California Literary Review

Bedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology by Lauret E. Savoy, Eldridge M. Moores, Judith E. Moores

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April 11th, 2007 at 11:08 am

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Bedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology
by Lauret E. Savoy, Eldridge M. Moores, Judith E. Moores
Trinity University Press, 352 pp.
CLR Rating: ★★★★☆

Geological Wonderings Down Through Time – An Environmental Primer

Only an ignorant or obstinate member of our species would try to deny the impact of geology on life. But where to begin when a reader wishes to explore the thousands of titles written on this many-layered subject. An excellent starting point is the book Bedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology.

How do we understand the natural forces that literally shape our world? How, over time have we attempted to explain sometimes spectacular, sometimes mysterious events? As we consider the effects of devastating incidents like the recent tsunami in southeast Asia, Hurricane Katrina, and the Pakistan earthquake, this book attempts to put these natural forces into the context of the planet’s larger history.

Ancestral Pueblo ruins, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona

(Photo by Lauret Savoy, reprinted from Bedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology, by permission of Trinity University Press)

The editors have done a credible job of selecting from the works of 65 writers including the usual high-quality suspects: Rachel Caron, Wendell Berry, Ursula K. Le Guin, Charles Darwin, Annie Dillard, and several each by Barry Lopez and John McPhee. Writers of international note include Pablo Neruda, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, E.M. Forster and Nikos Kazantzakis.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all:
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill –
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star charts
On the inner walls.

These seemingly simple yet deceptively complex words from the poem Of Rock and Stone by Charles Simac set the tone for Bedrock. Or perhaps this by Hikaru Okuizumi from his poem The Stones Cry out – “Even the smallest stone in a riverbed has the entire history of the universe inscribed upon it” provide a thematic hook for Bedrock. The selections are divided into sections that range from Of Rock and Stone to The Work of Ice to Deep Time, Faults, Earthquakes and Tsunamis, On Mountains and Highlands, Rivers to the Sea and Wind and Desert. Each of these chapters starts off with an excellent and unique black-and-white photograph illustrating a given section’s concept followed by a few pages of editorial introduction concerning the stories, words that capsulate what each one is focusing on. At the end of the book there is also a section that contains succinct biographies for each contributor, something I found helpful in expanding my awareness of an author’s work that I was not familiar with. Novelists, poets, artists, anthropologists, traditional elders, philosophers and naturalists come together to create a geological portrait of the Earth – from the violence of earthquakes and erupting volcanoes to epochal patterns in stone and the sinuous flow of rivers – all of this combines to provide an insightful examination of the planet.

The book is edited by Lauret E. Savoy, Eldridge Moores and his wife Judith E. Moores. Savoy is professor of geology and environmental studies at Mount Holyoke College and the coeditor of The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World, and coauthor with Gary Griggs of Living the California Coast. Moores is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Geology at the University of California and the author of several major books on geology. He was the subject of John McPhee’s book Assembling California. He lives with his wife in Davis, California.

River-sculpted Vishnu Schist, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

(Photo by Lauret Savoy, reprinted from Bedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology, by permission of Trinity University Press)

The entire collection is book ended by portions of two of Gary Snyder’s poems – Yet Older Matters:

A rain of black rocks out of space
Onto deep blue ice in Antarctica
Nine thousand feet high scattered for miles
Crunched inside yet older matter
From times before our very sun
and Earth Verse.

While the predictable author selections are necessary and appreciated, surprising picks like James Joyce – Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ivon Doig – This House of Sky, John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath, Mark Twain – Letters From Earth and the redoubtable Pliny the Younger – Account of the Death of Pliny the Elder give the book an engaging accessibility, especially in light of the inclusion of not-quite-so-well-known writers like: Kofi Awoonor – The Breast of the Earth, Vikram Seth – From Heaven Lake and a wonderful poem by Lucille Clifton titled The Mississippi River Empties Into Itself, a portion of which reads as follows:

…every water
is the same water coming round.
everyday someone is standing on the edge
of this river, staring into time,
whispering mistakenly:
only here. only now.

Bedrock is a geological and, by the slightest of extensions, literary environmental primer. This meant in the best sense of the word. No matter what level an individual is at in his or her degree of natural world understanding, this book will provide new information and plenty of ideas and concepts for consideration. While some of the selections did not appeal to me, and this is purely subjective, the majority rung true and tied nicely together. Bedrock expands an individual’s understanding of the Earth’s ecological processes and of how humankind across traditions, past and present, has experienced the physical world. By learning to understand that past and present more fully, we are better able to bring about an environmentally sound future.

The book appropriately closes with the aforementioned poem by Snyder “Earth Verse:”

Wide enough to keep you looking
Open enough to keep you moving
Dry enough to keep you honest
Prickly enough to make you tough
Green enough to go on living
Old enough to give you dreams

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