Geology's Guests

By Fireman, Janet R. | California History, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Geology's Guests


Fireman, Janet R., California History


In California, we live with geological enormity. Everywhere, we see and feel the force of geology: In the Sierra, we gaze up and marvel at the tallest mountains in the continental United States, and only miles away, in Death Valley, we cast our eyes down and marvel at the lowest point in the nation. The magnificence of geology shows itself not only in those superlatives of elevation, but in the astounding variety of our topography: the Central Valley, the deserts, the transverse and coastal ranges, and the coast. The diversity, beauty, grandeur, horrors, and risks of all this would be enough to testify to geologic enormity, but there's more: All of it lies on one side or the other of the San Andreas Fault; we live in earthquake country.

The terror, fascination, mythology, scientific fact, suppositions, and superstitions surrounding earthquakes assemble into about a 9.2.-magnitude California story. If there is but a single geological aspect of California that defines the state and its history, surely it is seismic power and abundance. The San Francisco earthquake and fire, whose centenary we commemorate this year, is "a watershed in California history, an essential turning point in the narrative of the state [for] it represents, in many ways, the genesis of contemporary California, the origin of our identification of the place as earthquake country, as a fractured landscape of devastating possibility" (p. …

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