I love it when I don’t have to answer such questions. Southern Geologist took care of it. I’m not going to attempt an excerpt. Just go read it. It’s funny, and it’s true. And now I have a place to send people when they ask me a variant on the “Why would anyone want to study rocks?” question.
People are often stymied when they discover my geology obsession. And you should really see the looks on their faces when I whip out some little brown rock and start burbling about how beautiful it is. They look at it, and what they see is a small, plain, brown, boring bit of rock. They see the kind of thing they’d flick out of their garden, or kick into a gutter, without a second thought.
Their faces change when I tell them the story that little brown rock tells.
Sometimes, it’s a massive molten flood of basalt that covered hundreds of square miles, sat there weathering for nearly fifteen million years, and then got scoured by gigantic Ice Age floods.
Sometimes, it’s a tale of submarine landslides.
Sometimes, it’s all about advancing ice sheets.
Or it began as a great big volcanic eruption before being swept into the sea by rivers and deposited to quietly consolidate.
I point to a wee little cliff, barely noticeable behind the local foliage, and I’m telling a story of a thousand year-old earthquake that sent trees slip-sliding upright into Lake Washington and tsunamis washing ashore.
That’s the thing geology does. It doesn’t just make the obviously beautiful utterly captivating: it turns the ordinary, the unregarded, and even the borderline-ugly stuff into fascinating, gorgeous storytellers. Oh, the sparkly and dramatic stuff still turns my head, yes, but I spare quite a lot of time for the stuff that looks dull on the surface, because it’s never dull once you start digging.
There’s all sorts of practical reasons for studying geology. I mostly do it because I’m fascinated by what we can learn from rocks. It also satisfies that human need for a context: learning how these bits of the Earth came to be allows me to slot right in, a little blip on a very long timeline. Some folks think that would make me feel small, but I don’t. I know I’m just a tiny little thing, inconsequential in all this vast universe. But the fact that I can understand what these rocks say, the fact that humans were clever enough to figure it out, gives me quite the little ego boost. We may be mere specks, but we’re smart little specks, and we link up in a long chain of smart little specks. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Also, it’s a damned lot of fun to whack away at things with a rock hammer and reveal nifty interiors that belie the ordinary exterior.