Thursday, May 22, 2008

Offline and Down River

I'm packing for the next adventure and it's gonna be a good 'un. Last year, when I went canoeing down river over Memorial Day Weekend to kick off the summer, it was one of my better decisions. The scenery was breathtaking and it reminded me that I was once madly in love with geology.

I was attending Long Beach City College in the late 80s and getting my required classes out of the way - classes like .... ewwwww ... science. Someone told me that there was a crazy-ass geology teacher who made it fun. "Um, so, what's geology? Like, rocks and shit?" Oh yeah, I was an intellectual, even back then.

Dr. Howard "Doc" Shifflett
And then the skies opened up and delivered unto thee Dr. Howard Shifflett, probably one of the most amazing teachers in my academic career. "Doc", as we called him, brought inspiration to an unlikely place and it spread like wildfire. Many of us caught the fever and formed a little geology gang; I still have two close friends I met in Doc's class.

The class required multi-day camping field trips into the California desert which only intensified our dedication and closeness. We accompanied Doc on his many journeys and saw examples of what we'd only read about. Those geology camping trips were some of the best times of my life. Keep in mind, I was in peak party girl mode and yet, completely willing to forgo Spring Break to dig for fossilized rocks (extra credit) that Doc could send to DC for carbon-14 dating. No joke, I was into it.

Eventually, I got distracted with Life and my brain spit out the Hardness Scale that I once painstakingly memorized. But I never forgot how Doc permanently changed my perspective on the world. I now see the landscape as Earth's history book, cracked at the spine and laid wide open to be read by anyone, even ditzy party girls. Once you've cracked the code, the topography looks dramatic forevermore.

So, last year when my jaw dropped at those massive black and red canyons along Gunnison River, it all came flooding back. Then, I remembered that I missed knowing the how's and the why's behind such epic scenery. The river guide informed me that the there was a crazy-ass geology dude at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science named Bob Raynolds who leads geology tours down rivers every summer and .... BINGO!

Sooooo, tomorrow I'll drive 5-6 hours to Moab, Utah with two friends I haven't met yet - Cat and Bob. Then, it's five full days of canoeing and camping along the Green River with yet another crazy-ass geology dude leading the way, pointing stuff out and helping me see the stories that are there before me.

And, just like that, I'm back in the world of rocks. Doc would be pleased.


(Dr. Howard Shifflett passed away on May 25, 2014 at the age of 86. Visit his memorial page here.) 


quirkychick said...

Oh my God Heather! I love Dr. Shifflett. He was one the best teachers I ever had. Not only did I go on field trips with him but I was a lab assistant because I so adored the crazy things he'd bring into the classrooms like the giant mud table that taught us how rivers carved the earth.

I think of him anytime when I see the different layers in the cliffs of California, and of course when there's an earthquake. He had that spot where he was measuring the earth's movment up near the San Andreas fault.

When the Loma Prieta earthquake hit you would have thought that he'd won the lottery he was so excited.

When Northridge hit I was able to explain to myself that it was so freaking scary because of the P waves.

Love that man.

Mrs.X said...

Isn't it amazing how some experiences just bring back all kinds of memories?

At my university, geology was known colloquially as Rocks for Jocks. Me, I was never a science person and elected to take biology to fulfill my credit. It was a terrible class, but I did manage to meet my best friend out of it!

Have a fabulous time reconnecting with your old self. Say hi to her for me. She sounds like a blast (not that the present you doesn't, incidentally).

ClizBiz said...

QChick: Wow, small world! I hope that somehow, Doc finds his way to this blog so he can understand the power of his own passion.

Mrs. X: I found her and she is smarter than I remember. Who knew?