For many years I saved and collected rocks. This was especially true during my years at About.com, when I put together a large set of photos and explanations to help people learn about rocks.
When About.com dropped my contract in 2014, I’d reached “peak rocks.” My office had rocks everywhere, and my closet had still more. I’d even started putting rocks back where I collected them.
(I’d normally add a bunch of links to my old site to document those statements. However, I learned last week that About.com will take down its Geology site entirely in yet another desperate attempt to gain altitude. Some of my articles have already disappeared from Google searches. Soon my work of 17 years, and the work of my hapless successor, will disappear except from archive.org, the internet’s “Wayback Machine.” So fuck ’em.)
Some of my rocks are sentimental favorites. Other rocks, I’ll look at it and realize I can’t recall where it’s from or decide that’s too far away to visit again, and I decide to set it free.
My go-to place for that is Devil’s Slide, the sedimentary version of Orodruin, where Frodo Baggins went to destroy the One Ring. There the Pacific lies ready to grind every stone into sand. And above the old Route 1 roadway, now a county trail, are spectacular exposures of what the sand will become in the geologic future.
I went there last week. On a somber day Devil’s Slide is very fitting for this purpose. Marine haze shuts out the world. The coast is under noisy, vigorous attack. The whole place is falling into the sea, which makes the textbook “rock cycle” a visceral reality. You feel a bit wary about the roadway itself.
Offshore is Point San Pedro, made of the same rocks. Geologists have determined that those rock beds have been overturned.
Anyway, here’s where I stand. I take my rocks and fling them toward the waves. Most of them fall short, but that’s OK, they’ll make it down to the surf soon enough.
One rock was this piece of coal I once found in the yard, dating from the days when our homes had coal-fired furnaces. I think it was from Utah, because California coal wasn’t this high quality.
Given the popular feelings about shipping Utah coal through Oakland, it was the right time to make a statement by destroying this specimen.
As a geologist, I adore coal. It’s a fascinating storehouse of carbon from the distant past. As a respecter of history, I honor coal’s fundamental role in the Industrial Age. Coal saved the forests from being turned to charcoal. When I was young, my family once burned coal in the house. But its time is over. Except for scientific research and historical reenactments, coal should be left in the ground.
I support Oaklanders’ efforts to stop commerce in coal. I just don’t endorse every statement they’re making. Specifically, coal dust from rail shipments won’t cause asthma or cancer; it’s only a nuisance. Smoke from burning coal is what causes asthma and cancer, and that will happen somewhere else. I oppose burning coal, and causing asthma and cancer, anywhere on Earth.
All I ask is that people do the right thing for the right reasons. It’s important for the long term.