A wonderful poem by Tom Hennen, titled “Report from the West,” contains the following:
“Answers only dull the senses. Even answers that are right often make what they explain uninteresting. In nature the answers are always changing.”
Is there a connection between seeking answers and seeking control? Quite apropos for me to think about, for to classify, categorize, figure out in a systematic way — in other words, to find answers, is my yang to nature’s yin.
Near home, I was walking one morning and saw three starlings on barren ground. They were intently picking at the soil. Perhaps they were seeking seeds or insects. Or perhaps they were ingesting pebbles for their gizzards. Regardless of that answer, it made me wonder exactly what geologic formation they were seemingly eating, which is the same formation I sweep from my patio each morning — my local geology.
I loved learning it is the Chinle Formation, sands and gravels left by large, braided rivers approximately 225 million years ago. A short distance from where I saw the starlings is an outcropping composed of large rock chunks. This is the Shinarump Member of the Chinle — coarser deposits hardened by minerals into a kind of cap rock. Lichens thrive on it. And a younger section of the Chinle, nearer the river, contains blue clay, a layer of striking lavender-gray.
Blue clay is hardened volcanic ash from the volcanic activity along the western edge of the continent (pre-California and Nevada) as it broke away from Pangea. The ash then blew inland, landing in parts of Utah and Arizona. It expands when it gets wet, creating challenges for the building of structures. Houses are often built upon piers in order to accommodate the shifting foundation.
It’s a tricky balance, all this — retaining spontaneous wonder while pursuing detached answers. As my senses and imagination forage on the Chinle, I feel the richer for it: the rocks and soils formed nearly a quarter billion years ago intermingle with European starlings, ancient West-coast volcanoes, electric orange and green lichen, bird digestion, and steadying piers into the earth.