Monday, January 7, 2013
Gold, Silicon and Irony
What is irony?
When a thing has a lot of iron it is irony. Silica (SiO2) is almost always present in iron ore, though most of it is slagged off during smelting. Also gold and silica precipitate initially as colloidal buddies at deep hydrothermal levels and get shoved upward by ore-forming fluids. Gold is rarer than iron and iron rarer than silica.
Silica is composed of silicon and oxygen, the two most abundant elements in the earth's crust. It is a white sparkley rock on country lanes and driveways. It holds up railroad ties and the dreams of futurists. I am writing this on one of those dreams.
Under this keyboard, electrons are tickled in silicon. Listen. You can hear them capering into the future, and into the past.
In 1967, my buddy Eladio and I were guests at his grandmother's ranch about 25 miles southeast of here along the Cosumnes River. We stopped to let a beautiful tarantula cross our path. We followed it to a rough foundation of tumbled silica rocks. They walled a basement into which black timbers had fallen long before. There was a hearth inside, and gaps where doors once were. Nothing else except a bad feeling.
"Eladio, who lived here?"
"My grandmother says a bandit did. Lived here with his girlfriend."
"How long ago?"
"Before her time. She says he torched the cabin and rode off with their gold. His girlfriend crawled out and dragged herself to my great grandparent's house."
"I mean what became of the woman?"
"She recovered. Tough lady."
"And the bandit?"
"Hollywood made Zorro out of him."
"Out of whom?"
A few years after this conversation, the property was sold and turned into a modern high-end gated community. The dashing ore-gathering exploits (raiding claims and stealing their yields) of Joaquin Murieta were deputed to the last members of his gang, who promoted Proposition 13 in 1978 and succeeded in claiming the disputed territory, California, for the inflationary whims of developers and rapacious realtors. The rest of the country soon followed suit.
I suppose the moral of this story is that a mineral as plentiful as silica connects us with its entire history, and its future, and our own, every time we encounter it. There is even a therapy involving its crystals that promises to make new persons of us --persons we may or may not like-- which renders gold less and less important to modern economics. It is useless in microchips. Iron, however, is quite useful in all electronics, which reminds me this post is about irony: