The following Out and About was originally written by David Bern and published in the 2012 edition of Tooele County Magazine as the editor’s introduction.
On the northeast end of South Mountain, far below an anthology of rolling summits, I’m standing atop a hump of unexpected earth.
It’s a small, low hill just off of a trail called the South Mountain Loop. Around me, waves from ancient Lake Bonneville have etched indelible bathtub rings on South Mountain’s lower slopes, and deep currents from the long-gone lake have left sandbars, spits and bays bone dry.
The only thing that flows now over these relics from a wetter time is grass and wind.
The hill’s top is crowned by bands of exposed rocks that from a distance look like the sunken spine of an odious beast from the netherworld. But stand next to them and the perspective changes from macabre comparisons to pure curiosity.
The rocks are unlike anything you typically see in or around Tooele Valley. They’re brooding in shades of gray, red, brown and green, and vary in size from marbles to beach balls. Some are polished smooth and others feel like pumice. Take two and rub them together hard, and molecules, millions of years old, break free and climb into your nose with a pungent and arcane scent. You’d swear they were jettisoned to the surface from the cellar of time in a torrent of heat and force.
But there’s more here. The rocks, millions of them, are tumbled together in a hurried and chaotic, non-stratified mix. It’s as if Nature’s own edicts of slow sorting and layering were tossed out the window. Furthermore, the rocks are embedded in a cement-colored matrix that leaves them suspended in gravity and time.
But I didn’t come here to look at rocks. I came here for the view — and to give my imagination a good run.
South Mountain is located due west of Stockton and smack dab in the middle of four prominent landforms of eastern Tooele County: Tooele and Rush valleys, and the Oquirrh and Stansbury mountains. Due to South Mountain’s location, the view from the hill yields an authentic panorama of Tooele Valley, with the Oquirrhs to the east and the Stansburys to the west.
The view is completely balanced — equal turf to the left and right, with a horizon straight ahead that rolls down the length of Tooele Valley to the south shore of the Great Salt Lake. Above, there is endless blue with long trails of high cirrus.
It’s an ideal place for picturing a number my brain struggles to comprehend. On Oct. 30, 2011, the United Nations reported that Earth’s 7 billionth baby — a girl named Danica May Camacho — was born in Manila, capitol of the Philippines. The milestone was met with both jubilation and fear.
The fear part needs little explanation. It took countless millennia for humanity to hit its first billion in the early 1800s. Roughly 150 years later, that number reached three billion in 1960. By 1999 (less than 40 years), the world’s population doubled. Now, in just a little over a decade, there’s a billion more.
So what does a low hill with odd rocks and a grand tableau of Tooele Valley have to do with 7 billion people? All those citizens live on continents and islands that have a combined landmass of approximately 57 million square miles. But would you believe that every man, woman and child — all 7 billion — could fit in an area a lot smaller? According to experts who like to calculate these things, the world’s entire population could stand shoulder-to-shoulder on about 500 square miles. Smirking with doubt? The proof is in the math.
To stand shoulder-to-shoulder, each person, on average, needs about two square feet. For 7 billion people, that converts to 14.1 billion square feet. That amount of square footage is equivalent to 22.5 miles squared, or 506 square miles — an area comparatively the size of Tooele Valley, with some extra acreage from the nearby Oquirrh and Stansbury mountains, a bit of Great Salt Lake surf, and the southern end of Stansbury Island.
Back on the hill, slowly panning from west to east, I try to envision what 7 billion people would look like here. I see a veritable ocean of faces, row upon row, stretching for miles and miles and miles. Every square foot of Tooele Valley is occupied by humanity. Like the upheaval of rocks around me, the sight of so much mankind, chaotically mixed into one small place, strains the senses to comprehend. And the laughter and chatter is deafening. What’s that? Chinese? And over there? Swahili?
Now if I could just coax all those souls to smile at the same moment, I would photograph the group portrait of a lifetime. But afterward, I’d likely never open my camera’s shutter again. Processing seven billion reprint orders is going to take some time.