Kenwood Press

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Obituaries: 08/01/2016

Community icon Jim Berkland dies

Jim Berkland
Jim Berkland’s life here ended quietly early Friday morning, July 22, only a few days before his 86th birthday. He had spent most of his life in the Valley of the Moon, and he knew and loved our valley deeply, just as he was known and loved by many.

Throughout his childhood, Jim fished the streams and wandered the hills near Glen Ellen, learning the nature of the landscape. An avid writer, he wrote over a thousand poems about the wildlife and plant life of the area – and about the daily life of the people of our community. Because his poetry celebrated every aspect of the region, Jim was recently named Honorary Poet Laureate of the Valley of the Moon.

The boyhood naturalist grew to become a dedicated scientist, who believed in direct observation and critical thinking – despite conventional wisdom. His eager curiosity, combined with a generous and agile mind, led to discoveries that redefined the geologic prehistory of our region – finding fossils of sea life high in the Mayacamas range, and Ponderosa Pines (usually found high in the Sierras) in the lowlands of Nuns Canyon. Just this past year he found extremely rare tektites, fused remnants of a meteor impact, at Morton’s Warm Springs.

After receiving his degree in Geology at U.C. Berkeley, and serving as assistant professor at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, Jim returned to California in 1973 to become the first county geologist for Santa Clara County. Here he began to formulate some very original ideas about the nature and frequency of earthquakes.

His research was largely ignored, until his prediction of the destructive Loma Prieta earthquake appeared in the newspaper four days before it struck on Oct. 17, 1989. But he was promptly put on leave from his position as county geologist, for fear that his predictions could cause panic.

Jim was reinstated in his geologist position, though under restrictions. He continued to pursue his pioneering work in seismic prediction (he preferred the word “preparedness”), which remained both respected and controversial.

Though he had several California addresses and did some world travelling, the Valley of the Moon remained Jim’s beloved home. He adored his family – wife Jan, son Jay, daughter Krista, son-in-law Bill, and grandkids Kara and Jace – who regularly received his poems of deep affection. Jim also loved his community; over the decades he was active in our volunteer fire department, the community church, the Lions Club, the Jack London Foundation, and the Glen Ellen Historical Society. He happily struck up conversations with strangers. He readily shared laughter or gentle tears when he told stories about his experiences of life and the world that so fascinated him.

Toward the end of his life, Jim developed a deep interest in the world beyond. He was baptized through the Glen Ellen Community Church, where he remained a dedicated member until his death.

From his reflections about life and death, he published a poem, “Life in the Hyphen,” which can be viewed at

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