January, 22, 2009, by Peter Eichenberger

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Snow swirled into fast-running Rocky Branch at the bottom of Dix Hill, ringing with the squeals of delighted children on sleds. A geological model shimmered and coalesced in my head: Metamorphosis. “Yes, I said out loud to myself, “that’s it.”

My faith in systems, political, economic, religious, has been over the years largely eroded away. Presidents, Popes and Plutocrats. Paah! So 9/10. A dimming ember of interest in the piddly, jittery pond of humans, save what we inflict upon this home of ours, this fragile world, has led me back to a renewed, always humbling study of geology, put on the back burner apres my undergraduate years at NCSU and a general requirement class, Rocks for Jocks it was called, conducted in a cavernous lecture hall by Dr. Victor Cavaroc, an ironic and wise sort imbued of the patience perfect for a geologist.

In a state noted for a riotous diversity of minerals and geological forms, Wake County and Raleigh are built on a foundation stretching back some six hundred million years, a minuscule blueprint, a mirror of the state, indeed, the eastern half of the American land mass, visible still to the curious. Seventy thousand feet of rock, whole mountain chains melted as butter, rolled, folded, heated and cooled, stretched and pulled apart by the opening of the Atlantic Ocean, right here in Wake County, this place whose abused, sullied stream beds predate the Grand Canyon.

Amid the unfathomable, convoluted history written in the rock record, Dr. Cavaroc placed humans at about the same level of importance as any other “critter.” When we are done, the whole of humanity will simply be shrugged off by this ball of rock, fire and water in a comparatively brief interval. One prediction has the main dynamo gallery at Washington State’s Grand Coulee dam as the last to fall, in thirty thousand or so years, its concrete debris rolled, tumbled, reduced back to the sand, gravel and pozzolanic earth from which it was cast by the inexorable, scouring forces of the Columbia river, transported and deposited on the Pacific Ocean abyssal plain until some distant tectonic event recasts it into another form. Amid the uncanny replication of inexorable nature replayed in other forms, truths contained in the rocks and trees are repeated in the world of Uoma.* From the general to the particular.

A mysterious confluence of people and geology was launched during Governor Beverly Perdue’s inaugural parade. The aggregate material was of a disparate, at times hilarious, self-deprecating nature possessed of North Carolinians: Sudan Clowns (Shriners), a stream of immaculate, vintage vehicles, the Ag Department’s 20 foot tall, big block V8 powered shopping cart, an Elizabethan wherry, a boat, attended by appropriate costume and pikes, Native Americans, a Jonkonnu* crew, all of it en toto illustrating the melange of European, aboriginal native, and West African blood we are, behind a stage setting of the magnificent veined stone of the North Carolina Capitol, quarried scant miles away and drawn to the site by horses and slaves. Human geology, I reasoned.

Monday, MLK day, my old bud Jonny Mac dropped by. I’ve know Jon McClain for decades, a drummer par excellance and one of the scariest best drivers I know, a great, friendly bear of a man with quick smile and dreads down his back. Back in the eighties, hot for an adventure, I clambered into his semi and rode shotgun on what became my first trip to New Orleans, coinciding with the very first MLK day. As we rumbled around Atlanta, the “Greaseman” presented his now-legendary over the radio: “shoot four more and get the whole week off” schtick, goading from me a volley of savage curses and a foot poised to stomp the piss out of the dash of Jon’s leased International 6970 road tractor. Jon just shook his head and held out his arm.

“Easy Eich, hey, whoa, boy,” he said, laughing. “Let me buy one of my own before you go all crazy on my tunes.”

Monday, we talked about the old days. Jon laughed again and we segued to the upcoming, well… miracle, something so far from what I would call possible, that I had never wondered “if” or “when.” As he turned to leave, we embraced.

“We’ve waited a long time for this one,” I said.

“This is big, bro,” Jon said after a pause.

Tuesday as it snowed, the grand sweep of the history of this land, from the very rocks this nation and state were built upon to the ultimate beyond came into tight focus. The idea of human geology returned again amid the figure/ground relationship of people and the White House. The solemnity of that old sandstone and the nature of sedimentary rock itself conjured again the distinctly American parable of shared humanity I felt a week before. But MLK day followed by the heretofore nearly unimaginable Presidential Inauguration of a person of obvious African origins conjured a different, moving power.

The essence of America, finally, after five hundred years. Much as sedimentary geology subverts obvious distinctions between discrete types of rocks and minerals, so has this America, a bubbling stream of classes and ethnicities. And as the works of man, from dams to potsherds, become united in stream beds, so have the wildly disparate types of humans in the stream of America. That’s the ideal. But what I saw on the television and felt in the streets was stronger, palpably so, than deposition, the mere addition of another layer on top of those previously laid down. There was some invisible force changing the world, a tectonic shift, a crystalline precipitation, the fusing of atoms, a dam breaking. Amid the familiar oaths, brass bands and vault-like sedans, America was akin to a fragile, weak sedimentary rock being made stronger, more durable, via titanic forces similar to the heat and pressure of the very earth.

The events rise above any previous standard. We have at hand an opportunity to create a beautiful new reality forged in the lives and blood of millions, the aggregate of those who preceded us, across barriers of origin, ethnicity and checkbook. In light of the uncountable, disparate tendrils of history, the generations and centuries of mistrust wrought by misdeed, words fail in an attempt to render the significance of the Obama Presidency.

As below, so above. We, all of us, America itself, are being strengthened by this remarkable confluence of days. The magic floats among us, all of us, a new strengthening of social and national bonds amid a dissolution of the toxic residue of the centuries past. Gaze into the eyes of one another, a stranger perhaps, and see if you can spot it. This is just the beginning.

*Uoma: my created term for humanity.

* Jonkonnu: a slave-era Caribbean tradition practiced in North Carolina and rooted in West Africa, containing elements of the English Wassail. Via an tacit, annual relaxation of cultural taboos, bands of young men bedecked in elaborate costume of rags and animal horns would go from house to house, plantation houses not excepted, enter and beseech money and trinkets from the owners, forming what perhaps changed into Mardi Gras and other American Carnival traditions.

Photo by Kim Church

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