Writing in Rock: An introduction

If you have ever seen a freshly mowed baseball diamond or veering skid marks on a two-lane road, you know that remnants of the past are often (semi-)permanently engraved on the earth’s surface. This is a theme that I will come back to a lot in this blog – that the tumultuous past is preserved like a scar in the earth. Sometimes it is clear as a picture, like a well-preserved fossil (don’t believe me? Just ask @SuetheTRex, another Illinois transplant).


Sometimes it is more obscure – foliations or fabric in the rock.


Even in the endless monotony of the Midwestern “corn-desert”–flatter than a frying pan–the subtle stamp of fluid flows can be seen when the straight angles of agriculture began to bow in winter (map below).


Often when scientists write about their area of study, they do so with a kind of religious poetry. I will likely be no different, but that is also because I see the hand of creation in all things, from leaping quarks to moving mountains. The purpose of this blog is not to promote any kind of religious perspective, but I also am motivated by religious faith to do the work I do, and the name of this blog is drawn from (among other things) a biblical passage in the Gospel of John.

…But He stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground…

Nobody read what Jesus wrote here–what did it say? Was it just doodling? Was it something profound? A warning to enemies? A comfort to the accused woman before him he would defend? It is one of the great mysteries of the Christian Gospel stories: The Creator writing in rock.

God the Geometer, the frontpiece of an “illuminated” 13th century French Bible

There is a tradition in Christianity of “illuminated” manuscripts–biblical texts illustrated both as art and so that those who could not read could still see and understand the story. Regardless of whether you believe in a god or a creator, the imagery of the biblical passage above and the idea of an illustrated manuscript are fascinating metaphors for me to illustrate the language of geology.  We read every day from the finger of the Creator.

Francis Collins–a geneticist who helped lead the Human Genome Project–thought of DNA as the Language of God; that is, it was an image of how the world of today came to be. Geology is the same.

Geology is the art (and science) of learning the language that the earth etches as it rumbles and tumbles through the eons. Reading the remnants of the past is what geologists do, and there are all kinds of geologic “languages” out there: alluvium, seismicity, faults, folds–even alien tongues. (Not to mention a whole lot of fun vocab: slickenslide, graben, gneiss, hornblende, scarp, schist, tuff, just to name a few). Geologists translate these languages and, in doing so, show how they and the great landforms of the earth came to be. And that’s what this blog is about–-reading the annals of the Earth, the Writing in Rock.

I hope this blog will illuminate some of the more fascinating things that the geologic processes in Illinois and around the world have “written.” Some of these are subtle. Some are deceitful. Some have been whittled away by wind and water and time. Some are as black and white as a newspaper.

Enjoy the reading.


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