Thursday, January 30, 2014

Dedicated to David!

Every time I think of the movie 2012, I laugh. Additionally, I laugh at the thought of movies like The Core, Dante's Peak, and Volcano. Despite likeable actors such as Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Pierce Brosnan, and John Cusack - Hollywood just cannot get earth sciences right.

Is this a "fair evaluation" of the movies, probably not, but one can only use their life experiences, education and knowledge as a means to gauge what they see. I absolutely despise "cop shows" on TV. It is not realistic in any way. I served as a cop for almost ten years, and let me tell you that TV does not portray reality. It never has.  Not ALL cops are "dirty" or "on the payroll".

Same goes for many occupations portrayed in movies and television shows (soldiers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, etc). We watch these shows for entertainment purposes only - right? Or are we living a life we wish we could through Hollywood portrayals? Stereotypes, certainly are not lacking in Hollywood's vision of America. Unfortunately, it perpetuates a sense of ignorance (careful here...I am not saying stupidity which is quite different than ignorance).

In geological based movies were the world's climate changes virtually overnight or volcanism under Los Angeles allows a chauffeur driving a limousine to "outrun" disaster is just preposterous. Take it at its face is JUST ENTERTAINMENT.

Now getting back to Woody Harrelson's character, Charlie Frost, who is a conspiracy theorist in 2012, decides that the best seat in the house for the "end of the world" is on the rim of the Yellowstone caldera. Is this reality...hell yeah!

 As a geology major, if I had the choice of how I was going to "exit" this plane of existence, it would be sitting along side Charlie Frost. I would literally LOVE leaving this world seeing it in its primal state...doing what it does best....destroying and recreating land mass. How freaking awesome is that??? Okay, so you might think I am a little "off". Truth is, I believe any geologist would say the same thing.

I constantly think about David Alexander Johnston. He was born a week before Christmas in 1949 in Chicago, Illinois. He was employed by United States Geological Survey (USGS) as a volcanologist. On May 18, 1980 he died when Mt. St. Helens erupted. He was stationed 10 km near the blast zone, and was killed at the age of 30 by the lateral blast.  David's last words were "Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!"

Most people would say this is horrible and sad, and it is. Lost of any human life is horrific and sad. David however was a Geologist. As a Geologist, especially studying volcanoes, he knew deep down the possibility that one might take him.You are thinking how the hell do I know this? Simple, whenever I started my shift I had a ritual. I would slip my bullet-proof vest on, kiss the picture of my kids, and went to work. I knew that I might not go home, but that I knew if my life ended probably met that others would live. Is this comforting? No, but it did meant acceptance to what I choose to be.

I think about this man, despite never meeting him, often in fact. I believe that David knew what he witnessed was incredible, awesome and spectacular. I think David knew he would not survive, but in his last minutes his only concern was to let Vancouver know...that Mount Saint Helens was erupting. David, when I get to where you are now...I have lots of questions, because I believe you left this world just as you expected...Charlie Frost is fictional..David really existed.

A couple of years ago I was with Professor Garry Hayes from Modesto Junior College, and the summer geology class on a trip through the American Northwest. We visited Mt. St. Helens. It was fogged in. Garry was as disappointed as I believed he knew what it meant for me to be there. I was one of the few students who was old enough to have seen her before the 1980  eruption. I so wanted to see her now...but it was not to be. Instead, I focused on David and his spirit as a geologist. Despite the disappointment in not seeing "her", I walked the grounds at the Visitors' Center which was dedicated to David Johnston, and admired his sacrifice. He is one geologist who I will never forget...why...because I envy what he saw.

Only geologists would understand this...but trust me...Woody Harrelson's conspiracy nut,  Charlie Frost was cast wrong...he should have been a geologist.

Dedicated to David Alexander Johnston December 18, 1949 – May 18, 1980


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

CGS - Candy for Geology Students

Okay, I lied. CGS Mule is actually a store here in Sparks called Complete Geological Supplies (everything but the mule...) But in all seriousness it IS like a candy store for a geology major. You walk through the door, and the first thing that comes to mind is "if I had a million dollars" - I would spend it all there! Forget the casinos downtown, or paying off my mortgage. What fun is that?

Certain "tools" are hard to ask for when people in your family ask what you want for your birthday or for Christmas. Gee Mom, I really want a Brunton - they ONLY cost around $400, or a Garmin eTrek 30 bundle from Cabela's that is ONLY $350. Yeah, that goes over like a fart in church! I am lucky to get a C-Thru 60-scale ruler to use for profile graphs of topographic maps.

My Wish List however did get a little smaller today, because of an unusual lack of textbooks I needed to buy this semester. English had none to buy, got my "Principles of Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology" text for lots less through Amazon, and my Geology Mapping Course is optional book (ridiculously priced because it was last printed in 1985 which means people think they can ask you for an arm and a leg)!

So, I ended up with a little money and decided to purchase my own Brunton. I am so excited I could hardly write my English papers tonight. I just wanted to go out and measure strikes and dips. In fact I think this weekend calls for a little practice with the Brunton down at Peavine Fields (which is only a few blocks from my house). I want to become proficient with it because in March the geology majors in Geology 260 are heading to Red Rock to do a three-day mapping project.

Geology majors in their senior year spend 6 weeks out in the field doing a mapping project. Mapping is an incredibly important task for geologists, and allows us to gather information regionally to help decipher the events that created the rock formations. Of course all rock comes from melt, however there are igneous rocks that are either barfed out onto the Earth's surface through volcanism or intrusive (in magma chambers). The Sierra Nevada is a granite batholith of intrusive rock that was once the magma chamber deep in the Earth's crust (about 3-6 km down). The ancestral Sierra eroded away, allowing for the granite to surface to become what the Sierra Nevada is today. Some rock is metamorphic meaning they were altered by heat and/or pressure deep down, and sedimentary rock that has been altered mostly from weathering, transportation and deposition to become mudrock, sandstone (arenites), limestone, and breccias to name a few.

Each rock type tells a story. The Brunton allows geologists to measure those rocks in the hopes of recreating that story. Much like a detective, the clues are there, you just have to understand how to collect them.

If anyone feels like spending money on a student, I still want that Garmin eTrek 30 (hint-hint)!  If interested here is a link to CGS Mule and you can download their catalog to peruse.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Transfer Students

One evening, while talking to my friend, Kathy, she proposed that I accompany her to a class called "Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion". It was an anthropology class on world religions. Interested in the topic at hand, I agreed, and the following day enrolled in the class at my local community college. I had attended Modesto Junior College (MJC) in the 1980's to gain a certification which allowed me to work in public safety for almost ten years. After becoming injured, my career ended, and I was faced with a question as to what else can I do with my life and what interested me.

Kathy and I attended the class and enjoyed our professor, James Todd. He was charismatic and inspirational with his enthusiasm for the topic. I have always loved Anthropology since high school and Professor Todd added to the enjoyment of this field of study. Kathy and I made new friends, who include Dimitri (a fellow geology major), and Trish & Vince (a married couple who have since become part of my immediate family). The class ended, and I found myself (possibly still pumped by the enthusiasm of James Todd) wanting more. I purchased a catalog from the bookstore, and decided to take more classes the following semester.

At times, I questioned my plan. For God's sake I was in my late 40's and seriously wondering what the hell I was doing. Thinking this over and over, the idea of working at our local irrigation district or retail was NOT what I had in mind for myself. I had been a hostage negotiator, and selling housewares did not provide the excitement I craved. I come from a family where no one went to college. My dad, Ernie, is a Korean War veteran (187th Airborne "Rakkasan's") and has a tenth grade education. My mom, Bea had a high school diploma. She was a stay-at-home-mom until we were a in our teens where she then worked part-time at JC Penney and later for Thrifty's Drugs. I was married at 20 and a mother at 21 with a son, Todd to care for. A miscarriage occurred between my son, and the birth of my daughter, Megan in 1986.

Going to a community college now in the 2008 with grown children and grandchildren under my belt appeared as a waste of time to some people in my family. I choose to see education as more valuable and not age-specific. I continued with my education. I became involved in the Astronomy Club, the honors program with Eva Mo (love that woman) and accepted into Alpha Gamma Sigma and Phi Theta Kappa. This ol' gal was not doing so bad.

I took an Earth Science class because it interested me, and it was the only science class with a lab that really stood out to me. Professor Noah Hughes was a young man who had an innate ability to share his enthusiasm for our planet. It did not take a "rocket surgeon" to figure out this guy loved what he did. His craziness spread into my veins. I wanted more. I loved two particular aspects of his Earth Science class which focused on oceanography, weather, astronomy and geology. Those two were astronomy and geology. I decided that I would take some geology courses. My first class was Physical Geology with Professor Garry Hayes.

I remember seeing Professor Hayes for the first time and thinking "this guy is going to be tough". He gave us his spiel on "if you are taking this class because you think it's going to be easy, you might want to reconsider your choice" talk. I was cool with that because I was not here to take some science class that "appeared" to be the easiest. Professor Hayes loved his colored chalk and his black board. He drew us pictures of everything he lectured on. I, being a visual learner, immediately loved his teaching style. I felt myself going to the dark side. I knew that by mid-semester I wanted to be a geologist. I wanted to wear hiking boots, a cool hat, and carry a rock hammer until I grew old.

So, you are thinking what is the point to this blog entry. Well, the point is this. If you are attending school as a return student, seek out those who can guide you to what it is that excites you. Because of the people I came in contact with, (Dimitri, Kathy, Trish, Vince, Professors Mo, Todd, Hughes and Hayes) I have continued on pass community college. I am attending a Tier One university (by the way it is where Professor Hayes got his Masters-but I didn't know that until later) at the age of 53. I plan to get my degree. I want to work for a few years in mining and get a Masters. I hope to one day teach others of the exciting world of Geology.

Thanks to Kathy Rau, Dimitri Hiyood, James Todd, Eva Mo, Noah Hughes and Garry Hayes for everything you have done for me while I was at MJC. Also thank you to Dr. Susan Kerr for her friendship and love. To the MJC Transfer Center (Leticia and her staff) for helping me see beyond the walls of MJC. I plan to do you all proud, and can never repay your devotion, love, friendship and inspiration.

Transfer students - NEVER forget where you come from and those who helped you get to where you are today. Carry On!

Monday, January 27, 2014

It is what it's cracked up to be!

Most of us contemplate the things we want to do before we die. The "bucket list" we all probably have (at least in our head) entertains more than one thing we would like to do before we die. I myself compiled a list long ago, and although I have done many of them I still have many more to see.

My Bucket List
The Great Pyramids of Giza
The Colosseum, the Pantheon and St. Peter's Basilica
Backpack trip to Ireland and Scotland
Visit Prague (perhaps one of the most beautiful architectural cities in the world)
Greece and the isle of Crete
Stand on Mt. Vesuvius
Nepal (Himalayas)
Travel to Luçon , France, where my mother's family originated
Son Doong cave in Vietnam

One of the items I was able to check off my bucket list was that of Antelope Canyon, Arizona. As you walk towards Antelope Canyon, the landscape is nearly flat. You enter on a dirt path from the Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park with a Navajo guide. As you enter, there appears a small "crack" in the sandstone, that you squeeze into and descend down into the canyon.

Once down in the canyon, one only needs to look up and stand all amazed. This place is spiritual and nature's temple. It brings a sense of serenity, and calm to the soul. Time ceases here.

 Although I was there with friends, and people I love to hang out with, I wished I had been alone. I
would have loved even a few minutes by myself down in the canyon just to "feel" it without others around. It was a remarkable experience I shall never forget. To stand on the soft sandy bottom of this place and look upwards towards the sky is to pay your respects to whatever It is that you believe created this Earth.

The various widths of the ceiling to the canyon offers soft sunlight that falls upon the sandstone walls and highlights and drapes in dramatic forms. The water-formed sculpture within this canyon is of shear power that through geologic time has left a place that I found sacred to my spirit. The Navajo People called the Upper Antelope Canyon Tsé bighánílín The translations is "the place where water runs through rocks."

As we departed the canyon, our guide played his flute for us. The music felt like the wind and water that has flowed through this place for a long time...haunting, beautiful, sacred, and powerful.

I am grateful that the Navajo Nation is taking good care of this spiritual place, and that we were able to visit it. If you ever find yourself driving through Page, Arizona, hit highway 98 east as you will not want to miss the experience of seeing this gorgeous geologic area.

All photos the property of Rebecca Gonzales-Clayton, 2013.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

LOST: One Yellow Plastic Spiral Field Notebook

Once upon a time there was this geology student who took a lot of pride in her field journal. She traveled everywhere with it. Death Valley, Yosemite, Lava Beds, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Arches NP, Yellowstone, Glacier NP, Petrified Forest, to name a few of the major places. In ten states and several field trips with her geology professor, she wrote, reflected and drew pictures in the effort to retain the geological information she learned.

The field journal is a piece of you. It is your thoughts and interpretations of how you see the Earth and its processes. It connects the world of geology to memory through words, symbols, and sketches. The field journal is almost as sacred to me as my family bible. Hours of studying that book had earned me decent grades in tests and quizzes over three years of geology classes and trips.

It was nothing fancy on the outside. A yellow plastic cover with spiral-bound note pages. What made it unique was what was on the pages.

On one trip to the Eastern Sierra Nevada (one of my favorites), we made a stop along the Walker River. After a brief lecture from our professor some of us walked up the channel a ways to look at some trees. When we returned to the parking area we climbed inside the school district generic white vans and headed to Bodie, CA. I was excited to see Bodie again as this time I was prepared with my new Nikon camera to take some photos. As we exited the vans, I grabbed (out of habit) my field journal to prepare for notes from our professor's lecture. What I ended up grabbing was nothing. I couldn't find my field note book. Its place was always on the dashboard...always. The panic set in quickly. The last time I had it, it was at Walker River where I remembered placing it on a rock near where we descended into the river channel.

My heart sunk. Fighting back tears, I received lots of positive words from fellow students and my professor suggested after Bodie we make a quick trip back to the river to get my notebook. Boy, that made me happier. Still I worried.

Upon arrival to the parking area, several of us searched for my journal. It was gone. My heart sunk for good this time, and fighting back my tears was a hopeless battle. The rest of the day was spent sick to my stomach thinking about all the wonderful trips I had been on and the class lectures I had made notes from - all lost in that little yellow notebook. My friends were sweet and offered their sympathies and the weekend ended back at our community college with my bag a little lighter and vacant of my journal.

During the middle of the week I received an email from my professor. He had been contacted by a teacher from a school in the next county over from us. Apparently, he and his mom enjoyed fishing along the Walker River. Yes, he had found my journal, and being a teacher knew it had been done by someone who took time in creating a little personal masterpiece. He spent a few nights looking through it in the hopes of finding a name of its owner. Then as he continued searching, he found my professor's name and contacted him. What is the chance? Miles and miles from home...a miracle? Coincidence? I didn't rightly care...I was getting my field journal back.

That teacher is my hero...he will always be in my mind as being the one who brought me back so many memories and my favorite field journal. He was caring enough to "protect" it from getting into hands that perhaps would not have admired it for its value to a student.

So, the moral of the story. Buy a black permanent marker. Write your name and telephone number in your field journal...maybe even in 2-3 places. NEVER stop being amazed by people who do the right thing and look out for you, even if you don't know them well or at all.

They exist and they are out our classrooms. Teachers are heroes and should be appreciated.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Geologists Love Ligers Too

Getting my classes for this spring was one that entailed me having to take English 102. Let me start by telling you just how much I do not enjoy anything to do with English. I hated it in high school, and had the awful experience of having one horrible teacher who ruined the English experience for me. Hearing that NEVADA will not accept anything from my past California community college education in English and Speech, I had to enroll in English 102 to complete that block.

Packing my knapsack with my spiral notebook, my black zippered pencil case (which is full of Pilot G-2 color pens) and my car keys, I left for campus to attend my first English 102 class. The class was upstairs in Fransen Hall (one of the old buildings) and I reluctantly climbed the stairs as if I were walking that last mile before my execution. As I entered the classroom, there were only a few seats left, and of course they were at the front of the classroom. There went my plans to doodle all semester.

My professor introduced himself and our first lesson was to introduce ourselves to someone else in room. I introduced myself to a young man named Matt. Found out a little about my new acquaintance, and learned he likes cats. I like bats, so we enjoyed a few minutes of getting to know one another. Not a horrible start right?

Professor M. then talked about Napoleon Dynamite's "liger" and well, I perked up a little. Who doesn't like Napoleon Dynamite? Continuing on, our professor announced that we would be doing research and analysis papers on animals, as well as several readings.  Animals who we have an interest in, that are exploited, abused, threatened, poached, etc. I like this professor. A lot. I hate to admit it but I think English 102 is actually going to be enjoyable.

So ideas are flowing in. Will it be bat population threats from disease or the exploitation of Orca whales by ocean parks. I would like to thank all my mentors (Eva Mo, Garry Hayes, and Noah Hughes) for helping me with past research papers. I know those experiences will be most helpful for this class and its projects. By the way Garry I still owe you a lab manual...just have to find it. I think it is still in a box in the garage somewhere.

Just when you get comfortable...

Last July my husband, Randy and I moved to Reno, Nevada. We bought a much smaller and older home than what we previously owned in Modesto. The change from California to Nevada was to allow me to finish my degree as a transfer student to the University of Nevada. NEVADA as it is lovingly called so as to not confuse it with that other university down south from us, is huge compared to the comforts of Modesto Junior College.

Prior to our departure from MJC, we were allowed to see the opening of the new Community Science building, and although I never took any science classes in the new facility, I was able to partake in a few Astronomy Club Telescope Nights before our move. What I thought was a comfortable campus, where you could easily walk for a few minutes from one end to another of the MJC East campus, I was soon in for a bit of a culture shock when I arrived in Fall at my new collegiate home.

My comfort zone had vanished. The fear of attending a Tier One university set in. I was filled with anxiety, doubt, and a sudden lack of confidence. I walked around the week before classes were to start to become familiar as I could with the buildings and lay out of the campus. Not easy. I attended taking on 15 units with Calculus, Chemistry, Sedimentary Rocks and Geochemistry I. All had labs!!! What the heck was I thinking (obviously I was NOT). Despite my full plate I started suffering from stress. I suffered from Alopecia Areata (loss of hair in small clumps), racing heart, insomnia, fear of panic attacks...and most of all a sudden fear of failure. I felt alone. This was much worse than my first day in high school way back in 1974.

I knew that I needed to settle in, and quite. I needed to meet people and get more familiar with this campus. I located all the student services I could get my hands on. Labs, study groups, counseling and tutoring. I started attending office hours with my professors. All of who was amazingly willing to help wherever they could. It took almost one entire semester to settle in, but the fact is I did settle. I met people, have Geology friends and even have study group at my house on weekends for test review. My fear of failure is almost gone, although I realize now I placed way too much on myself the first semester.  The spring semester was going to be different. There will be more time for me to relax a little, to sleep and to start working out again.

I love Reno. I love NEVADA. Although I miss my friends at MJC and the wonderful teachers/friends I made there, I know that they are not that far, and that staying in touch online with them I can still feel a part of their lives while finishing school. I am excited about spring semester, and know that I will succeed. There are times in our lives we must move on. To stand strong and be courageous, and know that you are deserving and able to obtain the degree that you desire.