe there is no present. Whatever. What I know to be true, is that the past is not gone, at least not all of it. It’s preserved in the rocks and in the landforms of the earth. And the past will be written in future rocks and landforms that haven’t yet been born. That’s the thing about the past — or maybe that’s the thing about the “now,” or about time — it’s all present, right now, in the present. If you’ve got a long memory like I do, all of time is here now: all the time that was past, all the time that is now, all the time that will be future, and all the time that has been imagined or envisioned as future but has not yet, and maybe never will, come to pass (see Dark Side of the Moon).

Geologists routinely work with the long, well-written, though sometimes buried, obscured, offset, or even truncated memories of the earth. Geologists work with all of geologic time: past, present, and future. For example, because of my particular geologic knowledge and experience, I could write a book called Ore Deposits of the Near and Far Future, the way some geologists write about earthquakes or volcanic eruptions yet to come. Instead, I’m writing these field notes about that long ago past. I’m writing them because I dreamed of doing so one summer day in the early 1980’s while I was driving south on Nevada Highway 8A — south from The Frontier, a place that no longer exists, toward a cabin in Kingston Canyon, where I no longer live — driving on the longest north-south straight stretch of paved Nevada road, on a highway that no longer bears its original number. On that long-ago day I dreamed of this book, and so it has come to be: that long ago past is present now, just as this now was present then.

And that's the way I began back then, in the spring of 2001, in a fit of fancy.

Related Posts:
Why Highway 8A
Single Digit Highways
A Bit about License Plates
Highway 8A: The Cutoff from Cedarville to the Winnemucca-to-the-Sea Highway

Related Asides:
A Geologist's Field Book
Deep Time

Dark Side of the Moon
Wedge #15: Ore Deposits of the Future


Dana Hunter said...

This is beautiful, absolutely gorgeous, and I want to hold this book in my hands. I want to thrust it at unsuspecting people and make them read it. It makes me want to evangelize. Simply fantastic!

Tony Edger said...

Great from the outset. I love the line: "Geologists routinely work with the long, well-written, though sometimes buried, obscured, offset, or even truncated memories of the earth."

Silver Fox said...

Thanks! I have felt a little awkward about the intro part, so I really appreciate your feedback.