Introducing Deep Oakland: The title

This post is the first of a weekly series that will summarize my upcoming book, Deep Oakland: How Geology Shaped a City. The book has eleven chapters, and each post will go into one of them. But first I wanted to talk about the title.

I was raised a Navy child, and I’ve lived in several different places, so I know about moving. When we arrive in a new city, we learn where everything is and how to get there, and that’s enough to know for us to live our lives. As we stay longer, though, curiosity kicks in and we may start to learn where things were and how they got there. There’s a deeper city beneath and behind the city we spend our days in. Clues include this odd intersection; that old home; a road’s unexpected detour; a place that developers have left alone; overgrown foundations; faded slogans on old brick walls.

Geologists do the same thing, only it’s the city’s landscape and rock exposures that they focus on. Their starting point is beneath and behind the city itself. They envision the land at other times, in different climates, with different inhabitants and vegetation.

That is to say, there are two deep Oaklands. We may never care about the geologist’s version, and they may be indifferent to our human version. Over thirty-three years in this town, I’ve learned a lot about both deep Oaklands, and I think they’re both exceptional. The human city has all the drama and events that every major California city has undergone, and geologically, Oakland has an exceptional range of features related to every major geological episode that has formed California as we know it. It has, I believe, more variety among its rocks than any other city in America. Oakland is a great place to learn about both California history and California geology.

Then there’s the subtitle, “how geology shaped a city.” The land of Oakland has been inhabited by several different waves of people. We know about the last three: the Ohlone tribes nurtured and harvested the land; the colonial Spanish staged a geopolitical drama on it; the Americans relentlessly exploited it. As I told The Oaklandside last month, “the choices that different people have made here, from the Ohlones to the Americans, depended on facts in the landscape that each have a geological story.” In Deep Oakland I show how these choices went different ways at different times, according to the cultures of the inhabitants. As Americans continue to change, so can our choices. By illuminating how things have changed, I hope to bring more perspective, and possibly more wisdom, to our future choices.

Geology is one of the things that ground me. Perhaps that’s compensation for an upbringing of regular uprootedness. The Indigenous worldview, so easily misconstrued and caricatured, for me has always meant a deep kinship with the country around my home. Although Oakland’s inhabitants will never fully regain the lived experience of the Ohlones, who continue to speak of belonging to the land, I hope to thin the insulation between us and the land we live in. That’s where the book and I are coming from.

4 Responses to “Introducing Deep Oakland: The title”

  1. Nancy Caton Says:

    When is the book due to publish?

  2. Charlotte Steinzig Says:

    I’m looking forward to the book. Beautifully written and thought through in this introduction.

  3. Mark Says:

    I greatly appreciate your implicit distinction between belonging to the land and the land belonging to us.
    It is a clear, concise restatement of what I always thought of as the best statement to come out of the People’s Park confrontations of the 1960’s, on a handbill graphically featuring a native american.

    Have you read, Hard Road West, about how geology informed overland westward migration in the 1800’s?

  4. Andrew Alden Says:

    Scheduled for mid-2023.

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