Archive for the ‘other’ Category

The big rock show

7 March 2010

Sometimes I go out of town. Today I visited the annual show of the Mineral and Gem Society of Castro Valley, held down in Newark this year. For me, coming from the geological side of things, it’s dazzling kind of place.

mineral show

The hall was full of families, because there’s something for everybody at a show like this: raw materials and tools for the hobbyist, jewelry for those who wear accessories, fossils for the nerds, shiny pebbles for the young ones, specimens for the mineral collectors. They had a complete cave bear skeleton on display. Boulders and slabs of jade. Crystal spheres. And far-out stuff like the ultraviolet mineral collectors’ hall.

fluorescent minerals

All the light in this photo is fluorescence, including the scorpion on the left. These are from the collection of Lee McIlvaine, of San Leandro. I got a cool keychain blacklight for five bucks. You never know what you’ll find in the field.

Creek mouths

7 February 2010

Down at the Martin Luther King Shoreline Regional Park, three creeks debouch into San Leandro Bay. I already talked about San Leandro Creek; the other two are Lion Creek, below (more about it here and here), and Elmhurst Creek, bottom.

lion creek

elmhurst creek

Maybe with all our recent rain, they carried some sediment down to the bay, but probably not. Today both creeks are culverted to within an inch of their lives.

The trout ladder

25 October 2009

rainbow trout

The original rainbow trout come from Oakland; did you know that? The species Salmo iridia was first described, in 1855, from San Leandro Creek. Redwood Creek is a branch of San Leandro Creek that still contains good spawning grounds for rainbow trout, and this nicely maintained fish ladder is here to help them upstream.

The rainbow trout has been spread all over the world, of course. This wasn’t the only locality in the Coast Ranges they came from. The Oakland fish aren’t superior to other local strains. Their only distinction is artificial: they’re merely the first to come to scientific attention. Naturalists name species simply by picking an individual and describing it in detail in the literature. It’s arbitrary, but the only way to begin.

That’s as arbitrary as the creationist’s crude notion that the species is simply something uttered by God and named by Adam. Creationists don’t care to ask why populations vary in their genetic makeup—or if they do they regard it as the necessary decay from perfection of all earthly things. Variation is useless in their theory. But to naturalists, the reality of the species includes precisely the variation that the creationist downplays. Variation is the first rung in the ladder of evidence showing how the tree of life fits together as the result of evolution. The creationist’s interest in that project is only to suppress it.

Today we lump Salmo iridia as a subspecies under the larger species Oncorhynchus mykiss. Maybe God isn’t clear, or maybe our ideas need work. Maybe both statements mean the same thing.

Suiseki time again

12 June 2009

I brought up the topic of suiseki last summer, and now it’s that time again. This weekend, Saturday and Sunday, is the annual suiseki show at the Lakeside Garden Center from 10 to 5, no charge.


This was one of the stones on display at the 2005 show. It’s part of my gallery of Earth art on, too.

Unfortunately I must miss this show. Fortunately, I will be touring the gold mines of the Sierra foothills instead.

Teach your children rocks

10 May 2009

teach geology

Eldridge Moores is a grand old man of California geology, and indeed of American geology. That’s him talking about structural geology with his arms, at the intersection of Tunnel Road and Caldecott Lane in early May 2005. He played Virgil to John McPhee’s Dante in Assembling California. Lately Eldridge has been pushing the State of California to do something very simple and obvious: recognize high-school geology as a subject satisfying the lab requirement for California college admission.

It’s obvious because geology is an applied version of every other science: rocks are chemicals, geologic processes follow the laws of physics, fossils are a branch of biology. Indeed, every lab science originated in practical problems with the world around us. The world is still there, and geologists are its intimates.

It’s simple because we have a national and state consensus around supporting science, especially environmental science, with strong leadership from President Obama and Governor Schwarzenegger. Eldridge has lobbied every year for adding Earth science to the lab science requirement. This year both the National Association of Geoscience Teachers and the National Earth Science Teacher Association are joining his efforts, and so am I, and I would love it if you did too.

It’s important because you may notice that only one person in this photo was younger than 25. Somewhere between the age when we’re all dinosaur fanatics and adulthood, geology seems to get lost. Part of fixing that is giving high schools a bit more incentive to offer Earth science courses.

The procedure is to write a letter (email or paper) to the UC Academic Council, which is right here in Oakland, and other UC officials. They are laying groundwork for the next set of curriculum guidelines for high schools, and time is critical. The call to action, talking points and a sample letter are all posted by “Geotripper” Garry Hayes on the NAGT Far West Section blog. Garry puts it well here: “Earth Science has always taken a back seat to chemistry and physics, and yet is most vivid example of chemistry and physics at work in the real world. We need to support the teaching of the earth sciences at the secondary level.”

Exotic rocks

3 March 2009

exotic rocks

At the 40th Street Cut exhibit, I was speaking with one of the artists, either Keith Evans or Dylan Bolles, and I pointed to these stones and blurted a dumb geologist question that was totally irrelevant to the artwork: “Those aren’t local rocks. Where are they from?”

They are a fairly high-grade schist, something you won’t see anywhere closer than the Sierra foothills, and maybe not even there. But that isn’t important to the art, dammit. Obviously the rocks were picked for their shape and color, to arrange in the symbolic pad under the rising and falling key evoking the Key System and contrasting the mute ground of all life with the mechanical motions of civilization and the metal rails whose relation to the rugged road metal beneath them recapitulates the pounding of hammer on rock that epitomizes Man’s Attitude To Earth——

But Keith (or Dylan) lit up instead. “I got those rocks in Maine,” he said. “They’re musical rocks. You strike them and they ring, like xylophone keys.” So these specific stones allude to the sound dimension of this work, and now you know about it too. You don’t particularly notice at first, but there are soundmaking elements that fill the room with humming tones rather like the lost electric whine of the old streetcar motors.

These guys are on their game.

The 40th Street cut

18 February 2009


Apparently there are people besides me wandering my neighborhood and seeing the vanished past. This image comes from the 40th Street Cut blog, the record of an effort to put together an art show inspired by the Piedmont Avenue neighborhood. I have to say these guys know what grabs me.

The Key Route used to cut through the ridge running east of Broadway between Macarthur and CCA (which I’ve called Montgomery ridge, but on an old map it’s called Thermal Hill). This photo shows that cut before the tracks were pulled up and the cut filled in again. If I only had an hour to examine its walls!

The walls of the cut are steep, but there was no bedrock in it—that’s why the cut was made, because the work was easy. The material of the hill is stiff, well-compacted alluvium from a large, ancient fan that has had gulches cut into it by modern streams. Here the ridge was flanked by the two branches of Glen Echo Creek, one running along Broadway from the Claremont golf course and the other coming down from the cemetery grounds. (They join along Richmond Boulevard just north of 30th Street.) There was no danger of landsliding or rockfalls.

Geologists love roadcuts. In this part of Oakland they’re quite rare.

Oh—the 40th Street Cut people are having an opening reception Thursday the 18th, downtown. Details on the blog.


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