Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Science in reality

Every since I was young I have loved the outdoors. Maybe I can attribute it to my upbringing. My parents never had large amounts of money so the majority of our vacaitions involved camping and roadtrips. And those happen to be two of my favorite things-- trips that involve a good ole fashion sightseeing roadtrip and a nice healthy hike up mountains, down valleys, in caves, along riverbanks, just about anywhere you can think of. So when I went off to college my first few years all I knew is that I wanted to do something that involved the outdoors- camping, hiking, climbing, star gazing, fire roasting, night swimming, all these great outdoor activities. To top that off I loved nature writers- Thoreau, Dillard, Carson, Abbey. My first English class in college focused on a ot of these nature writers and I was in love. During my time in Missouri I sat on bales of hay, star gazed, camped in every imaginable locality, and imagined a life of the outdoors. So naturally when I transferred to LSU I thought-- Geology, why not-- you study the earth and I love living in the earth.

Well that is where it ends. You spend 3 years working towards a degree where they tease you with the outdoors. You spend countless hours hiking in great localities, looking at rocks and every field trip involves a camp ground, a good fire, some beer, and the stars overheard-- rain or shine. It was great. Then you finish those years in the classroom with a 6 week experience in a small wooden cabin and tent in the mountains of colorado. What a dream science-- who could ask for more.

So of course I thought, graduate school! Why not! Then I discovered what I liked most in geology-- fossils, and not just any fossils but marine microfossils (forams). So I traveled to Wisconsin for graduate school and picked a thesis topic that involved no field work and no traveling except to conferences to present papers. Thus starts my life as a graduate student-- indoors, starring at computers and down a scope. You suddenly forget why you loved geology-- no field opportunities arise -- well I did get to go to the Guatalupe mountains for a few days, but that was the extent. And then you think I will do a PhD, sure why not, new opporutnities for the field, for camping, for hiking, for rocks in the field, for new earth experiences-- only to find yourself 6years down the road- having a field site in Louisiana and spending the majority of your time in the lab, looking through a scope, and then finally the culmination of your passion typing on a computer, processing, plotting, and interpretting data. Is this science? Now it is? All those geology history books about Steno and Smith, the adventures of Mary Anning and her search for icthyosaurs and mosasaurs in the Lyme Regis limestones, the notes of Lewis and Clark as they collected plants of the US, the expedition of John Wesley Powell as he charted the unknown path of the Colorado river through the Grand Canyon. All these adventures are but a stroke in history as geologist and paleontologist struggle to survive in a changing science where success involves cutting edge geochemical data, amazing computer generated GIS maps, and impressive graphics. Granted I love the scope, but I also love the observations made outdoors, the pure collection and describing done by a naturalist. So I am looking forward to leaving behind the glare of the computer, which surrounds me on my free time- work during work-- exploring during free time.
And yes-- free time. i can finally release the shackles of the computer typing and revive the hiking, observing, breathing of the outdoors.
I look forward to moving from this setting- a dingy computer in an unfurnished room.

to this setting- a lake full of possibilities, again.

No comments:

Post a Comment