I feel like I have been cooped up all winter, watching it rain, watching the Warriors on a record-setting roll, and giving in to the allure of idleness. To put a purpose to getting out, I took the first of – hopefully – several drives along the San Andreas Fault between home and the Carrizo Plain. It is a part of California that I don’t know.
But it wasn’t until I started driving down Highway 25 that I realized how cooped up I had been. I rolled – buttoned? – the windows down, slowed the truck, and soaked in the spring day. The grass was bright green, just starting to go to seed in some areas, and the oaks were flaunting their new growth, a green that is so green, so bright, that it seems artificial.
Running along the fault, it was pretty hard to not think about earthquakes and how they affect the people who live here. Maybe a confession is due, I like earthquakes. I know that earthquakes kill people – lots of people all over the world, although not so many in Northern California and other parts of the developed world – and cause damage, but nobody I know has ever been hurt and the damage around here has been minimal. I like earthquakes because they remind me that the Earth is Alive.
By Alive, I mean Alive, as in living, not just the opposite of inert. When I drove back home, I detoured to the western gate of Pinnacles National Park just to marvel at what seems to be an incongruity but is really an artifact of the Aliveness.
Pinnacles is a strange little National Park. First, it is small and pretty inconsequential with only about 200,000 visitors a year – for comparison, the Grand Canyon has almost 5,000,000 visitor a year – and yet it was made a National Monument about eight years earlier than the Grand Canyon. Even this week, in what the Ranger said was a busy week because of Spring Break, the entry gate was close and we were told to pay, on the honor system, by dropping our money into a collection kiosk.
The Park is here because the rocks are very strange and, I am guessing, when it was first made a National Monument, nobody knew why. Now we know that the rocks were formed by a volcano on the San Andreas fault about 23 million years ago – that is about 20 million years before Lucy – a little north of Los Angeles. Because the volcano was directly over the fault, the western part of the volcano was on the Pacific Plate and the eastern part was on the North American Plate, and because the fault was and still is moving, the western part of the volcano was dragged about 200 miles northwest over the ensuing 23 million years. Now one large chunk of that volcano is in Northern California and the remainder is still in Southern California. Although I don’t think anybody knew it at the time, Pinnacles is a perfect San Andreas Fault demonstration.
Heading north, back to civilization and home in the fading light, the Wildness turned into a manufactured landscape. The Earth is our home and we are trying to bend it to our will, but here, along the San Andreas fault, it is obvious that is impossible. The earth is Alive and still bats last. This spring afternoon, it is starting to bat flowers.