Reign of Stone, an excerpt from West of ’89, ch XXI: El Diablo Imperialista

Late in the Eocene epoch, forty million years before Man invented language and lies, the earth’s crust cracked under western Oregon and released a sea of magma over the fertile coastal plain. Plumes of gas thrust tons of ash high into the atmosphere and it rained over the plain and enriched the soil, while great cones of cinder and stone rose like sentinels to overlook the land.

As the Miocene epoch began, twenty million years before Man mastered mathematics and mendacity, volcanic activity accelerated and rivers of lava laid down a vast plateau of brittle basalt.

At the beginning of the Pliocene epoch, four million years before Man began to worship women and war, the Juan de Fuca plate, hurtling eastward at four centimeters per year, left the Pacific basin and slammed into the west coast of North America. The relentless pressure from the collision pushed up mounds of earth and folded it under the basaltic plateau. The surface buckled, popped, and pierced the firmament with great splinters of stone.

Long before the Reign of Stone gave way to the Age of Reason, settling mounds of ash and gravel climbed into the sky, to be softened and shaped by rushing wind and running water. Periodically, as the heat and pressure mounted, these slumbering giants tore themselves open and set loose great gouts of lava, ash, and vapor upon the upper world. This constant violence of one plate sliding inexorably under the other turned organic matter under and ground it into pulp while it broke up the layers of basalt and transformed Oregon’s idyllic countryside into a roiling cauldron of muck and rock.

Martin Powell struggled to keep up. His head pounded. His feet hurt. He did not love Jesus. His years of desk duty at the Oregon (nee Idaho) Department of Power had left him unsuited to hiking over the rough terrain at Blind Ridge. Because his reactivation into the Reserves had been sudden and unexpected, he lacked the conditioning of the Regulars, thus vindicating their dim view of the “Sorry Seconds.” The enlistees assigned to him had no trouble keeping up with Harrison Davis and Clayton Mackenzie as they marched over the ridge, but he was impelled to call for regular halts.

As he caught up to the party the Guards were seated near the edge of the bluff overlooking the Spokane River. Mackenzie was hugging the trunk of a great ponderosa pine growing out from the cliff edge. Davis had climbed onto a branch, his legs wrapped tightly around it and his head dangling into open space. “Oh, come on and open your eyes, Mr Mack. This tree is perfect for our rig. It’s held itself here for generations, against both gravity and wind loading. Our puny bodies are not going to break this!”


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