Geopoetry by Karen Locke

The following is a guest post from Karen Locke, one of my most cherished readers (although you know I love you all, right?). She’s submitting this for the Accretionary Wedge #51. I’m two days late posting it. Whoops. But do enjoy whilst I go off and beg Matt to slip this in anyway.


Vaughn Gulch: Devonian Limestone*

by Karen Locke

Up the bajada from Lone Pine, canyon mouths come ever closer;
we gun it to jump a gulch (the tallest students hit their heads) and then
we’re there.  Three dusty Suburbans disgorge a tired crew.

Pink granite boulders, ancient Volkswagens, scattered in the canyon mouth.
This isn’t what it’s supposed to be
but there are pink granite Volkswagens, or perhaps some giant child’s marbles
“come on that isn’t what we’re here to see.”

We pick our way through purple flowers, round the boulders, up the canyon,
fold seems to leap out of the wall.
Higher than any two of us, it is incongruous; soft or hard deformation? that’s the key
we listen to our leaders, who tell conflicting stories, and I understand suddenly
it doesn’t matter.  It’s a minor mystery in the Greater Story.

Farther up the canyon: corals!  Students race to get one of their own.
I do not have the right tool, nor the balance for the tricky rocks.
I watch and sigh as the resource dwindles down.

Back to the Suburbans; time to visit another canyon, learn another clue.
picking our way through purple flowers
and granite Volkswagens
off to a new view.
*Stevens, C.H., and Pelley, T., 2006. Development and dismemberment of a Middle Devonian continental-margin submarine fan system in east-central California. GSA Bulletin. 118(1/2):159-170.

Accretionary Wedge #49: Out of This World

T-4 and counting…

“No one regards what is at his feet,” Quintus Ennias, the father of Roman poetry, said. “We all gaze at the stars.” And so we do. Those cold points of light in our skies remained mysteries for so long, until we realized they were other suns. And if there were other suns, there could be other worlds.

And where there are other worlds, there will be geology.

The gravelly area around Curiosity’s landing site is visible in the foreground. Farther away, about a third of the way up from the bottom of the image, the terrain falls off into a depression (a swale). Beyond the swale, in the middle of the image, is the boulder-strewn, red-brown rim of a moderately-sized impact crater. Father off in the distance, there are dark dunes and then the layered rock at the base of Mount Sharp. Some haze obscures the view, but the top ridge, depicted in this image, is 10 miles (16.2 kilometers) away. Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

We can, so far, still only gaze at those stars, although our vision is getting clearer. But we’ve learned to regard what is at our feet. We have walked on another world. We have sent our machines to explore others, orbiting them, landing on them, taking photos and samples and returning wonders. But other worlds aren’t just out there. They’re right here, too, under our heels, in places we didn’t think to look for more than terra firma. We send bits of ourselves to other worlds; we’re just returning a favor. Other worlds have been coming to us for a very long time.

Geology was born on Earth, and it has always had a habit of looking down. Geology didn’t used to gaze at the stars; it regarded what was at our feet. But then we looked up, looked around, and will never see our universe the same way again.

I invited you to blast off for other worlds. But we begin right here, with rocks from space, brought to Earth by impacts and a little bit of Hollywood Space Geology while we’re at it.


Metageologist: What came from outer space.

Study of earth’s early history removes any lingering doubts that earth can be studied in isolation from its surroundings. The earth formed within a dusty disc around the new sun 4.56  billion years ago. During the earth’s first few 100 million years it was constantly being struck by other pieces of debris. The best current theory for the formation of the moon is the ‘giant impact hypothesis’. This suggests that the proto-earth was struck by another proto-planet the size of Mars. The impact resulted in two separate blobs which formed the earth and the moon. The energy of such an impact left both bodies completely covered in a magma ocean. Any water in the earth would be boiled off, meaning that our atmosphere and oceans are all derived from water from comets that have hit the earth since. We are all made of star dust, but let’s not forget the comet juice.
My favourite link between the earth and beyond is only an idea so far, but a beautiful one. On earth we find rare meteorites that came from Mars and the moon. When one day we study the moon in more detail, perhaps we’ll find pieces of earth on there. The period when the most impacts hit earth (sending bits flying off) is also the time when we have the fewest rocks preserved on earth. What if the oldest earth rock still in existence is actually to be found on the moon?

Poikiloblastic: Six days in the crater, day three.

The plains surrounding Meteor Crater are afflicted with an excess of flatness. Aside from the crater itself, the only relief is from scattered blocks, mounds and low rises of Coconino Sandstone and Kaibab Dolostone. They are blemishes on the otherwise flat patchwork terrain surrounding the crater. Like the boulder on the hill, many large coherent blocks of ejecta excavated during impact were thrown out of the crater and now rest upwards of 300 feet above where they ought to. Three days in, we were no longer tourists; It was time for science. We started work to answer a few relatively simple questions: Where in the crater did those blocks originate? How big are they? What would it take to launch them tens and hundreds of meters to their current position?

Ann’s Musings on Geology and Other Things: Accretionary Wedge #49 -“other-worldly” geology.

It is this dry arid climate that lends itself so much to it being so alien and reminding you of ‘other-worldly geology places’.  Because to me that is the one thing that seems to make our planet so unique  – is its abundant water.


Geotripper: Accretionary Wedge #49: It’s just out of this world! Hollywood and the Cosmos.

Lots of Hollywood movies take place in space and on other planets, and since the director can’t go to the other planets, locales on Earth have to suffice. As geologists know, there are landscapes on our planet that do a good job of looking otherworldly, and so geology became a central part of the movie plot.

…We have ignition…

One of the most remarkable, most beautiful things we have done as a species, is discovered that some of the rocks beneath our feet came from far beyond our atmosphere. And we didn’t rest with studying them: we flew to the Moon and brought bits of it back. These rocks are remarkably beautiful under the microscope. If they don’t ignite a passion for exogeology, nothing ever will.


Aerial Geologist: Accretionary Wedge #49: Optical Mineralogy in Space!

All in all, it was a unique and amazing experience for us to get a chance to examine these space rocks under the petroscope. The minerals were identifiable by us, while at the same time not typically looking like anything we had seen from our Earth rocks.

…We have liftoff!…

Granted, our first explorations didn’t quite get us to space, but let’s face facts: 70,000+ feet high in a balloon is pretty damned impressive!


In the Company of Plants and Rocks: South Dakota’s contribution to the Death of Flat Earth.

I suppose the story of Icarus teaches a lesson about the dangers of over-ambition, hubris, arrogance.  Fortunately, the drive and curiosity of the human race are irrepressible, and many years later, as soon as technology allowed, mankind was back in the air trying to go higher and higher, to see what could be seen.

Now we head for the Red Planet. We’ve dreamed of it for thousands of years. Now we’re on its surface, exploring vicariously through our machines, and I have to tell you: a planet with no plants is a geologist’s paradise.


History of Geology: The Earth-like Mars, Meet the Martians, and I can tell you about Mars.

The outer rim of this crater provided an unique outcrop – soon named Burns-Cliff, after Roger Burns, who predicted the mineralogy of the Martian rocks (composed mainly of ultrabasic minerals, like Olivine, and ferric sulfate minerals) based on the preliminary results obtained by the Viking missions.
Along the slope of the cliff geologists recognized a succession of rock types, or facies, named informally “Burns-Formation“, the only extraterrestrial geologic formation at the time. The Burns-Formation consists almost entirely of sandstone with grains of basalt, oxides, silicates and evaporite minerals (Calcium and Magnesium- sulfates, chlorides and phosphates).

Magma Cum Laude: Danny Krysak: An out-of-this-world geologist (Accretionary Wedge #49).

Well, exogeologists, I’ve got a real treat for you. You know those photos that we all tweet and blog and comment on and drool over when they come down from Curiosity’s cameras? Well, I’ve got an interview with one of the camera team who is, quite literally, the first person on Earth to see some of those photos!

Slobber and Spittle: Earth Vs. Mars: Do Our Volcanos Measure Up?

After seeing this photo at the Astronomy Picture Of The Day (APOD), I naturally wondered how some of Earth’s other volcanoes stacked up against it.

Beyond Mars, we reach other planets, but though the gas giants are showy and impressive in telescopes, we’re not here for them. We’re captivated by their oddball moons, which have more intriguing geology than we had any right to suspect.


Rosetta Stones: Where Volcanoes Snow.

This is a world where volcanic plumes are sulfur dioxide snow, and are so large they can be seen from Earth orbit by the Hubble Space Telescope, and from Earth-based telescopes as outbursts of infrared. Tectonics are driven by tides rather than internal heat; volcanoes vent ultramafic lavas hotter than anything seen on Earth in billions of years. 425 volcanic centers, 70 of them currently active, rework the surface at a remarkable rate of 1 centimeter (over a third of an inch) per year. This world is 25 times as volcanically active as Earth, bumping us to second place for geologic activity, but is barely larger than our own Moon. It’s the only other planet in the solar system we know of that has active volcanoes. It claims the prize for longest lava flows.

Outside the Interzone: The Little Robot That Could… Visits Miranda!

The dive in to Uranus meant that some of the outer moons, which initially were more interesting to planetary scientists, would not be as well observable as had been hoped. And since there was no “scouting trip” by Voyager 1, there would be one chance and one chance only to see what that planetary system had offer. Miranda was not expected to be as interesting as other targets might be, but the path of the probe, and sun/moon illumination aspects would give ample opportunity to study that object. Good thing.

…Mission Control, the Eastwing has landed!…

Pretty incredible, what our species has done. We’ve not only sussed out many of this world’s secrets, but made a decent beginning at exploring the bizarre and bizarrely-familiar geology of other worlds. Someday, we’ll find our way beyond our own star. We’ll gaze on other star systems, and work out their geology, and perhaps have a beer on an alien outcrop under a strange star at the end of a long day’s exo-fieldwork. What will we find? What will be familiar, what different, what predicted and what never dreamt of in all those long nights of gazing at the stars?

In 2005, this image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope was used to identify two new moons orbiting Pluto. Pluto is in the center. The moon Charon is just below it. The newly discovered moons, Nix and Hydra, are to the right of Pluto and Charon. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, H. Weaver (JHU/APL), A. Stern (SwRI), and the HST Pluto Companion Search Team

Accretionary Wedge #49 – Posts Due This Friday!

A few of you have reported to Mission Control, but we haven’t got a full ship yet. Don’t forget to send me your posts by the end of day Friday, September 7th.* We’ll be blasting off over the weekend!

Layers at the Base of Mount Sharp. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

This is an incredibly exciting time for geology – we’re doing astrogeology, people. Or exogeology, or whatever we end up calling it. That’s us, sending robots to other planets, exploring the local landforms millions of miles away.

Inspiring, yeah? Hope it inspires some truly otherworldly posts!


*If you have any difficulty posting in comments, please email your link to dhunterauthor at yahoo dot com. It won’t do to leave anyone behind.

A+, Plus Drool-Worthy Geology, AW #49 Info, and Other Bits

Blowing the dust off ye olde computer to say “Allo, allo, I’m still alive!” Taking a break, still, although I’m dipping my toes back in to a desultory bit o’ work. Like, this post.

First off, I just want to throw my support to Jen McCreight’s brilliant Atheism + idea. When my brain is back from its temporary vacation, I’ll have something more to say than “Woo! Count me in!” But this, plus the overwhelmingly enthusiastic reception, reminded me once again why I’m so damned proud to be a part of FreethoughtBlogs, and why I won’t ever give up on the atheist movement. People like Jen see problems that almost seem intractable, roll up their sleeves, and get to work.

Judging from some comments I’m seeing, at least a few folks are going to say, “Huh huh humanism!” with a greater or lesser degree of snark. So allow me to provide some links to read before too many people start protesting that A+ is just a snotty way of saying secular humanist. I have helpfully put the links most focused on the humanism vs atheism+ discussion in bold, which means you should read them carefully before launching into a tirade.

How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism


Why Atheism+ and not Humanism?

Atheism+: It’s time to walk the walk

A new atheism

Standing on Our Own

A new dawn

The difference between “atheism+” and humanism

Atheism Plus: The New Wave of Atheism

Is “Atheism Plus” Just Secular Humanism?

Atheism, Plussed And Nonplussed

The New Atheism +

I hereby join my fellow atheists +. This is it. This is the right spot for me. Although I’m a rebel and just had to change up one of the logos to suit myself, because I don’t like red and blue juxtaposed. Deeep riiifts!

A+ logo by by One Thousand Needles, with one minor modification by moi.

I like this. I feel very good about this. And I hope Surly Amy gets to work on the A+ Surly-Ramics ASAP. Want.

Right. Position staked, on to other matters. I’m in week 3 of nicotine withdrawal, for those interested and wondering how that’s going. Answer: nawt too gooood. I think this is the week where The Addiction Strikes Back, because it’s being a bastard. I still, however, am not smoking, although at the moment, I’m not happy about it. I feel like most of my personality has been cored out. That’s the trouble when a not-insignificant part of your identity was tied up in a particular habit. I will adjust, and I am definitely enjoying the fringe benefit of not coughing all the damned time, but it will take a while longer before the physical addiction subsides and I have managed to reinvent myself. In the meantime, I’m staying mostly offline and away from the usual routine. I’ve chosen to spend the majority of my time reading classic freethought and atheist works, in between bouts of cooking and eating all the food in the universe, and sleeping. Lotsa sleeping. Soooo much sleeping. It’s as if a twenty-year sleep debt has tracked me down and demanded paying. Chantix combined with ordinary pre-Aunty Flow fatigue, I’m relatively certain. The cat’s mostly enjoying my immobility, except when she becomes bored by it and amuses herself by yowling in my ear.

The dreams continue apace. Some have been rather dramatic, some have been prosaic (I hate the dreams about work. Chantix makes each dream more vivid, so I feel like they should be paying me for this shit). Some have been wonderful sci-fi extravaganzas I hate waking up from, because I want to know what happens next – and for some reason, I always wake up on a cliffhanger. And then there was the wonderful one where I was talking to a theist, one of the sorta mushy-gushy mystical ones, who dramatically announced that religion is the moon and stars, then asked me what atheism is. I thought about it for a moment. Then I looked up at the blue infinity above me, held my hands up to compass it, and said, “Atheism is the sky.” And I believe he got my meaning: a bright, clear place where a person can breathe and think and is not boxed in by old myths.

I quite liked that dream.

Food-wise, this has been an adventure. One side-effect of quitting I didn’t expect was a sudden interest in vegetables. Seriously. I’m craving things I don’t ordinarily crave: squash, spinach, corn and the like. I’m more of a meat-and-taters person, so this is rather odd. I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth, and since quitting smoking, I’ve wanted sweet stuff even less. To the point, mind you, where I even like water. In moderation, of course. Let’s don’t get too crazy. Water’s still mostly for washing in, but I’m drinking more than before. Weird.

And yes, I’ve put on weight. Not much, but some. There are a few bones I can only feel if I prod for them now. Judging from my father, I’ll end up looking malnourished, though: pot belly with chicken arms and legs. That’s just how our side of the family rolls.

Now, I promised you some eye-popping geology. Courtesy of Hexidecima, here ’tis, and I’m shamelessly stealing a teaser photo so that you’ll go read the post and look at the others and begin to drool with soft noises of ecstasy, as I did.

Looking westbound. US 322. Image courtesy Club Schadenfreude.


And this brings me to a point: those of you who write geology posts should always be bold and pimp them in the comments, even if unrelated to the current discussion, because I like to drool.

Also, if anyone wants me to start open threads to encourage jibber-jabber and such sharing between cantina regulars, I’m happy to. Say the word, and it will be so.

A quick note on Accretionary Wedge #49: some of you have never encountered the Wedge before. It’s basically geobloggers getting together monthly to post around a common theme, chosen by the host of the month. The host announces the theme, those of us inspired by it write a post about it, plunk the link into the host’s comments, and then, ideally, the host gathers all links together into a single post for all to enjoy. Does that mean you have to have a blog to participate? No. If you haven’t got a blog, but want to write up a little something on otherworldly geology, I will be happy to put you up as a guest post right here. Just send the draft to me at dhunterauthor at yahoo dot com. Make sure you have the rights to any pictures you include, because this is a commercial blog, and copyright rules are important.

And, finally, it’s time for the arachnophobes to avert their eyes, because Jean Gogolin sent me this link. Yes, that’s a new spider. Yes, it dwells in the Pacific Northwest. Yes, it has wicked claws. And yes, I’m going to be looking for one! I’m hoping to catch it using its claws on some poor unsuspecting prey, so I can make a new discovery for science. Hopefully, I won’t be announcing it eats humans….

That’s about it. I’ll probably be going dark again, have to get some research done and fight my poor addicted brain a bit more. Thank you all for your support and understanding. I’ll be coming back refreshed soon, and then I will present you some geology that will make your eyes pop.

Especially if Lockwood and I end up following Trebuchet’s footsteps into the John Day Fossil Beds this fall… Yum!

Ge o’ the Lantern

Otherwise known as a geolantern, subspecies of the common jack o’ lantern.


And yes, I painted the damned thing. Trust me, you don’t want to let me near a pumpkin with a knife. The results could put you in mind of Jack the Ripper crime scene photos.

This all came about through an interesting confluence of events. As I said, I am teh suck at pumpkin carving, so I was going to give Michael Klaas’s Accretionary Wedge topic a miss. Didn’t have time, tools, or a pumpkin, right? Busy doing NaNo, even so. But then, on Sunday, on the way out to the car to retrieve soda, I saw this beauty of a pristine pumpkin sitting forlornly by the dumpster. So I fetched it up the stairs. I have a soft spot in my heart for orphaned members of the squash family.

Hmm, I thought. I could turn it into a migmatite.

And then Volcanoclast posted this beaut of a countertop:

Mafic Inclusion Countertop. Used with kind permission from countertop geologist and volcanologist Volcanoclast.

And there it was. Inspiration.

It’s too bad I suck almost as much at painting as I do carving, but it didn’t turn out too badly for all that.

That photo fascinated me and started a conversation on Twitter. It’s one of those things that probably got sold as granite, but there’s so much more going on here. You’ve got a pale host rock, and then these darker inclusions. It looks like something felsic gobbled up something mafic. That happens sometimes, where a mass of intruding magma grabs up bits of something else and incorporates them. The incorporated bits sometimes melt, but not always.

And then Lockwood mentioned reaction rinds. I think that’s what really grabbed my attention, because I hadn’t heard of those before.

World's Worst Artist's Impression of a Reaction Rind

See those halos of darker rock around the blueish-gray interior? That’s what he was talking about. Translating from Twitterese to English, here’s what he said: “When a xenolith/inclusion isn’t stable in a magmatic environment, it reacts with the magma to form new minerals. These can protect the inclusion, and/or slow the reaction to the point where the melt cools before it all reacts. This leaves a mostly pristine inclusion surrounded by a ‘reaction rind.'”

Another World's Worst etc.

The inclusion in question is probably anorthosite, a variety of gabbro, according to Ron. The lovely sort-of blue in the dark inclusions probably results from the mineral labradorite. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to enjoy some, get thee to your local rock shop and pick some up. Turn it round. Watch it shimmer and shine in a magnificent sort of iridescence. It’s gorgeous.

Ron’s not sure what’s causing the deep, rich brown color in the reaction rinds (or coronas, if you’d like a less gourd-like synonym for the phenomenon, though rind fits rather well with the spirit of this Accretionary Wedge theme, don’t you think?). Could be hornblende. Could be biotite. It’s not always possible to determine such things through a photograph of a countertop, no matter how awesome. We could grab a hand sample and find out for sure, but the countertop owner may not be entirely willing to allow that, even if it’s for science.

So, that’s the photo that inspired an Accretionary Wedge post and launched a whole new topic. Watch for countertop geology in the future! And watch Volcanoclast’s blog. Great stuff there, plus an intriguing mystery countertop to come!

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a photo of chat meurtrier avec la geolanterne.

Homicidal Cat with Geolantern

 With gratitude to Volcanoclast, Lockwood DeWitt, and Ron Schott for their inspiration and assistance.

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?

Accretionary Wedge: Deadlines Fast Approaching!

The Accretionary Wedge carnival’s starting November with two back-to-back kinda-Halloween-themed, um, themes. Posts are due soon, so you’d best scramble if you’re planning to wedge yourself in.

(Please forgive that last little joke. I know it wasn’t funny. I’m functioning on fractional amounts of sleep just now, and I think my sense of humor went to bed without me.)

Deadline November 1st: Dress Barbie Like a Geologist! Or any sort of scientist, really. And it doesn’t have to be a Barbie. In fact, since I haven’t got a doll, I might be doing a doll’s house sort of thing, if I can get my crap together. Those of you with children, or who have friends or relatives with children: steal a doll away from their toy chest. Rip it from their chubby little hands if you must! Sure, they’ll weep now, but wait until you return their dolly all scienced up. They’ll not only have the most awesome doll on the block, they’ll have inspiration for a future career doing something much more interesting than standing about in implausibly high heels in a shocking pink house with a horrid pink car in the driveway.

Deadline November 7th: Geo-Pumpkins! You were going to carve a pumpkin for Halloween anyway, right? Make it geo-riffic! You don’t even have to have a blog of your own for this one – Michael will host your pics for you.

Instructions for submissions are at the links above. Get crack-a-lackin’!

Accretionary Wedge #38: Back to School (Hogwarts, No Less!)

The 38th edition of the Accretionary Wedge is up at Anne Jefferson’s place. She’s done a marvelous job, and so have all of the geobloggers who took her back-to-school theme and ran with it. There’s even a Harry Potter motif! This is the edition that inspired the post that ended up nominated for Open Lab, and there’s far better stuff than mine over there. Go enjoy!

Why are you still here? Oh. Right. Some of you have never seen the Accretionary Wedge before. A few brief explanations would appear to be in order, then.

The Accretionary Wedge is a geology carnival that began way back in 2007, which is practically the Cambrian by intertoobz standards. Every month, the host picks a theme, and then the rest of us scramble to write up something suitable. I got a little weird, actually. Next month it’s probably Barbies. Look, we take our science seriously, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get whimsical with our topics. A good time is had by all, and no matter how odd the topic, there’s a lot of gorgeous geoscience involved.

As for the name, an accretionary wedge forms when marine sediments get scraped off oceanic plates as they subduct beneath continental ones. All sorts of stuff ends up jumbled together. What better name for a geoblog carnival, then, amiright?

Right. Now that you know all about it, go immerse yourself in all the wonders over there.

“Adorers of the Good Science of Rock-breaking”

“Make them like me adorers of the good science of rock-breaking,” Charles Darwin told Charles Lyell once, long ago. This, from a man who also once said of Robert Jameson’s lectures on geology and zoology, “The sole effect they produced on me was the determination never as long as I lived to read a book on Geology.” That, of course, was before Adam Sedgwick lectured him in geology and took him out for field work, which seems to have done the trick. He did read another book on geology, Lyell’s Principles of Geology, which became his constant companion on his voyage with the Beagle. The concepts of geology prepared him to think in deep time. Without his passion for geology, without deep time sinking deep in his mind, the theory of evolution that changed the world might not be Darwin’s.

Outcrop on Doherty Ridge. Photo by Cujo.

I have become, like Darwin, an adorer of the good science of rock-breaking.

It’s a love that bloomed late. It’s always been there, since I was little and wondered at the mountains rising in my back window; at the vast chasm in the ground that revealed billions of years; at the sea that had become fields of stone. But just a bud, tucked away, unopened. I thought I knew what I wanted and needed from life: a degree in some sort of writerly discipline, like English or maybe History, until I decided the additional debt I’d have to take on wouldn’t teach me any more than I could teach myself, and I left academia for the world of daytime wage-slavery and nighttime scribbling. I set geology aside, because what a fantasy writer needed couldn’t be found in earth and stone. So I thought. I searched the stars, delved into physics, waved fondly to geology on my way to geography. I knew the basics: plates moved, mountains rose where they crashed. Enough to determine the shape of an imaginary world, wasn’t that?


And there was the small matter of a subduction zone, now: I’d moved away from the fossil seas. I didn’t understand this terrible and beautiful new place. It wasn’t a landscape I’d grown up with. So I explored it a bit, and the more I explored, the more I needed to understand, the more I realized a story world should be so much more than an ocean with a few haphazard continents sketched in. I wanted to understand this world so that I could understand that. So I delved, deep, into deep time, into continental crust and ocean floor. I turned to books on geology. They weren’t enough. I found a few geobloggers. They were more, still not enough. I began writing geology in order to understand it, because there’s no better way to learn than by teaching someone else. And it still wasn’t enough.

The more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know.

And that isn’t precisely the problem. If it was, I could decide that knowing a little more than most is quite enough to be going on with, and settle down, content with my little gems of knowledge. If I’d just stayed a bit more ignorant, it would have been okay.

There’s a metaphor that explains why those few shining gems, no matter how many more I acquire, will never be enough. It’s in the story I’m writing right now, in which Nahash, the Serpent of the Elder Tree, is tasked with giving knowledge and wisdom to a young girl. And this is what he does, the first time they meet:

He led her round the tree, to the spring that bubbled out from between the roots, clear and deep. Another branch hung low there, and there was fruit on it, so heavy and ripe it was ready to fall. He plucked one of the fruits and turned back to her. “This fruit is knowledge. Do you see? It’s probably sweet. Could be sour. You won’t know until you’ve tasted it.” He held it out. She reached for it, but he pulled it back. “There’s something else. Once you’ve tasted it, no matter whether it’s sour or sweet, you’ll always be hungry. You’ll starve. And that water, there-” He waved at the spring. “Sweetest water in the world, maybe the whole universe, but once you’ve had a drink from it you’ll always be thirsty. Starving and parched. Is that how you want to spend your life? There are other ways of living, you know, and some of them are no less worthy. Some of them are even fun. Or so I’ve heard.”

She held out her hand, but didn’t speak.

“Are you quite sure? Because there’s no going back, you know. Not ever.”

Should I ever become a famous speculative fiction author, people will accuse me of being autobiographical. And, aside from the fact that I was an adult when I ate that fruit and drank that spring water, and didn’t actually munch unidentified fruit and drink from the spring of an actual World Tree Serpent, they’ll be quite correct. This is completely autobiographical. Since taking a bigger bite and a deeper drink from the fruit and springs of science, especially geology, I’ve been starving and parched. I’m desperate enough for more that I’ve considered going deep into debt for a degree I may never earn a living from. I’d beggar myself to get a full meal, and I know I’d walk away with a $30,000+ tab, and I’d still be starving. Add several fistfuls of dollars for grad school, and I’d still feel I hadn’t had more than a bite to eat and a drop to drink.

There’s no going back, now I’m an adorer of the good science of rock-breaking. There’s no end to it, you see. It’s a vast old Earth, and there’s no way for any of us to know everything about it. And even if we could, have a look out in space – lots more planets out there, all unknown, all fascinating, all with incredible rocks to break.

On Doherty Ridge, with George’s rock hammer. Photo by Cujo.

Anne Jefferson asked, “If you are a geology enthusiast but not professional… what do you wish you could get in additional formal and informal education? What would you like from geosciences students, faculty, and professionals that would make your enthusiasm more informed and more fun?”

And these are the things I’ll say to you professionals and pending professionals, you professors and students, you who have careers at surveys and for companies:

Do not withhold your passion.

If there’s a book within you, write it. Let your love pour onto the page. Put as much of your knowledge and wisdom into words as you are able, and get it into my hands. You don’t even need a publisher in this digital age: y
ou can upload it as an ebook. I’ll take whatever you’ve got. And if you need a wordsmith’s help, well, you know where to find me.

If something fascinates you, blog it. Even if it’s complicated and you think it’s of doubtful interest to anyone outside of the geotribe, post it up there where I can see it. If you love it enough to spend time explaining it, chances are I’ll love it enough to spend time doing my best to comprehend it.

If you’ve written a paper, share it. Blog about it, maybe even offer to send me a .pdf if you can. There’s a huge, expensive double-barrier between laypeople and papers: the language is technical and hard, and the journals charge so much that even if we’re willing to put in the work, we may not have the funds. We’ve already spent our ready cash on books and rock hammers and various, y’see. But if you’re allowed to send out a copy, and you can give me an iota of understanding, I’ll read it, struggle with it, combine it with those other precious bits of knowledge until I’ve made some sense of it.

Show me what you see. Post those pictures of outcrops. If we’re in the same neighborhood with some time to spare, put those rocks in my hands. I know you’ve got a career and a family, and can’t lead many field trips, but if you can take even a few of us out, do it. We’ll happily keep you in meals, beer and gas money just for the chance to see the world through your eyes, in real time and real life.

Answer questions as time allows.

Point us at resources.

Let us eavesdrop on your conversations with other geologists and geology students.

And hell, if you want to make some spare cash, and you’re not in a position where there might be a conflict of interest, consider teaching some online classes for a fee. There’s plenty of us who can’t quite afford college, but could scrape together some bucks for the opportunity to learn something directly from the experts.We’d practically kill for that opportunity, but the days when you were allowed to break rocks in prison are pretty much over, so there’s not quite as much incentive to break the law.

In other words, mostly do what you’re doing now, with maybe a few added extras.

That’s what those of us without the cash for a college degree and not even a single community college class on offer need. We just need you to share as much as you can, challenge us as much as you can.

And you there, with the students: make them, like me, adorers of the good science of rock-breaking. Send them out into the world with passion, a hammer, and a desire to babble to the poor starving, parched enthusiasts hoping for just one more bite to eat and drop to drink.

Lockwood, Dana, rocks and rock hammer on Doherty Ridge. Photo by Cujo.

This post is dedicated to the geobloggers who adopted me, answer questions and write remarkable posts and answer my plaintive “I can haz pdf?!” cries with a grin and a quick email. Dedicated most of all to Lockwood, who taught me how to properly break a rock, and gave me such rocks to break! Thanks will never be enough, so when you’re next in the Pacific Northwest, my darlings, I shall give you a fine road cut (or several), a substantial meal, and more than one beer. And I meant what I said about being your wordsmith, should you ever need help writing a book.