“The earth moves,” Jack said.
“Geologic time is now,” said Kirsten.
I had pointed to a red scarp of bare earth across the valley, and asked if anyone knew what had happened there. They told me that in the 80s the whole hillside slid. There were rocks in the park, debris in the road.
“Mark’s parents owned that property at the time,” Jack said. “They were in the house when everything started shaking. They made it out before it collapsed. It continued moving for days.”
I wondered why the hill we were on wasn’t prone to sliding while that one was. Despite my dad being a geologist I felt that that information was far above my pay grade. Information embedded in the darkness inside the stone. And now in this story. Maybe other stories too if we had been here long enough to listen. But we just showed up. Maybe the Southern Paiutes know, if we were listening to them, but we’re not.
I remembered the story of Yucca Mountain, the site of a proposed nuclear storage site. The Southern Paiute called it Serpent Swimming Westward, and for good reason. The mountain moves. Maybe if our place names had such useful geological knowledge embedded in them we’d be better off. But we give things stupid names. Kevin Anderson Canyon. Pete Windward Lake. John Ballard Hill. These names mean nothing. They say nothing about a place. They won’t keep us from building a house on a geologically active hill.