Toad in the Hole

August 25, 2006

Rockin' Roles

When we took our jaunt up the Sonoma coast the other day, we found ourselves hunting for a pace to sit down and have lunch. We found a very obscurely marked spot called Russian Gulch, just north of Jenner; it was a gravel parking lot, two battered picnic tables, and a (clean) outhouse. The main attraction seemed to be a short trail to the beach, through a thicket of willows and aspens and mostly following a dry creekbed.

Few birds there -- downy woodpecker, scrub jay being oddly quiet, goldfinches zipping overhead, wrentit in the scrub uphill. We had lunch and took that path through the woods to see what was there.

I kept stopping to look at the rocks in the creekbed. A varied bunch, with apparent serpentenite, granite, um shist?, and (here's where my technical vocabulary breaks down) red stuff and shuny white stuff and black stuff and interestingly streaky stuff and one thing like a jelly donut, dark finegrained stuff completely enclosing grayer speckled granite, conveniently broken open so I could see the cross-section.

Streambed rocks and beach rocks start to look like narrative after a long enough look. Serpentenite forms under the ocean, at a serious depth but not below it, and in some weird way incorporates water molecules (or so I'm told) without being perceivably wet or oxygenated ot hydrogenated. It has lots of other minerals tied up in itself, notably too much magnesium (IIRC) for most plant to thrive on, so it makes soils that lots of very localized California endemics use because there's not so much competition from the "normals."

There was lots of serpentine-ish rock in that streambed, along with the volcanic stuff (granite, e.g.) and lordknows what else. What a set of journeys, from deep sea to uphill , from deep earth to the crystallizing air, and back down in a roll that rounded off their sharp bits, until they fractured and gained knifelike edges which would be rounded again by next winter's rains concentrated into this little creek, and so on over and over until they reached the sea and its counterforces

breaking wave, rock

to be tumbled and rounded some more.

beach gravel

There they lie, for now, each story next to its neighbors', a concatenation of accents from more distances than mere surface-dwellers can imagine.

Some of these plum-sized stones lie in matrices that speak of even stranger journeys, embedded in what's evocatively called "puddingstone."

plum in puddingstone

And the rocks support plants that tell other stories, more immediate, like a buckwheat that gets enough to thrive in so unlikely a crack -- and even has neighbors there.

buckwheat in rock

And a surprise if you know the plant: yards from even brackish surface water, apparently miles from freshwater, a plant I still call Peltiphyllum peltatum because that name's too pretty to lose, "Indian rhubarb," something that grows on streamsides in the woods.

peltiphyllum on gravel

And of course it's saying that the creek's still running underground in August, still moving fresh water to the willows and alders and their understory companions and beyond, right out to the ocean.

Posted at August 25, 2006 06:23 PM