Thursday, February 26, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

I'm a day late for this month's Accretionary Wedge - somehow I got it in my head that we had until the last day of the month. I should have known that the due date was approaching when everyone else started posting!

I got into geology because I wanted to go places. I remember sitting on the grass near the end of Freshman Orientation, talking to a guy in my freshman seminar about traveling. He told me that I should major in geology and then specialize in some obscure type of rocks, so I would have to go to exotic places to study them. I took his advice: I majored in geology, and then I went to grad school on a plate boundary to study high-pressure metamorphic rocks. (He also majored in geology, but went on to get a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhism.) I know the lure of geologically spectacular places.

So my suggestion for the "100 great geologic places" list might surprise you:

Your own backyard.

"You should talk," you might be thinking. "My FIELD CAMP goes to your backyard. But I live in the most geologically boring place in the world. I want an excuse to get out of here!"

But I'm serious. Every place has geology. Even if it's flat and buried beneath black soil. Even if it's under pavement. Even if it's covered by trees. Somewhere below you are rocks, and below that are more rocks, and eventually there are metamorphic rocks and mantle rock and on and on and on. Those rocks contain water, maybe near enough to the surface that it seeps into your basement, and maybe deep enough down that your community should worry about running out of it. Those rocks affect the types of soil that develop or the stability of very tall buildings. Your home's tectonic and climatic history created the landscape you look at, whether it's rolling hills or flat fields or mountains hidden in the smog.

Maybe you don't have a point of geologic interest along your local highway. But wherever you are, there's something. Maybe it's a roadcut. Maybe it's the boulders piled up in old fences, collected from glacial debris. Maybe it's the river the made your city great, or an old quarry, or gullies that form after it rains. Maybe it's the stone used in your buildings. (There's human history there, too. Where did the rocks come from? Are they quarried locally? Were they imported from halfway around the world?) Even concrete has a geologic source.

The best assignment I was ever given as a student was to figure out how geology had affected my hometown. There's a world of spectacular geology out there, but geology is also part of the mundane and ordinary space that we live in every day. So yeah, go over that rainbow and check out the erupting volcanoes and glaciers and shear zones and waterfalls and canyons. But then click your heels together and bring it all back with you.

There's no place like home.


CJR said...

A great answer, Kim. Although people in flat places have to work a bit harder to get to their geology, it's still there.

Silver Fox said...

Very good point!