Darwin’s Mystery Strata

Penguins off the coast of Chiloe Island, Chiloe. Image courtesy maryatexitzero

There are geological mysteries in Charles Darwin’s works. I’m still reading Geological Observations on South America, off and on between other things, and there are times when I want to poke him in the chest and say, “Ha! I know exactly why that is! You see, there’s this thing called plate tectonics… and that’s why you’re seeing those fossils correlate when they shouldn’t possibly!”

Of course, he’s been dead for 130 years, so it’s a little hard to get his attention. I’m rather sure, after having sampled a broad swath of his work, that if he were alive today, I wouldn’t be explaining a damned thing to the man. He combined native genius with keen observation and a rather obsessive evidence-collecting habit, and though he scoffed at the idea of continents sailing around way back when there wasn’t nearly enough evidence to make such a thing plausible, I think today he’d be one of those scientists looking at the more intractable bits of plate tectonic theory, rearranging a few things, giving others a twist, and then handing us a revolution in understanding. It’s not his fault he lived long before colliding continents became a probability, or that evolution distracted him from his geological observations. Okay, yes, the last was his fault, but still.)

Anyway. Mysteries. Right. There are a few I can solve. There are many more I can’t. I’m not well-versed enough in the various sorts of rocks to figure out strata that puzzled him simply from his description. In Chapter V, I came across a teaser. It’s in a footnote, and in the interests of geological detection, I’ll reproduce paragraph and puzzle here:

At the northern extremity of the island, near S. Carlos, there is a large volcanic formation, between 500 and 700 feet in thickness. The commonest lava is blackish-grey or brown, either vesicular, or amygdaloidal with calcareous spar and bole: most even of the darkest varieties fuse into a pale-coloured glass. The next commonest variety is a rubbly, rarely well characterized pitchstone (fusing into a white glass) which passes in the most irregular manner into stony grey lavas. This pitchstone, as well as some purple claystone porphyry, certainly flowed in the form of streams. These various lavas often pass, at a considerable depth from the surface, in the most abrupt and singular manner into wacke. Great masses of the solid rock are brecciated, and it was generally impossible to discover whether the recementing process had been an igneous or aqueous action.* The beds are obscurely separated from each other; they are sometimes parted by seams of tuff and layers of pebbles. In one place they rested on, and in another place were capped by, tuffs and gritstones, apparently of submarine origin.

* In a cliff of the hardest fragmentary mass, I found several tortuous, vertical veins, varying in thickness from a few tenths of an inch to one inch and a half, of a substance which I have not seen described. It is glossy, and of a brown colour; it is thinly laminated, with the laminæ transparent and elastic; it is a little harder than calcareous spar; it is infusible under the blowpipe, sometimes decrepetates, gives out water, curls up, blackens, and becomes magnetic. Borax easily dissolves a considerable quantity of it, and gives a glass tinged with green. I have no idea what its true nature is. On first seeing it, I mistook it for lignite!

This is on Chiloé Island, just off the coast of Chile. And it’s intriguing. What is it that he saw? Is his description enough to identify it? Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to solve Darwin’s geological mystery.

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Good luck, geos!

The Woman Who Crossed the Cascades and Inspired Batman

I’m rather a bit in love with a dead woman. I met her in a moment of desperation, when I was running low on Dame Agatha Christie and had finished all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stuff, and still had a yearning for turn-of-the-last-century detective literature. There she was, one of the helpful recommendations on my Kindle Fire: Mary Roberts Rinehart, mystery writer.

Mary Roberts Rinehart, image courtesy Wikipedia

And I was like, meh. She was an American author. I wanted British. But I looked her up, and there were these little hints of someone I should get to know – American Agatha Christie, inspired the whole “the butler did it” meme. Also, Batman.


Well, a Batman fan such as myself can’t resist that siren song. I downloaded The Circular Staircase and got to reading. I didn’t know I was embarking on a journey that would lead from a murder scene in the billiard room of the moneyed leisure class to the crest of the Cascades, or that I would find myself enthralled not just by her writing, but her life.

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Accretionary Wedge #43: Proof That Geology Diagrams Aren’t Boring

I unfortunately missed #42, “Countertop Geology.” Everybody’s already seen the only countertop geology I have, which consists of random stone tiles placed on top of the hideous solid white Formica counters. Additionally, I was off the internets and completely missed the deadline. But I have returned for #43, “My favorite geological illustration.”

Geological illustrations, one and all, are things of beauty to me. They may be beautiful in and of themselves, or beautiful for the information they share and the understanding they promote. A good illustration helps a layperson like myself grasp difficult concepts, and makes things go ping after several paragraphs of confusing description. They can be information-dense, concise, dry as an anhydrous mineral, simple or complex.

They can also be hilarious. Observe:

Metamorphic facies diagram from The Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College*

Note the upper left. One of my geo friends on Twitter posted this ages ago (I wish I remembered who), and it still makes me giggle.

It’s also a damned handy diagram to have around when you’re trying to figure out what happens to rocks while a subduction zone’s squashing and roasting them. Who says you can’t have utility and humor?


Link to image source

Weapons-Grade Cute

Cromm quit the battlefield. He had some pathetic snark about Toxoplasma gondii and drooling dogs. Pfft. We’ve got legions of cute cats. Victory! Victory! No wonder he demurred when I asked if he wished to continue the war.

Of course, this sudden de-escalation in hostilities has left me with an arsenal and no one to unleash it upon. My readers stepped up and contributed ammunition. Starspider spent the entire day between calls searching for adorable cat pictures. Do you know how hard it is to sound serious about technical troubleshooting when you’ve just been squeeing? And then Suzanne sent me a video that put me on the floor. We’re talking weapons-grade cute here, people, and no dog-lover to unload it on.

So we’ll just follow a scorched-earth policy and post them anyway.

If this photo doesn’t melt you, you have no (metaphorical) soul:

I know. I’ll give you a moment to recover.

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Mystery Flora: Rosario Bloom

The problem with putting together posts like this is that they make me itch for summer. Right now, it’s butt-ass freezing cold (by Pacific Northwest standards), peeing down rain, and the whole region seems permanently cloud-locked. Wah.

For you, my darlings. For you, I’ll torment myself. Besides, I’ve just hit Chapter Three, “The Coast Range Episode,” in Evolution of the Pacific Northwest, and it’s nice to look at these rocks again with a slightly better understanding of their context. Still. Suffering. Wanna get out and play – and find you more mystery flora before we run out.

This solo plant enchanted me. There’s a portion of the head that overlooks Rosario Bay that’s been stripped of soil. It’s just bare rock, contorted into wild shapes by the forces of colliding plates, overlooking the tide pools. A few determined plants cling to cracks here and there. And there was this delicate peach-colored flower (or remnants of a flower – I’m not sure we didn’t come upon it after most of its bloom was gone). It’s ethereal, ghostly, a hint of subdued color amongst the dark rock.

Mystery Peach Flower 1

It looks vaguely like Mount Hood Pussypaws, but the leaves are completely different. Also, not red, but that doesn’t mean anything, considering we may only be looking at the echoes of a bloom.

Mystery Peach Flower 2

I love finding things like this. There’s something about the scrappy little survivors clinging to a cliff that makes me cheer. Life, they say, will hang on wherever it can, no matter how difficult the conditions. And plants like these don’t rudely hide the geology. They merely enhance its aesthetic value.

Mystery Peach Flower 3

Those damned lichens, on the other hand…

Anyway, there’s your mystery flora, my darlings. Those of you who want to see more of Rosario can visit here and here for more pictures of the rocks and a focus on the geology of the area, which is truly wild. I’ll leave you now with a lovely ocean view, taken from a vantage point that’s practically on top of these flowers’ heads. At our feet is the cliff to which they cling. Before us, the San Juans and the sea.


You see now why I’m chafing for summer. Oy.

This, Of Course, Means War

When I came to the FreethoughtBlogs network, I expected I’d be joining a community of like-minded individuals. There might be minor disagreements, and sometimes things might get heated, but surely no one would start a lonely little war.

How wrong I was.

Crommunist, who is a man I used to respect**, has informed the internets he doesn’t like cats, and what’s more, those of us who do are parasite-infested freaks. He’s a dog lover. Fine. Whatevs. Hey, Cromm, I’ve got news for you: my cat can beat the ever-loving shit out of your dog.

Rage Cat

Oh, yeah.

Let me tell you a little story about cats and dogs. Once upon a time in New Zealand, there was this dog that wanted to sit on the porch. Only, there was a black housecat on the porch, and that cat didn’t want to share. So the dog barked and barked and teased and feinted and raised all sorts of a ruckus. Black cat just sat there, calm as anything. And when German Shepherd, driven into a frenzy by that cool cat, decided to storm the porch, Black Cat just whipped out a paw and BAM – one strike, and that dog went away one-eyed, and Black Cat didn’t have to share his porch with no disgusting dog.*

True story.

Now, not every cat is that cool and cruel. But I’m just sayin’ that when a dog picks a fight with a cat, that dog had better be quick and had better be good, because otherwise it’s going down. That’s true in real life, and that’s true on the internet. You can slink away to the sad confines of I Has a Hotdog and try to lick your wounds. You just remember that I Can Has Cheezburger was there long before your dweeby dogs, will be there long after they’ve all slunk back to their kennels with their tails between their legs, and has a higher cute factor in one picture than your dogs have in the entirety of theirs.

Cats rule the internet. Dogs are just there to remind people how much more awesome than dogs cats are.

I will concede you otters. But cats otherwise have the field.

Considering the beating Jen and Greta will administer, it seems almost kicking a man while he’s down to pile on myself, but Cromm, you threw down the gauntlet and thus must suffer the consequences. I, therefore, have loaded my artillery and shall now commence to fire.

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Free Geology eBooks Bonanza

Since getting my Kindle Fire, I’ve gone a bit mad. You can’t turn a bibliophile loose in an environment in which books that are not only free but good are readily available and expect anything less. I’ve not been on the internet much – too busy reading all those delicious free books – but when I have, I’ve galloped the tubes looking for moar free books.

(There’s also quite a bit of delicious paid content available, but after purchasing the Fire, and with several geological excursions planned, I need to keep expenses down. And who doesn’t love free stuff, amirite?)

I figured I’d share my finds. And if you’ve got finds, you can add them to the list, and between us all, we should have quite a resource going. I can add a new page to ye olde blog once we’ve got a solid list going. All I ask is that any recommendations you make aren’t pirated. Check to make sure the copyright’s expired or that the author actually did intend to give stuff away. Also, I’m concentrating on recent stuff in this post, but that doesn’t mean you have to: if there’s a geo classic you love, link it!

E-Books Directory. I stumbled across this doing a search for something. It’s glorious. There are books, plural: meaty, wonderful tomes, all freely offered by their copyright holders. Kid, candystore, I’m telling you.

Washington State Department of Natural Resources.  This is where I found a whole, big, beautiful, wonderful book entitled Roadside Geology of Mount Rainier and Vicinity and went mad with glee. There’s also a guide to Mt. St. Helens, some guides to Washington’s wine country, and a plethora of publications dealing in all sorts of geology. Have a look at their publications list and snag what you like. Your own state geological survey probably has some excellent stuff, as well – I know Oregon’s does. Let me know what treasures you find.

Ice-Age Flood Features in the Vicinity of the Pasco Basin and the Hanford Reach National Monument. I’ve only glanced through it, but it looks delish. I snagged the recommendation and link from the Northwest Geology Field Trips site, which has never steered me wrong.

Evolution of the Pacific Northwest. I’m in the middle of this now, and my only quibble is that each chapter is a separate pdf. Not much of a quibble, is that? I’d have paid good money for this book. It’s gorgeously illustrated, the geology is top-notch, and it kept me up late the night I began reading it. Love love love.

I’m positive there’s more out there. Let us gather together the links, and fill our ereaders and/or computers to the bursting with free geology.

Cat Endorsing Evolution of the Pacific Northwest


Some Nice Geology in Tommy the Movie

Heh. Curiosity got the better of me, and I took a gallop through YouTube looking for clips from the movie Tommy. This was just before some of you started sending clips my way, and yes, I agree, “Pinball Wizard” is zany madness that the theatre doesn’t top. I don’t think anything staged post-70s can.

I found this an interesting surprise. Roger Daltrey was (and still is) hawt. So is some of the geological scenery:

I’d climb that mountain. Day-am. Any readers here know where and what that is?

Special bonus video, for those poor souls who’ve never seen the Highlander episode “Til Death,” allow me to present Roger Daltrey as Fitzcairn:

A much longer sequence can be found here. I love the interplay between Daltrey and Adrian Paul. The two of them were magic.

The Who’s Tommy runs at Burien Little Theatre through March 25th. Yes, I know, it’s not the movie – but it’s awesome and if you’re in the Seattle area, you should go see it. No geology in the stage production, I’m afraid, but still well worth your time.

Mystery Flora: “They’re This Big and Blue”

You’re racking up the successes, my darlings. Achrachno and Silver Fox finished in a dead heat identifying the flowers from Lava Butte: Ericameria nauseosa. Aspidocelis nailed the pretty purple tree: Paulownia tomentosa. That one almost made me decide to give up the Mystery Flora. It’s depressing to discover that your favorite purple tree is an invasive species. Sigh. Ah, well, ours is all alone in the park, so no sex and evil invasive bebbes. I suppose that’s some consolation.

Having recovered from that upset, I’ve decided I shan’t deprive you of flowers. The major impetus to this decision is simple: I’ve spent my productive writing time tonight scouring the Oregon and Washington Geological Survey sites, along with the USGS, looking for publications to download. That’s the thing about this Kindle Fire: it requires constant feeding. It doesn’t matter how much I pour into it. I finish a book or paper or two, and no matter how many I have left, I feel desperate for more. It’s all about the choices. I now have a fat collection of delicious pdfs and no time left for writing substantial stuff. Therefore, flora. Besides, you all seem to enjoy it.

Today’s selection comes from Hurricane Ridge in the Olympics.

Mystery Hurricane Ridge Flowers 1

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Darwin: Geologist First and Last

Shall we play a word-association game? I’ll say “Darwin.” And chances are, you’ll say “Origin of Species,” or “Evolution,” or “Biology.” Charles Darwin laid the foundation for modern biology. He changed our whole conception of how species come to be, why a single simple organism could be the root of a riotously-branching tree, how “from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.” Of course we associate him with biology. Rightly so.

But I have got a different word associated with him now: “Geology.”

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