Geologist Barbie Dream House


Right. Everybody’s dressing Barbie like a geologist (or other scientist), but has anyone given a thought to where she’d actually live? No. They have not. Maybe they’re planning to plunk some rocks atop that gawdawful pink dream house of hers and call it good.

Well, bollocks to that. Geologist Barbie should have a real geology dream home, not some icky pink plastic monstrosity.

Barbie will be too busy drilling core samples for paleomagnetic studies, or analyzing samples on a mass spectrometer, to mess about with a garden. Besides, she’s frequently out of town doing field studies. You think she’s got time to weed and water? Hells to the no. So what we need is a house that has got a garden that’s like a cat: perfectly capable of taking care of itself for long periods of time. It has got to have rocks in (duh). And the house has to be a beautiful, relaxing place for a busy scientist to come home to. This is, after all, a dream house. A house where Geologist Barbie can dream of rocks.

I have got just the thing:

Behold the Dream House!

What self-respecting geologist wouldn’t want a nice little Japanese-style house with a lovely Zen garden? It’s peaceful. It’s pretty. It gives you an excuse to collect some really big rock samples and put them on display.

Dream House: view into the garden

Zen gardens are meant to evoke a larger landscape. And they’re great places to contemplate the large in the small, which is what geologists do every day: taking a small sample of something, examining a small section (perhaps even in thin section), which then tells us about a far larger whole. “That,” my little book on Zen Rock Gardening says, “is when what is small takes on a bigger resonance, when we have the chance to glimpse the meaning of the world in a grain of sand, for it has been framed in a majestic simplicity.” Or perhaps framed in a USB microscope. Which, incidentally, would fit very nicely in that lovely lab/office we’ve installed in one of the back rooms, but I digress. We were on about gardens, weren’t we?

Close view of the Zen Garden

What you do for your basic Zen garden is take some nice, pale sand or gravel, lay it flat, and bung a few interesting rocks in. Rocks that evoke mountains, or islands, or even waterfalls. You find beautiful rocks, stark rocks, interesting rocks, perhaps even disturbing rocks, and you place a few of them just so, and rake the gravel round them in patterns that suggest rivers or streams or waves. And then you can sit on your veranda of an evening or morning or even all day, if you’ve got a day, watching the light change, watching new facets of the rocks revealed, listening to their stories.

Overhead view of the bridge and dry stream

The architect Kenzo Tange said, “Driven by the compulsion to make the invisible, mysterious forces of nature and space tangible, man saw one particular substance stand out in the gloom of primeval nature – solid, immovable rock.” Geologists know just how much mystery can be revealed if you get your hands on a good rock. They know how much wonder a really nice rock can inspire. And, bonus, rocks do not need to be watered.

Muso Zoseki, the 13th century Zen priest, poet, and famous Zen rock gardener, wrote a wonderful little poem entitled Kasenzui no in, variously translated as “Poem on Dry Mountain (A Zen Garden)” or “Ode to the Dry Landscape.” Here’s the translation from my Zen Rock Gardening book:

A high mountain

   soars without

        a grain of dust

a waterfall

    plunges without

       a drop of water

Once or twice

   on an evening of moonlight

      in the wind

this man here

   has been happy

      playing the game that suited him

And here we are, in the moonlight, in the wind, playing the game that suits us: getting rocks to tell secrets, teasing their stories from their hard silent selves.

Let’s place our house in a setting suitable for such efforts.

Geologist Barbie Dream House. Cascade Mountains Not Included.

There. Now isn’t that better than some frightful pink thing?

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