I Return Bearing Cats

Well, that break lasted longer than expected. Pockets. You can never have too many pockets. And zippers. Still working on it, but it’s time to get back to writing. Thank you for waiting patiently. In return, I have brought you kittehs.

One of the crafty little projects I’ve engaged in this week is kitty toys. I combined feathers and string and bells into creations certain to delight felids of all ages. Well, except for 18 year-old esplode-a-kitties who look upon your efforts with utmost disdain. Misha isn’t a fan of bells, it would seem. No matter. Luna is. Luna leapt upon the couch as I sat down to begin, dove into the feathers, batted the string, rang a few bells, and generally went into contortions of excitement. She could hardly believe her evening had been filled with delights beyond the fondest kittenhood dreams. Eventually, she settled beside the bag of feathers, watching rapt as I finished her new toy. Then we wrapped the string around a chair arm and let her have her way with it.

Luna with her fabulous new toy.

Luna with her fabulous new toy.

That expression is so worth the less than ten minutes of effort it takes to make one of these. And so far, Kirby hasn’t destroyed it, which is a new record for cat toys with feathers. Perhaps he appreciates hand-made things.

(These are super-easy to make. If you want to learn how, I’ll have B shoot a video next time I’m doing it. We have lots of kittehs to make toys for, and Starspider has just discovered the joys of felting, which means we’ll soon have catnip-filled felt toys to attach. I figure Misha will get over her disdain for bells if we give her enough kitty crack.)

Later, we’d gone downstairs to finish off some fights. Kirby was apparently conked after a long day’s adventuring. He took a long nap in his kitty bed, then made it about four feet before falling asleep in his Superman pose.

Super-sleeping.

Super-sleeping.

Now, of course, sleeping in the same house as a kitten is fraught with danger. Luna crept up on him from behind and woke him up rather rudely by pouncing in a vampiric fashion.

Gotcha!

Gotcha!

Poor Kirby. His life has gotten a lot less cushy since his sister came home.

But you’d forgive her anything, of course, because she’s a kitten and therefore bloody adorable. She’s taken to running all over the house with another of her new toys.

Luna pushing her orange-feather-toy-onna-stick.

Luna pushing her orange-feather-toy-onna-stick.

She drags it around for ages, sometimes pulling, sometimes pushing, and of course the stick never does what she wants it to, but she’s very determined to take it places.

I wish I could be with them always. But Misha’s got her own moments. She’s been rather vocal about her displeasure regarding food and water dishes lately, so I got her a gravity feeder and ordered a cat fountain. I’d heard it could be difficult to get older cats to accept fountains, so I had the camera handy in case she did something interesting.

At first, she was unclear on the concept of which water thingy she was supposed to drink out of.

Misha enjoying the novelty that is the water pitcher.

Misha enjoying the novelty that is the water pitcher.

Eventually, I managed to wrest the pitcher away from her and fill the fountain with water. I thought she’d not be thirsty enough to continue drinking, but she decided that she must have water from this new and novel thing. So I let her drink for a bit, and then turned the fountain on.

She was utterly disgusted with me for a bit there. You could practically hear her demanding to know what this outrage was. Eventually, though, curiosity got the better of her and she circled back to it. When it didn’t splash her, she decided it was a little bit of all right, and furthermore probably something she wasn’t supposed to drink out of, so she settled in for a good long slurp.

Fountain makes kitteh happeh.

Fountain makes kitteh happeh.

I was afraid she’d drink herself to death that first night. She loves this thing. And I have succeeded in acquiring the appropriate feeding accessories, apparently, because she’s stopped nagging me.

I’ve got another kitteh to show you, but it’ll have to wait until I have the chance to send the picture from work. My supervisor is getting a kitten, and the current owner sent a photo, and all I can say is, you’re gonna squee. Our lives are full of adorable kitties, my darlings. That much, at least, is right with the world.

Sooooo Tired…. A Kitten-Photo Essay

Don’t get the wrong impression from the following photos. Yes, there was much sleeping. But there was also quite a bit of playing. It’s just that after all the playing (and a bit o’ research), I’m with Luna: sooooo tired. So we are exploring that theme.

You know how kittens are. Little packets of energy moving at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light one minute, dead to the universe the next. She’d been playing before I got there today, and was thus passed out upon my arrival. Adorably, of course!

Asleep atop the fortress.

Asleep atop the fortress.

And she remained snoozing until we’d got some Doctor Who and a nice walk in. I have to say, I rather envy her. Today was one of those days when you never really do quite wake all the way up. Heat, humidity, lots o’ exercise the previous day… you know how it is. But we all did manage to revive enough to go play in the back yard. Kirby came home to join us, and a good time was had by all.

Then, unconsciousness again. I wandered downstairs after another episode, and found Luna once again sleeping adorably. Of course, she woke up when I fetched the camera, and gave me this look:

What? Whadda want? Trying to sleep here!

What? Whadda want? Trying to sleep here!

And then she put her little chin on the parapet of the fortress and contemplated whether further snoozing or getting up for five minutes would be most rewarding.

To sleep or not to sleep, that is the question...

To sleep or not to sleep, that is the question…

I think we all know the answer to that one.

Definitely to sleep. No question.

Definitely to sleep. No question.

After a good long snooze, she was ready for her brother when he came back, and they engaged in a little MMA-inspired battle. Then there was chasing-feathers-onna-string-onna-stick. All this activity! Only one thing to do after physical exertion like that:

I just wanna go back to sleep...

I just wanna go back to sleep…

I agree, Luna. It’s clearly time to crash. Good thinking, that cat. Shall certainly follow her example in a few minutes.

I love how her markings are developing, all of the colors deepening and clarifying and becoming so much more vivid. And that ear hair just kills me. I’ve never seen such wild hair in a cat’s ears before. Her tail is becoming a bottle-brush, and she uses it for emphasis to great effect. Such a sweet little girl! I love my bundle of homicidal energy, but I hope the next one is a little more like Luna. It would be nice to live with a felid who didn’t regularly attempt murder, and yet managed to be outrageously cute anyway.

But all is peaceful in the Hunter household just at the moment. Misha and I had happy fun play times earlier, she “helped” me with the final bits of research for our next installment of the Mount St. Helens field trip guide (coming soon!), and she is now reminding me that us old farts need our sleep, too. Suppose I’d better join the kitties in somnolent bliss.

Your Weekly Dose of Excruciating Cute

Just in time for Caturday! I took Friday off, so I got to spend most of the day with Luna, Kirby and B. The household has acquired a cat tree, which both kittehs adore. When I got there, they were both in the top tray, and Luna was giving Kirby a bath.

Givin' big brudder a wash.

Givin’ big brudder a wash.

She’s getting this washing thing figured out, although I’m told she currently sees this as a bit competitive. If Kirby tries to bathe her, she believes they’re playing a game, and tries to one-up him. Can’t wait to see that!

Gotta get behind the ears.

Gotta get behind the ears.

So of course that was freakin’ adorable, and then Kirby woke up.

Who? Wha?

Who? Wha?

And he was kinda like, “Oh, it’s that freak with the camera again,” and then he looked over at sister, and stuck his tongue out at her.

Pfft

Pfft

Then he started to get up, but only made it so far before he started falling asleep again.

I'll just sit here a minute and zzzzzz......

I’ll just sit here a minute and zzzzzz……

Luna sat there for a bit, and looked around, and looked at Kirby, and then flopped down all mystified.

No, silly, you're supposed to sleep like this.

No, silly, you’re supposed to sleep like this.

So that was enough squee to last the day, but they’d only just begun. After they both woke up, there was tons of playing with the aluminum-foil-ball-onna-string I’d made for Misha, who told me in no uncertain terms that such a toy was beneath her. Not so Luna and Kirby! They chased it up and down the stairs and all around the house, and a good time was had by all – so much so I didn’t get photos, but I do have one video where it got stuck in the ball-inna-track toy, and Luna was trying to figure out why it didn’t roll like the white ball, and it’s adorable. You’ll have a montage here in the not-too-distant future.

For those who may be marveling at how wide Kirby looks, I can assure you that’s all muscle under a fairly thin layer of kitten food. Dude’s strong. But he’s ever so gentle with his baby sister. Awwww!

In other news, Misha’s apparently entered a second kittenhood. Just recently, she started following me around all over the place, and looking for things to do, so I whipped out the bag o’ yarn and made her some toys. The  aluminum-foil-ball-onna-string wasn’t a hit, but the knots-of-yarn-onna-string surely are. I haven’t seen her this playful in years. And unlike all the other times we’ve had flirtations with the idea of toys, she’s sustained interest in these for more than a day. She’s even starting to play with B, so hopefully there will be some video of an elderly felid going wild for yarn balls. And if we get Luna over here, hilarity should ensue. As long as we do this while Luna’s still tiny, I think that Misha, while outraged, won’t get too violent. When my ex-parents-in-common-law got a new kitten, she always tried to hide from it. Got lots of exercise being chased up and down stairs, I can tell you. So this should be good for her, though I won’t upset her world completely by getting a permanent kitten of our own. She’s an only child, and she likes it that way.

Off to catch up on sleep. Had one of those nights where, after a superb and wide-ranging conversation, I couldn’t sleep because my brain was playing with shiny objects. You’ll get the results hopefully soon. Plan to put some twists in myth and turn the concept of Hell on its head. Heh.

That is, if I can tear myself away from kittehs…

In Which The Cat Is Not Amused

So I did some mad cleaning, the kind you do when you’re disgusted with life, the Universe and everything, and decide to take it out on your poor innocent apartment. Misha slept happily through most of it, except for those bits where she stirred to come snigger at me whilst I was down on my knees scrubbing the linoleum. But there’s one thing guaranteed to wake her up, and that’s Mommy sprinkling carpet freshener around.

Kitteh sez "Whut?"

Kitteh sez “Whut?”

She’s learned that carpet freshener means the icky evil vacuum cleaner’s about to be busted out, and nothing pisses her off more than the vacuum. Well, guests. She despises those. And dogs. And other cats. Okay, lots of things piss her off more than the vacuum cleaner, but it wins when we’re alone together.

What is the meaning of this outrageous conduct?

What is the meaning of this outrageous conduct?

So she gave me and the carpet freshener a sustained glare. I found it hilarious, so of course I photographed it. Besides, the light from the window was just right for her gorgeous green eyes.

She might be going a bit deaf, or she’s just getting obstinate in her old age, but when I switched on the evil icky vacuum cleaner, she just gave me another outraged glare, and then determinedly pretended to sleep rather than running away like she normally does. Then again, it could be her insecurity issues surrounding her pillow. Ever since a friend interfered with her enjoyment of it, she’s mostly kept herself planted upon it. Especially when people come by. Except for that one time the other morning when I was trying to sleep in, and she was trying to encourage me to embrace the new day by hurking up a hairball loudly a few feet away, and then a bit later, tearing up and down the house, then pausing to yowl loudly in my ear, by way of announcing she needed to poop.

She is, in fact, the reason I never found myself tempted to have children. Whyever do you ask?

If anyone can think of what sort of geology she’s illustrating in the photos above, I shall publish them on Geokittehs and credit you. Fame will be yours. Alas, not fortune. Sorry.

Lovely Birdies of Bothell, Plus Undignified Kitteh Pics

It’s a fantastic time of year, my darlings! The birds are out and about, singing lustily as they endeavor to find someone to perform one of the three Fs with, and the new leaves aren’t big enough for the feathery bastards to hide behind. For someone trying to photograph something other than waterbirds, this is outstanding.

I went up to that bit of North Creek a couple miles from my house that has a possible blueschist wall, and one of the first things I spotted was this magnificent towhee. At least I think it’s a towhee. Tell me if I’m right.

Wee wonderful towhee.

Wee wonderful towhee.

So there I am, unslinging the camera, all super-excited because it’s not a duck or a sparrow! I get it in focus – it’s not flying away! I click the magic button. And I hear the shutter click several times in rapid succession. My subsequent cursing scared the towhee away. Either that, or it disapproved of my language. Said language was because I’d taken pics of the cat the night before and forgot to take the camera out of handheld twilight mode. And now here we were, using a night setting in brilliant sunshine. Fucknuggets.

But when I got it onto the computer, it actually turned out quite well. Even cropped, it looks good.

Cropped version of the wee wonderful towhee.

Cropped version of the wee wonderful towhee.

Nice, vibrant colors and acceptable clarity. I’ll take it.

Alas, I didn’t get the opportunity to take five billion photos of the towhee. But there was a crow not far away, sitting on a branch, and making all sorts of weird racket. I think it’s some sort of mating call thingy, because it was engaging in some stereotyped movements and looked kinda like it was fantasizing. So I took five billion pictures of it instead, and I really love this one because of the detail of the feathers.

Crow acting curiously.

Crow acting curiously.

Gotta love ‘im.

When I got home, my cat was having a sun bath and doing a bit of desultory washing. I’m a bad kitty mommy. I put the camera in burst mode with every intention of catching her in an undignified position. This one doesn’t quite qualify, but I think it’s adorable because I’m her mommy and that’s how kitty mommies roll.

Itchy kitteh

Itchy kitteh

I’ve helpfully edited the photo so you don’t get whacked in the face by her asshole. You’re welcome.

And yes, I did get the undignified photo I wanted.

Washing kittehs cannot retain dignity.

Washing kittehs cannot retain dignity.

So that gave me a sense of accomplishment. Sad little life I’ve got.

The following day, as I was sitting at a picnic bench along the creek that runs along the ball fields, there was another crow doing the same thing as the previous day’s crow, only this time in the grass. I feel a little sorry for them. They look desperate.

I learned something valuable that day. If you’re going to sit at one of the benches along that creek, you’d better damned well bring duck food, or you’ll get yelled at. Instant I sat down, there were two ducks, making a beeline up the bank toward me. No fear and no shame, little beggars. Much like my cat.

That was Easter weekend. The sun is gone now and the rains have returned. I took advantage of a brief break in the weather to go walkies. I swear I felt like I was strolling through a bordello. There was a dark-eyed junco singing away, and I’ve never heard them singing, so I know he was trying to impress the ladies. Another bird a bit further down was telling the entire neighborhood in loud tones that it had a little sumthin-sumthin for any interested females. Those were the two loudest, but the neighborhood was full of lots of horny birds trying to get laid. One gets the feeling they really shouldn’t intrude.

A robin offering to rock your world. If you're a lady robin, that is.

A robin offering to rock your world. If you’re a lady robin, that is.

I love the springtime. It’s full of brilliant, beautiful life that has a harder time hiding from the camera.

Karen Locke, the Introduction

Hello all!  Dana claims that snagging me for an occasional guest post is a great success on her part, but the truth is I’ve been wanting a blogging outlet for a long time; I just don’t have enough to say to write my own blog (or enough time to say it).  I’m really honored that she’s taken me on.

A bit of bio: I started my professional career as a computer engineer, first designing hardware and then developing software.  I even got talked into a short stint as an engineering manager, which tried my patience almost beyond endurance.  But after a couple of decades and some in the field, just as I was getting incredibly bored with solving what seemed to be the same old problems with new technology, I actually needed to quit work altogether to take care of aging parents.  When that task was done, and my parents passed on, rather than re-invent myself as an engineer I listened to my Inner Scientist and took up studying geology.  After a lot of catch-up, I graduated with an MS in December 2011.

Due to chronic health issues, I have trouble working full-time.  However, I’ve been making beaded jewelry for years and will soon open an Etsy shop (and you all will have to endure some shameless self-promotion).

Geology is still my first love, and I’ll mostly use my blogging opportunity here to talk about geo-things that interest me.  I especially love sedimentology*, petrology, petrography, and maps and mapmaking.  But I’ll look at and listen to any rock that’s willing to tell me a story, and share those stories.

As far as family goes, I have a wonderful husband of 32 years.  We are staff to two feline boys, Rocky and Paddy.  I’ll close with photos of our masters:

 

Rocky

Rocky is a big, fat, loving, ultimate scaredy-cat.

 

Paddy

Paddy is a great lover of boxes. Yes, he only has one eye; a serious eye infection he had when he was rescued as a kitten caused the loss of one eye.

 

*Locke, Karen Marie, “Composition and Provenance of Sand from Wells, Santa Clara Valley, California” (2011). Master’s Theses. Paper 4100.  http://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/etd_theses/4100

Kitteh in Winter Sunbeam

Because, you know, I’m infected by parasites. You all get to suffer.

Kitteh in Rare Winter

Kitteh in Rare Winter Sunbeam

We had a rare interlude of sunshine, which my kitteh enjoyed immensely. She’s elderly, and on these days, I tend to go a bit overboard on the pictures, knowing each and every slight variation in her posture will bring back warm memories one day. Of course, when she goes, there’ll be another kitteh to take gigabyte upon gigabyte worth of photos of. It’s a good thing memory is so small and cheap now. Otherwise, I’d have to rent an extra room to store the cat photos in.

Moar kitteh in sunbeams

Moar kitteh in sunbeams

For a while, she decided my Kindle sleeve was the greatest place to sunbathe ever. You can see a tiny bit of it poking out from beneath her chin. She’s looking remarkably good for an ancient old fart – aside from a little balding on her back, she doesn’t look her age. The only sign she gives is in sleeping a little more extensively than she used to, and being slightly stiff when first getting up. People who meet her for the first time don’t realize she’s nearly twenty. Especially not when she energetically tries to rip bits off them.

Kitteh on Mom

Kitteh on Mom

Seattle being Seattle, we lost the sun the next day. She decided to use me for replacement heat. I know this was only because I had a Coke in the freezer, because all the other cold, rainy days lately, she’s wanted nothing to do with me. But since I had something in the freezer that would explode if not removed in a timely manner, she suddenly decided she loved me and wanted to be with me. Cats are evil. This is why I love them. Dogs are nice, but I’ve never liked unquestioning worship. I like selfish gits who are only using me for their own gain.

I also like that little bit of end-of-day light, filtered through clouds, that gives the burgundy curtains such a weird bluish cast, with her green eye in the foreground. That expression on her fuzzy little face is the “Stop wiggling around trying to take pictures and be the perfectly still kitteh warmer I desire, or I will bite your face off” look. I think it’s adorable. But this is why I will never ever own a tiger, people. It’s nice to own a felid that can’t follow through on its threats. And who, occasionally, cuddles up purring loudly enough to be heard in another room and gives me the “I love you conditionally, human who serves me” look.

Even if it is just the toxoplasmosis making me feel all warm and necessary, I still love having a companion who holds me to high standards.

CFI’s Policy, SSA’s Press, and Cromm’s Doom – Happy Caturday, Everyone!

I haz a happee. And it’s not just because I spent all last night and this morning in bed with science, although taking some time to devour a book on random bits of science and reading some nummy posts was excellent. So was having a purring felid curled up with me. But I iz happee for moar reasons!

The Center for Inquiry adopted a very strong hostile conduct/harassment policy for conferences. I know there’s probably only two of you who didn’t already know, but I wanted to do a happy dance anyway. Also, I think Ron Lindsay’s post on it was superb. He gives the reasons why CfI went this route:

A primary objective of our policy is to ensure that everyone at our conferences — speakers, attendees, and staff — will feel safe and at ease and be able to participate fully in all conference-related events. Intimidation and harassment prevent this objective from being achieved, so such conduct should be prohibited.

This is why we have embedded our harassment policy within the context of an overall prohibition on hostile conduct. We seek to prohibit any abusive conduct “that has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with another person’s ability to enjoy and participate in the conference, including social events related to the conference.”

He assures us free speech is alive and well:

We expect to have the same wide-ranging, vigorous debates that we have traditionally enjoyed at our conferences. In any event, CFI’s policy expressly states that “critical commentary on another person’s views, does not, by itself, constitute hostile conduct or harassment.”

You can still flirt safely – as long as you’re not a crude jackass about it:

It is not our intention to prohibit flirting or a polite expression of interest in another person. For example, without more, the question, “Would you be interested in having a drink later?” would not be considered harassment.

But one-time expressions of interest/invitations to an encounter could be inappropriate under the policy, which is why inserting the word “repeated” in the policy would be unwise. To take a crude example (those with delicate sensibilities can skip ahead), asking someone “Wouldn’t you like to bury your head in my crotch and suck my dick?” could constitute harassment, even if it is said only once and accompanied by no other action.

(Note to the clueless: even if you’ve practiced your pick-up line and you’ve got it down to a suave art, I’d refrain from using it on someone you haven’t conversed with first, someone who has mentioned they’re not interested in being propositioned, or someone you’ve cornered. This will not only help you avoid running afoul of the policy, but will also increase your chances of sexy fun times.)

Sexy fun times are still on the table with willing partners:

CFI has no opposition to consensual sex among adults; indeed, this organization has long championed the right of individuals to engage in such conduct, and has protested restrictions on such conduct based on religious dogma. CFI’s policy does not interfere with consensual sex. It’s unwelcome sexual attention that is prohibited, not welcome sexual attention.

And there are other points that should assure all but the terminally dense among us that yes, you can have a policy that strictly forbids harassment and hostile conduct, and have fun, and possibly even sex! ZOMG, amirite?

I have one quibble: I’d like to see them add “gender identity” to the list of things you can’t harass people for. That seems to be a huge blind spot with a lot of policies. No, it’s not covered by the word “gender.” We’ve got plenty of trans* folks who can help them with the appropriate language.

Aside from that, I likes it, and can add one more set of conferences to the list of those that are sensible and fun.

In other news, I’d like to point out that our very own JT Eberhard has made it to the pages of the Washington Post. Go, JT! He’s got a lovely post up introducing the other folks who make it possible for secular high school students to form atheist clubs, even in the face of opposition from religious administrators who’d much prefer we icky atheists crawl back into the closet and slam the door behind us. One thing the explosion of atheist clubs in high schools and colleges is saying is that atheists are out, proud, and intend to stay that way. People like JT work their asses off to ensure secular students get a chance to enjoy the same benefits as their religious classmates. It’s nice to see their efforts recognized in the pages of the Post – and the story got picked up by the Charlotte Observer, too! With increased visibility could very well come increased acceptance. The SSA and the students who organize these clubs are amazing, courageous people, and it’s good to know they’ve got a champion like JT fighting for them.

I will, of course, be asking for JT’s autograph when we finally meet in meatspace.

These two items have made for a very happee Caturday indeed. And, just in case you weren’t already a happee pile o’ mush, I have one of the best ever cute cat photos for ye:

Image courtesy icanhascheezburger.com

You know, people like PZ will probably never admit this out loud, but that image has got to tug at their heart strings.

Alas, we must end on a sad note. Sad for our good friend and sworn enemy Crommunist, who in the past has been known to lob a few shells our way. Hostilities died down, and I believe I know why: his forces have been sleeping with the enemy. I haz proof:

It turns out his “damning evidence” of cats coming to the other side was just footage of spies learning the canine language so they could turn dogs into moles. I’m so sorry, Cromm. This must be devastating for you. I guess in the end you’ll have to fall back on otters – oh. Dear.

Image courtesy Cute!

Well, perhaps that’s just a single deserter, I’m sure it’s an aberration – oh. Well. Nevermind.

I’m sorry, Cromm. I’m so sorry. Still. At least you’ve got a good start on the cat ballads. I’m sure your feline overlords will consider this, along with your ability to open canned food, adequate service.

Mother’s Little Helper and Other Stories

I’ve got nothing, really. I was supposed to be watching a movie with a friend who’s in from out of town, but his family kidnapped him. I’ve spent the time finishing The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rhinehart, who has somewhat restored my faith in mystery novels written by late 19th – early 20th century women. I still prefer British authors, but how can I fail to love the woman who inspired Batman?

As a fake excuse for why I haven’t yet written about Darwin and geology, I present photographic evidence that my help was hindering:

Mother's Little Helper

You see that nice, fresh, shiny white notebook she’s lying on? I’d put that down not two seconds before, preparatory to picking up the Kindle and furiously taking notes. I know you can take notes on the Kindle, but it’s slow. Not quite as slow, though, as trying to take notes upon a notebook the cat has claimed.

Knowledge Makes Kitteh Sleepy

Of course, there was another notebook available, so I defeated her nefarious schemes in the end.

Sleeping With Darwin

She’s as helpful with researching Darwin’s geological research as some kittehs are with theses.

Reading Charles Darwin’s Geological Observations on South America would be a lot more fun if I knew more than bugger-all about South American geology. But it’s been instructive going in to this knowing next to nothing. Granted, I have more knowledge than he did: plate tectonics wasn’t a gleam in anybody’s eye (Wegener wouldn’t be born for nearly another 50 years, and his cogitations on continental drift for nearly 80). Geology was in its infancy; Lyell’s brilliant Principles of Geology was hot off the shelf, and Hutton’s Theory of the Earth had laid the kindling that sparked the whole revolution in thinking in 1785.

I find it fascinating to watch how the early geologists and naturalists wrestled sense out of the silent rocks. Continents rose and fell; they knew this much, that mountains became sea became mountains again. But it was all vertical. Horizontal movement, continents sailing along slowly, embedded in their rigid plates, hadn’t occurred to them. You get the sense of land bobbing in place, popping up and down like a giant whack-a-mole game, or possibly Riverdancers. It’s a funhouse mirror of geology. The images are there, they’re recognizable, but distorted. It’s amazing how clear the picture becomes when you add plate tectonics. The things that confounded the intrepid geologists exploring brave new worlds and systematizing the old one make exquisite sense once you know that not only the Earth moves, but its skin crawls.

Darwin stood on a subduction zone, and never knew it; visited passive margins and hotspots, and didn’t know what made them what they were. In light of how little was known, it’s amazing how much he came to know. Early geologists like him had to piece it together, rock by rock, fossil by fossil, patiently sampling and mapping and spinning possibilities that were often wrong but were sometimes, gloriously, right. Sometimes so right that other, older scientists didn’t believe them. Darwin’s theory of evolution wasn’t the only correct insight that was thoroughly disbelieved. Some of his geological revelations were scoffed at, too – until the evidence became overwhelming that he was, in fact, absolutely correct.

That’s one of the things I love about Darwin. In reading his geological books, I see the same methodical, patient collecting and collating and arranging of different bits of evidence. Darwin wasn’t one of those people who has a flash of brilliant insight and leaves it to others to find the proof he’s right. He didn’t seem to like to say anything until he had investigated thoroughly. He seemed obsessed by the tiny details others may have glossed over. You’ll see how obsessed when I write about his final geological work, which exemplifies the man’s attention to detail. But that obsession served him in good stead. It meant that when people called what they thought was his bluff, he could lay out a royal flush he’d spent a long time building, bit by bit.

He wasn’t always right. The science was too young, and the tools too crude, for him to get it all. But nearly two hundred years later, some of his discoveries still stand. Not bad for a man who once proclaimed he’d never so much as touch a book on geology, much less engage in its study.

But I’m going to turn away from Darwin for the moment – I’ve just received my long-desired copy of Geology of Oregon by Elizabeth and William Orr. It’s been incredibly hard to find a copy for under $50, but I did it, and it’s in excellent condition, too. And it is sitting beside me now, saying, “Put down the musty old mysteries. Turn from gentlemen on boats landing to scramble around South America’s geological wonders in a long-vanished age. READ ME DAMN IT.” I’m afraid I have no other choice but to obey.