Gnaughty or Gneiss Cards Are On Sale Today! For Cheap!

Zazzle’s having a maclargehuge Black Friday sale thingy today. If you were thinking of grabbing some of these beauties:

Image shows a cartoon Santa head, looking pensive. Santa's hat has a rock hammer on the white brim. Thought bubble says, "Gonna find out who's..."

Geologist Santa card cover.

 

Image is a photo of a lump of coal and a piece of gneiss. They've been filtered as a watercolor. Caption says, "Gnaughty or gneiss."

Card Interior.

Now’s the time – they’re only $1.47 per card right now. Gneiss! If you have any geologists, rock hounds, or people with really odd nerdy senses of humor on your list, you should totally pick one up for them. Especially if you plan on getting them a gift card to some place. A gift card inside a funny greeting card is always a hit.

This is a Black Friday only sale they’ve got going on, but if you miss this one, I’ll be keeping you informed of any others. I get about seventy thousand emails a day from Zazzle telling me what’s on sale, and I’m sure they’ll have another discount on cards, just probably not quite this deep.

If you have any ideas for designs you want me to whip up, ask away! I should either have my old machine up and running soon, or have a brand new one, so I’ll have that gorgeous graphic design capability back, and can create you a little something in time for the holidays. Also, keep an eye on this space: I should have some extra-special gifties on sale by Monday, as long as no other electronics decide to die round here. I’ll give you dibs, my darlings, and special pricing, too!

For those of you trying to avoid all mention of Black Friday, I’m so sorry. Please return to solidly ignoring the whole sordid affair, with my sympathies.

It’s a Moider! Moider, I Tells Ya!

Actually, it’s a double-feature! We’ve also got Blue Heron Noir. Stay tuned after the film!

B brought turkey over for Thanksgiving. He arrived just at dusk (which is 4 bloody 30 in the pee-em at this time of year), which is when the local crows begin gathering before they head off to roost. The roads, trees, and ball fields begin looking like an Alfred Hitchcock film. B’s never seen quite so many at once, so he came bouncing in wanting to go walk with corvids. I was totally down with that.

So we headed down to the creek, where clouds of corvids flew overhead, and turned the trees black.

Image shows a few crows clinging to the tops of poplar trees.

They even flock to poplar trees, although the branches are super-skinny and it’s really hard to get a grip.

They also fill the ball fields. Alas, it was so close to dark, it was hard to get a good shot, but we tried.

Image shows a baseball field with a murder of crows upon it.

I don’t think they’re playing ball…

We gotcha enough footage for a wee video. It’ll give you some small idea of what it’s like to be walking down a path between trees full of hundreds of cackling crows. The sound is just overwhelming, and the motion as they wheel overhead is exhilarating. It can either scare the shit out of you, or it can make you feel like you’re a little kid again, and leave you nearly screaming in delight.

We might’ve gotten you more clouds of crows if we’d been brave enough to actually agitate them, but we’re not planning on moving away any time soon, and corvids tend to remember people who annoy them. We like to stay on their good side.

After filming our moiderous film, we finished a fairly brisk walk along the creek, and found ourselves coming back in the dark. The ducks had gone to bed. But we heard a rather large-sounding rustle on the riverbank, and a bit of a splash. There wasn’t quite enough light to make out what it was, but B suspected a blue heron. Since blue herons and ducks aren’t reputed to hold grudges against people who piss them off, I decided to risk a wee bit o’ flash photography. I pointed the flash away from the UFD, so as not to interrupt it too badly, and took a chance.

Image shows a vaguely-illuminated heron standing in the creek.

Heron Noir

Blue herons are badass. This one didn’t even twitch. It gave precisely zero shits. I had no idea their eyes reflect like that, but I suppose if they’re out fishing at night, it makes sense they’ve got something to make their night vision better. Is it a tapetum lucidum? My google-fu was inadequate to the task of determining for certain. Perhaps one of you know – ya’ll are better at birds than I am.

I’m arse-deep in books to review, B and I will be working on some fun little geologically-themed gifties for the holidays, and I may brave the crowd at Staples later and see if they have any nifty desktops at a price I can afford. I’ll probably return. Probably.

Baked Geology: Shelli’s Rainbow Fault Cake

I’m back with more yummy geology. Literally yummy. This is geology you can really sink your teeth in to (as long as you brush them after).

We’re not talking that ginger licking of a rock and perhaps nibble on a corner that geologists sometimes do to determine what they’re dealing with. Trust me when I say it’s gritty, tastes like lithified dirt, and leaves you briefly wishing your job entailed something more delicious, like wine tasting. Well, most geologists would prefer beer tasting, but the point still stands.

Sometimes, however, geology can be quite tasty. I’ve shown you before how you can have your geology and eat it, too. Recently, my supervisor Shelli provided another mouth-watering example of geofood. Behold the Rainbow Fault Cake!

Rainbow Cake and expertly-executed fault by Shelli.

Rainbow Cake and expertly-executed fault by Shelli.

This is one of the billion reasons I love my supervisor – she cooks the most delicious treats. Each layer of this cake was a different flavor, corresponding to the color, courtesy of flavored gelatin. So moist and rich! I couldn’t even finish my piece. So much yum!

The cake started out as a replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (pro tip: don’t listen to your loved ones when they say your cake isn’t crooked, but your expert eye is telling you something’s off. Unless, of course, you want something quirky and awesome, which this was). Then, after many slices, a spectacular diagram of a dip-slip fault shone at me in all its rainbow glory. I stared at it in delighted, speechless fascination for a moment before I remembered that I’d actually brought the camera, and could commit it to pixels as well as memory. Huzzah!

I’ve drawn you a nice little diagram showing you what this cake is so ably illustrating.

Diagram showing what Shelli's Rainbow Fault Cake is portraying.

Diagram showing what Shelli’s Rainbow Fault Cake is portraying.

We can be reasonably sure this fault is dip-slip because it’s very nearly vertical. This one’s an extensional fault – it’s caused by the crust extending. We can tell because it’s a normal fault. The hanging wall’s slip-sliding down relative to the footwall. This indicates the crust is being pulled apart – if it was getting squeezed, a reverse fault would have resulted, wherein the hanging wall would be sliding up. Here’s a quick and easy diagram showing what’s what:

Normal and Reverse Faults. Image courtesy Cferrero and Heron via Wikimedia Commons.

Normal and Reverse Faults. Image courtesy Cferrero and Heron via Wikimedia Commons.

Pretty easy to tell which is the hanging wall – it’s the one left hanging.

So you may have noticed that some of the cake layers are straight, while others are curved. This illustrates drag folding – part of the rock bending under the strain without quite breaking as the two sides of the fault move. Here’s a very nice example of it that looks remarkably like our cake, albeit less rainbowy and certainly less edible:

The "faille des Causses", a geological fault in the Grands Causses, as seen from Bédarieux (Hérault, France).

The “faille des Causses”, a geological fault in the Grands Causses, as seen from Bédarieux (Hérault, France). Image and caption courtesy Xhienne via Wikimedia Commons.

That’s almost eerie, it’s so similar. Cuisine imitates nature – or is it the other way round?

You never know when your food is going to provide a Geological Teaching Moment, so keep your camera close and your utensils closer. When employing edible examples, endeavor to photograph before eating. And ixnay on the uiltgay. You can work off the calories in the field.

Rainbow Fault Cake Recipe

  • 3 boxes yellow cake mix, prepared according to box instructions
  • One small box each of Grape, Berry Blue, Lime, Lemon, Orange and Cherry Jello
  • Frosting of choice

Divide cake batter into 6 equal portions. For each portion, mix in about 1/2 of a small box of Jello. Pour each portion into 8″ round cake pans and bake according to the box instructions. When cakes are baked and cooled, trim the crust off of each. Stack them using frosting to cement each layer, and cover the whole with the remaining frosting. Then slice until you’ve got a nifty fault!

I dedicate this delicious cake to all of the hard-working geology teachers, no matter where or how they teach, and invite them to make free use of the above cake photos. Also dedicated in all its rainbow glory to those couples who got handed a double-victory by the Supreme Court this past week. Happy weddings!

Muchos gracias to Shelli, who made this geocake possible.

 

Originally published at Rosetta Stones.

Crowdsourcing Science Books for Kids and Teens

What kind of science books do you get for kids these days? I had a brief gallop through the Kindle store, but I can only guess what books kids really love. I haven’t got kids, I’ve got a cat. She doesn’t care about what’s inside books, she just wants to sleep on them. And it’s been over 30 years since I’ve had direct experience with being a child. This isn’t very helpful when one is trying to come up with a handy list of books for people to buy for kids.

Have you got kids? Have you got nieces, nephews, cousins, honorary versions of same? Are you a teacher or caregiver or otherwise plugged into the part of the universe that includes small people? Awesome! They must have at least one science book they love. Gimme the title!

And what about teenagers? Are there any books out there specifically written for them that’re taking their minds by storm, or are they skipping straight to books marketed toward adults? Are there any science books in particular the teenagers in your experience love?

Hey, are you a teenager? Great! Tell me which books you love best. This will help me gently steer adults away from giving you things that insult your intelligence. Give me some hard data I can wave in the faces of those convinced teenagers don’t do complex, so I can prevent them from stuffing your stocking with stuff that’s more suitable for grade school kids.

Image shows a cat lying under an Xmas tree with a book tented over it. Caption says, "Next year, I want more books for my book fort."

Dana’s Super-Gargantuan Guide to Science Books Suitable for Gift-Giving

It’s the gifting time o’ year! You’ve got science readers on your list, but you’re not sure what books to get them, right? For those of you who can’t just say heck with it and buy a gift card instead, I’ve got some ideas for ye. Our main focus will be the earth sciences, but I’ve got a variety of other disciplines on tap as well. Settle in with a nice mug or glass o’ something, click your desired category, and see what leaps out at you. If you still can’t decide, go with a gift card and a link to this post.

And feel free to bookmark this page for future reference when the time comes to spend your own gift card. Also feel free to recommend your own favorites for future incarnations of this list.

Image shows a cat resting its chin and paw on a printed page. Caption says, "Multum legendum non multa."

 

Table of Contents

Earth Sciences

Biology, Paleontology and Evolution

Neurology, Physiology and Medicine

Astronomy, Physics, and Chemistry

Earth Sciences

In Search of Ancient Oregon: A Geological and Natural History by Ellen Morris Bishop.

I’m not going to quote from this book, because all of it is quotable. Dr. Ellen Morris Bishop, author and photographer, is a wonderful writer who brings Oregon’s geology to brilliant life. It’s rare to find a PhD scientist who’s also a talented writer who’s also a brilliant photographer, but Dr. Bishop is all three. You hear words like “expertly written” and “lavishly illustrated” tossed about for books that don’t strictly deserve it. This one most decidedly does.

If you’ve ever been even the slightest bit interested in geology, you owe it to yourself to get this book. If you like landscape photography but don’t give two shits about how the pretty rocks came to be there, you owe it to yourself to get this book. If you’re interested in the flora and fauna of long-vanished worlds, you owe it to yourself to get this book. If you want to know some awesome places to visit in Oregon, you owe it to yourself to get this book.

My review here.

For the Rock Record edited by Jill S. Schneiderman and Warren D. Allmon.

I’m so excited about this book. Within, geologists take on – and take down – creationism and Intelligent Design. Biologists are already in the ring and have been for some time: with this collection of essays, geologists get in the cage and crack their knuckles before delivering a victory by knockout. Written by geologists and earth sciences educators, this book faces the fact that geology is just as much under attack by creationists as biology – after all, the rocks hold a lot of the evidence for evolution and an old, uncreated Earth. It covers geologic and paleontological claims made by creationists; their encroachment into earth sciences education, politics, and philosophy; and in a final section, covers the clash of geology and religion. It reflects on evolution with a focus on the earth sciences, and doesn’t forget that Darwin was, first and foremost, a geologist. Got a geologist/atheist on your list? This is their book. You just have to get it for them.

The Last Days of St. Pierre: The Volcanic Disaster That Claimed Thirty Thousand Lives by Ernest Zebrowski Jr.

There aren’t many books that have me lowering the temperature of my bathwater for fear of triggering flashbacks to severe burns I’ve never actually suffered. Actually, there’s only been one: this one.

For the most part, Dr. Zebrowski takes us through the geology from the point of view of the folks dealing with an alarming, nasty, and new example of it. After giving us the gist of what we know now, he goes back and shows us what no one knew then. We experience this terrifying eruptive sequence from the perspective of those trying to figure it out. We’re told – well, mostly shown, Dr. Zebrowski’s quite good at that – what they knew. Not much. They had no real idea what a volcano like Peleé can do.

My review here.

Annals of the Former World by John McPhee

This is the one that always comes up in any conversation where geologists are discussing good geology books. It’s four books in one, and takes you from coast to coast through America with John and geologists, exploring geological history and wonders. This was a time when the plate tectonics revolution was brand-new, so you get a sense of the excitement (“We can finally make sense of this stuff!”) and the caution (“Slow down, hoss, you ain’t gathered all your evidence yet.”). So you get to watch a theory being born.

Being a book by John McPhee, this is beautifully written, and will stay with you for a lifetime. This is an excellent place for anyone to start.

Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth by Marcia Bjornerud

Do this: read the introduction to this book. Just that. By the end, you will have learned something of geology, gotten broadsided by a puckish sense of humor, and likely been hooked enough to buy the thing. This is the intro-to-geology book for those who want – oh, how did I put it when I first read her book? – “a fun, easy and accurate primer on geology…” I also said, “She’s not only an informative writer whose prose flows like water over Franklin Falls, she’s snarky. I am a sucker for snark.” I still am. I still love this book. And I still foist it upon people who are looking for a short, sharp intro to geology.

Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey

This is one of the first books I read when I was renewing my interest in earth science, lo these many years ago. I strongly believe it needs to be read by more people. I’ll see your John McPhee and raise you Richard Fortey – his prose is astoundingly beautiful. Also, he is British, and you know I’m an anglophile. Oh, language! Oh, earth! This is one of those books that immerses you, and by the time you emerge from it, you’ll understand so much more of this planet. You’ll absorb much more geology than you might believe you have done. This doesn’t seem like a science book as much as a love letter about the Earth – but it’s science, through and through. Hard science, strong science.

Supercontinent: Ten Billion Years in the Life of Our Planet by Ted Nield

There are very few books that I immediately want to read again even before I’ve finished them. This is one.

What to say? That Ted Nield writes with the kind of clarity and style that, should he turn it into a narrative, would make even the phone book fascinating reading? That’s one thing. Add that to the fact that he’s writing about something inherently fascinating, and you have the recipe for a truly outstanding book.

Nield tells two histories: the history of supercontinents forming and rifting, and the history of our discovery and understanding of them. Many times, when an author tells two tales, one takes second place to the other. Nield manages to unfold them both in tandem, so that neither is slighted.

My review here.

The Mountains of Saint Francis by Walter Alvarez

This is the best book on geology I’ve ever read. Ever. Oh, others have been wonderful, informative, and well-written, but there’s something about this one that just filled me to the brim. Maybe it’s the shock – I thought of Walter Alvarez in connection with dinosaurs and killer meteorites, not the mountains of Italy. Maybe it’s the fact he brings a totality of place and time to the subject, allowing you to experience more than just the rocks of Italy. Maybe it’s the fact he introduced me to some fascinating fathers of geology, people I’d never known: Nicolaus Steno, who began his career in the 1600s by dissecting bodies and ended it by discovering Earth’s anatomy; Ambrogio Soldani, an abbot who pioneered micropaleontology all the way back in the 1700s. Maybe it’s the rocks, who become characters in their own right, and with whom one can become very close friends indeed.

I don’t know. There’s just something about this book – it’s bloody poetic is what it is, gorgeously written, easy to understand while not being dumbed-down, full of passion and wonder and delight.

My review here.

The Seven Hills of Rome: A Geological Tour of the Eternal City by Grant Heiken, Renato Funicello, and Donatella de Rita

If you haven’t got enough of Italian geology, here’s an excellent source. And it’s got walking tours! This book is perfect for both armchair and actual tourists who want to know how Rome was really built, and would like to discover some earth history among the ruins. This book is a must-have if you’re a geology buff bound for Rome – there’s a little something for everyone in your tour group, so you can keep the non-geology buffs distracted with wonderful old buildings and such like while you get on with enjoying the rocks. Art, architecture, history and science, all rolled into one easy-to-read volume!

Devil in the Mountain: A Search for the Origin of the Andes by Simon Lamb

Simply astounding. That’s what this book is. The Andes are fascinating mountains and Simon Lamb absolutely does them justice. You’ll find out how puzzling features like the Altiplano came to be, for instance. And it provides a fascinating look into field research: the difficulties of getting it done in politically unstable areas of the world, the extremes in weather, the hazards of altitude sickness, camping in the freezing cold, dealing with horribly limited resources…. Simon puts you there. This book is a must for anyone who wants to live the geologist’s life, or wants to know more about it, as well as learn how the Andes came to be.

Stories in Stone: Travels Through Urban Geology by David B. Williams

I have one quibble with this book: it should have included color photographs. That’s all it’s really missing, though. David B. Williams, who ended up interested in urban geology because he got stuck in Boston after living in the wild, wonderful geologic paradise of Utah. Buildings clad in stone became his friends, a link to the natural world. This book eventually resulted, and you’ll probably never look at a city the same way after reading it.

Each chapter is about a different stone: brownstone, limestone, gneiss, marble, travertine and more. Architecture connects to geology connects to oddball tidbits of history and human endeavor (and sometimes silliness) in one seamless whole.

My review here.

Mountain Geomorphology by Phil Owens and Olav Slaymaker, eds.

This is not the type of book you buy for a casual perusal. It’s written by experts for experts. It doesn’t make concessions for laypeople. That said, if you’ve done some extensive reading of the popular literature and cut your teeth on science blogs, you’ll understand at least 40% of this book.

It’s got everything: from defining what a mountain is to how they evolve, functional and applied mountain geomorphology, and global environmental change. I learned things from this book that changed many of my perspectives on mountains, and the information in it comes trickling back at odd times to inform something else I’m reading. I’ll be reading this book again in a year or so, when I’ll understand more, and referring to it more than once in the future. If you want to know how mountains work, and aren’t afraid of actual science, this is an excellent resource.

Living Ice: Understanding Glaciers and Glaciation by Robert P. Sharp

This one was a good one to begin with. It’s a small book, but packed with delicious information and lots of educational photos. Biggest problem being, this is a reprint, and some genius at the publisher decided they didn’t need no stinkin’ color plates this time round. Grr. Even without those, this is an excellent guide to how glaciers do their thing, eminently readable.

It might leave you feeling a little cold however. A-ha-ha.

Frozen Earth: The Once and Future Story of Ice Ages by Doug Macdougall

I’ve been meaning to read this one for years. Anyone with even a passing interest in ice ages should pick this up. It tells the story of the past, present and future of ice ages, from how we figured out there had been some to what they were like, possible causes, effects, and what we’ve got to look forward to. You’ll find out how works of fine art can double as climate detectives, run in to our old friend Louis Agassiz, beat about the brush with Bretz, and engage in all sorts of other antics.

This book did a good job showing the investigative nature of science, and showing the sheer power of ice sheets.

Glacial Lake Missoula and Its Humongous Floods by David Alt

How can you not love a book with this title? David Alt’s also one of the driving forces behind the Roadside Geology series, so you know he knows how to show you where to find the good stuff. And this is good stuff – an astounding tale of catastrophic floods that repeatedly scoured Washington State. David follows those floods as they break the ice dam in Montana and cascade through my state, changing its features forever. He also gives us an introduction to J Harlen Bretz, who was the geologist who took a look at the scablands and said, “Sure looks like a humongous flood went through here.” Okay, not in so many words, but still.

This is an excellent introduction to some rather complicated geology, exploring the landforms that helped geologists piece together the story of repeated floods so huge they beggar the imagination. Clear pictures and easy-to-understand diagrams complete your education. And the tongue-in-cheek humor makes the whole thing go down smooth.

The Man Who Found Time: James Hutton and the Discovery of Earth’s Antiquity by Jack Repcheck

Poor James Hutton’s rather sadly neglected. He’s the one who wrote The Theory of the Earth, which everyone tends to deride as too obtuse to be a good read. In this book, we discover that the writing wasn’t as crisp and clear as it might have been because Dr. Hutton was dying in great pain at the time. And yet he still managed to write a foundational tome which, due to the efforts of his good friend John Playfair, remained influential enough for Charles Lyell to pick up the theory and run with it, and geology was well and truly born.

This biography does the great man justice, tracing his discovery of deep time in loving detail. But it’s not just about a man and his rocks, but a man and his time. You’ll be immersed in Hutton’s Scotland, which was an intellectually invigorating place to be. You’ll also take a side trip down Biblical Chronology Lane, which was quite a lot like poking about in a sideshow, complete with freaks. This is definitely one I’ll read again, just for the atmosphere.

The Seashell on the Mountaintop by Alan Cutler

Nicolaus Steno is one of those folks who did geology before geology was a thing. His life is given a thorough treatment. We learn that he’s not just the father of stratigraphy, but was one of the premier anatomists of his time, figuring out bits of the body that nobody had ever figured before. He lived in a fascinating time, too, when the patronage of the Medicis fed the arts and sciences, and Leonardo da Vinci very nearly figured fossils out before he got busy doing other things. You’ll meet an interesting cast of characters, some of whom will be familiar and some who damned well should’ve been. But have tissue handy – it’s a bittersweet ending.

Geology of the Sierra Nevada by Mary Hill

I’ve always been interested in how the Sierra Nevada formed, why Yosemite is the way it is, and all that. This book covers that, including very clear explanations about how granite weathers and how glaciers manage to carve all that hard rock.

It’s also got great guides to rocks of the area, discussions of mining techniques, and a lot of other fascinating stuff.

Beyond the Moon: A Conversational, Common Sense Guide to Understanding the Tides by James Greig McCully

This is an informative little book written by a (former) amateur for amateurs – James McCully isn’t a scientist, but he practically became one in writing this book. And he gets definite kudos for this paragraph:

When people say, “Ignorance is bliss,” they mean the ignorance that is oblivious to the problem. There is another kind of ignorance. Once you become aware that you are ignorant, it is anything but blissful.

True, dat!

This is a good introduction to how tides work, and you’ll be much smarter than Bill O’Reilly after having read it, which is a different kind of bliss.

Longitude by Dava Sobel

A fun, intriguing, and very brief book that makes one realize how fortunate we are to live in an age of clocks. We don’t often think of clocks in connection to map coordinates, do we? And we don’t think how bloody difficult it is to calculate a thing like longitude, which is nothing like latitude when you get right down to it. Dava describes the problems confronting sailors before the discovery of an efficient means to determine longitude in vivid detail. She weaves tales of suffering sailors, confounded captains, broke backers, and myriad others who would have been much better off knowing where exactly they were. And then she puts us in the middle of the wars between astronomers and clockmakers as they fought for a very rich prize, paints the travails of Britain’s stratified society, and brings to life some of the most remarkable time pieces ever made.

Back to Contents


Biology, Paleontology and Evolution

Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth by Andrew H. Knoll

Lockwood recommended this one, and I’m glad he did. I love reading books that give me physical pain when I realize I’m getting close to the end. I hated finishing this book: it’s so beautifully written, so fascinating, and so informative that I could have happily spent the rest of my life reading it.

From mere chemical traces to exquisitely preserved microfossils, from the first ambiguous hints of life to stromatolites, from extremophiles to extraterrestrials, from ancient atmospheres to oxygen revolutions, this book is a journey through life itself. Andrew Knoll’s sense of wonder is only matched by his scientific chops. There are few people who can write using the big technical words and yet never for an instant seem dry. He’s one of those rare talents. He also explains things well without stopping the narrative cold; tough concepts hold no terrors for the layperson in this slender book. At least, not if said layperson has read a few books on evolution and biology first – I’m not sure how a total neophyte would fare, but I suspect the sheer power of the prose would smooth over any difficulties.

My review here.

Written in Stone by Brian Switek

This book constantly surprised me – not because it was good (it’s Brian Switek, so obviously it’s good!), but because of the number of times it made me say, “I didn’t know that!” It’s populated with bajillions of scientists I’ve read a lot about, people like Charles Darwin and Nicolaus Steno and Richard Owen, some of whom have been so extensively babbled about in the pop sci books that it seemed nothing new and interesting remained to reveal – but Brian almost always managed to find a little something awesome that hasn’t made it into the 42,000 other books about them. And lest you think this is merely a history of paleontology, keep in mind that Brian fleshes out that history with the newest of the new discoveries.

My review here.

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin

Something about our bodies is rather fishy. Neil Shubin does a wonderful job showing how our anatomy’s jerry-rigged from much different bodies. If you’ve ever had trouble understanding the incremental steps evolution took from microbe to mankind, this delightful little book will give you the crash course. You’ll start seeing just how similar we are to even wildly dissimilar organisms. And it’s set out in such a way that even someone who has as much trouble with visualization as I do can see it clearly.

This book is the perfect answer to those who try to claim that evolution’s a nice theory, but has no practical application. Now, most of us know that’s ridiculous – we have antibiotic-resistant bacteria to prove that knowing how evolution works is important in medicine – but Neil goes many steps further, showing how evolution explains everything from hiccups to hemorroids to hernias, and many other defects not beginning with the letter H.

Full review here.

The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution by Sean B. Carroll

I adore this book, not to put too fine a point on it. It’s one of the best books on evolution I’ve ever read: clear, concise and beautifully written. I know that other books make a strong case for evolution, but I found this one of the strongest. And it’s full of things I never knew about, like “the bloodless fish of Bouvet Island.”

That’s just the beginning. Sean B. Carroll goes on to explain “the everyday math of evolution,” which explained said math in such a way that even a complete math ignoramus such as myself could grasp it. He made it easy to understand how even the tiniest advantage can, over evolutionary time (which is sometimes remarkably short), add up to big changes. And he doesn’t stop there, of course – he shows us the immortal genes, which have been passengers in a great many species; how new genes can be created from the old; explores convergent evolution; sifts through fossil genes, and quite a bit more.

At the Water’s Edge by Carl Zimmer

Believe me when I say that macroevolution has never been so beautifully described. This whole book is a journey, there and back again.

You’ll learn the reason why we’re so poorly laid out as Carl takes you on our evolutionary journey from sea to land and back again. Along the way, you’ll learn a lot more about evolution than you thought possible from such a slim volume dedicated mostly to whales. And if, like me, you despised Moby Dick, you might discover a reason to at least read the chapters on cetaceans…

The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner

Hands-down, this is one of the best books on evolution I’ve ever read. It’s not just about Darwin’s finches. It’s about evolution in action. It follows Peter and Rosemary Grant as they study the Galapagos finches season after season, watching them evolve in real time. Throw in quite a lot of cutting-edge evolutionary research and some Charles Darwin history, and we’ve got a book that feels like it’s about 5,000 pages and isn’t long enough by half. Oh, and Jonathan Weiner’s a wonderful writer. Reading his prose is like drinking claret.

And because no science book is complete without hysterically funny anecdotes about the hazards of field work, I just want to refer you to page 48, where you’ll learn why researcher Ian Abbott “hated a barnacle as no man ever had before,” and is a cautionary tale about always wearing your undies.

Trees: Their Natural History by Peter Thomas

I’ve loved this book since the first sentence: “Everyone knows what a tree is: a large woody thing that provides shade.” The rest of the book didn’t disappoint. It’s a clear, concise, and comprehensive introduction to trees, from how they evolved to how they work in this modern world of climate change and pollution.

Peter Thomas wrote this book because he became frustrated with the fact that there wasn’t a single source for all our knowledge about trees. A lot of myths get dispelled, and most importantly, I learned things I never knew before – like how roots seek easy paths in order to grow, and how far they actually go. The strategies various trees have – deciduous vs. evergreen, conical vs. sprawling, tall vs. short – begin making sense once you know why natural selection molded them in certain ways. And there were things I’d never considered before, like how something so tall manages to stay upright for decades, hundreds or even thousands of years against the simplest antagonist of all: the wind.

Once I got done with this book, I felt I’d gotten into the mind of a tree.

Back to Contents


Neurology, Physiology and Medicine

Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine by Dr. Paul Offit.

Those of you who’ve been in the trenches of the vaccine wars probably know Paul as one of the despised enemies of anti-vaxxers. This book is an excellent example of why they hate him: it’s clear, concise, and full of citations to studies that make it very, very difficult to counter him. Also, he’s fair almost to a fault. Alt-med? He’s tried it himself. He’s given things like glucosamine a spin. He’s had less-than-satisfactory experiences with conventional medicine, so he gets why you might like something different. Sure. But then he says, let’s look at the studies – and there we have bad news. No better than placebo. Oh, dear. Better stick with the stodgy stuff, then, unless your condition is amenable to treatment by placebo, in which case, alt-med yourself out (on the safe stuff, anyway).

That’s the book in a nutshell.

My review here.

Soul Made Flesh: The Discovery of the Brain – and How it Changed the World by Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer wrote the most informative, delightful, and just plain enthralling book on how neuroscience came to be that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. He describes the birth of neuroscience in detail so vivid you can practically feel yourself sawing open a skull.

It’s amazing how far we’ve come since Thomas Willis and the other members of the Oxford Circle pried open a nobleman’s head and began looking at the brain as more than just several pounds of ugly fat. This book takes you on a journey that lasted thousands of years. If you like traveling the history of science, it’s definitely a trip you’ve got to take.

Emblems of Mind by Edward Rothstein

This is a delightful little book about music and mathematics, and the connections between the two, and I have to say that for a book filled with equations and rather technical discussion of music, it was very nearly painless to read. I say nearly. This book needs a second life as an enhanced ebook, where one can tap on an equation to watch it come to life, or on a musical phrase to hear it. If that happens, this book will be complete.

Edward Rothstein has a melodious writing style that isn’t ostentatious, and an obvious love of music, math and science that infuses every page. If you want to get a little music theory and history combined with science and math, topped off with some mind-challenging ideas, this is a good choice.

Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind by V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee

If you’re an Oliver Sacks fan, or if you’re just fascinated by brains, you really must pick up Phantoms in the Brain. Dr. Ramachandran doesn’t just tell interesting neurological stories, he takes you on a journey of discovery through your brain. And he’ll make you think of consciousness in ways you never considered before. The whole thing’s an adventure on the order of the Odyssey.

My review here.

A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Impostor Poodles to Purple Numbers by V.S. Ramachandran

Dr. Ramachandran gives us a good look at some fascinating facts of the way the mind works, and all of it is wonderful. My absolute favorite chapter, however, is “The Artful Brain,” which gave me an entirely new appreciation of art and left me wanting far, far more. Alas, the promised book mentioned in that chapter is not available, so I shall have to content myself with this only – for now. In this chapter, we learn why the Victorians freaked out when first exposed to Indian art, the principles that make art art to our brains, and ways in which the artless may become artistic – if they don’t mind somebody paralyzing bits of their brains, that is.

This is one of the few books I’ve read every one of the extensive Notes to. The Notes are practically another book, a gloss and a commentary that’s every bit as good as the rest, which is rare. Dr. Ramachandran is one of those rare folks who are not only great scientists, but truly gifted writers. He makes it all look easy.

Back to Contents

Astronomy, Physics, and Chemistry

The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene

This is one of the few books that’s ever made me feel good about math. Not that it’s full of equations, but Brian Greene talks a lot about how these weird things mathematicians came up with, things that seemed purely abstract and intellectual, ended up being very useful for physicists. That’s the main thing this book gave me: a new appreciation for people who sit around playing with numbers just because they think they’re beautiful.

I’m still not all that sure about string theory, and I surely don’t understand it well, but this is a great book for those who want to know more about it. Brian shows us how well it could reconcile relativity and quantum mechanics if it pans out. It also helped me understand those well-established branches of physics much better. This is cutting-edge stuff. We’ve a long way to go before it’s as fundamental as the older two physics theories, and it may not be what we’re looking for, but at the very least, it’s fascinating. And if you, like me, have a hard time understanding dimensions outside of the usual four, then you need Brian Greene: he illustrates tough-to-visualize concepts in a way that allows you to grasp them without having to learn all sorts of complicated mathematics. That’s always a plus.

Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries by Neil deGrasse Tyson

I am thrilled to report that Neil deGrasse Tyson is just as snarky in print as he is in person. And I loves me some science with snark! I dog-eared a lot of pages, and it’s hard to choose just one quote from this delightful book of essays, but I’ll go with this one:

What are the lessons to be learned from this journey of the mind? That humans are emotionally fragile, perennially gullible, hopelessly ignorant masters of an insignificantly small speck in the cosmos.

Death From the Skies! The Science Behind the End of the World by Phil Plait

This is one of the most entertaining, if sometimes terrifying, books I’ve ever read. Unlike most scientists who use the end of the world as a hook for science, Phil treats the subject with the proper mix of respect and hilarity, with heaping doses of “it’ll probably never happen, but it’s too fun not to speculate.” This book probably taught me more about physics and astronomy in one compact, enjoyable read than all the previous serious, heavy tomes I’ve read. And I’ll be referring back to it often to explain network outages and problems with cell phone service. Maybe it was a solar flare, or gamma ray bursts, or a black hole passing through.

Stardust: Supernovae and Life: The Cosmic Connection by John R. Gribbin and Mary Gribbin

This is a delightful introduction to the fact that we are, as Carl Sagan said, made of star stuff. It ties astronomy, chemistry, physics and biology together beautifully. You come away from it with a little bit of a strut, and quite a lot of awe. We are made of awesome stuff, people. This universe is an amazing place. And this is about the perfect book to give to someone who doesn’t realize how tied to the stars we all are, or who thinks astrology whenever our connection to the stars is mentioned. It’s so much more interesting than pseudoscience. The real stuff is much more dramatic. Nice to have an easy-to-read book that gets that across.

The Joy of Chemistry by Cathy Cobb

Want fun, need fun, need joy. I have a book with joy in the title. And hey, I could use some chemistry in my life. So I turn to this one.

Wow.

I mean, seriously, wow. You have to understand, the last time chemistry and I had more than a brief flirtation was back in high school. I’m so not-versed in chemistry it’s pathetic. This book took me from abject ignorance to near-competence in just a few hours. And it’s a hell of a fun read. The authors intended to get across the joy of chemistry, and they did.

It’s even got experiments.

My review here.

Back to Contents

Unidentified Flying Dinosaur: You Guys Jealous of Seahorses or Something?

Winter generally isn’t my favorite season, but there are a few compensations. When the leaves are off and the plants have died back, you can see the geology better. There’s lots of night-time in which to write, which is awesome for a nocturnal person. The cat gets cuddlier the lower the temperature drops. And there are winter visitors. Like these little guys at Juanita Bay.

Image shows a bird with a brown wing, black back, white chest, black face, and white head that looks oddly like a moonpie with all but a single stripe of chocolate along the edge munched off.

UFD I

There’s usually at least one group of birds around I’ve not seen before. I’m always on the lookout when we got walkies for something new (to me – one of you has probably already identified the above birdie). Our leisurely ramble around Juanita Bay a few days ago didn’t disappoint – these were very eye-catching specimens, both in appearance and behavior.

Image shows a back view of the same bird, showing off the white stripes on its wings.

UFD II

There were two of the above variety, and one that I’m relatively certain is a female of the same species, based on the fact the guys were acting like idiots around her.

Image shows two males clustered together, looking toward another bird who is darker with a burnt-orange flare of feathers on her head.

UFD III

It was getting on close to sunset on a cloudy day, so the light wasn’t the best, and she was too dark to really stand out well. But hopefully this shot gives you a general idea of what she looks like.

Image shows same female bird. The head feathers are much different, looking more like a mohawk than a moonpie, but she's of a similar shape to the others, with similar white stripes on her wings, and a nearly-identical beak.

UFD IV

The dudes were doing their best to impress, swimming around her, showing off. They’d swim a bit, then rear their heads up out of the water and curve their heads and breasts back, looking for all the world like avian seahorses. And they’d make a really odd noise I’m having a hard time describing. Good news is, I don’t have to! I took a video for ya. Just turn up the sound, and when they rear back, listen closely: you’ll hear a kind of hollow creaking noise.

That’s them. They sound like sound effects in this Pharoahe Monch song. (If anybody knows what that sound effect is, please enlighten me. It’s now driving me mad.)

Such birds add enjoyment to a winter excursion. Hopefully, we’ll see many more awesome birdies this winter. If global warming’s good for anything, it should be good for sending new and different birds our way, eh? Although these could be regulars I’ve just never noticed.

The whole trio, with one of the males stretching its neck.

UFD V

I’ve put the full set up at Flickr for those who haven’t gotten enough yet. Enjoy!

Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education IV-d: Wherein there is a Climate of Sneer

If you’re one of those whacky people who thinks the opinion of 97% of scientists counts for something, you may want to grab a stick, wrap it in leather or a leather equivalent, and place it between your teeth. One of those mouth guards for people who grind their teeth in their sleep would also work. A stress ball may also help avoid damage caused by clenching hands. If you’re prone to pounding surfaces when frustrated to the point of apoplexy, please acquire a pillow or punching bag before continuing.

Yep. ES4 is about to present itself as the voice of reason by misrepresenting, misconstruing, misunderstanding, and otherwise manipulating all the data they possibly can. Because God. Brace yourself as you’re told how to “formulate a Christian perspective of climate change.”

Image is a demotivational poster showing a polar bear in a zoo, on its hind legs, with its paws over its eyes. Caption says "GOD DID IT. Lalalalalala..."

They move very quickly to assure us climate has changed in the past. They also pose four questions that look reasonable on their face:

In any discussion of climate change and global warming, we need honest answers to four questions:

1. Is the earth warming?
2. If so, are people causing it to warm?
3. If it’s warming because of human activities, is that bad?
4. Will solutions that politicians and scientists suggest actually fix the problems?

Considering their tendency to put rational, well-evidenced answers to those questions down to “radical environmental bias,” I don’t think we’re going to get honest answers to those questions from this source. Of course, they claim this book can’t answer them. We shall see.

They certainly don’t hesitate with the right-wing speculation: See, for instance, this remarkable bit of Pollyanna thinking in their sidebar on melting polar ice:

The effects of changes in polar ice may surprise you. Many people are concerned that melting glaciers may raise sea levels to dangerous heights. But the results of melting glaciers may not be all bad. In the Arctic, the long-sought Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific north of Canada may actually open up. Icebreakers and merchant ships may be able to steam through Arctic ice in the summer. Around Greenland, oceans that are now ice-free for more of the year than they were before are exposing long-hidden sources of oil.

Unmentioned are several sobering facts which may have served to bolt their unbounded optimism to the floor, if they could be persuaded to accept any such thing as a fact:

Image shows a man in overalls leaning against a ramshackle wooden building, looking dejected. The hill beyond is  eroded into gullies; the whole area looks like a desert.

A farmer gazes at his severely eroded fields. Image courtesy USDA.

This is just a short list of the consequences either already happening or likely to happen as the ice melts away. There’s so much more…

So getting giddy over the prospect of Arctic shipping routes, lotsa drill-baby-drill, and an actually-green Greenland is like celebrating the prospect of celebrity if you should lose your legs in an historic thousand-car pileup on the freeway. Sure, junkyards will see a surge in available stock, and funeral directors will enjoy booming business, and you may have exciting opportunities as an inspirational speaker… but it would be better, on the whole, if the entire wreck was prevented to begin with.

All this wrong, and we’ve barely dented this section. Sigh.

Next we are treated to “A History of Climate Change,” in which we get the worldview bullshit slathered on thick and hot. Both old earthers and young earthers know the climate’s changed dramatically in the past, but the explanations obviously differ. One group explains the evidence by noting “global climate depended on the amount of continental surface area exposed above the ocean surface, the amount of heat received by the sun, volcanic activity, and even the kind of life existing on Earth during a given geologic time-frame.” Why, how silly is that, when every good Xtian knows Goddidit:

A young-earth view of history involves global climate change, too. God created a world completely suited for His purposes. It was a world with a climate ideal for life. But our sin brought God’s curses on the earth and all its processes. The earth’s climate drastically changed because of God’s judgement through the global Flood. We believe that the Flood set up the conditions for a global cooling period that produced a single Ice Age.

Since then, they say, outside of a few assorted mini-Ice Ages, the earth has gotten warmer and warmer. And the Bible sez it’ll keep changing! But don’t worry! Because Genesis 8:22! Here endeth climate history!

At this point, I would like to remind you that this utter poppycock is being presented as actual science to Christianist high school students. Kids who are, in fact, being told they can go to college and earn STEM degrees and become real live scientists after studying this nonsense.

This is nothing short of educational neglect and negligence.

And it’s making our survival as a species much more precarious than it would otherwise be. It’s this fucked-up fundamentalist thinking that’s got the United States shirking its duty on combating global warming, and arguably aggravating the problem. We’ve lost time we can never make up because of these people. And they’re the same ones who will ensure our politicians do nothing to help the people suffering the effects of their ignorance, yet scream like banshees if their own comforts aren’t seen to. They’re the ones sinking the boat, then taking every life jacket for themselves – of which there aren’t enough because they didn’t believe in the need for safety measures to begin with.

Gah. I’m too pissed to finish, and besides that, I have a feeling the BS factor is about to increase exponentially. Until next time…

New at Rosetta Stones: A Whole Hornfull of Geological Links!

I’m having one of those weeks where there are twelve billion things to do and less than 168 hours to do them once you factor in time to actually, y’know, sleep. But others in the geoblogosphere have been writing excellent content, so I’ve highlighted a few of them. There will be more! Like a whole post catching up with Evelyn, f’r instance. Who else would you like to see highlighted at Scientific American? Let me know your favorite geologists, whether they’re working on this world or others!

Image shows white rock powder in a silver dish on the rover.

Mars Curiosity with a sample of powdered Martian rock. Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, cropped by moi to show off sample.

Enjoy the first of what will become many-lots of posts featuring links to delicious geologic content written by some of the best bloggers around.

Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide IV: Hummocks Trail

We’ve left the lovely breezes and rippling blue of Coldwater Lake; a road crossed, a tiny distance traversed, and we are in a rather grimmer place.

If you had been standing here in the North Fork Toutle River Valley on the morning of May 18th, 1980, you would have died. Never mind if you had your car carefully pointed towards a speedy escape. By the time you realized it was time to flee, it would have been far too late. There are people still entombed in the debris avalanche not far from here. This is the place to pause and reflect a moment on the power of geologic processes. Earth demands respect.

We’re about to hike over the results of a sector collapse. When a volcanic edifice becomes over-steepened and weakened, it can come down catastrophically. A major part of the mountain roars and tumbles down at incredible speeds. Clouds of dust and debris boil up as the mass churns and slides down-mountain. Some unfortunate valley is filled with hummocky debris. A volcano is left with an enormous gouge in its face. And this is without a lateral blast: what happened here would have been impressive enough alone. “Maclargehuge” is a word you might use to describe it, but when you get a good look at the thing from ground level, you’ll want something a bit stronger. I think “gigantinormous” will just about cover it, but should any other terms occur to you, please share them here.

Before you start down this trail, get prepared. It’s sunblock time. Slather that stuff on – I’ll not have my readers die of melanoma. Make sure you’ve got more water than you know what to do with. Yes, I know, we’re only going half a mile in, then turning back, but trust me on this. It will suck you dry if the sun’s shining. You are going to get baked without mercy. Shade is nearly non-existent. And what if you get all intrigued by the outstanding geology and decide to keep on till the river, eh? I’ll not have my readers suffer heatstroke and dehydration, either, so take as much water as you can carry.

Right? All right. Let’s go see some geology.

We’re going to take the trailhead on the left, following the loop clockwise. You’ll know you’re on the correct bit if you see an interpretive sign: the first quarter-mile has lots, and they repay a perusal. This is a scientific research area, so please do stay on the trail. There are scientific studies of the area’s recovery going on; this is a fantastic chance for us to see how the landscape evolves and ecosystems recover after a catastrophic eruption, so don’t muck it up. Besides that, this is an area you really don’t want to get lost in.

The early part of the trail moseys through some beautiful, lush meadows and baby forest. The tall grasses are tangled with abundant wildflowers, and skinny young alders partially shade everything. You can see hummocks under thick green mantles: notice their steep, almost conical shapes. Some are more rounded than others, but a lot of them look like debris piles dumped any-old-how – and that’s basically what they are.

Lovely meadow scenes along the Hummocks Trail.

Lovely meadow scenes along the Hummocks Trail.

You’ll soon see bare or sparsely-vegetated hummocks peeking from behind thin screens of trees. Some are too steep and too well-drained to support plant life. This is the kind of thing that makes geologists scream for joy, because we can actually see what’s going on.

Let’s pause a moment and get a handle on what we’re seeing. If you’ll recall from reading up on the subject, the gigantinormous landslide came down in three fairly distinct blocks. Blocks II and III are the ones that made it this far. They actually turned 90° to the west when they hit Johnston and Harry’s Ridges. The landslide decapitated the North Fork Toutle River and left a jumbled, lifeless surface behind. This particular lumpy terrain is a dead giveaway for a huge debris avalanche.

Debris piles too steep and well-drained for even the ubiquitous Pacific Northwest flora to conquer.

Debris piles too steep and well-drained for even the ubiquitous Pacific Northwest flora to conquer.

Those lumps contain quite a bit of Mount St. Helens’ history: watch for it as you walk. There’s some lovely pastel-hued rock, which is hydrothermally-altered dacite from domes erupted during the Pine Creek eruptive period. Black basalt and basaltic andesite were erupted during the Castle Creek period. The bluish-gray and reddish-brown andesites hail from the Kalama eruptive period. Young light-gray dacite comes from the domes formed during the Goat Rocks eruptive period. And you might see some brand-new breadcrust bombs: they surfed in on the debris avalanche. All of these varied rocks keep the hummocks from being a uniform shade of blah. There’s a nice sign along the trail that will show you where on the mountain all those bits came from. You can look from it to the crater and then the hummocks, and marvel that all that stuff from up there ended up way down here. And despite the chaos, geologists can actually figure out which is what and where. (I’d say hats off to ‘em, but don’t doff your cap unless it’s overcast. That sun is fierce. A respectful tap on the brim should do.)

Bits of Mount St. Helens' history. Can you identify their origins?

Bits of Mount St. Helens’ history. Can you identify their origins?

All of this stuff came roaring down the valley at incredible speeds. You don’t usually think of land breaking speed limits, but out in the center of the valley, it could’ve given a sports car a challenge, and possibly outrun the police. Consider: the landslide came roaring along at 150 miles per hour (around 70 meters per second). Porche’s lovely Cayman only beats it by 15 miles per hour – and that’s on a lovely smooth track, not a lumpy-bumpy river valley floor filled with enormous old trees. Also, landslides haven’t got sleek aerodynamic design. Wowza, right?

Speaking of enormous old trees, you’ll see a few buried in the debris here and there, some barely visible and some sticking up any-old-how. Like this giant one, here, which really makes you give your best Keanu-Reeves “woah!” That poor thing was probably treated like a pickup stick that’s got in the way of a bulldozer, which combined with the lateral blast, completely ruined its century.

Moi with enormous trees entombed by the debris avalanche.

Moi with enormous trees entombed by the debris avalanche.

Just beyond it, after you’ve wandered along between more hummocks and been treated to some truly spectacular views of St. Helens, you’ll come to the sign marking the junction with the Boundary Trail. Look left, and you’ll see a fabulous dike exposed in Johnston Ridge. This is a beautiful remnant of Tertiary-age volcanic activity, and an excellent reminder that our own belligerent beauty hasn’t been the only fire mountain on the scene here. The dike is big and sold, which means it formed a bit of a barrier to the debris avalanche here. You know what groins do to coastal sediment. Sort of the same thing happened here, with 16 feet (5 meters) worth of landslide piling on that (“upstream”) side of the dike relative to the other (“downstream”) side. And the way that debris piled on tells us it was moving at a leisurely 22 miles per hour (10 meters per second) out here on the margins of the flow. Which, come to think of it, still isn’t the kind of speed you want earth and rock achieving on its own.

View of Mount St. Helens from intersection of Boundary and Hummocks Trails. The Tertiary dike is on the left.

View of Mount St. Helens from intersection of Boundary and Hummocks Trails. The Tertiary dike is on the left.

This is a nice place to look out over the lumpy terrain and consider relief. No, not relief from the sun, although you’re probably considering that pretty closely by now. We’re talking terrain. So between the hummocked-up bits and the low bits, we’re talking up to 246 feet (75 meters) of topographic relief. And it’s got a distinctive appearance that will allow geologists to tell this was teh result of a mega-huge debris avalanche for centuries to come.

As the flow came down-valley, it was able to spread out laterally. Some of the resulting deposit compacted more than other portions, causing much more lumpiness. Then you’ve got your phreatic explosions leaving monster holes all over the place as water from streams and ice from ex-glaciers eventfully encountered hot rocks. New stream banks failed after the lahars roared through. And as time passed, chunks of ice that had survived everything else eventually melted, leaving kettles behind.

And changes continue, as change does. Erosion began having its say about 10 seconds after everything came to rest and hasn’t stopped since. The hummocks slump and ravel as gravity asserts itself. Rain carves gullies and causes debris flows, which change the face of the deposit. And Mount St. Helens occasionally contributes, although it’s been quite quiet lately. The land gives the sense that it’s a huge hunk of clay plunked down by a potter: the potter’s hands still knead it, prodding it toward the shape it will assume as time ticks on.

Time to head back, now, to the stands of slender trees filled with cavorting birds, and the meadows with their bobbing grasses and flowers. If you’re lucky, like we were, you’ll see a wee froggy scrambling out of the path, back to its peaceful pond. Life is assertive, and returns, enjoying the boundless opportunity to be embraced between catastrophes.

We’re about to come face-to-crater with the instigator of the most recent catastrophe. I know we’ve seen a lot today, but, my darlings: it is the merest prelude to what comes next.

Previous: Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide III: Coldwater Lake

Next: Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide V: Johnston Ridge

Originally published at Rosetta Stones.

References:

Burns, Scott (2011): Field Guide to Mt. St. Helens north. Portland State University.

Decker, Barbara and Robert (2002): Road Guide to Mount St. Helens (Updated Edition). Double Decker Press.

Doukas, Michael P. (1990): Road Guide to Volcanic Deposits of Mount St. Helens and Vicinity, Washington. USGS Bulletin 1859.

Pringle, Patrick T. (2002): Roadside Geology of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and Vicinity. Washington DNR Information Circular 88.

Gnaughty or Gneiss Cards Ready for the Holidays!

Tired of mass-produced department store greeting cards? Are you wanting something a little unique for the rock-lovers in your life? Excellent! My first-ever greeting card design is up on Zazzle and ready for purchase. See if it’ll meet your needs. If so, getcha some!

Here’s the cover and interior art (the cards will be sans-watermarks, o’ course):

Image shows a cartoon Santa head, looking pensive. Santa's hat has a rock hammer on the white brim. Thought bubble says, "Gonna find out who's..."

Geologist Santa card cover.

Here’s the interior top:

Image is a photo of a lump of coal and a piece of gneiss. They've been filtered as a watercolor. Caption says, "Gnaughty or gneiss."

Card Interior.

I hope you like it! Visit the snazzy new Dana Hunter’s Gneiss Schist store on Zazzle and play around with the options. I’m afraid it’s the only product there right now, and probably very lonely, but there will be others as soon as I get some designs done. Let me know if you’d like this one on t-shirts and so forth. We can definitely arrange that! Zazzle has a ton of products – just let me know what you’re interested in.

If you’re curious about the rocks: the coal is a bit from Black Mesa in Arizona. The gneiss is a lovely bit of Skagit Gneiss, which is a delightfully sparkly variety of orthogneiss.

Given enough time and luck, B and I will also have actual hand samples ready to go in time for holiday shipping. So if you like the cards, but are looking more for a stocking stuffer or fun little gift, stay tuned. We should have some Gnaughty or Gneiss-themed rocks up on Etsy soon!

We could definitely use your help getting the word out. So please do share this link with the rock-lovers in your life. Thank you!