Moenkopi

Flagstaff isn’t known as red rock country.  But there’s one place, just a bit to the north, where the world changes in an instant.  Drive past Sunset Crater, and you’ll suddenly leave the black basalts and the towering ponderosa pines; the volcanics abruptly change to sediments, the Painted Desert appears on the horizon, and low, rolling hills broken by bones of rock appear.  At first, everything appears to be a subtle shade of rusty tan, nearly hidden beneath tawny bunch grasses and sage and occasional pinons and junipers.  But you reach Wupatki, and sudden, vivid red-orange rocks leap from the land.

Moenkopi Formation

The low ridges and hills crumble in slabs, broken along bedding planes.  It’s a completely different world from the ones you just left.  In parts of Flagstaff, the Kaibab speaks of shallow tropical seas.  Young volcanics, looking as if they erupted only recently (and, geologically, it happened just a moment ago), speak of fire.  But here, in this place, you’re on a tidal flat.  Rivers ran a lazy course to the western sea; worms burrowed in the mud.  This is the Moenkopi Formation, an expanse of sandstones and shales that remind you that this place, once, was on the edge of the sea.  You’re on a coastal plain in the high desert.  It feels like a different time and place; you can’t believe you drove for only twenty minutes, that the volcano you just left is only a few miles away.  But:

View Larger Map

There it is.

The Sinagua found the Moenkopi a very friendly formation indeed.  It splits off in flat bits absolutely perfect for building a stone mansion.  Enormous blocks of it that hadn’t weathered so conveniently merely got incorporated into the design, forming solid and rather artistic walls:

     
Building Before Bulldozers

I wonder if any of those ancient pueblo peoples wondered.  They could see cross-bedding, where the tides stirred the sediments.  They could see ripple marks and mud cracks.  They probably found fossils when they split larger slabs into smaller.  Did any of them pause and ponder?  I’m certain they admired.  The way they incorporated the monoliths into their walls doesn’t seem merely a matter of necessity, but one of aesthetics.  There are places where they seem proud to show off the attributes of the stone they used to build their big house.

The sedimentary rocks here look out on the upstart young cinder cones with some indulgence. 

Wild weathering and young volcanics

It’s almost as if the Moenkopi knows it will be there long after the cinders have eroded away.  Yes, wind and water wear down those ancient tidal flats and coastal plains, but it started its life as mud and sand.  What does it matter to the Moenkopi that it will become mud and sand again?  Someday, conditions will change, and loose sediments will be compacted into firm stone once again.  Millions of years from now, new pairs of hands may choose out pieces to put into a wall.  It might be darker then, having incorporated basaltic sands.  It might be formed from eolian dunes rather than fluvial processes.  But it will always have the echoes of the coast in it. 

This is one of the finest places in the world to just sit.  Look at the ancient coastal plain lapping up against the baby volcanics.  Sit here where the desert and pine country weave together.  Listen to the wind blow over fantastically eroded rocks.  Absorb the colors: the red and the black and the brave traces of green.  Remember the people who built their stone houses here. 

It’s a fine place to be.

Kaibab

I feel like waxing sentimental about sediments again.  And one word, just one, is all it takes to put me in an altered state:

Kaibab.

Just say it: kye-bab.  Short.  Slightly exotic.  Maybe it doesn’t roll off your tongue.  Maybe it sounds a bit hard, truncated, abrupt.  It’s a Paiute word that means “mountain lying down” or “mountain inside-out.”  It’s a good name, appropriate for a formation from which you can see a mountain that blew itself inside-out.

In a land of black volcanics, red beds, and tan dirt, it’s a dramatic snowy-white in certain light, shading to a pale golden beige.  It was my first experience with the ocean.  It’s astonishingly beautiful.

Promontory of Kaibab Limestone, with ruins in the distance

Here we are, at Lomaki Ruin.  Look at the crumbling Kaibab.  Long, long ago, this area was submerged under a shallow tropical sea.  Two hundred and fifty million years later, Sunset Crater laid down a sea of cinders, which you can see lapping against the promontory.  The limestone shrugged off the young volcanic upstart here.  The Sinauga used it to build their homes, perched on cliffs of it.

Box Canyon Ruin, San Francisco Peaks, and the Box Canyon

You can see its bedding planes here in the canyon walls, with the San Francisco Peaks forming the backdrop.  Fishes swam here once.  Brachiopods, mollusks, sea lilies, and corals went about their lives in shallow warm waters, generations of them.  There was a time when oceanfront property in Arizona wasn’t a joke.  Depending on how you view matters, it still isn’t.  The ancient peoples who lived here probably never knew it, but they had ocean views.

Lomaki Ruins, with the Painted Desert in the distance

Look at that bright line of rock, far in the distance.  That’s the Painted Desert.  You can sit on the Kaibab here and look over ages, laid out in delicate, sweeping colors in the far distance.  That’s the kind of land this is.  Everywhere you turn, there’s a new scene.  And I didn’t know it as a young college student, reading about karst landscapes for the first time, it turned out I’d been living in one all along.  My old house backed onto a forest filled with limestone cliffs.  Just down the road from here is an enormous sinkhole, which we shall visit sometime soon.  The land beneath us is riddled with caverns, and in one utterly magical place, the wind blows from underground.

It was in a shallow pond at the bottom of a Kaibab canyon that I caught my first tadpoles.  The first (and only) time I shot a rifle, I was standing on a ledge of the Kaibab, aiming at a fallen log across that self-same canyon.  Hit it, too, which pissed off the boys I was shooting with – they who couldn’t hit the damned thing to safe their lives.  The shot echoed off the ancient sea walls, and a little puff of dust went up from the log, and the boys gasped and then grumbled, because a girl had just outgunned them.  They got over it.

Later, we’d ride our horses down those blocky limestone walls, finding a sure path down.  Lichen grew in shades of gray-green and brilliant orange and delicate yellow on the old stones.  Sometimes, you’d come across a surface many people had walked over, and it gleamed, polished and smooth and cool to the touch.  We had an old white-and-gray boulder of it in the middle of our yard.  It had defeated my dad, who’d had delusions of neat and tidy landscaping.  When he mowed down the weeds, he’d have to leave a little island around that boulder, which in turns became my own personal mountain to climb or a throne to perch upon, depending on what imagination required that day.  And if you turned over bits of it, you might find a nest of spiders or some really brilliant velvet ants, which would scream a squeaky sound like “help!” if you flipped them gently onto their backs with a stick.  Those were amazing creatures, black with their furry abdomens in bright shades of scarlet or orange.  They stood out like little drops of fire against the serene cream stone.

The Kaibab provided a solid foundation for excellent childhood memories.  And so you can understand why I grinned so widely, coming across a spectacular outcrop of it at the Grand Canyon:

Mi con Kaibab, snapped by my intrepid companion

Beautiful stuff.  And now that I’m older, and while perhaps not wiser but at least more well-read, I can sit upon it, gaze out over the rolling hills toward distant mountains, and dream of wine-dark seas.

How It All Began

Here we are, then: the first in the series of user-generated topics.  Glacial Till writes:

I think a post on your blogging history would be cool. What led you to blogging? Who are your inspirations and such. 

Oh, my.  Let’s see if I can remember back that far…

Got me start on LiveJournal, actually, many years ago, babbling about writing with and for some excellent writerly friends.  Started me own (now-defunct) website after a bit, still writing on writing, but this was the height of the Bush regime and so some political rants crept in as my liberal tendencies were unleashed.  Because friends had forced me to sign up for a MySpace account and because it was easier to blog there, I migrated for a bit – you can still see it here, if you’re that bored.

And those, you might say, are the prequels to ETEV.  So why did this blog start?

Because I couldn’t take it any more.

The rampant political stupidity that made me want to howl from the rooftops.  The rampant IDiots, running about mucking up biology education and making hideous movies like Expelled.  Not to mention all of the other rank stupidity stampeding through the world.  MySpace wasn’t a good platform for the full-throated rants necessary to counter it.

PZ’s the one who inspired me to start this blog, and to celebrate science upon it despite the fact I’m no more than an interested layperson.  This post, right here, is one you should go read right now, because it explains everything this blog became.

Well, nearly.  Getting adopted by the rock stars of geology set ETEV on a whole new course.  Somehow, it had evolved from a foul-mouthed baby blog focused on political stupidity with a smattering of science into something that geobloggers recognized as one of their own, even if I couldn’t see that.  But they inspired me to work me arse off delivering the goods.  And that’s fostered my interest in science, which feeds back into my writing, and ever onward in an endless circle.

This is still very much an amateur effort.  Someday, maybe even sooner than I expect, I’ll make the leap into full-time professional writing.  And I’ll get there because of the bloggers like PZ and Bora who showed me the importance of this medium, and the geobloggers and other science bloggers who showed me that all it takes is hard work and passion to write something worthy of reading.  But they’re only part of the equation.  I’ll get there because of the inspiration provided by my favorite authors and fellow fiction writers/bloggers like Nicole.

I’ll get there because of my readers.  Yes, you – the one sitting there reading this post right now.  Without you, do you think any of this would be possible?  Do you think I’d still be dedicating so much time and effort to these pages, if it wasn’t for you?  Without you, I’d spend that time in front of the teevee, or tucked in bed with an improving book, or practicing karate with the cat, when I wasn’t struggling on alone with a very difficult fiction novel.  And I’d be less of a writer because of it.  Not to mention, I wouldn’t have half the motivation to go out and have adventures and take the very best pictures I can.

So, dear reader, when you ask where my inspiration comes from, the very first thing you should do is go find a mirror.

And now I shall take the opportunity to give a special shout-out to my geoblogging inspirations.  I read more geoblogs than I list here, but these are the folks who, combined, form the star I revolve around.  In no particular order, then:

Silver Fox at Looking for Detachment
Lockwood DeWitt at Outside the Interzone
Glacial Till at Glacial Till
Ron Schott at Geology Home Companion
Brian Romans at Clastic Detritus
Ann Jefferson and Chris Rowan at Highly Allochthonous
Dan McShane at Reading the Washington Landscape
Wayne Ranney at Earthly Musings
Elli Goeke at Life in Plane Light

I want to mention four bloggers in particular who have provided more support, encouragement, and food for thought over the years than I ever expected.  They’re fantastic bloggers and even more fantastic friends:

Cujo at Slobber and Spittle
George at Decrepit Old Fool
Suzanne at Two Ton Green Blog
Woozle at The Hypertwins Memorial High-Energy Children Supercollider Laboratory and Research Center for the Inhumanities.  Okay, so it’s not technically a blog, but who cares?  Especially with a name like that!

A special shout-out to the man who made me believe in bloggers, and who got me thinking and writing about politics so many years ago: Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly.  Before him, I didn’t really take blogs seriously.  He’s an incredible talent, a wonderful human being, and still the one political blog I turn to when I haven’t got time for more.

And, finally, a very special shout-out to Karen, whose comments have so often given me that much needed prod in the arse necessary to keep me going.  How I wish you’d start a blog!

Some Brief Thoughts on Death and Dying

Diana Wynne Jones, outstanding fantasy writer and Neil Gaiman’s friend, died. She lived a long life, and a good life, and left a lot of magic behind.

I found myself standing on the balcony after hearing the news, staring into the sky at the stars, and caught myself thinking, “I hope Death came for her.”  Those poor, deprived people who aren’t fans of Neil Gaiman won’t understand why that’s a happy thought.  Maybe this will help:

Death of the Endless

There are worse last sights than a cute, perky Gothic chick taking you on one last adventure.

Of course, I laughed at myself a little for the thought.  Death exists only in the imagination.  There’s no actual being who’s going to drop by and haul anybody’s arse off to the Summer Lands.  There’s no afterlife.  There’s life, and then there’s not.  People seem to think that’s terrifying.  They can’t face that death is the end, that there’s nothing beyond to look forward to.  I get that.  Not as much as I used to, but I understand some people desperately need to believe there’s no end to us.

I used to need that.  I used to fear dying quite a lot, actually, and worried about the quality of the afterlife.  But then I read Sandman, and met Death, and thought that while life was preferable to death, there wasn’t any real reason to fear Death herself.  I didn’t want to meet her too soon, but it wouldn’t be so bad.  She put a spring in my step.  She dispelled the shadows.

Still.  I worried.  What if I didn’t accomplish everything I’d set out to do?  That’d be me, moping around the Summer Lands, regretting the things I hadn’t done.  I’d get what everyone gets: a lifetime.  But would it be enough?

Then I became an atheist, and suddenly, the fear was gone.  Seriously, totally gone.  I no more want to die now than I ever did, I still want to accomplish things and leave something of lasting value behind, but I’m no longer afraid of the fact of death.  Why should I be?  I won’t have regrets.  I’ll know nothing about it.  There will be no me left to fret or regret.  The end of consciousness used to be a terror, but for some reason, a day came when I could fully accept it.  I think it’s because I realized there’s no use in fearing it.  And now, I could dedicate all of me to this life.  It’s the only one I’ve got.  No do-overs.  Do I really want to spend it in perpetual panic?  No.  So.  Live a good life, and a full life, as long as I can, and enjoy it.  One day at a time, with no eternity staring me accusingly in the face.

But.

There’s a chance that, at the end, I’ll see Death.  Near death experience, y’see.  Got to thinking about those tonight.  The last imaginings of the hypoxic brain.  Some people see Jesus.  Some people see – well, whatever their culture’s conditioned them to see.  So it’s quite possible that the last fitful firings of my synapses will present me with a tunnel, and a cute perky Gothic chick, and with the last instant of consciousness, I’ll be able to take her hand and let her walk me off the stage.  It won’t matter a bit that it’s not real, or that it won’t be remembered.  It’s still a hell of a nice way to go.

A last instant of happiness.  Don’t know.  Could be.  A last, delightful little hallucination as the grand finale. 

I hope that Diana Wynne Jones’s brain did that for her.  I hope that the last synapse fired off a happy ending, a fitting tribute to a wonderful life richly lived.

Confessions of a Female Misogynist Vol. 1: So Wrong About Writers

So, ScienceOnline 11 sparked a small revolution.  I first noticed a small rumbling: celebration that over 50% of the participants were women.  Then the rumbling turned into an eruption, as women and allied men started going “Well, then, why are the women so invisible WTF?!”  For a selection of links on that topic, see here.

And then, along comes this study (h/t) showing that while women mix it up, men overwhelmingly read fiction by men.

This has forced me to examine my own history of misogyny.

“But Dana,” you say, “your profile pic is a woman!”

Look, just because I’m female doesn’t mean I can’t have a rather dim view of my own sex.  And I believe I know where it came from: I hate being female.  I’m pretty sure it has to do with the plumbing.  I’m one of those lucky gals whose time of the month feels like – well, I don’t quite know how to describe it.  Put it this way: when I had my first kidney stone, the doc told me the women who’d been through labor and stones said stones were worse.  I figured childbirth must be a cakewalk, then, because the kidney stone wasn’t half as bad as the cramps I dealt with every month.  Three days of crippling misery.  I won’t go into details.  Suffice it to say, it was enough to make anyone loathe being female.  It’s gotten better with age, thankfully, but it’s still an ordeal.

That could be part of what turned me off to the feminine mystique.  Then there was my upbringing.  We had a grand total of three or four girls in my neighborhood.  One of my earliest memories ever is standing at the end of our driveway, holding the handlebar of my trike, watching a solid wall of boys zip by, and wondering where are the girls?!  Then I hopped aboard and joined the melee.  From the age of three on, I spent about 2% of my time playing dress-up with the one worthwhile chick in my neighborhood, and the remaining 98% climbing trees, skinning knees, getting muddy, and playing war games with the guys.  Ever since, the vast majority of my closest friends have had dangly bits.  The guys get me.  We share most of the same interests (excepting sports and dating women).  The girl friends I had were usually tomboys like me, or if they weren’t, they had minds sharp as Toledo steel under the makeup.

So, due in part to the kids I ran with and the evil nature of my lady parts, I tended to neglect the wonders of womankind.  And I ended up rather blinded to the fact that there were, in fact, quite a few women out there kicking arse and taking names.  I’ve got billions of examples of that.  But we’ll start with where I first realized I’d been seriously losing out by neglecting my own gender: science fiction and fantasy.  I had this semi-conscious bias toward male writers for the longest time.  I suppose I was afraid that if I picked up a book written by a chick, it would bore me to death.

Here’s why I should’ve known better: Meredith Ann Pierce.  I picked up Birth of the Firebringer at a bookfair when I was a wee little lass.  To this day, I consider it one of the best fantasy novels I’ve ever read.  Her unicorns weren’t fluffy, sweet creatures with rainbows shining out of their asses.  They were hardcore, utterly realistic, and not soft at all.  And she put them through some serious shit.  If you want to read something mythological yet harrowing, this is one of the first books you should pick up.  I give a lot of lip service to Tolkien, because he was the one who made me get serious about worldbuilding, and Jordan, because he was the one who reignited my love for fantasy when I’d totally lost it.  But Meredith Ann Pierce is responsible for the fact that some of my main characters are also kick-ass unicorns (I shall not lie), and as I write, she’s usually lurking there at the back of my mind somewhere, reminding me to make the fantastic real.  That passage in the wyvern’s cavern?  I can still feel it, smell it, hear it, see it, even taste it – it was probably the first thing I ever read that engaged all of my senses.

And why I never knew it was a trilogy I’ll never know.  I’ve just bought the other two books.  This is turning out to be an expensive post…

Right.  So, when I hit puberty, I entered a bit of a desert – most of the authors I remember reading were guys.  Hardy Boys, y’know.  Okay, some Nancy Drew, too, and of course Agatha Christie.  But most of my great loves were men.  Then I got back into fantasy, and eventually started discovering that women could write some remarkable stuff.

People may scoff at role-playing novels, but damn it, Elaine Cunningham writes some awesome fantasy.  I first got introduced to her via Elfshadow.  Silly-ass name for a book, you might think, and bound to be fluffy, but if you think so, you haven’t read Elaine and you haven’t met Arilyn Moonblade.  Talk about a strong female character.  Ye gods.  She showed me that being female and skinny did not mean automatic wimp.  Not by half.  I still adore those books.  I will always adore those books.  Even the fluffy bits have  a nice, sharp edge.

(Yes, I know - there’s nothing wrong with fluffy and feminine.  But that’s just not how I roll, m’kay?)

I came across Melanie Rawn in the time-honored manner of poor bookstore employees everywhere – I took home a stripped copy of her first Exiles book.  One word: intense.  It’s been many years since I read it, but I still remember being fascinated by the harshness of it.  And the politics are certainly what one might term cut-throat.  Not a gentle read.  And I like that.  I don’t like authors to go easy on their characters or their readers.

I came across Octavia E. Butler because Orson Scott Card couldn’t stop singing her praises in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, and since I wanted to write SF, I figured I’d best pick up a copy of Wild Seed.  I did.  And he’s write – few people handle exposition as masterfully as Octavia.  Few authors leave you haunted for so long.  My greatest writing regret to this day is that I didn’t get into Clarion the year she was teaching.

I’ll be honest on this next one: I haven’t got much use for C.J. Cherryh.  I’ve tried to read The Dreaming Tree twice, and only finished it the second time out of sheer stubborn determination.  Not my cup of tea, although I can’t quite pinpoint why.  So when a friend lent me The Paladin, I almost didn’t read it.  But then I did.  And I include it here not just because it’s a good book, but because it has one of my favorite paragraphs of all time: A man got older.  A man got wary of caring for things too deeply.  A man got wiser and ended up on a damn mountain.  A man could die alone up here.  And yes, a female writer could write a male POV.  Who knew, right?  And maybe someday I’ll get over The Dreaming Tree and find out C.J. Cherryh wrote other things I like.

And now, we get to the women who have, more than any others, created worlds that swept me right away.

Connie Willis was another one of those stripped-book discoveries.  I took home Fire Watch.  I didn’t like science fiction much until hers.  I didn’t think women wrote kick-ass science fiction until her.  And how I hated time travel stories until I read hers.  She has, by turns, put me through more laughter, tears, and paradigm-shifting experiences than probably any other author, Neil Gaiman included, sad to say.  She makes me think harder than very nearly any other author I’ve read.  Just don’t ask her to write about Women’s Issues.  You’ll quite possibly regret it.

Speaking of stripped books, that’s how I stumbled upon Patricia A. McKillip.  The Book of Atrix Wolfe was just this slim thing that looked mildly interesting, so I dragged it home.  When I’d finished, I felt as though my soul had just been put through an industrial blender.  I believe I hyperventilated a bit.  My darlings, that ending made me lose my breath in shock.  Not a bad shock, mind you.  One of those mind-blowing, life-affirming, my-gods-the-world’s-a-harsh-barstard-but-so-damned-amazing shocks.  I’d never read another writer who could be so implacable and yet so lyrical.  She’s one of the most beautiful writers I’ve ever read.  Her words – well, they’re beyond my paltry skill to describe.  They make me think of honey and pearls and all sorts of precious jewels, even while she’s putting her characters through utter hell.  There are few writers in this world with the chops of Patricia A. McKillip.

As for The Book of Atrix Wolfe, the ending still knocks me breathless every time.  Even though I know what’s coming.  That’s the mark of a truly outstanding book, that.

(Note to authors who hate people getting their books for free: it should become clear at this point that giving away a book or two is a good idea.  Just ask my shelves full of Connie Willis and Patricia McKillip and Melanie Rawn, among many others, many of whom probably wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t been hooked risk-free first.)

C.S. Friedman, people.  I don’t remember how I came across her.  I read the Cold Fire trilogy, and I will tell you something: no one I’ve read before or since has ever managed to so perfectly pull off an anti-hero.  Ever.  And then, as if it wasn’t enough for her to kick arse at writing fantasy with a little science fiction flavor, I read In Conquest Born and discovered she’s one of the best science fiction authors out there.  I felt bruised and battered and bloodied after the spaceship chase scene.  She’s one of the few people I’ve read who can pull off space flight and make it feel utterly authentic.  And she pulls not one single damned punch.  You won’t catch her giving her characters an easy time of it.  She’s cruel.  I like that in a writer.

Dos mas, and then this unexpectedly long post shall come to an end.

I came across Susanna Clarke by way of Neil Gaiman.  She wrote a short story for the Sandman Book of Dreams called “Stopp’t Clock Yard.”  Neil wrote little introductions for each story.  For this one, he said she writes like an angel, and that this was the only chance he’s ever had to actually read a Sandman story.  He was incorrect in one particular: angels only wish they could write like Susanna Clarke.  It was the only story in that book that read like a real and true Sandman story.  I read it every New Year.  And for years, all I had was that and a handful of other short stories, with only the glimmer of a novel on the horizon, and I suffered.  Oh, how I suffered.  No one else writes like Susanna Clarke.  Then she came out with Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which for a time caused this atheist to experience heaven – until I finished the book.  Now I’m suffering again as I wait for the next one.

And, finally, we round out my incomplete pantheon of favorite female SF writers with Lynn Flewelling.  I picked up Luck in the Shadows on a whim, figuring I had nothing to lose.  Besides, I’d read the first paragraph, which meant I’d read the second, and by then putting the book down had become as impossible as splitting an atom by taking a dull knife to it.  I’ve loved a lot of characters in my life, but rarely so much as I’ve loved Alec and Seregil.  And there is no one yet who’s topped her brothel scene.  So for two books, we had rip-roaring action, sheer fantasy fun with some of the greatest characters evah, and for her third book she brings us – politics?  WTF?  Only she’d somehow managed to make politics fascinating.  Not to mention, the introduction to that book still elicits a belly-laugh from everyone I subject to it.  She’s one of those writers who could produce a novelization of the phone book that would be thought-provoking and hilarious.

Before these women, I’d considered writing under initials and hiding the fact I was female.  After them, I decided fuck the initials, and fuck hiding my gender.  Women SF authors kick arse, too, damn it!  And I shall be proud to be one of them.  And all of the silly concerns I had about not being taken seriously because I’m a woman have melted right away.  A bunch of these women rank among the most highly-respected and award-winning authors in the genre.  Being a woman is no problem.  The real requirement is to be a great author, no matter whether your naughty bits dangle or not.  And identifying as a female author doesn’t mean I have to restrict myself to female characters (several of the above have happily written from the POV of male characters as well as female, without apologies or explanations).  It doesn’t mean I have to obsess over hair, clothes and boys.  I can be the author I want to be, without apology or explanation, without hiding behind gender-neutral names and ambiguous bios.

And because of these women, I became less of a misogynist.  Despite my evil uterus.  So, if you’re looking to expand your horizons and make your bookshelves groan a bit more, you could do worse than starting with them.  While you’re at it, expand my horizons and mention your favorites in comments.

Memories

Over at Glacial Till, Ryan has a post up sparkling with excitement – his first trip up Mt. Hood, y’see.  Read it if you haven’t.  His enthusiasm’s contagious, and we can all use some of that.

Sparked some memories, that, and a few realizations.  This threw me a bit:

Nor was I prepared for the decreased amount of oxygen available at 6000 ft above sea level. However, I survived the altitude sickness with nothing worse than a slight head ache. Not bad for my first time at that altitude outside of an airplane.

We’re surrounded by mountains that soar into the 14,000 ft range round here, so it’s easy to forget we actually live closer to sea level.  Where I live in the Seattle metro area, for instance, doesn’t get much above 300 ft.  But I’m surrounded by hills, so it feels higher.

I grew up at high altitude.  The lowest elevation I saw in my young years was 4,000 ft, and I didn’t live below 1200 until I moved from Arizona.  I still have trouble remembering I don’t need to follow the high altitude directions when cooking.  My mind will always be somewhere up there.

And when I think of high altitude, one memory comes to mind.

So this one time, at fall camp, we were kicking it at 9,000 ft, right there on the San Francisco Peaks.  Hated it.  I’m not good at being away from home now, and I was worse then.  I’m stuffed in a cabin with girls I despise, and the food sucks, and it’s fucking cold at night, and if I could’ve turned around and gone home, I would have.  But partway through the week, they took us out on an all-day hike.  It’s when I discovered I didn’t actually hate the Jehovah’s Witness kid in class.  One of the girls had gotten a little sick, y’see, and a small group of us along with one of the adults got separated from the main group while we were clustered around waiting for her to feel well enough to continue on.  We’d planned to meet up at the pre-arranged lunch spot.  But we got a little bit lost.  So no shit, there we were, a handful of kids and a young adult, trying to find our way, traipsing through the trees, knowing we were lost but never worrying much about it.  We kept going up and up and up, and suddenly, the trees were gone.  We’d hit the treeline.  We were right there where we could see and very nearly touch the Arctic part of the Peaks, the elevation where in Arizona (yes, Arizona) you get permafrost and once had glaciers.  We weren’t supposed to be anywhere near there.

We lingered for a bit while the guide got her bearings.  The whole thing had that magical sense of being somewhat forbidden, and unique to us.  The other group wouldn’t get to see this.  And it was thrilling.  So stark, so wild, so high in the sky.

We weren’t even very late for lunch, actually.  We hooked up with the rest of the group shortly afterward, and me and the Jehovah’s Witness kid hung out on a rock together, finding out that we did have things to talk about even though he was a little different.  Well, so was I.  And both of us were kind of on the sidelines for all the crazy camp antics, watching the other kids act like idiots and shaking our heads.  What I’d mistaken for a religious superiority complex was actually just high intelligence, and once I’d found that out, we got on great.

That was also the camping trip where one of the camp guides stopped us in the middle of a beautiful bowl-shaped valley and, just about the time I was admiring the lovely scenery and thinking how very serene it all was, announced we were standing in the center of a caldera.  I.  Freaked.  Out.  I knew caldera meant something like crater (which is what it actually was – she wasn’t hip to the distinctions).  I had a mild volcano phobia.  And all I could do was look around for steam vents and pray the damned volcano would stay dormant until after we’d gotten out of the crater.

Fun times, fun times.

Things improved as the week went along.  They moved my best friend into our cabin to ease my homesickness, and so the other girls had to have their best friends move in, and with double the number of kids packed in there, cold was no longer a problem.  We slept all sandwiched in, piled atop each other like puppies, and after that, the mean girl and I had a certain accord.

We dragged an enormous puffball mushroom back to camp and one of the guides (the really cute one with the earring, which was terribly risque for a man back in the 80s and so awesome to us) bashed it open so we could see the spores blow out in a cloud.

The bad boys found a family of garter snakes one day.  They made the mistake of thrusting them in my face first.  I’ve never had a fear of reptiles, and rather pissed them off when I squealed, “How cute!” and asked to hold one.  They moved on to another group of girls, which elicited the proper screams.

We learned square dancing.  We dug in to some of the very few wild plants around Flagstaff that put out berries that won’t kill you (small, waxy, and nothing to write home about, but exciting because they were wild food).  We built a shelter, and sent up smoke signals, and would’ve built an igloo if there’d been enough snow on the ground.  We watched an educational film about surviving in the wilderness that we all loved because it had a guy dying of a really gruesome sunburn.  We had archery, and I hit the bull’s eye.  We scared away all the local wildlife.  And by the end of the week, I was willing to stay up there the rest of my life.

When the buses disgorged us at the school, my mother was waiting there, holding my much-missed dog, who got so excited when she saw me that she peed down my poor mom’s leg.

Later, my mom and I took a walk in the woods behind our house, where we found an animal skull and a shed snake skin, and I realized I’d just forged a much deeper connection to the natural world.  Not that I hadn’t grown up in it, but I knew things about it now that I’d never known before.

But the one thing out of all that experience that comes back to me over and over again is that glorious moment when we stepped from the tree line and saw tundra, a sight few Arizonans ever see.

No wonder I’ve got a high-altitude attitude.

A Shout-Out to Evergreen and Union-Negotiated Health Insurance

Wednesday was fun.  About half an hour into my shift, the mild discomfort I’d been feeling announced itself as a full-blown kidney stone.  I’m prone to the bastards, and apparently the one that had announced its existence a few months ago didn’t so much pass as await a better opportunity.  Anyone who’s had these before knows it’s an exquisite form of agony.  Sometimes, it’s only moderate torture, and you can ride it out with the proper swear words.  But since I can’t scream profanities at work, I decided a trip to the ER for some nice happy drugs was in order.

Now, I’ve been to a lot of hospitals for these stupid things.  I’ve had to wait in the waiting room for hours before getting a doctor, and been put through the excitement of having to register before being seen.  The last thing you want to do while your kidney feels like it’s simultaneously imploding and exploding after being blowtorched is answer questions about your insurance.  I wasn’t looking forward to it.

But when I got to Evergreen Hospital‘s ER, a gentleman zipped out to meet me, whisked me back for a blood pressure and temp check, slapped the plastic bracelet on, and said they’d call me right back.  I don’t think the whole thing took more than five minutes.  I had time to call my intrepid companion and alert him to the fact I’d need a ride home, and then they were ushering me right to an exam room.  I’d barely gotten the gown on before a nurse was there – with bad news.  They had to check for blood in ye olde urine before they’d start the good drugs.  This, I thought, would take ages.  But no – about fifteen minutes after producing a sample, she was back with the great good news that I did, indeed, have a stone, and it was time for the blessed relief.  Wasn’t her fault that just as she was putting the IV in, the damned thing passed.  All that drama for naught.

The ER doc, who is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, decided we’d best ensure the little bugger wasn’t just playing possum, so we waited a bit.  He sent me home a little over an hour later with a prescription for the good stuff and an apology for taking so long with the discharge papers – they were horribly busy.

You never would have guessed it from the speed with which they handled my case, start to finish.  That place is amazing.  I wish every hospital could have an ER that functioned so smoothly.  And it’s one of the only hospitals I know of that sends someone in to get you registered only after you’re no longer in agony.

In fact, they left me feeling so good (even without drugs, hee hee) that I went back to work for the rest of the evening.

They did a fantastic job, they’ve got a wonderful hospital with an exceptional staff, and they deserve recognition for the tremendous work they do.  So, my dear Evergreen: thank you from the bottom of my heart (and my kidney)!

And there’s another reason I’m telling you about my ridiculous little medical woes: it points up the value of good health insurance.  Everyone in this country should be able to have the experience I had.  When the pain hit, I didn’t have to suffer.  My union-negotiated health care’s got me covered (theoretically, anyway).  So well, in fact, that when I checked out, there wasn’t even a copay. 

Now, single-payer would be a fuck of a lot better – I wouldn’t have had to do that frantic little do-I-or-don’t-I-have-my-insurance-card-on-me check.  But having good insurance is certainly the next-best thing.  We’re on our way to that with the Affordable Care Act.  No, it’s not going to be perfect at first.  Yes, insurers will kick up a fuss and try to wriggle out of their obligations and in general make this as miserable as possible.  Cons will try to tear the law down rather than building it up, and too many “moderate” Dems will be more than happy to help them with the wrecking ball.  But if we, the sick and those who could get sick without prior notice, keep the pressure for a better health care system on, it won’t just be the union members and other suck lucky folk who have good coverage.  We can take this Act and build on it.

So, thanks to my union for ensuring I’m well-insured.  And thanks to those who had the courage to vote for the first steps to ensuring the whole country’s well-insured.  That’s the first skirmish won – keep fighting for more!

Finally, huge thanks to my intrepid companion, who stood by ready to drive my loopy self home if they’d had to pump me full of painkillers, and who even cleaned out his car, and let me ruin his afternoon plans, just so he could be told his services weren’t necessary.  Friends like that are solid gold.  I can’t ever express in words how much he means to me, and I suck at performance art, so a simple “Thanks, man” will just have to symbolize the whole.

The Hazards of Working for a Major Cell Phone Provider

So, the phone rings the instant I get home tonight.  It’s my mother.  She has acquired a phone with the company I work for.  We then spend the next two hours going through her service with a fine-toothed comb to ensure there’s no surprises, and I have to explain how picture messaging works. Argh. 

I’m glad she’s with us, though.  I see the worst this company has to offer, and it’s nowhere near as bad as what some of the competition does to its customers, as my poor dear mother found out the hard way.  And she bought a cell phone that’s extremely hard to break.  And I can send her pictures, which I haven’t been able to do for years.  Woot!

Now I just have to convince her to get on a text messaging plan so we can communicate.  She hasn’t got a computer, so this is the next-best thing.

So, all parents are now with my company.  You know what this means.  I’ll never be off work ever again….

Life on the Rocks

This whole post started because Lockwood asked me a question on Facebook:

Where was your profile photo taken? Those are some rocks I would classify as Om Nom Nom.

That was pretty much my response when I first saw ‘em.  That’s the South Bluff at Discovery Park.

 Moi at Discovery Park.  All photos taken by my intrepid companion, unless otherwise noted.

I still remember standing before it the first time.  It looks like nothing but compacted sand from a distance, but up close, you find it’s actually sandstone.  I stood there tracing its bedding planes with my hands.  It surprised me with its cool, slightly damp, almost smooth but a touch gritty feel.  I’m used to rocks in the sun being hot.  The waves that carved our stones stopped breaking millions of years ago, in most cases.  Here, water’s still busy sculpting.  Dear old South Bluff is probably just a brief blip on the radar, a mayfly in geological terms.  The waves will wear it away in time.  Most people think of stone as somehow permanent, just like I used to.  But the vast majority of it is ephemeral, destined to be worn away to sand and soil again, perhaps buried and melted.  Some of it will end up stuffed into a subduction zone, some will end up metamorphosed and barely recognizable.  But that first moment, coming upon this, is for me eternal.

Folks sometimes ask how I ended up in Seattle.  It’s because of geology.  I came up here on a research mission for my magnum opus in 2000, and when I first saw the snow-capped Olympics embracing our plane as it landed, I knew I was home.  Only took seven years before I came home for good.

Seattle denizens look at me like I’m insane when I tell them I left sunny Arizona for the near-perpetual rain of the Northwest.  They’ll probably never understand the pull of this place, unless they’re Lord of the Rings fans, and remember what Bilbo said:

I want to see mountains again, mountains, Gandalf!  And then settle down somewhere quiet where I can finish my book.

That’s why I’m here.  But the yearning for mountains began long, long ago in a state very far away. 


I grew up with the San Francisco Peaks and Mount Elden framed in my back window.  This isn’t exactly the view – none of those long-ago photos are digitized yet – but this will give you an idea:

San Francisco Peaks and Mount Elden, snagged from Coastline Journal

That glacier-carved stratovolcano dominated my childhood.  So much so that when my grandmother stood with me admiring the view on one of her visits from Indiana, I turned to her and asked, “Grandma, how can you live in a place without mountains?”  She laughed, and she and my mother tried to explain that people who’d lived in flat country all their lives got used to it, but I didn’t understand.  No more than I understood why people called the Ozarks mountains.  We crossed them once, driving to Indiana, and I remember seeing a sign saying something like, “Ozark Mountains, elevation 600 ft.”  I burst out laughing.  Where I come from, anything under 2000 feet is a hill.  Well, parts of them qualify, but not the bits we were crossing.

My childhood was rocky, and I mean that in the best possible way.  Everywhere I went, there were rocks: old rocks, young rocks, dark rocks, light rocks.  In my literal back yard, you could find limestone from ancient seas, basalt from young volcanoes, and pumice blown out by the Peaks, among a great many other varieties.  The rock collection we plucked from our yard and the national forest backing it won me first prize at the Coconino County Fair one year.  To be brutally honest, the competition must not have been fierce, and no one was more shocked than I was to see that blue ribbon pinned to the collection, but it was nice.

Within easy driving distance of my house, sometime within walking distance, geologic wonders abounded.  We used to catch tadpoles in Wildcat Canyon, a large gully cut in Kaibab limestone, just a short hike through the pinon forest.  None of us kids realized we were chasing amphibians while 250 million year-old seabeds loomed over us.

Just a short drive away, we could see something that was obviously awesome: an actual impact crater, 50,000 years old but looking as if it got gouged out just last year:

Moi at Meteor Crater

Someday, really truly, I’m going to do a post all about it.  I have the research done and everything

This is where I found my first-ever fossil all by my lonesome:

Mah first fossil: A Wormcast!

Look, it was impressive to me, all right?  But if you want really impressive, here’s just one piece of the meteor that struck the high desert plain and left this gargantuan hole:

Moi with meteor

That is one enormous chunk of iron-nickel, that is.  And it’s only one of many enormous chunks scattered about – there’s another equally as large at Lowell Observatory, and doubtless plenty of others in various places.  I’m not sure where they all ended up.  It’s appropriate they’re scattered now, as they were strewn all over the place when it struck.

You can’t help but be impressed with astronomy after viewing this.  Appreciation for its geological significance came a great many years after I first visited.  For a while, though, I was under the spell of our neighbor, an astronomer at Lowell, and I was all about being an astronomer.  Wasn’t long, though, before the rocks started drawing me back.

It is very, very hard not to be impressed by the majesty of geology when you have this practically in your back yard:

Moi with the Grand Canyon

Now, mind you, we ferried various out-of-town relatives to the Canyon that it got to be a chore.  “Aw, do we have to go see that great big hole in the ground again?”  But that was before I started getting interested in its geology.  Look down into the Canyon, and you’re peering into nearly 2 billion years of history.

Moi giving my intrepid companion a heart attack by appearing to sit at the edge of a two-billion year drop.

And of course, it’s a great place to get your rocks on, especially if you like limestone:

Moi with limestone

But appreciation for deep time had to wait many years.  First, I’d live a life dominated by sandstone.  We moved to Sedona when I was 12, and for the next two years, you’d usually find me scrambling about on the red rocks, climbing Sugarloaf, staining my white socks red in the deep red sandy soils.  In the summer, we’d head for Oak Creek Canyon for the blackberry picking; in winter, for the icefalls.  It was fantastically beautiful, a red-splashed green oasis in dry country:

Moi with Misha at Slide Rock State Park

I had no idea of the eons of desert and sea that went in to the making of those rock formations, of course.  All I knew was that it was pretty, but I missed my mountains.  I pined for them.  And then came the happy day that my parents announced we were moving – to Page.

More desert.  No mountain.  Argh.  I spent my high school years scrambling over ancient lithified sand dunes, running along slick rock ledges a few inches wide with a sheer drop of hundreds of feet one misstep away.  But that old sandstone never let me down.  We called it slick rock because of what happened when it rained.  In the dry season (which was most of the time), the sandstone gripped my soles tight, and never let me fall.

Wind and water carved ancient dunes into fantastical shapes.  I washed windows for Michael Fatali’s gallery, and got to spend a lot of time studying the slot canyons carved from flash floods that he captured in their astounding natural light:


Eternal Voyager, Michael Fatali

He risked his life for those images.  Flash floods didn’t often announce themselves on the plateau, and you didn’t have much chance of escaping when one thundered down those sheer-sided slots.  People died.  An entire group of French tourists were drowned one year.  That pretty much cured me of any desire to go playing around in the slot canyons myself, but I did end up taking a gentleman from New Zealand around to see the sights after having been volunteered for tour guide duty by our local coffee-shop owner.  It might seem crazy to head for the middle of nowhere with a perfect stranger, but he wanted to see the Horseshoe, and I figured it was a long enough dive into the Colorado River if I needed to take care of any unwanted advances.  The desert was friend, enemy, and convenient weapon.  Fortunately for all, he turned out to be a perfect angel, and we spent a delightful day trekking all over the canyon country. 

I hated Page, but I still deeply love its surroundings.  The silence there is indescribable.  It’s as if all those millions of years bear down, hushing noisy civilization and allowing you to sink deep into deep time.

Speaking of sinking deep, one of the prime destinations for Arizona folk was Montezuma’s Well, an enormous sinkhole close to Cottonwood. 

 Moi at Montezuma’s Well.  This is the typical view my poor intrepid companion gets.  And yes, that is a Peacemakers tattoo.

I’d visited it as a kid, but didn’t really get to know it until I took a physical geography class from the incomparable Jim Bennett.  For our field trip, he hauled us all out there, and showed me a spot I’d never before seen, where the waters of the well escape in a narrow creek.  It’s quite possibly the most serene place in all of Arizona that’s accessible by car.  Water in the desert is a precious and awe-inspiring thing.

For my physical geology picture project, I dragged my poor friend Janhavi all over the Flagstaff area.  And you might not think sinkholes when you think Flagstaff, but it happens just to the north, where the old sea left lots of limestone, and great caves got carved into it later.  There’s a great place at Wupatki that might one day end up being a sinkhole, but right now, the underground caverns have few outlets, and the blowhole at Wupatki is just an outstanding demonstration of air pressure.  I re-created the demo photo with my intrepid companion when we were there:

 Moi having my hair done by the blowhole.

Those were the years.  I’d moved to Prescott to attend college.  I could admire the Mingus Mountains (yes, technically, it’s Mingus Mountain, but the locals call the whole range by that name). There was an ancient shield volcano and an even more eroded volcanic neck (where quite a bit of necking got done), and then the Granite Dells, where we spent more than one afternoon happily scrambling about the granite boulders.

Moi and Granite Dells

No better place to get intimate with how granite weathers, really. 

But in the end, I had to go back home, back to my old stratovolcano and the young cindercones that surround it like courtiers.

Moi reliving my childhood at Red Mountain.

Most of the cones are healthy and intact, but Red Mountain got half of itself rafted away on a lava flow, leaving a spectacular view into its interior.

I spent many happy years with my mountains, often taking the long drive up the San Francisco Peaks to the ski resort, wandering around Sunset Crater National Monument, exploring the places I’d grown up.  But Flagstaff is poverty with a view, and the wonderful company I worked for was headed on a downhill slide, and it was time to leave.  I’d already settled on Seattle, but couldn’t afford it alone.  I ended up in Phoenix instead, surrounded by concrete, the rocks too damned hot in the summer to go play in, the mountains too low and the Valley too wide.  Miserable years, until the very end, when all my friends moved down just as I was preparing to leave.  So it goes.  But by then, I had a friend who wanted Seattle as much as I did, and nothing was going to hold me back from those mountains.

There was only one drawback: active volcanoes.  I grew up with volcanoes, but they were all dormant, y’see.  I have a wee bit o’ a volcano phobia.  I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to get up close and personal with an actual live, actively-erupting volcano, but we made the trek to Mount St. Helens, and I discovered that awe is a fine antidote to fear.  I stood on the banks of the Toutle River, which had channeled a devastating lahar on May 18th, 1980.

Moi at the Toutle River, courtesy of me former roomie

I ran my hands through its gritty sand, volcanic ash mixed with eroded rock, and marveled at its texture.  The volcanic soils in Flagstaff are elderly – the youngest is over 900 years old.  This was younger than I was.  And then we drove on up to the mountain itself, and I stood staring down into its steaming throat, without fear:

Moi and the volcano, likewise

A poem by Walter Savage Landor rather captures the moment:

Death stands above me, whispering low
I know not what into my ear:
Of all his strange language all I know
Is, there is not a word of fear.

You still couldn’t pay me enough to camp there, though.

Once I’d set foot on the flanks of one active volcano, I couldn’t resist doing another:

Moi and Mount Rainier, ye final photo taken by ye former roommate

Hiked a snowfield in late August and saw my first glacier that year, which, I can tell you, is a pretty damned astounding sight for someone who grew up in Arizona, even northern Arizona.

The geology bug bit me in dead earnest not much later.  It had taken a few serious nibbles in Arizona, but Washington State has really turned me into an avid geology buff.  I think it’s because it’s so young and raw here.  Oh, granted, Arizona looks more raw, but its geology is all pretty much in the past.  Until you know more about how those landforms formed, you don’t feel its immensity, its immediacy.  It’s all just lovely scenery.  Out here, though, you can’t help but to notice geology’s astounding power.  And it’s not just the volcanoes, but floods so powerful they stripped the land to bare bedrock.

Moi at Dry Falls, trying to get my crappy old PhotoSmart camera to take it all in whilst ye intrepid companion laughs his arse off .

The fact that I now have to go searching for rocks rather than just looking down and seeing hey, there they are probably has a bit to do with it, too.  One ends up taking even the most spectacular scenery for granted when its too familiar.  I had to leave home before I could love it again.  I had to discover yesterday’s dramatic geology before I could fall into deep time.  Now, when I go back to Arizona, I can appreciate those two billion years of history.  I wriggle my shoes deep into dry dirt, lay my hands on my old friends sandstone and limestone, and feel myself sinking into a past whose history is written in chapters of strata.

I’ve lived my life on the rocks, and I haven’t regretted it a bit.

Fangirl Gets Noticed by the Rock Stars, Freaks the Hell Out

And when I say rock stars, I mean geobloggers.  Y’know, the real rock stars.

My darlings.  Please put down the handy throwable objects.  I promise that’s the last silly pun in this post.  Now stop aiming at my head.  Thank you.

Now, allow to ‘splain, or at least sum up.  Earlier today, several geobloggers I admire (and some I’d never heard of) were discussing Scientopia’s sad lack of geology on Twitter, and I threw in my two cents as a reader by telling them to storm the gates.  I happen to believe every good general science blogging network should have a hefty helping of geobloggers, and it’s about damned time geology got some respect.  Leaving geology out of a science collective is Just Not Right.  It gives the impression geology isn’t a hard science, or isn’t science worthy of equal standing with other branches of science, and it makes it damned hard for readers like me to track down good geoblogging.  Travesties all.

Of course, I expected no response to said tweet.  I’m just an interested amateur egging on the professionals.  Do not consider myself a scienceblogger nor geoblogger.  Take no notice of me, folks, except as a fan cheering you on.  I went grocery shopping.  I lounged on the porch and debated knocking on the neighbors’ door to ask them to please shut the window because their activities were a distraction.  Came back in, checked my email, and just about fell out of my chair, because Twitter was informing me that Actual Professional Geologists such as Ron Schott and Silver Fox were now following me.  Not only that, I had a comment from Real Live Geoblogger Lockwood welcoming me to the Geoblogosphere and saying he’d gotten here by way of Ron Schott’s shared items feed.

It was about this time my mind said, “ZOMG WTF oshitoshitoshit.”

I figured I’d given some poor souls the wrong impression.  I’m a potty-mouthed political blogger who sometimes pontificates poorly on science, but spends quite a bit of time ranting about religion, wanking about writing, and generally going off on whatever else catches my atten – ooo, shiny.  Where was I?  Oh, yes – there was a wild moment of terror in which I wondered if my next step would have to be applying to U-Dub for an actual degree.  Then I realized that Ron would’ve had to comb through all that other stuff to find the actual geology, that my welcome message gives some hints, and that my science posts are usually pretty well-hedged about with the “I’m no professional” and “I have no idea what the fuck I’m talking about” disclaimers, so I could probably stop the I’m-not-worthy routine.  Still, I feel a bit like I would if Neil Gaiman suddenly dropped by ye olde blog and then told his friends and fans that I’m an SF writer worthy of their attention.  I’d wonder if the poor bugger had gone completely mad.

And then I’d wonder what I’d have to do to really earn that esteem.

But, just in case some new folks swing by the cantina with certain expectations that I am, at this time, unable to meet, let’s be clear: I’m a rank amateur whose amateurish attempts at blogging about geology, biology and whatever other bits of science caught my attention that day are buried amid the detritus of politics, atheism, catblogging, squees about music, and, in the right season, fiction writing. 

I’ve taken one (1) class in actual geology, a class in physical geography, and zero (0) in any other science.  All I know, I’ve learned from blogs and books.  And what I know ain’t much.

Why, then, do I bother to blog about science at all?  Follow me after the jump, and I’ll try to explain myself.

Still with me?  Unbelievable. 

Right, then.  Well, I started blogging science because of PZ Myers.  Attended two of his talks a few years ago, y’see, and came away all fired up.  You can read the whole story here.  The upshot of it is, he made me realize that all of us who love science, from the scientists to the science writers to the fanboys and girls, must advocate for it.

Many of my readers already love science.  Some don’t.  I write about science for all of them.  And I hope for two things: that this laywoman’s passion for science will reinforce scientists’ passion to communicate the beauty and the wonder of it, and that these posts will inspire those who never considered science as anything more than a desperately boring requirement for graduation to fall in love, just as I have. 

I write about science because I’m appalled by my own ignorance.  That may seem like a bizarre reason to blog about science – why not simply keep reading, or take a class, and shut up about the shit I don’t know?  I don’t think I really knew the answer to that until I read this at George’s blog:

The generation effect, as studied by cognitive psychologists, shows that knowledge is better retained if it is “generated” by the learner than simply read. “Generation” can be as simple as learning a spelling by “filling in the gaps” or as complex as writing a book about your studies
Alex Kessinger: Notetaking as a way to stay smart

I hadn’t thought of it this way but it could seriously be the main reason I blog.  Yes, I have various passions that I like to share, but my brain is chaotic and unreliable.  Blogging helps me get my thoughts straight.  Once I’ve put it into words, (and when I am lucky, people have commented on it), I have a much better chance of holding on to it and integrating it into my understanding of the world. 

Lightbulbs weren’t even in it – halogens flashed on.  Yes.  Yes.  When I do those write-ups of my geologic journeys, I’m forced to go back and integrate what I’ve read into a coherent whole.  Reading is passive.  Writing is active – I know this because of the buckets of sweat that pour out of me when I’m trying to get the details right.  I’m astonished by how little I’ve actually retained from my reading.  Writing those posts confronts me with the enormous gaps in my knowledge and forces me to fill a few of them in.  Bonus, there’s always a chance that my wiser readers will kick me arse over mistakes and pour a little more knowledge in.

And finally, I blog about science because I can’t not do it.  I go running all over the Pacific Northwest chasing down interesting geology, sometimes encounter fascinating biology, run in to a hell of a lot of beauty, and I’m supposed to keep it to myself?  Some people whip out pictures of their grandkids and wax poetic for ages.  Well, I’m like that about the incredible science I’ve seen.  Remarkably, some of my readers actually like it when I do that to them.  So I keep doing it, for them, and for me.

Sometimes, I consider doing nothing but science on this blog, but I can’t.  I’ve got a magpie mind and a mouth prone to running.  I enjoy taking the Smack-o-Matic to idiotic politicians on a semi-regular basis.  There are times when I can’t help babble about writing, especially during the winter writing season.  Dangle a fundamentalist in front of me, and the temptation to ridicule them becomes overwhelming.  My cat is my kid, so of course I sometimes have to show her off, murderous wee beastie that she is.  And then there are the sublime moments, where something captivates me so thoroughly that I have to point it out to others.  That might be a song, or a piece of art, or just a perfect moment.  There are readers to brag about (because you know all you all are precious to me), and various and sundry to celebrate.  I could no more confine myself to one topic than my cat could confine herself to being a perfect angel all of the time.  For those of you wondering what the metaphor means, put it like this: it would be like a tiger deciding to become a vegetarian.

So that’s it, my long-winded explanation of What This Blog’s About and Why.  Probably silly to have babbled on like this, when I could have just pointed to Lockwood instead and said, “Likewise!”

Geology is important. And it’s woefully undervalued and ignored in our society. When I created this blog, it was mostly for my own entertainment; an online archive, scrapbook, what have you, of things that captured my attention for a while. As it turns out, about 3 in 20 of those things are geology related. That’s certainly a higher ratio than it would be for a typical person. I think I came to geology for the beauty and stayed for the awesome- and I mean awesome in the old, now somewhat archaic, sense of conferring a sense of awe. Of being somewhat paralyzed by the spectacle, by the connections, by the implications of something I’ve learned or seen. Even a little fearful, perhaps. As regular readers know, I’m quite fearful for the fate of our species in light of what we know of the past, and what our collective decision making is like in the present. The earth, and some fraction of its biota, will abide. Humanity, if it cannot learn from its environment, will not.

Having some sort of geoliteracy is critical to understanding our environment. That has become a part of why I do geology posts: I have a great diversity of readers, some geoliterate, some not. I enjoying sharing my excitement with the beauty and power of our planet, and I feel an obligation to help people understand some of the forces that shape it.

Amen, brother.  A-fucking-men.

In that post, he called himself “a peripheral member of this ecosystem.”  I don’t even know if I’m that, really, but I certainly won’t argue if I become so.  There are far worse things than being Pluto in relation to the Really Real Planets of the solar system.  At least we all get to orbit the same sun, even if some of us are distant and awfully erratic.

Finally, and most importantly: Thank you.  Thank you for pulling me into your orbit, and most of all, thank you for blogging the good science.  You give ordinary folk like me knowledge, hope and wonder, and those are never small things.