Geologic field work as a connection to nature
I got really excited when I saw Callan’s idea for this month’s The Accretionary Wedge geoscience blog carnival.
How about ‘geology as connector science’ as a theme? The challenge for writers is to explore their own sense of connection to the planet Earth. I want to hear from geologists about their physical insights, chemical insights, biological insights, anthropological insights, etc.
You can read Callan’s own thoughts on this theme and find links to everybody else’s posts for the carnival here.
At first, I started thinking about how the discipline of geology is connected to other disciplines in science … how the physics, chemistry, biology, etc. of our planet is investigated within the context of a geologic framework. How it’s so much more than simply sticking the prefix ‘geo’ on other disciplines.
But, then I decided to take this post a different direction. Instead of talking about the connection the discipline of geology provides to other sciences, I’d like to post about how effective geology is at connecting one to nature. I’m not talking about some warm and fuzzy, new-agey one-with-nature thing here … I’m referring to the real, tangible connection to the ‘messiness’ of nature’s processes and products.
The best way to experience this connection is to go out in the field and stumble around (literally and intellectually). I’ve always loved this quote about doing fieldwork from Robert Frodeman’s 2003 book Geo-Logic: Breaking Ground Between Philosophy and the Earth Sciences:
Science in the field proceeds at a different rhythm…while the lab narrows and controls the flow of information, the field’s perceptual and conceptual kaleidoscope exceeds our capacities to sort, test, and categorize it. Field scientists develop intuitive skills for parsing knowledge in implicit, nonpropositional ways.
I’ll never forget my first “real” experience in the field … not on a field trip, but doing field work (huge difference!). It was at field camp and one of the professors literally had to put the pencil in my hand and draw the line on the map for me. I’ll never forget that. I was so consumed by the complexity (and beauty) of the geology literally surrounding me that I didn’t quite have the guts to take that step and put the line on the map. I didn’t have that connection yet.
As I became more confident the connection to geology in the field strengthened. Being more confident doesn’t necessarily mean doing it correctly all the time. In fact, by doing more field work, you end up being at least partially wrong almost all the time. Ideally, the degree of ‘wrongness’ diminishes over time but never really goes away completely, which is actually another key aspect of this connection. There’s always something unique when examining what nature produces. There’s always a degree of uncertainty. Having the ability to peer through that uncertainty and conclude something meaningful — to find something significant to compare and contrast with another place or time is what a strong connection allows.
In addition to the connection to nature’s geological products, field work allows a more general connection to nature to develop. Traveling to and camping out in the field is an experience in and of itself. Your brain must deal with the here and now (e.g., logistics, weather, gear, food, water, group dynamics, hazardous plants/animals/locals, etc.) while, at the same time, you keep your mind focused on putting together the pieces of an ancient puzzle. Not always an easy task and sometimes not necessarily ‘fun’ — but memorable and rewarding for sure.