Oakland geology in the Covidocene

I’ll get around to geology in this post, but there are a few things to say first.

We’re in a new period of time when the unknown looms larger than usual and all seems pervaded with uncertainty. No one knows much, even the experts whose job it is to know. The foundations of daily life are on hold for most of us, and for some of us the foundations are gone. Few of us have been tested for the Covid virus, and a negative result only means we’ve escaped for the moment. We’re told to adopt new habits, drastic ones. They’re hard to learn and may be hard to sustain. The best way I can think of them is, every thing and every person out there is molten lava. The soundtrack is “U Can’t Touch This.”

Most of us will survive this plague, but none of us will be the same. Oakland old-timers like me have seen this sort of crisis before: in 1989, when the earthquake struck. But to most of us it’s new, still sinking in.

I’m trained in science and saturated in science, and I’m friends with uncertainty and the unknown — at least, with the ideas. The reality of this much uncertainty and unknown is daunting.

The empty streets and shuttered shops are like something from a disaster movie. Some of us seem to be living in one, others living in their own worlds. The communal stroll around Lake Merritt has become fraught as runners bull their way past, panting and sweating like zombies, as if they could outrun the six-foot rule. (We’ve got to start moving in the same direction to limit our exposure to each other.) Drivers are so thrilled by the newly open roads that they rush about in their deadly machines as if they were creatures of steel themselves, reenacting the advertisements that drew them to the car dealer. (We’ve got to phase out these noisy, noxious internal-combustion vehicles.) The disaster movie is where the beggars and homeless and impoverished have been living all along.

All right; enough of that. I’m trying to write about some ways to behave I can recommend. We were told we can still go out to exercise, and the first weekend after that directive was a disaster. For some reason, people rode their deadly machines in droves to mob the hills and beaches, cheek by jowl and swapping germs, as if they thought no one else would show up. Such people have the mistaken idea that remote preserves of selected scenery are the only things that qualify as nature. It must be those fucking car ads.

I said, enough of that: the spasms of consternation and dismay, the clamor of alarm and blame. You can get that anywhere. It even infects a contemplative introvert like me.

I recommend slowing down in every respect. When the hospitals are slammed, none of us can afford an injury. When circumstances push us out of sorts, none of us can afford to freak each other out or play games. Ease up; grant slack. Repeat as needed.

I recommend staying out of the parks and straying into the neighborhoods. People who walk their own dogs are already hip to this, right? So consider taking yourselves for a daily walk, gently leashed.

Walk, don’t run. If you sprain an ankle or blow out your knee, the doctors are too busy to help. When they say we can still go out for exercise, they don’t mean stay in personal-best shape with our accustomed Fitbit workouts. Please give that up for something more physically moderate with more room for the brain: attentive motion. Stirring your limbs and looking around, not more reps and more miles, is the basis of good health.

You don’t need a state park or a wide beach, just a spot to see the spring arrive. It always does.

And we live in an exceptionally scenic place on all scales. I’ve walked every bit of Oakland, looking intently, and each block has beguiled me with some treasure: an interesting yard, an unexpected view, a genial neighbor. There are treasures in deepest Deep East.

Treasures in Maxwell Park.

Treasures as close as your nearest parking structure (with stair-climbing as a free bonus).

If you’re still drawn to feats of strength, I have a bunch of Oakland geology walks for you to contemplate, with elevation gains, no crowds and views to fill the hungriest eye. (Just go to the home page and click the Oakland geology walks category.) These shots are from a leg of the Lake Merritt in 2100 walk that I took yesterday.

And while you’re out, meet people’s eyes, put the phone away and do the six-feet thing. That is my recommendation. Oh, and take note of the rocks and the landforms; that’s where geology begins.

This pandemic is a disaster unlike the earthquake, which was instantaneous with a long aftermath, or the drought, which was agonizingly slow and over after a rainy winter. But when it comes to our fabric of mutual well-being, disasters have a lot in common. Dr. Lucy Jones is California’s go-to public authority on earthquakes. Her book on natural disasters, The Big Ones, is a string of insightful pearls with this one at the center: “We must remember that the most dangerous threat in a disaster is a threat to our humanity.”

5 Responses to “Oakland geology in the Covidocene”

  1. Charlotte Steinzig Says:

    Drenched in science, you say, but beautifully written. But it’s the deep consideration and reflection that mattered most to me. Thank you for this.

  2. Amelia Marshall Says:

    Thanks for the good advice and walkabout ideas, Andrew! When you get on public transit, remember to bring alcohol wipes /Nitrile gloves / hand sanitizer. A commitment to pro-environment principles seems to run counter to the need to use hot water, soap, and “disposable” medical products. I will be glad when the data are in as to which of us are immune to this virus.

    But, gosh, this pandemic was first predicted decades ago. The Obama administration created both an agency and a playbook for preventing us from getting to where we are now – social and economic shutdown. Fie on all those who obstruct getting the Rethuglicans out of the Senate and White House.

  3. mpetrof Says:

    Thank you. My son and I are taking bike rides up in to Tilden but even though we veer away from others I worry about our spreading germs if, or better, when, we become infecte, possibly from runners or other cyclists. Our deep breathing and vortex is probably rife with particles from our lungs. I”m considering using a mask without an exhale valve for riding to cut down on this.

    And, ah yes the motorists, motorcyclists and car drivers, are few and far between but there is definitely a predominance of those unmuffled toys out for drives. Arrgh.

  4. Terry Towels Says:

    Beautifully written, and so true.

  5. Cedrus Says:

    I grew up in Oakland from the age of 3. I am 71 years old now but now live in Europe. In so many essential and vital ways, Oakland is still home. I lived in many different neighborhoods as my mother, the single parent of an only child (me), found better and better places to live (apartments) as she, a single working mom, found her way into better paying positions within her company. She worked in the Kaiser building on Lake Merritt, starting when it first opened. She started as a payroll clerk and worked her way up to being the first woman in a supervisorial capacity working for the advancement of women and minorities. Somehow this is the grace and grit of Oakland to me, these experiences. As well as the beauty and grit of the landscape, the land, the earth. It grows resilience. It grows endurance. It grows snap and bam, chutzpah and cheek. It’s in the soil there. It’s in the bones of the hills. Long may Oakland thrive. May this “crowning virus” make it ever more sovereign in its ability to keep inventing itself into what is vital for us all. Stay well.

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