On a warm evening in May of 2008 I sat upon a cinder cone along the flank of Mauna Kea and watched the silhouette of Mauna Loa fade into the darkness as the sun set. Between myself and that other summit was a sea of clouds that washed over all but the highest points of the landscape. I looked upon it with awe and I wondered.
Though I loved what I was seeing, I really understood very little about it.
Once the sun had descended and the stars emerged, I was overwrought by questions about the landscape, about the sky, and about the stars which dusted the night more vibrantly than I had ever seen before. The questions were too many. I was at a breaking point.
As I explained in the introductory post for this blog, I’ve been a lover of the outdoors for years. I’m an Eagle Scout, a hiking enthusiast, and an environmental advocate. For a long time simply enjoying the aesthetic nature of the outdoors was enough for me but, increasingly, as I returned to many of the same places time and time again, I began to feel frustrated and bored. I knew there was more to see than just the crest of the mountains and the fog of the morning. I knew that I was overlooking the grandeur of the formation stories of the places I frequented. Mostly, I knew that if I didn’t start appreciating the places that I claimed to love, I would be the one to leave the relationship, unfulfilled and disillusioned.
Well, in order to appreciate a thing, you must first come to know it. And the best place to go when you want to learn about something is college.
I returned from that trip to Hawaii determined to take my life in a radically different direction. By the following month I had enrolled at Portland State, discussed my intentions with my boss, and began preparing myself for what I hoped would be a triumphant return to college life. In my search for introductory material, I found some amazing things that had been produced by geologist academics and professionals with the public in mind.
Dr. Christian Shorey’s Earth and Environmental Systems podcast series was an incredible introduction to the world of geology and environmental studies. Dr. Ellen Bishop has produced several remarkable books on Oregon geology that make the local ancient history a joy to read about and to experience. Then, of course, I found the geoblogs Clastic Detritus and Highly Allochthonous which gave me consistent live updates from the world as seen by geologists and connected me to the broader public conversation happening among academics and professionals.
By the time I stepped into my first class, I was well prepared to breeze through the introductory geology courses stress-free, just enjoying the experience of being in a place of learning and being able to ask questions of learned individuals.
I’m now entering my third year of study in pursuit of this science degree, and I’m focusing more now on how I can be of value to the scientific community. My general direction has always been toward science education, so I’ve been seeking ways to share what little I know with others who (maybe unbeknownst to themselves) are aching for the vital context that all sciences that are focused on deep-time can provide.
So, as I start classes this fall, education, exploration, and cooperation are what are on my mind. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been handed several grand opportunities to share my knowledge and curiosity of which I have tried to avail myself. Working with Science on a Sphere at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry has been loads of fun and I have a great deal of inspiration for continuing projects with that educational tool. Mentoring high school students as they learn to present scientific information to the public has been fun and challenging. And then, of course, there’s this blog which is an ever-evolving platform for expressing whatever it is I feel like expressing in relation to earth science.
Back on the island of Hawaii, when the sun had fully set and the stars shone brilliantly, my friends and I descended the little parasitic cinder cone we were lounging on and returned to the Mauna Kea visitor center. There in the small parking lot, professional astronomers had set up some impressively high-power telescopes and pointed them at distant objects. I got my first live glimpse of Saturn through the eyepiece of one of those scopes that night, but more importantly I got a glimpse of what it was like to know enough and have access to the tools to open up the universe to someone who didn’t even know they were looking for it. Those astronomers provided the cosmic kick in the pants that I so desperately needed and they didn’t even know they did it.