Saturday, January 2, 2016

Oh, Lovely Rock

The recent earthquake epicenter was only a few miles from here. I woke to hear the last rattles only, but then our home is firmly set upon solid rock and in other softer places it was more dramatic. It got me thinking though, about the nature of the larger foundation we walk upon everyday and Jeffers poem 'Oh Lovely Rock'* which has been a favorite poem for years. Often I find myself photographing, admiring, and attempting to understand our complex rocks, their kinds, origins and complex twists and folds. These islands in the Gulf of Georgia were formed thousands of miles away, - ancient coral reefs, volcanic ash sediments, sandstones, granites -, all rafted here over immense time periods on the Pacific plate and smeared against the continental plate as their plate conveyor belt was subducted beneath the continental one. In that process they were folded, tilted, cracked and metamorphosed. To see rock is to see drama, seemingly frozen but in reality still underway, still bumping along and rattling to earthquakes. Only because our time is so short, individually and as a species does all this seem permanent and set in stone.

What Jeffers does in his poem, and why I admire it, is to step beyond the science, the geology, and feel “its intense reality with love and wonder”.We are humans and have the capacity to both reason and to love. Oh, lovely rock!

*Oh Lovely Rock
We stayed the night in the pathless gorge of Ventana Creek, up the east fork.
The rock walls and the mountain ridges hung forest on forest above our heads, maple and redwood,
Laurel, oak, madrone, up to the high and slender Santa Lucian firs that stare up the cataracts
Of slide-rock to the star-color precipices.

We lay on gravel and kept a little camp-fire for warmth.
Past midnight only two or three coals glowed red in the cooling darkness; I laid a clutch of dead bay-leaves
On the ember ends and felted dry sticks across them and lay down again. The revived flame
Lighted my sleeping son’s face and his companion’s, and the vertical face of the great gorge-wall
Across the stream. Light leaves overhead danced in the fire’s breath, tree-trunks were seen: it was the rock wall
That fascinated my eyes and mind. Nothing strange: light-gray diorite with two or three slanting seams in it,
Smooth-polished by the endless attrition of slides and floods; no fern nor lichen, pure naked if I were
Seeing rock for the first time. As if I were seeing through the flame-lit surface into the real and bodily
And living rock. Nothing strange...I cannot
Tell you how strange: the silent passion, the deep nobility and childlike loveliness: this fate going on
Outside our fates. It is here in the mountain like a grave smiling child. I shall die, and my boys
Will live and die, our world will go on through its rapid agonies of change and discovery; this age will die,
And wolves have howled in the snow around a new Bethlehem: this rock will be here, grave, earnest, not passive: the energies
That are its atoms will still be bearing the whole mountain above: and I, many packed centuries ago,
Felt its intense reality with love and wonder, this lonely rock.

                                                  Robinson Jeffers

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