Vista Point: A rock’s view on reinventing Pebble Beach

Written by Matthew C. Durkee, The Triplicate June 28, 2012 12:00 am

Rocks are reticent. It’s not that they have nothing to say, only that they speak so slowly no one can understand them.

Fortunately, with the assistance of hard science and a vivid imagination, it is possible under the right set of circumstances to interview a rock.

In this case, the subject is jasper, which for conversational purposes shall be referred to with a capital J.

Jasper is an 8mm-wide pebble, a firebrick-colored spheroid reminiscent of petrifying, already-been-chewed Big Red stuck to the backside of a park bench.

On a late spring afternoon, Jasper was catching some rays during a low tide on Pebble Beach.

“‘Pebble,’ they call me,” it said in a gravelly voice. “I don’t like the word. Can’t say why. Makes me feel inadequate somehow. I guess I should take comfort that at least I’m not sand.”

“Sand” here is pronounced like an epithet. Jasper, you see, is a common pebble. Nothing mighty like a boulder. Not even a good, ordinary-rock size such as would fit firmly in the grip of your hand. Instead, it’s just gravel, the stuff you find a few plastic bins down from lowly sand in the landscaping sediments aisle of your local garden center.

Here on the beach, Jasper reckons with a contradictory pecking order.

For the wetter half of the year, it’s top dog, standing proud atop the corrugated rockbed of southern Pebble Beach and occasionally catching the eye of a passerby who might pick it up, wonder how disappointing it will look when dry and lusterless, and then lob Jasper back to join its cold, briny-wet cousins.

Then there is the other half of the year, when the red pebble is smothered by literal tons of wet sand.

How — why — where — does sand make its seasonal migration off the beach in the fall/winter and back on in the spring/summer, I ask.

“It goes over there,” Jasper says, incapable of pointing because it has nary a finger. “Sand bars under the water. Only part of the beach is ever visible, even in low tide. Storms stir up the sea, make me seasick,” Jasper says. “But I stay, and sand doesn’t. Can’t handle it like I can, so it just gets washed out to the sub-marine sandbars where it hibernates for the winter.”

When the waves settle down in the spring, the sand drifts back, piling up by roughly 5 feet on Pebble Beach. A geologist told me that on the north side of Point St. George beach levels rise as much as 8 feet in the summer.

It is a common law of nature that the bigger things have little regard for the smaller things, so it would be natural to assume Jasper’s superiority complex toward sand is a simple matter of size. I get the impression, however, that sand represents to Jasper a kind of unsettling death-by-erosion, the last stop from mountain to nothing.

Just a few million years ago, Jasper was part of a much more impressive rock, a boulder that broke free from a mountain somewhere east. At canyon’s bottom in the likewise seasonal flows of brook and river, Jasper was smoothed and rounded, diminished layer by layer like a Tootsie Pop. Pushed by aeons of water flow, it eventually reached the sea. Currents carried Jasper to its present resting spot on Pebble Beach where it rides out the seasonal migrations of its arch-enemy, sand.

But Jasper knows the day is coming soon — in terms of geologic time, anyway — when it will be scattered to bits, just another hardly-noticeable grain of sand, its perky color lost in the collective beige-gray of Del Norte beaches.

The next time I wade into the Smith, I will look up at the mountain boulders and down at the riverbed stones, and I will raise a can in honor of Jasper because someday these, too, could be beach pebbles and, in time, grains of sand suitable for measuring time not by the aeons but by the seasons.

Editor’s note: Matthew C. Durkee is assistant editor of the Triplicate. Vista Point will appear every other Tuesday.