Archive | January 2022

Review of “Neighbors” by Danielle Steel

I’ve seen paperbacks by this author all my life, in airport book shops and bookstores. I never read one of her more than 100 books (I guessed at the total but they’re listed on the frontispiece), so I figured I might as well. If you’ve read any of my reviews, you know I don’t have very high standards. Still, for Danielle Steel to still be on the shelves, her books must be pretty popular. The back cover claims that she’s sold almost a billion copies of her novels. That’s quite a feat.

I’m not sure how to begin. I didn’t find a single cut-and-paste error or misspelled word. Commas weren’t randomly distributed and the grammar and punctuation were textbook correct. Either the author is extremely careful or she has an outstanding copy editor. For all I know, she may write on an old Remington typewriter, like I started out on as a child (from the photo on the back, she looks old enough).

This novel reads as if it were written by a third-grader, for a third-grade audience. Most of the sentences consisted of a main clause, followed by a “comma” and “and,” followed by an often-unrelated clause that had nothing to do with the original topic of the sentence. A few “buts” were thrown in, possibly as afterthoughts.

I have never read a book as repetitive as this one. Material from chapter one was still being repeated (for the tenth or twentieth time) in the last chapter; sometimes a detail about a character’s background or personality was repeated in the same paragraph! And I thought the Qur’an was repetitive (actually, it wins the prize…so far).

This is an outstanding example of why it is a really bad idea to use an omniscient narrator, especially with a lot of characters. The narrator was head-hopping (sharing the thoughts and motivations of different characters within a short span of words) so much I got dizzy, going so far as starting a sentence in one mind and ending it in another. And there were a lot of minds to invade, at least ten, probably a dozen if you count late-comers.

Because of the omniscient narrator, there was no surprise in what passed as a plot. The reader knows all about everyone, long before they can show their true colors. What a sham! I found myself wondering what meaningless scenes would fill the remainder of the book long before I reached the half-way point.

Needless to say, every one of the ensemble cast of characters was sorted out and either sent to Heaven or Hell by the end. If you like simple stories with no suspense and happy endings, this novel is for you. And there are so many others to enjoy, as listed in the frontispiece photo above. For me, I’d rather read a poorly written novel with some surprises and (hopefully) a plot rather than third-grade prose.

Have fun…

Heaven or Hell?

I’ll keep this short.

Most Americans believe in hell and heaven.

I don’t blame them because they are living it, just not in the afterlife, but right now. They aren’t alone, as evidenced by the billion people who live below the United Nations’ poverty level. Being hungry every FUCKING day is living in hell.

I would argue that being so afraid of the world that you reach out to anyone who promises redemption, even if through extreme ideologies, is the same as starving to death, one day at a time. The only difference between these two extremes is the physical pain suffered by those in a “physical” HELL.

The pain suffered by those in psychological HELL is no different, even if it doesn’t entail as much physical discomfort and even pain. They suffer, but they are in a position to share their pain with those less fortunate, creating the HELL we all share.

Let’s stop this BULLSHIT drivel about some kind of afterlife. We are all in HELL, from the day we were born until the day we die. Some think they are in HEAVEN because they are reaping the rewards of temporary success in HELL, at the expense of other conscious beings, but they will join us all in oblivion.

That is their choice of HELL.

HEAVEN is more difficult to comprehend, because the complex ideas of pleasure, joy, satisfaction, and even spiritualism cannot be defined. I suppose that the wealthy sometimes say to each other, that they are living a heavenly life. It makes sense. A few percent of the population is in HEAVEN while the vast majority is living in HELL.

This is it. Right here, right now. History tells us that life is what it is…there is no afterlife, a myth invented by the elites in past millennia…

My positive message is that life can be HEAVEN or HELL and it’s up to us to choose where to spend our time, which will seem like an eternity no matter which choice you make…

A Typical Basin and Range

Figure 1. View of Piestewa Peak, the highest point of the Phoenix Mountains, from the parking lot. The top is about 1200 feet higher in elevation than where the photo was taken.

My last post examined some structures and petrology of a Metamorphic Core Complex (MCC), whereas the previous one discussed the geology of the Central Highlands of Arizona. I mentioned several times that these geologic provinces were but two manifestations of the profound tectonic change associated with uplift of the the Colorado Plateau.

Today’s post is from the Phoenix Mountains, a municipal park inside the city limits (Fig. 2). My geological interpretations and dates, etc, come from a report by the Arizona State Geological Survey.

Figure 2. Location of Phoenix Mountain Park is indicated by the pin marker.
Figure 3. Topographic representation of the Phoenix Mountains. Note the location of Piestewa Peak (labeled Squaw Peak in the image) in the center of the outcrops.

To the west (left of Squaw Peak in Fig. 3), a deep fault has been identified, which thrust the metasedimentary rocks comprising the eastern part of the range into juxtaposition with the metavolcanic rocks of Stoney Mtn and other outcrops to the west (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. Geologic map of the Phoenix Mountains. The dashed line indicates the approximate location of a fault that separates older Proterozoic rocks, with a higher metamorphic grade, from younger rocks.

Today’s post is focused on the circled area in Fig. 4 which, if we look back to Fig. 3, is the highest peak within the Phoenix Mountains. I was intrigued by the view from the parking lot (Fig. 1), and compelled to explore this fault-block in person. Note that the area discussed in this post in contained within the circle in Fig. 4.

The geology of Piestewa Peak is relatively simple. Schist. In this case, the metamorphic grade isn’t too high and the rocks preserve much of their original thin-bedded layering. However, they are standing on end (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. Exposure of metamorphic rocks in the lower part of Piestewa Peak. Sedimentary rocks were metamorphosed to a medium grade schist about 1.6 billion-years ago. The vertical lineation seen in the photo is caused by the characteristic alignment of platy minerals like muscovite mica.
Figure 6. View looking obliquely along the primary foliation of the schist, showing the preservation of primary sedimentary textures in the thicker layers near the center of the image. Note that the metamorphic fabric is not as steep here as in Fig. 5. Foliation varied by tens of degrees within the study area. Note the curvature of the layers, evidence of folding during a deformation event that may have coincided with metamorphism. A lot can happen in a billion years.
Figure 7. The foliation is nearly vertical at this location, much further up the trail than Fig. 5. However, the layers are fused more tightly and schistosity is reduced. Note the cross-cutting layer running from the center of the photo to the right, as well as the lighter-colored rock that is pinched in the center. This locality reveals multiple deformation events, including the intrusion of magmatic fluids rich in silica (i.e. quartz and feldspar).
Figure 8. This beautiful photo shows the preservation of primary sediment texture in the darker layers to the upper right. Lamination can be seen within each layer. Primary sedimentary texture and the metamorphic foliation are aligned. A second feature of this exposure is the complex relationship between the country rock (i.e. the schist) and the pink material invading it along bedding planes. Note the massive but jumbled appearance of this intrusive rock in the lower part of the image whereas it has been confined to thin veins in the upper part. This image and Fig. 7 are evidence for the occurrence of multiple metamorphic and intrusive events. Injection of granitic veins would have been later than the relatively low-grade metamorphism that produced the schist.
Figure 9. This photo shows the sharp contact between the intrusive granite (the orange hue suggests a potassium-rich source) and the schist, which would have been much older by this time. This is a thick vein that apparently is directed vertically, as suggested by the lack of a trace in the background.
Figure 10. Photo at the top of Piestewa Peak, showing the lower, eastern peaks of the Phoenix Mountains. Note the lack of erosion of the rocks exposed at the summit in this arid climate.
Figure 11. Image of nearly vertical schist intruded by granitic veins that cut across metamorphic and/or sedimentary lineations. Although I made no geometric measurements, I think this outcrop is approximately aligned with the veins shown in Figs. 8 and 9; if so, this could be near the termination of a splintered offshoot from the magma chamber that cut into these older metamorphic rocks. I didn’t find any ages for this granite but it is definitely younger than the 1.6 Ga schist, simply because it cuts across bedding planes and metamorphic lineations.


There isn’t much to say about this post after my road trip to Prescott, and then a hike in the White Tank mountains. The first thing I can say with confidence, however, is that Squaw Peak (aka Piestewa Peak) is squarely located within the Basin and Range, defined by faults that have brought disparate rocks into juxtaposition, but only in a small area. The Phoenix Mountains are nothing like the vast, overlapping fault-bounded mountains of the Central Highlands, but instead they are isolated in a sea of sand and gravel, sediment eroded from the long-gone rocks that encased them for eons. There was no superimposed shear evident in these rocks as in the White Tank mountains. They just rose from the earth’s bowels along nearly vertical faults.

These rocks aren’t as old as those we encountered in the Central Highlands — by about a billion years. Nevertheless, they suggest that plate tectonics determined the history of central Arizona, even so long ago. Because of the lack of suitable rocks, no plate reconstruction can be attempted for the Precambrian (neither a geologic period, era, or eon); thus, we can only assume that things were the same but different — upper mantle processes dragging crustal plates around, but without plants, oxygen, or animals to intervene in surface erosion.

We don’t know what happened that long ago, not to mention the billion years between the creation of these sedimentary/metamorphic rocks and the emergence of multicellular life. We can only view the rocks we’ve seen in Arizona through a glass darkly…

The White Tank Mountains: Anatomy of a Metamorphic Core Complex

My last post set the stage for this report, but this time I did a lot of walking to get the facts. A short drive took me to White Tank Mountain Regional Park, about 30 miles west of Phoenix. I studied geology at Arizona State University in Tempe…it must have been 40 years ago, and Metamorphic Core Complexes (MCC) were a big thing then. Let’s start with a map (actually several maps that focus ever closer on the field area).

Figure 1. Overview of the area. The White Tank MCC is located west of Phoenix (lower left inset). The mountain range is dissected in a SW-NE lineation and is steeper on the east side than the west. The lower-right inset shows the two locations where I examined the rocks. Site 1 is more of an overview, and Site 2 is where I looked closely at the mineralogical and textural variations within an intrusive rock body of Cretaceous age.

Now for a view from the ground.

Figure 2. View looking north from Site 2. The mountains in the distance are the Central Highlands, which I discussed in my last post. Many of the same Precambrian rocks are present in the White Tank Mountains, but with a different story to tell.

Site 1.

The White Tank MCC is located within the Basin and Range Province. In the middle of a low-lying flat desert, MCCs appeared within the last 60 my, in close proximity to a region defined by faulting and the uplift of Precambrian rocks on a huge scale. Time to look at some rocks.

Figure 3. A relatively small outcrop at Site 1 (see Fig. 1 for location). The entire road cut was about 200 yards in length.

Figure 3 reveals a complex pattern of deformation and magmatism. The most striking feature of this outcrop is the brilliant white veins that cut across the dark rocks, and folded in a crazy pattern on the right side. What is going on here?

The background is that the dark rocks are Precambrian metamorphic rocks and granites. As I discussed before, these rocks were deformed several times during the billion years spanning the resetting of their radiometric clocks and the tectonics associated with the uplift of the Colorado Plateau. The lighter-colored rocks are of Cretaceous age, injected as veins into preexisting weak fracture zones.

Figure 5. This photo shows the sharp contact between the white intrusion and the dark-colored Precambrian rocks, creating a weak zone that led to the erosional feature seen in the photo.
Figure 6. The dark rock is Precambrian gneiss that has been reheated and deformed ductile. Note the sharp contact with the intrusive granite. The older rock did not melt during intrusion.
Figure 7. Hand sample of the Cretaceous granite, showing alignment of platy minerals. This is a good example of syntectonic intrusion.The magma was intruded while the deeply buried rocks were being deformed.
Figure 8. I’m not certain how to interpret this sample, which is less than a foot in diameter. The best I can do (without getting carried away) is to suggest that none of these rocks were molten except for the white one on the left (the intrusive granite), which may have cooled sufficiently to behave the same as the Precambrian granites it was invading. It really is a remarkable juxtaposition of rock types and mineralogies. Note the block of intrusive granite embedded in a dark matrix of (supposedly) Precambrian gneiss.
Figure 9. This photo says it all. Note the arched intrusive rock in the lower center of the photo. This is an anticline, which results from compressional stress. It has been rotated because there is no source of compressional stress from that angle (about 20 degrees from vertical). Just above it, a similar vein of white rock has been kinked into a “V” pointing to the right. At the top of the photo, there appears to be an “X” which is a common jointing pattern. The only way to reconcile these disparate textures in such a small area (the image is about 4 feet across) identifying the folded veins as part of the Precambrian folding of metamorphic and igneous rocks. The unfolded veins are associated with intrusion of the White Tank granite in the late Cretaceous to Tertiary periods.

SIte 2.

Figure 10. Location map for textures seen along Mesquite Trail. See text for explanation.

Figure 10 reveals some of the field textures seen along the trail, starting at the uphill end, where medium and small blocks litter the landscape as the granite weathers in place (Fig. 11). Panel A (Fig. 10) shows a sharp contact between the main granite and a whiter material with microcrystalline structure similar to what we saw at Site 1 (Fig. 3). As the magma was intruded, the melt was fractionating into a component with a lower melting temperature and so it filled fractures, which indicates there was tectonic movement at that time. Panel B is evidence of syntectonic intrusion because it shows a lineation that was present in many of the rocks. Panel C is a close up (5x magnification) showing larger crystals in a finer matrix. All of it is feldspar (dominated by Na also known as albite). Panel D is a good exposure of the relationship between the finer grained material that forms veins in the main rock. Panel E shows a salt-and-pepper texture that dominates the rocks along the trail.

Figure 11. Hill side covered with large blocks

A close up of a fresh surface near Sample D (see Fig. 10 for location) shows simple mineralogy of the main rock body (Fig. 12). I would estimate 70-80% albite, >15% quartz, and minor biotite (a platy mineral, a variety of mica).

Figure 12. Close up (5x magnification) of granite, showing the dominance of feldspar.

The mineralogical composition can be used to classify this granite as tonalite. Tonalite is a granite that contains no potassium feldspar (no pink color), very little quartz, and mostly feldspar containing sodium and calcium. These rocks originate deep in the earth where ocean crust (basalt) melts and rises, losing much of the iron and magnesium it originally contained. The tectonic setting is an island arc, like Japan.

Figure 13. Close up (5x magnification) showing weathering of the granite in place. The larger crystals of feldspar and the quartz are more resistant, producing a gravel product with lots of fine grained material (mud).


Just as in the Central Highlands, sediments were deposited here in ocean basins as long ago as 2.8 by and subsequently buried and deformed, changing through heat and pressure into gniess, and injected with veins of quartz and feldspar during metamorphism. Several orogenic events followed, deforming the assemblage further. It was exhumed slowly over the ensuing billion years, and eventually injected with a tonalite granite created deep beneath an island arc. This was the time when the White Tank granite was emplaced. This magma was intruded when the region was undergoing extensional stress (pulling apart) as part of the adjustment to complex tectonic process associated with uplift of the Colorado Plateau.

Rather than breaking into irregular blocks as in the Central Highlands, the White Tank mountains (and other MCCs in the western Cordillera), were formed by the uplift of Precambrian basement along deep sub-horizontal surfaces called detachment faults. In other words, the crust stretched in the Basin and Range rather than breaking into fragments.

I haven’t attempted to describe the complex tectonics of central Arizona, a task that is well beyond my experience. This is a topic that is hotly debated in the geological community to this day. This has only been a brief effort to relate the rocks I saw with my own eyes to what is known about the history of the earth.

Always listen to the rocks…

Road Trip: The Central Highlands of Arizona. Precambrian Rocks Torn Asunder.

To keep this post from going off the rails and becoming a treatise on metamorphic textures and their relationship to regional tectonic trends, I’m going to address the bullet list I ended the last post with. I hoped to find the following rocks, from youngest to oldest:

  1. Quaternary gravel
  2. Quaternary and Tertiary lava flows
  3. Tertiary stream deposits of sand, silt and gravel with rounded pebbles
  4. Tertiary lake sediments of horizontal, whitish, fine-grained rock with layers of volcanic ash
  5. Precambrian granite
  6. Precambrian gneiss and schist

The descriptions in The Roadside Geology of Arizona include unique features, from outcrop to hand sample scales. By the way, the “Roadside Geology” series books (available for many U.S. states) include introductory sections for the layman, and a level of detail that will increase anyone’s appreciation of the natural world, whether driving cross-country or on a daily excursion.

I’m going to dispense with my usual lengthy introduction. For the first figure, which becomes the de facto icon for the post, I’m going to skip maps and cut to the chase. I was driving north from Phoenix on Interstate 17, scoping for interesting exposures, checking the mileposts, and trying to remember several outstanding stops from the previous night’s reading. Frustrated at having passed the exit for Crown King, the ramp and interchange (beneath the I-17 roadbed) magnificently adorned by a long road cut that displayed interlayered dark and lighter colored rocks (Fig. 1), berating myself for not taking the path less traveled, I searched for the on-ramp and, when it came into view, I hit the brakes hard and cut onto the last fragment of the slip road. Traffic on the ramp was nonexistent and, with no unmarked Arizona Highway Patrol vehicles within sight, I backed several hundred yards while avoiding the drainage ditch and concrete barricade.

Figure 1. Road cut on I-17 at the exit to Crown King.

All I’m going to say about Fig. 1 right now is that this was the exposure that prompted me to drive — shall I say “recklessly?” But it is only the tip of the iceberg in the Central Highlands.

This post isn’t a typical report. Instead of a trip log, I’m going to show examples of the six rock-types from my list. I took a lot of photos but I will try (really hard) to limit the interpretation to a concluding paragraph.

The block faulted mountain ranges of the Basin and Range province, accompanied by Metamorphic Core Complexes like South Mountain or the White Tank Mountains, bounding Phoenix, Arizona, on the south and west, respectively, suggest extensional forces at play. The Colorado Plateau, on the other hand, reveals no significant evidence of either crustal extension or shortening, instead comprising relatively undeformed Paleozoic sedimentary rocks that appear to have been exhumed vertically. The earth’s crust had to accommodate not only 6000 feet of differential uplift, but a change in tectonic regime, within the distance from Phoenix to Prescott in the last 80 million years, creating the Central Highlands.

Quaternary Gravel

The Quaternary Period spans the last 2.58 my. It is identified with the most recent occurrence of extensive continental ice sheets.

Dating sediments deposited during the Quaternary is extremely difficult because of a scarcity of suitable material for radiometric dating of the time of deposition. Thus, stratigraphic relationships are used, along with sedimentary textures, to determine the relative age of sedimentary rocks. For example, Lithology (1), Quaternary gravel, contains very little organic debris for carbon-14 dating; Lithology (3), on the other hand, may occasionally contain some plant fragments in the finer-grained components; but carbon-14 dating can’t be used for rocks older than 500 ky (thousand years).

Gravel was present everywhere, filling topographic lows and even forming cliffs. Often, these sediments were found in thick intercalated beds of silt and gravel, but sometimes cross-cutting relationships reveal erosion of older sediments before infilling (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Erosional surface (indicated by the sharp change from tan to reddish sediment, which is typical of Tertiary sedimentation. These sediments cannot be dated and age estimates are based on stratigraphic relationships. In other words, this is a channel eroded into an earlier flood plain sometime in the last million years.

The darker gravel in Fig 2 fills a channel in the finer, buff-colored silt. The difference in lithology, and presence of an erosion surface, suggest that the upper unit is representative of the Quaternary gravels of Lithology (1). The underlying rock is a siltstone representing the Tertiary (66-2.58 my) stream deposits of Lithology (3).

Quaternary and Tertiary Lava Flows

Several volcanic complexes were active during the last 66 my in the Central Highlands. The lava sometimes flowed from fissures and often from central cones. Their remnants can be seen in the arid landscape.

Figure 3. Mesas formed from lava flows. The once-continuous flows have been eroded by streams to form isolated mesas and ridges.

The lava flows are not very thick and individual flows can be identified. I’ll say more about the lava in the following discussions because of its relationship with the other lithologies.

Tertiary Stream Deposits

Figure 2 shows a silty bed that I have attributed to older Tertiary sediments, which could have been deposited over a 60 my time span. However, specific thickness of stream deposits can be dated by their relationship to the rocks of Lithology (2), because volcanic rocks can be easily dated. When such data are unavailable (as in this situation), we can’t be more specific.

Figure 4. Tertiary stream deposit consisting of gravel overlying silt.

An interesting thing about Fig. 4 is that ancient stream sediments are eroding to form new stream sediments in an endless cycle of deposition, erosion, etcetera.

Figure 5 Tertiary stream deposits consisting of intercalated gravel and silt layers.

Tertiary Lake Sediments

Figure 6. Lava flow over Tertiary fine-grained lake deposit.

Lithology (4) was broadly distributed near Black Canyon City but it wasn’t safe to stop and examine them. Figure 6 reveals some evidence of soft-sediment deformation in the underlying chalky sediment. The implication that the lava flowed into a lake is further supported by pillow structures (Fig. 7).

Figure 7. The contact between the overlying lava and lake sediments suggests some mixing during deposition. Note also the rounded form of the lava, which suggests that it flowed into water.

Precambrian Granite

The oldest rocks I’ve discussed so far were less than 70 my, but now we’re going to jump back to between 2.5 and 1.5 billion-years ago. There are no rocks from the Paleozoic or Mesozoic Eras in this part of the Central Highlands.

Granite outcrops weren’t ubiquitous along the highway until Prescott, although they are everywhere within the area — just not next to Interstate 17. I had an opportunity to see them up close on the return, which took me through Peeples Valley to Congress (Fig. 8).

Figure 8. Route map for the return to Phoenix.

I drove through overlapping plutons, with variations in the granite composition indicated by differences in their color, which varied from orange (orthoclase feldspar) to light gray (plagioclase feldspar). Most were weathered to a reddish color by the oxidation of iron-containing minerals, and they were all rounded as seen in Fig. 9. The one-billion year duration of magmatism suggests that this was a time of intense continent building.

Figure 9. Typical knob of weathered granite within the Central Highlands.
Figure 10. Image of quartz vein and slight offset along a joint. This pluton cooled and was uplifted enough to fracture, before being injected with fluids from subsequent intrusion.
Figure 11. The darker, rounded rock is a piece (~6 inches in diameter) of wall rock that was entrained during emplacement of the magma.

Precambrian Metamorphic Rocks

Arizona (as well as most of the earth’s surface) is underlain by a crumbled, jumbled, layer of metamorphic rocks — reflections of long-forgotten oceans that teemed with life, collecting fine particles eroded from the slowly emerging continents, as well as the bodies of earth’s first inhabitants. In other words, for metamorphic rocks to have formed about two-billion years ago, sedimentary particles must have collected in ocean basins a couple hundred million years earlier. The earth is only 3.8 billion-years old, so there could have been only so many cycles of metamorphism in any given location. I’m guessing…maybe two or three?

Figure 12. Exposure of Precambrian metamorphic rocks on I-17 north of Phoenix.

The title of this post refers to Precambrian rocks being torn apart during the separation of the Colorado Plateau from the lowlands represented by the Basin and Range province. Figure 12 exemplifies this dynamic process. To the north (left side of Fig. 12), it is difficult to ignore the nearly vertical lineation of rocks that are more like schist, with a sheen caused by the alignment of muscovite minerals. The tan color suggests that the original sediment contained a lot of quartz. The rocks exposed on the south (right in Fig. 12) end of the road cut are dark in color and include lenses of quartz (white flecks beneath the yellow arrow), suggesting a very different post-depositional history. They were probably mudstones before alteration.

The dark rocks (below the white arrow…) that conjoin these discordant blocks exhibited fine-scale jointing (scales of inches) and conchoidal fractures, an indicator of microcrystalline structure. I haven’t shown the photographic evidence of my description, to shorten the report. (I really wanted to.) These metamorphic textures indicate stress regimes with different orientations. Figuring it out would require substantial, detailed field work to measure stress indicators, and geochemical analyses. Not being in a position to do any of that, and unaware of any reports on this area, I’m going to treat this as a fault that cuts the plane of the road-cut at an angle similar to the steep dip of the lighter beds on the left of Fig. 12.

It is time to address the geological questions raised in Fig. 1 which, it turns out was a cause of confusion in deciphering the geological history of the Central Highlands.

Figure 13. Tertiary stream deposits (light-red layers) overlying Precambrian metamorphic rocks. The upper foreground reveals dark-red boulders of basalt in contact with the Precambrian rocks while lying on the sediments in the background.
Figure 14. Hand sample view of the metamorphic rock seen in Fig. 13. Some foliation is seen at the bottom-center of the photo, but it is generally featureless at the macroscopic scale. (The image is ~2 feet across.)
Figure 15. Good exposure of the metamorphic rocks, showing overlapping joint patterns superimposed on quartz veins. This outcrop is indicative of the multiple metamorphic events that impacted the region during the billion years between original deposition of the sedimentary rocks and their exposure during the Tertiary.

The black, metamorphic rock in Fig. 14 gave the name Black Canyon to the region because it outcrops throughout the area, underlying both volcanic and sedimentary rocks.

Figure 16. Contact between Tertiary volcanics and sedimentary rocks. The dark gray zone contains blocks of volcanic rock, which is unusual for a baked zone often seen below lava flows. This may have been underwater at the time of eruption. (Note the rounded — pillow lava — form of the overlying volcanics.)


Almost three-billion years ago, the western half of what is today North America was an ocean margin, possibly like the East Coast. Mud and sand was accumulating in environments much as we find today except there were no plants so erosion was probably more intense. By about 2.5 Ga (billion years ago) these sediments were buried to depths as great as 35 km (~20 miles) and were compressed as tectonic plates collided. This process continued, no doubt in pulses, for another billion years, producing the complex textures we see in Figs. 12-15. This area was on the trailing edge of proto-North America during the formation of the supercontinent Gondwana, between ~500 and 200 Ma. When the modern Atlantic Ocean began to open, subduction of oceanic crust began and new continental crust was created, forming modern California.

Streams crisscrossed the area much as we see today, but in a different climate. The volcanism associated with subduction of the Pacific Ocean crust didn’t reach Arizona until ~30 Ma, when volcanoes spewed out numerous lava flows such as those that cap the mesas seen in Fig. 3, and the Colorado Plateau began to rise by thousands of feet. This is when the Central Highlands (aka Transition Zone) formed, a buffer between the block-faulted Basin and Range of central Arizona and much of the western deserts of Nevada, and the uniform and mostly undisturbed Paleozoic sedimentary rocks of the Colorado Plateau.

Figure 17. View from Sunset Point, on top of a thick sequence of lava flows produced during the Tertiary.

Road Trip: The Central Highlands of Arizona. Introduction

I haven’t posted much about the geology of Arizona, where I grew up and wandered the back ways while studying Geology at Arizona State University because, unfortunately, most of these excursions occurred before the internet and are nothing more than dim memories, supported by fuzzy photographs enclosed in aging plastic as part of my photo album collection. Many of those albums were damaged by water during storage. Recent trips to the Grand Canyon State were in a motor home, which isn’t conducive to unplanned photo stops on busy highways. The good news is that I am back for a few days and ready to explore one of the state’s most interesting provinces, the Central Highlands.

Figure 1

Figure 1 reveals how Arizona can be divided based on the most-recent geological event in its history, the problematic uplift of the Colorado Plateau during the last 80 million years by approximately 2.5 km (about 8000 feet). Today, Flagstaff is located at an elevation of 7000 feet while Phoenix, located in the Basin and Range province sits at a mere 1000 feet above sea level. The Transition Zone (Fig. 1) reflects how the earth’s crust adjusted to this 6000 foot difference in elevation. (Note that I am using the older terminology — Central Highlands — mostly as a nod to this area being identified as a distinct geographic province long before its tectonic underpinning was understood.) It’s also a nod to the motivation for this blog, in this case The Roadside Geology of Arizona, by Halka Chronic, published in 1983 by Mountain Press Publishing.

This post is an introduction to the Central Highlands. I will be driving (in a car and not a motor home) from Phoenix, in the Basin and Range province (see Fig. 2) on Interstate 17 to the middle of the volcanic complex shown in a burnt orange in Fig. 1, and then follow AZ-69 NW to Prescott, before returning to Phoenix on AZ-89 by a more westerly route.

Figure 2

The dramatic change in elevation from Phoenix to Flagstaff suggests that the earth’s crust was deformed substantially when the Colorado Plateau was uplifted (to the right in Fig. 3), much of the difference accommodated by faulting.

Figure 3

Blocks of crust the size of mountains slide up and down along the endless number of faults that characterize the Central Highlands, which is why its geological name is the Transition Zone (see Fig. 1), from low elevation to high. Most of the rocks we will see are Precambrian gneisses and granites. In other words, sedimentary rocks originally deposited far more than 500 Ma in the past, buried and subsequently altered by extreme heat and pressure more than a billion years ago, when they were penetrated and partially melted by molten material from deep within the earth (at least ten miles below the surface). Much later (within the last 100 million years) magma filled the faults crisscrossing the Central Highlands and flowed onto the ancient surface to form volcanoes and lava flows.

I will cross this Transition Zone at two locations, separated by about 40 miles, and attempt to identify variations in the rocks caused by a number of geological factors. That is the (hypothetical) purpose of this road trip.

There are six kinds of rocks and sediments we will be looking for on this trip, and we expect to find them in wildly confusing juxtapositions because of so many faults and the immense spans of time represented by the rocks, not to mention taking different routes on our journey.

  1. Quaternary gravel
  2. Quaternary and Tertiary lava flows
  3. Tertiary stream deposits of sand, silt and gravel with rounded pebbles
  4. Tertiary lake sediments of horizontal, whitish, fine-grained rock with layers of volcanic ash
  5. Precambrian granite
  6. Precambrian gneiss and schist

I will try to show examples of these with photographs but…well, roadside geology is a lot more dangerous than it used to be, with so many vehicles on the roads, and everyone in such a hurry…not to mention reading my blog on their cellphones (I wish).


Clarisse Yankovic’s faded blue eyes scanned her surroundings without recognition, the house she had lived in for almost fifty years now an alien landscape. She had fallen in love with the brick-clad, French Revival home the first time she laid eyes on it and, with help from their families and a large mortgage, she and David had moved into their dream house immediately after getting married. That had been forty-seven years earlier. The three children who’d filled the stalwart edifice with life had moved out decades ago to raise their own families, only visiting on holidays, birthdays, and her and David’s wedding anniversary. The house had quietly been invaded by cleaning and maintenance crews supplied for a monthly fee by a property management company. They had lived as tenants in their own home for too many years, a situation tolerated because of its simplicity. All that had changed when David died suddenly of a heart attack the previous year. 

It had suddenly dawned on her that there was no longer any reason to remain in St. Louis, dealing with the cold winters and an army of professionals keeping the house in perfect working order; their home had become nothing more than a repository of fond memories, not to mention a money pit. Her dream home was a museum. And she was a mannikin, part of the display, brought to life for special occasions like Christmas–Sacajawea in Night at the Museum

Today was the day. She informed the house of her decision. “I’m moving to Florida or maybe Southern California and I’m afraid I won’t be able to take you with me.” She waved her arms expansively and continued, “I have plenty of memories stored in my diaries, countless photo albums, and in the cloud, so I don’t need daily reminders from every corner of your beautiful interior. I’m sorry but that’s how it has to be…”

She paused but the house didn’t respond.

“Very well then. Let’s spend our last few months together pleasantly. I’m going to start sorting out the physical memories while my children and several charitable organizations pick your bones clean. But don’t worry because a new family will soon move in and I’m trusting that you will shelter them and keep them safe, right?”

Still no response. 

Clarisse danced up the stairs as she continued, “We’re going to start in the attic. Get the worst part over first was always my motto. I know that’s your most personal area but don’t worry, I won’t violate your privacy. I’m just going to remove a lot of what you probably see as clutter but which, to me, represents memories stored away for many, many years.”

She reached the second-floor landing and used an extendible hook to pull down the attic door recessed in the ceiling, revealing a folding stair. The maintenance people had kept it in perfect condition over the years, so she confidently climbed the sturdy treads. Reaching the top, she flipped the light switch that had been expertly installed decades ago, bathing a space defined by steeply dipping rafters bathed in high-efficiency LED lighting. She spent several minutes identifying the contents that had been randomly stored over the decades. It was like a library where the books had been arranged using a classification scheme based on a dead language, something like the Dewey decimal system. With no one to argue with her, Clarisse made an executive decision. She turned off the light and carefully descended the steep attic stair, closed the ceiling door on its hydraulic pistons, and called the property management company to request a couple of able-bodied young men to move the attic’s contents to the ground floor. 

*      *      *

“Where do you want us to put everything, ma’am?”

A pair of strapping young men appeared at Clarisse’s door the next day, ready to haul heavy boxes and to whatever manual labor she asked. “Would you mind rearranging the furniture in the living room to make space for everything? I’m moving out and it doesn’t matter where it all goes as long as it can be removed by the people who are coming from Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity…”

The young Hispanic man glanced around, shrugged indifferently, and said, “No problem.”

Clarisse stayed out of the way while her house became a three-dimensional, full-size version of Tetra. She watched in amazement as the dining room became a storage facility, the chairs carefully stacked on the table’s unblemished surface, covered by bedding from her ample linen supply. The living room was emptied in a few minutes, before being filled with the contents of the attic, which included open cartons containing items piled haphazardly which it made no sense to have saved. None of it was intimidating when exposed to the sunlight streaming in the front windows. She thanked the two men after several hours of hard work and offered them a tip for their services.

“You two have worked so hard, catering to all my stupid whims…”

The older man waved his tattooed arm and said, “Just doing our job, ma’am. We’re glad you’re happy with our work.”

Clarisse wouldn’t be satisfied with just telling them they’d done a good job. She wanted to give them a tip. “As a token of my appreciation, I would like each of you to take one item you like from the house, but of course not my memorabilia.” Their confused expressions prompted her to elaborate. “Anything you can carry with you…” She glanced out the window at the moving van parked in her driveway and added, “Anything that will fit in your truck.” 

She waved her arms as an invitation.

“Anything?” the younger man asked.

She nodded.

“The big-screen TV?”

“It’s yours,” she replied nonchalantly.

The sixty-inch TV and sectional sofa disappeared into the truck with as much alacrity as the attic’s contents had been transported to the living room. Feeling that the house was glad to have its attic emptied, relieving it of supporting so many memories it couldn’t possibly comprehend, Clarisse was compelled to rush to the side of the van as it was about to leave. She pushed two crisp hundred-dollar bills into the tattooed hand and said, “Someday, you’ll be my age—what I mean is that you did a lot more than move some boxes out of the attic…”

The two young men responded in unison, “Yes, ma’am.” 

*      *      *

The first thing Clarisse found among the attic’s displaced contents was a sealed box labelled, “Clarisse’s Diaries.” It had a date, just like several other boxes closed as tightly. But there wasn’t enough space to move the cartons around, to find the first diary she’d ever written, a record she had forgotten about long ago. Unable to find space in the crowded ground floor of her dream house, she had to wait for the removers, the men who would take away all the furniture that made it impossible to expose her memories to the light of day. She was certain the stoic house was looking on, taking no more than a passing interest in her efforts. 

“I hope you’re having as much fun as me,” she proclaimed, waving a glass of wine poured from a bottle discovered amongst the attic’s treasures. 

There was no answer. 

The next day, the game of Tetra continued. The moving men, representing competing philanthropic enterprises, arrived within minutes of each other, creating a tense situation and forcing Clarisse to make decisions about which charitable organization got what. Not having given it a lot of thought beforehand, she used a simple rule: Habitat for Humanity got anything made of wood whereas the Salvation Army got everything else, including David’s clothes, which had been hanging in the closet for more than a year. Having a set of rules in place, the house watched silently as its contents were systematically removed, leaving only Clarisse and the minimum necessities: a single bed from a guest room; an armchair; a folding TV tray; a few pans that neither of the charitable organizations wanted; some random plates and bowls; and the contents of the attic.

Clarisse breathed a sigh of relief as the last team of mercenaries left, transporting the bulkiest evidence of her previous life to unknown places. She sat in the sole remaining chair and looked at the blank walls, no longer adorned with expensive decorations, and expressed her feelings about the day.

“Thank god that’s over with.” 

She was certain the house breathed a sigh of relief.

*      *      *

“I don’t understand, Thomas,” Clarisse began, gazing questioningly into the sharp blue eyes of her father’s younger brother, now ninety-three and still living in the same house he’d occupied for more than sixty years. 

“My diary repeatedly refers to you as not being welcome in our house. There are countless entries talking about how you forced your way in but papa was too polite to call the police. But that isn’t what I recall at all. You were always visiting—spending all day on Saturday—taking me to the park. You showed me how to throw a baseball for Christ’s sake!”

Thomas’ pearly teeth gleamed, matching the twinkle in his bright eyes, as he responded to her despondent query. “First off, your first diary entry is accurate. Ivan went nuts when I told him I was gay and it was on Christmas Eve, 1954, and he called me a lot of names. I seem to recall throwing some back at him as well before storming off, swearing to never set eyes on him again. But we cooled down. He got over the initial shock and so did I. He had trouble accepting that I was gay—I had to fit his idea of a proper, manly brother. But, like I said, Ivan and I got over our first reactions and patched things up. So, your memory is more reliable than the diary you wrote when you were a young girl, almost seventy years ago, probably because your memories haven’t been transformed into words.” He patted Charisse’s hand and added, “A lot gets lost in translation.”

Clarisse was glad to have Thomas verify her recollection of events so many years in the past, which only served to remind her of so many other ambiguous entries, recorded when she was older. They talked about her diary while sitting on his front porch, occasionally interrupted by neighbors passing by, and eventually concluded that neither of their memories of past events was perfect. They argued about several of her diary entries, recorded through the decades, and each came to recognize the frailty of what they had assumed was reality. Thomas wrapped up the long conversation, lubricated by coffee and tea, by standing up suddenly.

“I think we have established that the written word isn’t very reliable. I’m just glad that the camera was invented, giving us visual proof of events and more importantly, the existence of our ancestors and thus ourselves.”

Clarisse added, “Not to mention the internet and social platforms, where we can…” Her words trailed off as she recalled when she’d discontinued writing in her diary because of the easy access of a multimedia platform like Facebook to store her memories. No more need of a diary, photo albums, or scribbled notes in the margins of letters and newspaper clippings. It was all digital now. 

She found her voice and added, “Oh my, that’s another can of worms, Thomas. I think I may have propagated my myopic, self-centered view of reality into the digital age.”

He looked at her comfortable shoes and said, “Are you up for a short walk?”

She nodded and waited for him to continue.

“Let’s go for an early dinner or late lunch, what do you say? We can discuss how you’re going to reconcile your treasure trove of historical documents with your mind’s unique point of view.”

Clarisse stood up and, nodding emphatically, said, “That’s a great idea, Thomas. Talking to you is mentally challenging and I think I’ve burned at least a thousand calories already. I’m famished.”

Her arm naturally entwined with his as they stepped off the porch. Suddenly self-conscious she grasped his bony forearm and said, “What will your neighbors think, with you walking with…I guess I’m a younger woman?”

He patted her grasping hand and admitted, “I was so excited about your visit that I told the entire neighborhood about my niece coming to visit. I don’t know if they expected a young girl or not, but you will always be Jackie to me.”

Clarisse squeezed his arm and said, “You called me that until I quit playing softball after high school. It was your private way of telling me how much you loved me…” She stopped, unsure if she’d stepped over a forgotten line.

She breathed a sigh of relief when Thomas quickly kissed her forehead and said, “Damn right, Jackie, that’s exactly what I was doing.”

She felt like a child again, memories of throwing a baseball awakened, the feel of the glove on her right hand, Thomas laughing as she threw the ball past him, too fast for him to catch, him standing behind her showing her how to hold the bat, his excited cheering from the four-tier bleachers at the middle-school fields where she’d played. The memories were so overwhelming that Clarisse stopped, her eyes filled with tears, and stammered, “I remember everything now, Thomas. I’d forgotten how close we were until just now. Can you forgive me for abandoning you for so many years?”

He took a handkerchief from the pocket of his tweed blazer, dabbed the tears from her eyes, and said, “You didn’t abandon me, Jackie. We both had happy and fulfilling lives. Now we are back together, sharing old memories of younger days filled with promise. We both lived our dreams and now…here we are, given a rare opportunity to be reunited after such a long separation. My eyes are filled with tears of joy too.”

She loosened her grip on his arm. “I feel like a little girl right now, walking with you like this, Uncle Thomas…”

He stopped and, tossing his long arm around her shoulders, looked into her eyes. “And I feel like a young man, so let’s avoid mirrors for the rest of the day.”

They laughed together. 

*      *      *

Clarisse had considered putting her diaries in storage because she definitely wasn’t going to haul them around the country with her. She had mentally committed to leaving St. Louis for a warmer place, but she hadn’t yet decided where exactly she was going. She was going to travel light, taking whatever fit in a large suitcase. During their late lunch and the drinks that had followed, Thomas had convinced her that she should have a cleansing ceremony, with a bonfire as the central theme, and then and there burn her diaries. She had at first been mortified at the idea of tossing her precious memories into flames, but he had persuaded her by sharing his own experience with loss. When his lifelong companion had died ten years earlier, Thomas had followed Edward’s wishes and destroyed all evidence of his existence. As Thomas had explained it, they had shared a beautiful life in this world and there was no reason to expect more than that. His argument had been so eloquent and deeply emotional that Clarisse had acquiesced, with the condition that he would attend the ceremony. He’d accepted the responsibility but made a request that had sent her into a panic: She had to invite the entire family to attend as well, presenting it as a celebration of life and renewal, like a wake for the recently deceased. 


He’d nodded confidently and answered, “RSVP of course. No one will attend except me, but you will have declared your freedom from the past, and your intention to live as you wish.”

She’d been convinced by his argument, and now found herself standing in front of the firepit in the backyard, its blackened stones reminding her of the decades of joy this place had given her. What had seemed like a good idea was starting to look like a desperate plea for attention. The diaries, which had been so overwhelming in a house filled with furniture, comprised a pathetic pile next to the firepit, whose flames they were supposed to feed. They wouldn’t last five minutes.

Her mental anguish was interrupted by the sudden arrival of Thomas, accompanied by a very old woman Clarisse didn’t recognize, who clung to his arm as if it were a life preserver in a stormy sea. 

“I haven’t seen you in a long time,” the elderly matron began. 

Clarisse was at a loss for words.

Thomas filled the silence with an informative comment. “I reckon it’s been more than fifty years since your college graduation, Clarisse. As I recall, that was when you and Helen last met…” 

“Aunt Helen?”

The elderly woman suddenly became enervated. “Where is the drink you promised me, Thomas? I’m thirsty and I have a feeling this bonfire is going to look more like a book burning and I hate destroying literature. Don’t light the fire until I’ve had a couple of drinks.”

The young man Clarisse had hired to bartend this exclusive event appeared with a cocktail, which he offered to the centenarian woman. She sipped it and looked at Thomas before saying, “You always were a sly fox. You could have made a fortune on Wall Street. But you never were a greedy man.”

Clarisse was overcome with memories. Again. This was a woman who, like Thomas, had made a profound impression on her, telling her at her college graduation party to forget all that sports bullshit because she wasn’t that good, and focus on making money. Clarisse had followed the advice she’d been given that day by the wife of her mother’s brother, Aunt Helen. Memories flooded into her consciousness and she lunged toward the frail, elderly woman, her assault stopped by Thomas’ surprisingly strong arm. 

“Don’t get carried away, Clarisse.”

She felt foolish when she realized that Aunt Helen, who had inspired her to pursue a business career rather than sports, was physically frail because she was more than a hundred-years old. Clarisse accepted the glass of sparkling wine offered by the server in lieu of hugging her aunt. 

“Hold this, Thomas,” Helen said, passing her glass to the younger man without looking. “Give me a hug, Clarisse, I’m not as brittle as he thinks.” She opened her arms wide enough for Clarisse to fit between them.

They hugged but Clarisse made a point of not squeezing too hard, as much as she wanted to compress five decades of missing affection into a single moment. She was crying again, a fact noted by Helen as she retrieved her drink from Thomas. “I’d join you in a good cry if I could, Jackie—yes, Thomas told me about that, centuries ago, but you don’t recall any of that, you were too young—but the truth is I don’t have any tears left…”

Clarisse wiped her eyes, sipped from her glass of wine, and tried to sound understanding in her reply. “I guess you have cried a lot of tears, losing so much, people you loved, I’m sorry—”

Helen waved her hand dismissively as Thomas helped her into a chair that had been placed near the fire pit. “No, Jackie, I mean that I can’t cry anymore. I’m too old and I don’t have any extra moisture to waste on emotional displays, or at least that’s what the doctor told me. I’m all gummed up inside, nothing working like it’s supposed to. I’m surprised I can still think; in fact, my memory is as sharp as a tack…” Her mouth emitted a shallow, hoarse cackle that grated on Clarisse’s nerves, the residue of a hearty laugh that her body was no longer able to reproduce. 

The bartender appeared with fresh drinks for everyone.

Clarisse took a moment to examine Helen as she pulled a pack of Marlboro cigarettes from her jacket pocket and removed one with fingers as steady as a surgeon’s. Her hair was as white as snow and cut short, but she wasn’t balding. Faded blue eyes peered out of sockets no deeper than Clarisse’s, shadowed by white eyebrows without a wisp of eyelashes for adornment. The smooth face was broken by no more wrinkles than Clarisse confronted every morning in the mirror, moot evidence that reaching Helen’s age was the result of factors having nothing to do with personal habits. She proved that when a lighter appeared in Thomas’ hand to light her cigarette.

“Thank you, Thomas. Now, let’s burn these books and get on with the real fun!”

The bartender lighted the prepared fire and retreated discretely, leaving Clarisse to supervise the proceedings. She tore some pages out of the first diary she’d ever written and threw them into the small flame to applause from Thomas and Helen. Encouraged, she became more daring, tossing pages and even entire diaries into the flames, feeding the fire with wrinkled newspapers used as packing for some of the other contents of the attic. 

The three elderly people watched the funeral pyre, feeding its appetite for paper, while the bartender kept their interest fueled with alcohol. When the last of the diaries had been consumed in flames, Helen lit another cigarette and offered one to Clarisse. At first offended, then confused, she accepted it and followed Thomas’ advice to not inhale but just puff it enough to keep it burning, instructions enthusiastically supported by Helen. It was somehow relaxing to hold the burning cylinder, a weed wrapped in paper, a habit that hadn’t killed Helen after more than forty years. Clarisse laughed and choked at that thought, that Helen hadn’t started smoking until her husband had died of lung cancer, when she was sixty. 

“What’s wrong?” Helen asked.

Struggling to get a grip on something she couldn’t identify, much less control, Clarisse stammered, “I feel lost, as if the floor just dropped out from under me…nothing makes sense anymore—where are my children? I mean, for god’s sake, I invited them personally, on the phone, it’s not like this is the middle of the night…” She glanced at her watch before continuing, “It’s only seven o’clock. They only live a few minutes away and their children are old enough to be left home alone for days if not weeks…” She was sobbing by the end of her tirade and collapsed into the chair next to Helen.

A shriveled, dry hand covered hers and a hoarse voice, coming from just before the grave, said, “That’s how it goes, Jackie. Don’t fret about it or you’ll go crazy. Let’s go inside and take a peek at some of the old family photos you’ve been storing in the attic. I have a feeling we may have another book burning before too long.” Her lively eyes didn’t have to look far for support because her mouth was twisted into a grin that reminded Clarisse of the Crypt Keeper

Thomas and Clarisse helped Helen to her feet as she threw her cigarette butt into the dying embers filling the firepit, floating on the soft breeze, reminders of the fragility of memory. Clarisse recalled a painting she’d seen once in a museum. The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali had made a deep impression on her even when she was only thirty years old, and now she was living that dream, or was it a nightmare? She accompanied the two people who seemed to be the only humans who cared about her and, holding tears of loss and pain deep inside her chest, made Thomas and Helen as comfortable as she could in the empty house she was occupying alone. 

Helen settled into the armchair, Thomas and Clarisse seated on folding chairs at her sides, and said, “I’m going to need another drink before I can deal with whatever your photo albums contain, Jackie…” 

Before she could finish her sentence, another whiskey sour appeared, delivered by the taciturn bartender, along with drinks for Clarisse and Thomas. Helen was in a good mood, so Clarisse wasted no time laying her oldest photo album on the TV tray, exposing images she only vaguely recognized to a centenarian mind as sharp as a scalpel.

*      *      *

“After what you’ve told me Clarisse, I would recommend Facebook Story instead of News Feed, and you aren’t a good candidate for platforms like Instagram or Snapchat because most of your contacts are on Facebook. They will eventually adapt to your new presence within the same platform whereas asking them to migrate their on-line presence—that’s highly unlikely.”

Jessica Holmes had been Clarisse’s internet consultant for almost twenty years. Intrigued by the unfamiliarity of the internet and the confidence exuded by a young black woman straight out of college, she’d become Clarisse’s first client. They had become good friends. Jessica had gone through Clarisse’s oldest photo albums (annotated with Thomas and Helen’s humorous comments scribbled on post-it notes) with her and digitized the images, including any comments as what she called metadata. It would all be stored in The Cloud for future retrieval, maybe by her children when they grew up a little more and weren’t so occupied with their own kids. Several boxes of memories were going to be reduced to a few gigabytes of data, according to Jessica, well below the storage capacity Google allowed at no cost. Clarisse would have been lost without her friend’s help, but she was confused.

“What’s wrong with just continuing with what I’m used to? It’s pretty straightforward, posting a photo or something and reading any comments, what’s wrong with that?”

Clarisse recognized the look on Jessica’s face, the same expression she used when she was about to explain something so obvious that anyone would know it, anyone familiar with the internet and social media. But she’d learned to listen to Jessica’s condescending lessons without getting defensive, so she bit her tongue as yet another example of warped perceptions, no more than the reflections from a funhouse mirror, was revealed.

“Of course, it works fine, but you want to get rid of false memories and inconsistent communications, especially to yourself, right?”

Clarisse nodded emphatically.

“I’ve analyzed your Facebook activity for the last ten years, Clarisse. That’s why I think you should switch to the Story paradigm.” Clarisse’s blank look prompted Jessica to continue, “A couple of people respond regularly to your posts, mostly with Likes rather than comments. A slightly larger group sees them but doesn’t react consistently. In fact—I don’t know how to say this, but you look at your own posts more than anyone else. They are a digital extension of your diaries and photo albums, a trip down memory lane and not much more. I’m not suggesting you disavow social media, only that you use it more effectively given your recent epiphany. And, by the way, I fully support your decision, in case I didn’t make that clear earlier…”

Clarisse was aghast. She swallowed hard and made up her mind. “So, this Story thingy is like gossip, I guess? I post a photo, maybe with an inappropriate comment, and it just disappears the next day? I don’t have to constantly check to see how it was received…one or two people might comment but then it goes away—could you show me how to do that?” 

*      *      *

Clarisse woke up in a strange place, sunrise’s first rays streaming through the thin curtains illuminating the austere room sequestering her from reality. This wasn’t her bedroom in the house she had emptied of her worldly possessions. She wasn’t lying in the bed she’d become accustomed to but instead in a soft, twin bed, a stiff pillow supporting her head. Recent memory sharpened and she recognized her surroundings. She was in Thomas’s guestroom. 

She had sold the house to a young couple with three children and two dogs. She was certain it would be happy with the new family. 

The week she’d spent with Thomas had been like a vacation, getting up late, having brunch instead of breakfast, going for walks in the park, window shopping, and of course visiting Aunt Helen. When Clarisse had pressed her elderly aunt about her health, Helen had sworn on an old, dusty bible she dragged out of a closet that she was in perfect health for someone her age. Her only medication was an occasional sedative to get a good night’s sleep and Tylenol for aches and pains. She had patted Clarisse’s arm and concluded her medical summary with, “I’ll probably just die in my sleep with no one the wiser. Of course, spending so much time with you and Thomas will probably add ten years to my life.”

Clarisse sat up, suddenly alert. Today was the day. Thomas and Helen were taking her to the train station, where she would board a local Amtrak train to meet up with the Southwest Chief in Kansas City. She would occupy a private suite for the scenic ride to Los Angeles. Her bag was packed. Her morning shower seemed to take forever, and getting dressed was far more complicated than she remembered it, but she finally made her appearance in the kitchen, where she and Thomas had coffee and discussed the day’s activities. It was dark. She looked at the clock and realized it was only 5:30 a.m., not even close to their usual time to get up. 

Feeling foolish, she went to the living room as quietly as she could, not wanting to wake up Thomas. Feeling her way in the semi-darkness to turn on a table lamp, she was startled when the room lit up, revealing Thomas sitting in his favorite chair, a cup of coffee in his hand.

“Why don’t you join me, Jackie?”

“Whaaaa—” she began.

“I couldn’t sleep and I’ve found that when I have insomnia, it’s better to get up because otherwise my back hurts in the morning. It’s something about being asleep, is what my doctor tells me. I’m so excited about your adventure, it’s like I’m the one getting on that train and going to California…”

They finished a pot of coffee and walked to a diner for breakfast. At Thomas’s insistence, she had the Full Monty, a pile of pancakes topped with blueberries, surrounded by scrambled eggs and home fries, covered with a mix of gravy and syrup, with a plate of sausage and ham on the side, not to mention toast and homemade strawberry preserves. As she worked on the delicious pile of heart-stopping instant death, he explained that he ordered it about once a month, but he didn’t eat anything more substantial than fruit and salad for several days afterward. In other words, she might not like the food on the train. 

“I wish you were coming with me, Thomas. You could get a ticket because we would be sharing a suite. And you could come back anytime you wanted on a plane or the return trip of the Southwest Chief. Please join me?!”

“Eat your biscuits, Jackie, and don’t leave any of that gravy. Now, about your childish demands, I would love to accompany you, and I may visit you in a couple of months and ride the Southwest Chief, but this is your voyage of discovery and emancipation. You haven’t done anything this adventurous since you went to college…”

Clarisse cleaned up all of her plates with Thomas watching approvingly, while she contemplated his words. Sitting there with him, she realized he was right. It wasn’t that her husband, David, had been overbearing, only that they had done everything together. Every decision was a team effort. Cleaning out the attic was the first personal decision she’d made without his input. Thomas had recognized this because…because he was older and wiser than her, and he’d been through it all himself. This really was something she had to do alone.

“Can I get you to promise to come out for a visit after I get established, not necessarily in a house or whatever—I am going to get a two bedroom apartment, expecting a guest to appear at any moment.” Her gaze dipped as she added, “Please?”

Thomas examined her plate as if making sure a child had eaten their broccoli, before his hand gently lifted her chin, urging her gaze to meet his. 

“I already bought a ticket.”

Review of “Six Easy Pieces” by Richard P. Feynman

This old book (published in 1963) crossed my path so I read it. It contains six essays (actually lectures) from a class the author taught in 1961-1962 as an experiment in changing how physics is taught to undergraduates. Prefaces written in 1989 and 1994 describe it as a beautiful journey led by a great thinker (Feynman won a Nobel prize for his contributions to Quantum Electrodynamics, or QED). I think it’s more useful to read Feynman’s original preface, written in 1964. He thought the experiment was a failure as an alternative way of introducing undergraduates to the world of physics. Taking into account that this was written almost 60 years ago, I didn’t expect any brilliant insight into state-of-the-art problems.

I was curious because I was one of those introductory physics students he was supposedly teaching to in this lecture series, sitting in a lecture hall with 200 other students from every scientific and engineering discipline. Of course I suffered through this material 20 years later. It’s possible that some of the methods introduced in these lectures made their way into the University Physics courses I took because our professor used a lot of props to demonstrate different processes, very much like Feynman discusses and includes as figures. I can only imagine how it was taught before — probably like Calculus, another mind-numbing, abstract subject.

Feynman writes like a scientist, clear but a little wordy. Some of the examples he uses to introduce scientific topics are very simple but concrete, and he is clear about how far analogues can go. He uses them a lot and, from his comments in the preface, I assume he left it to the teaching assistants in the recitation classes (graduate students earning a little money to help undergrads with their homework), to actually teach the textbook material. I had a chemistry professor like that…

I guess the title is a reference to the easiest lectures in the course. This is certainly an eclectic choice for the book because a couple bordered on simpleminded (as opposed to simplified) whereas at the other extreme was a mind-numbing summary of the results (in 1961) from particle physics. I’m glad I didn’t take a pop quiz on the elementary particles from his “Basic Physics” lecture!

This material is dated and there is no sign of brilliant teaching anywhere to be found. Much better presentations have been created in the last 60 years, which is no surprise. This was an experiment, to try and interest first-year undergraduates in physics, and change what was (and still is) basically a weed-out course, into a recruitment drive. From the comments in the prefaces, it failed, but it probably influenced how physics was taught to me. If so, that was a significant accomplishment on its own.

I can’t recommend it, only because there are probably better summaries available now.

Review of “The Chaos Kind” by Barry Eisler

Another random read, this time a preposterous fictional story based (very loosely) on conspiracy theories surrounding Jeffrey Epstein’s death in jail. At least that’s my take. The grammar and punctuation are okay, but the writing style becomes very ponderous after the halfway point, a phenomenon I’ve mentioned before. I think the author was being sucked into a black hole (aka publisher’s deadline) and didn’t have time to clean it up. Not that it would have mattered.

There is no actual story. What tattered plot can be found is nothing more than transitions between a never-ending series of gun fights. If you like guns, you’ll like this book; just don’t get any ideas about reenacting the scenes. There aren’t even any chase scenes or detective work — we don’t need no stinking effort, just put that in background. There are a lot of characters but no real protagonists, just a bunch of government (sometimes ex-government) contractors (read mercenaries) who know each other and have some kind of Three-Musketeer camaraderie. The number of bad decisions by people with reputations to lose (not to mention their crime-fighting careers) cascades into the same black hole as the author’s attention.

Despite my negative opinion, I found many of the scenes exciting and turned the page as fast as anyone; however, I also found myself reading the action scenes quickly in anticipation of hopefully finding a plot after they were finished. Never found it. The author is good at short scenes that get the pulse going but they aren’t integrated into an interesting story. The characters may be based on real people but they are not much more than permutations on a single personality, probably not a surprise since they are all (or become in the story) murderers, also known as assassins and simple killers. Having a personal interest in killing doesn’t change it.

I just wish that Eisler hadn’t tried to make them all “good” guys and gals. Because they are not.

I can’t recommend this, unless you like reading about gun fights and what are the best weapons to use in a particular situation…