A Couple of Hellbound Apostates Visit the Wichita Mountains

If you were expecting or even – God forbid – hoping for another rant, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news: I think I need to give it a rest for a while. I’ll say only this before taking my leave of that somewhat continuous, reiterative and baleful project: because of the way fundamentalist religious dogma with all its patriarchal connotations warped the members of my family for generations, I’m genuinely sorry I was born into that family, and somewhat resentful as well. That’s a pretty heavy thing to say, ain’t it? I have always tried to treat my son in such a way that he won’t feel about his father the way I feel about mine. Some of you who read this know full well what I mean because that’s the way you feel – and chances are, religious dogma played a role in it. Those of you who can’t imagine what it must be like to feel that way, also don’t know how lucky you are to have dodged such a bullet by a fortuitous accident of birth.

 

Now, on to brighter things. On Friday, I met my friend Nicole King (whose beautiful, thought-provoking and touching essays you’ve probably encountered on this blog) for a long-overdue visit to the Wichita Mountains in southwest Oklahoma. The Wichitas are a fascinating igneous province whose history is quite unlike that of any other mountain range known to me. It’s a series of granite outcrops that trend roughly east-west for some sixty miles from near Lawton to a bit beyond the appropriately-named town of Granite. They aren’t large as mountains go: the maximum topographical relief is probably no more than 1700 feet or so. On approaching them, one is immediately struck by the fact that there are no foothills: the massifs simply rise directly out of the surrounding plains. This is, to say the least, unusual, and there is of course a good reason for it, which I’ll get to eventually. (One will not discover that reason by reading the Holy Bible.)

 

After lunch at the celebrated restaurant in Meers – a charming establishment that occupies a ramshackle collage of old mining structures and serves up wonderful food and delicious locally-brewed beer in 22-ounce bottles – we headed up into the mountains to enjoy that great proliferation of wildflowers that has followed in the wake of unprecedented flooding in this geologically-fascinating region. The three hours we spent kicking around up there afforded a golden opportunity to revisit some of the unusual features of one of my favorite places on Earth.

 

The granite of the Wichitas has been dated to early in the Cambrian Period, about 524 MYA give or take 1.2 million either direction. That’s a very good date, established and corroborated by a number of radiometric “clocks” – various minerals (especially zircons) contained within the granite that incorporated radioactive isotopes into their structure at the time the magma chamber that produced that granite was slowly cooling under miles of overburden.
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An Interlude with an Atheist: Why I Collect Fossils

A brief outing/collecting trip this morning to an abandoned zinc mine near the base of the Arbuckle foldbelt near Davis, Oklahoma followed by a visit to an Ordovician-Period fossil site a little higher up the side of the anticline prompted me to think anew along the following lines:

 

The semi-chaotic stash of rocks and minerals at my house can no more properly be called a collection than those tons of materials that followed me like a bad penny between various jobs and domiciles over the course of past decades but are no longer in my possession owing to divorces, career moves, misplacement and reluctant abandonment. They are not now and never were a collection in any sense of the word that implies responsible curatorship: they are and were an accumulation of heavy, space-consuming chunks of Earth’s crust. True, they are more nearly organized at present (that is, sorted into labeled boxes) than they ever were before or ever again will be, but their sheer tonnage has most likely sealed my fate: I will eventually die in Norman, Oklahoma, for no relocation will ever again be possible.

 

I do occasionally ask myself why I do this.

 

Far be it from me to cloak with protestations of loftier motives those base impulses that actually drive me to do the things I do: I’ve always been something of a packrat, and my immediate surroundings are perpetually cluttered with scraps of lumber, discarded lawn mowers, glass bottles, rusty hand tools, bricks, lengths of twine, rope and electrical wire, railroad spikes, bolts and other curios I’ve picked up from beside the road and from piles of refuse: the detritus of civilization come home to rest with a human tumblebug (I am a paradigmatic Arkansan to the core, cinder blocks and all). My house is also littered with shells from various beaches, the cast-off skins of cicadas and snakes, countless seed pods, cones, dried flowers, leaves and fungi, driftwood, bones and teeth of every description, and most any other inviting thing I’ve had the (good?) fortune to stumble upon in my wanderings. (During one three-year period of my life, I collected so much desiccated scat from the trails in the Mark Twain National Forest – a blessedly short-lived fascination – that I could almost have opened my own turd museum.) And I haven’t even mentioned the books – not a library in any meaningful sense, but certainly an enormous accrual. The more of them I give away, the more that come home to live with me. It could well be that my rock collecting habit is no more than a subset of this more general impulse. But I think it is more.
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