A Geologic History of Northern Arizona, with Dogs
Hence the sudden slip and quake, shaking my brother out of bed.
Hence the long mineral seam where the canyons creak.
Hence the bent, weird walls where we used to walk in the old cities.
The Early Earth
But none of this began in the old cities.
This began where the dogs began — this began in the earth itself.
There was a time when antiseptic waves washed a white seafloor. No known life then lived: the waves swept back and forth in silence, boiling above the crumbling trenches of a subduction zone. All was obliterated: the seafloor churned into the earth and burned upwards.
What there was we would not recognize.
The air was a poison.
The rock was heavy with bands of black iron.
The earth was uninhabited and alone. For millions of years, it turned over on itself in incremental units, anonymous and unnamed under a protean sky and awash with the reflected white light of a still-new moon.
Eventually, blue bacterial colonies proliferated at the surfaces of the sea.
They moved upon the water.
They formed in its film and oils.
They bloomed in the saline and sunlight, expelling oxygen.
Over time, volcanic arcs arose; they cut the sky with black smoke. Each arc swung at another, making archipelagos, until consumed by a continental crust. Even then, they rose — forging foliated mountain ranges, depositing green ore and iron.
Dogs began to stir in the pits of the earth.
Dogs began to smile and speak, saying:
Time to get up!
Time to unclog our eyes!
Time to ingest uncut minerals and muds!
And they snapped their mouths in excitement.
The earth pushed magma at them — it climbed through faults and the dogs felt its seething heat in their bones and bellies. They smiled. They twisted towards that heat and licked at its light until it disfigured the ends of their tongues. Then, their mouths hot, they chewed through the planetary slag that enclosed their ankles and bodies and escaped, slipping into fissures or else rupturing the rock to form fractures, stubbing it with black tongues and teeth.
Laughter echoed where they ate.
It shook the surface soils above them, dislodging rocks.
Hence the swell of heat in the black jack trees.
Hence the pitter-patter beneath the silver streams.
Hence holding our hands against the quake until we leave prints in the interiors of the earth.
But the dogs did not leave prints in the interiors of the earth.
They paced and panted in its inelastic vesicles and vugs, seeking rifts in the rock, seeking the sun. Monoclinic crystals cracked and sparkled in the light of their blistered mouths. Copper veins shimmered. The dogs looked up at the metamorphic rock and sniffed for oxygenated air.
We’re close, they said.
Above them, the blue blooms of bacteria illuminated the surface of the earth.
The atmosphere was shifting in its chemical composition.
The earth was beginning to rust.
Hence the hard water stains in washcloths.
Hence the old erosions.
Hence the infestation of red strata in rock.
The Great Oxidization Event
There was a time when the blue blooms of bacteria formed a biofilm over exposed sediments in the shallows of the seas. The water lapped at the lines of the shore and the bacteria lapped at the light of the sun as it passed over them, fermenting their extra stores for energy in the periodic dark when only the distant stars shimmered.
The earth cycled through the seasons: oxygen levels dipped and rose in increments; iron oxides drifted down beneath the waves and settled in the anoxic mud. The seafloor was red with rust. And the dogs were licking at their lips in anxious excitement, digging towards the churning surfaces of the earth.
Hence the stilts that still hold up our houses.
Hence the pitched pine in a pile beside the backdoor.
Hence the truth that is written in the rocks, the truth that tells us that even our monuments and mountains will fall.
And our mountains will fall.
Continental Assemblies and Sedimentary Sequences
There was a time that the earth moved against its own skin of soil, grinding down the steep slopes of mountains. The earth reduced itself — it became an even embankment of quartzite rocks and red sediment under an encroaching sea. Then the earth settled again into stillness — its land was locked together, its sharpest stones rounded out by the slosh of a pink sea on a pink shore.
But its center was still filled with dogs. Inside, it still burned.
The earth opened into rifts and shifted into new continent formations. It stretched into basins and ranges until it broke — then it tore itself apart like a predator, scattering its own entrails everywhere across its flat, splayed self.
Every rock was red.
Every rock was hot with internal fire, burning in the open air or under western, shallow seas.
Only the durable quartzite and crag resisted the erosive waters and remained unchanged.
Bacteria crawled out of the crust and began to eat at each other. For the first time, they took complex forms: they became archaic sponges; they became chordates; they became trilobites. They armed their mouths with hooks and dragged smaller animals through open throats.
And the earth was not finished with itself: eventually, the new continents collided. Ancestral mountains and rivers rose. The mountains frothed with hot rock and magma, steaming over the smooth soils, casting shadows in the inhabited sand.
Each time the earth pulsed, the mountains made themselves higher.
Each time the earth pulsed, the dogs snapped and scraped at the mountains’ black roots, attempting to dig their way into the open air. Their snarling upset the earth. Its valves convulsed and collapsed; its valves became clogged with cold, once-molten rock. It obstructed every passage out, encasing the dogs inside of itself.
The dogs whined, biting at each other in the close confinement.
Let us out! they barked. Let us out!
But the earth was not listening — it was making new, monumental formations.
The rivers ran down from the mountains, thick with water and old ice.
The rivers ran down from the mountains, scouring out the soils and stones. They wound through sandstone and shale, cutting the earth into alluvial canyons and cliff faces, weeping in rock joints. They carried materials down from the mountains until the waters ran dry and even the seas receded.
Then there was nothing but wind.
Then there was nothing but the imprint of the rivers’ passage.
Hence the hard erasures of information.
Hence our grasping back with trowels.
Hence the dry-mouthed memory of mineralized water and what swam in it.
Eventually, dunes moved over the dry and empty earth.
They made a massive sea of shifting sand. The southwestern wind blew them in one direction and then turned them back on themselves, redepositing the sand in cross-set currents, making its oldest layers into a stone.
Small rodents skipped between burrows.
Small beetles stacked dung.
Every animal made tracks in the unstable sand.
Then, a cataclysmic wind wiped the dunes and their inhabitants away.
It was then that the dogs began to emerge out of the earth. They danced and squatted amongst the new rifts and upheaval, staring at the stars and saying,
That is where the road will open!
That is where the road will go!
A red dog was among them. It raised its red head and began to bark.
Hence hands held over my ears.
Hence hands held over my eyes.
Hence my refusal to walk alone to the water well, to the test site.
The Formation of the Petrified Forest and the Ruin of Pangaea
The dogs made their noise and proclamations; the earth stretched and split.
It pulled itself apart, making new land masses and boundaries, making the modern continents. Oceans opened in the rift valleys, frothing with salt and sediment and sea life, and the dogs swam from shore to shore, diving at primal fishes or attacking the animals that they observed in the littoral sand.
They scattered over the old forms of the modern continents, vomiting feldspar, creeping into sinkholes to sleep.
They pissed on the earth, claiming new territories.
All the while, they barked and shouted. It’s ours! It’s ours! they said. It’s always been ours! Then they gathered in small circles. Some of the dogs fought, snapping at each other with dirty teeth. Some sat and wagged their thin tails. All stared upwards at the sky. A new star, they said, a low sound rolling through their throats. Let’s see where a new star will be born.
They brought a cataclysm down into the earth.
Astral matter slammed the earth, evacuating the rock at the impact site.
A wind rose — it wrapped itself around the earth and turned the sky into a descending shroud of dust.
No animal could breathe.
No animal could see the sun.
But the dogs were dancing in it, eating the mineral ash out of the air.
Hence the heaviness of certain rocks.
Hence the broken lithodendrons in the walkway.
Hence our pause when a black cloud blots out the sun.
The Dominance of Dinosaurs
But not all was lost.
New animals arose out of the ash fall, in spite of the red dominion of the dogs.
The new animals ate each other; the new animals grew fat on fish. The rivers slugged, spilling into the north, and the new animals walked there, leaving tridactyl prints and broken claws in the soft strata of silt.
Eventually, the rivers ran dry. They sparkled with shallow, shifting sands. Then, they formed cross beds and turned to stone, sometimes sleeping under a periodic sea.
At the shorelines, swamps blackened. A rot came, consuming everything.
Then the asteroid fell —
It obliterated the new animals.
It pocked the earth’s crust with rare elements.
It sank into the internal earth, ejecting molten masses and shocked rock, and the dogs crept through the burning stone, their eyes and smiles alight with an old fire.
Hence the eyes that open in the night, watching.
Hence the rocks that take the shape of teeth.
Hence the still circulating heat and wreckage of that famous die-off.
The Return of Tectonic Activity and Human Exploitation of Geologic Resources
In the asteroid’s aftermath, the coast crept under itself and broke along the beach.
Its brief compression warped the overlay of earth and activated the old faults, raising the plane of a plateau, raising the white tusks of mountains. Rivers ran north and east until the land began to collapse. Then the rivers reversed, carving cross-cut slot canyons across the rock.
The earth reorganized its plates and spat out the spiked rinds of volcanic rock. The rivers ran off the cliffs of the plateau, eroding the earth. Hot rocks ate their way to the surface and smoked. Volcanoes erupted under each rock, spreading their smoke and ash flows, engulfing life. Ephemeral lakes pocked the earth where limestone accumulated, making holes and alcoves.
Some of the dogs turned to soot.
Some of the dogs sank into the water.
Some of the dogs swallowed up the glossy earth and vanished into its vibrations.
Only their voices lingered, saying,
Now we know our way out.
Now we will come up again whenever we want.
The world revolved. The sun rose and set in repetitive, red waves.
Humans began to cluster along the coastlines of the continents.
Humans began to walk along the rims of the old ash circles, where the fire had run into the water.
Their children came closer to the exposed pulse of the earth and watched the way craters broke. Some scouted the rivers. Some stood upright in the dust and saw the earth for what it was: a mineralized being, aching with the weight of itself. They built brick houses and they, too, ate into the earth, carting its clots and innards out into the sunlight.
Hence the dog’s tooth in the sand and soil.
Hence the smelter-stink, even now that the copper is gone.
Hence the snakes in the garden grass.
about the author