Manzanita on the Rocks – A Vivifying and Surprising Cocktail

Searching for exposed slices of Vulcan’s highly viscous, ancient exudations during our Thanksgiving holiday road trip may strike one as somewhat odd. But then again, it was a perfect way to celebrate Nature’s ability to remind us of our ephemeral existence, our atavistic connections to rock, manzanitas, and the Dionysian freedom available when we dare dissolve the boundaries that separate us not only from other living things, but from our own unfettered selves.

Celebrating such connections wound its way through my own nervous tissue while swinging a geology hammer one morning during our holiday adventure. In need of rock samples for our upcoming Chaparral Naturalist course, we pulled over to examine a road cut revealing a deposit of 250-million-year-old rhyolite, a highly viscous, rich-in-silica, lava flow a few miles east of Redding, California, along Highway 299.

Pump lots of air into the stuff and you have pumice. Concentrate the silica, cool it quickly, and you’ve got obsidian. Keep it underground and let it cool slowly, you’ve baked a pluton loaf of granite. Four kinds of igneous rocks, all with the same ingredients, just cooked differently.

Consider that, what you have just read. Imagine now, being there.

You’ve had a faint understanding of rocks, but now you know a few names. You’ve learned that these previously amorphous hard objects you’ve passed by a thousand times have stories. The next road cut, the next layer, the next unusual pebble will never be the same again.

Now consider how much fun you’ve had at gatherings with a few friends and a sprinkling of curious strangers. In both situations, geologicalizing and partying, familiarity provides opportunities to learn more, to discover new things. New worlds open up, your mind expands.

Curiosity inspired by Nature.

Photos: (L) Exploring the signs of Vulcan’s past activity. (R) The geological map of the roadside adventure marked with an “M”. The purple marked Pbh identifies the rhyolite deposit. The red line is Highway 299. Notice how the road bends around Little Cow Creek. The greenish areas (Pd) identify an andesite deposit, another volcanic exudation with a bit less silica, more calcium.

Lost in the thought of exploring the infinite world of terra firma, speeding tourists and truck drivers, seeing this wayward figure hacking away with abandon, honked their horns as they roared by. Were they humorously curious or signaling their kinship with geophilia? I doubted the latter as geo-literacy is an uncommon state of affairs for most, a perplexing condition considering our lives are spent playing in geology when we’re young, walking upon it as we travel through the years, and being buried in it at the end. Dust to dust. One might as well go through life without taste buds.

And then there’s the life that emerges from the geology.

In this case, old-growth manzanitas, colorful lichens, and countless invertebrates crawling over cracks and crevices filled with tiny accumulations of dirt and organic bits.

Photo: Emerging from solid rock (rhyolite), this whiteleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos viscida) demonstrates the tenacity and flexibility of the species.

This unique mixture of rock and life naturally pulls you in, offering the opportunity to drink in the beauty of their improbable relationship. This is the reason Nature is so compelling – it surprises. Nature serves as a reality check. “Consider me,” it says. “I contain multitudes,” Whitman, then Dylan, have reminded us in verse and song.

Nature follows with, “Consider yourself. I have been here long before, and shall be long after.”

Time is short.

Memento morti; remember you die. Gnothi seauton; know thyself. The rest, eh.

Photo: Whiteleaf manzanita cluster on rhyolite.

“We’ll meet on edges, soon,” said I
Proud ‘neath heated brow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now
(Back Pages – Bob Dylan)

Nature lobs mind grenades our way when we least expect it, often when we need them most. Because too many of us really do still believe we are at the center of the solar system (notwithstanding the Catholic Church’s apology to Galileo in 1992 in its attempt to maintain relevancy).

In doing so, Nature provides us opportunities to gain perspective and realize how lucky we are to be able to take a deep breath; discover an ancient manzanita eking out an existence on a rocky cliff face, imagining its roots finding their way through lithic fissures, seeking and finding water, forming hardened, woody tissue over seemingly impermeable surfaces; walk on sharp flakes of obsidian glass that emerged from the earth less than 1,000 years ago; hear the call of a Great-horned owl through the cool evening air of autumn; suddenly realize you’re being watched by a solitary mule deer.

Photo: A curious mule deer at Captain Jack’s Stronghold, Lava Beds National Monument, northeastern California.

Nothing is more precious that the life you live. Allow Nature to remind you, as your source, to remember. Mix a manzanita cocktail, of rock and life. Drink deeply.

Let Nature surprise.

Photo: Crepuscular Mt. Shasta, one of California’s active, sleeping volcanic giants.

And in case you were waiting for it:
Glass with ice
1 1/2 oz vodka
Splash of fresh lime
Fill with Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider
Stir lightly
Sprig of manzanita (your choice of species)

4 Comments on “Manzanita on the Rocks – A Vivifying and Surprising Cocktail

  1. Wonderful moments, great connection from the Earth to Life and back to Earth. And I loved the video. I have been reading a fun book I found in my office that I almost threw away as I process my past while cleaning out my office. The book is Earth Dance: Living Systems in Evolution by Elisabet Sahtouris. She makes the most compelling case about the emergence of life from multi-billion year self-organizing Earth processes that I’ve ever read. Check it out! Thanks again Rick.

  2. Yesterday my sister and I drove across the desert from Desert Center to the Colorado River at Parker, then along the river to Havasu Lake. Always captivated with wonder by the scenery, I was moved to share with my sister some of what I know about the topography and other natural history features before us. I knew it could not fail to impart to her the sense of awe that comes with understanding. Rick, I wish you had been there to share with us your passion for everything Earth.

  3. Oh, Lovely Rock
    by Robinson Jeffers

    We stayed the night in the pathless gorge of Ventana Creek, up the east fork.
    The rock walls and the mountain ridges hung forest on forest above our heads, maple and redwood,
    Laurel, oak, madrone, up to the high and slender Santa Lucian firs that stare up the cataracts
    Of slide-rock to the star-color precipices.

    We lay on gravel and kept a little camp-fire for warmth.
    Past midnight only two or three coals glowed red in the cooling darkness; I laid a clutch of dead bay-leaves
    On the ember ends and felted dry sticks across them and lay down again. The revived flame
    Lighted my sleeping son’s face and his companion’s, and the vertical face of the great gorge-wall
    Across the stream. Light leaves overhead danced in the fire’s breath, tree-trunks were seen: it was the rock wall
    That fascinated my eyes and mind. Nothing strange: light-gray diorite with two or three slanting seams in it,
    Smooth-polished by the endless attrition of slides and floods; no fern nor lichen, pure naked rock…as if I were
    Seeing rock for the first time. As if I were seeing through the flame-lit surface into the real and bodily
    And living rock. Nothing strange…I cannot
    Tell you how strange: the silent passion, the deep nobility and childlike loveliness: this fate going on
    Outside our fates. It is here in the mountain like a grave smiling child. I shall die, and my boys
    Will live and die, our world will go on through its rapid agonies of change and discovery; this age will die,
    And wolves have howled in the snow around a new Bethlehem: this rock will be here, grave, earnest, not passive: the energies
    That are its atoms will still be bearing the whole mountain above: and I, many packed centuries ago,
    Felt its intense reality with love and wonder, this lonely rock.

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