Tuesday, January 15, 2013

lessons from the BK lounge

My senior year in college, I took a class on sedimentary petrology. It was taught by one of the most awesome teachers I've ever had ... Dr. Tom Anderson.


(This photo isn't from that class, this picture is from my igneous-metamorphic petrology class led by another awesome teacher, Dr. Rolfe Erickson. But the cast of characters was the same. That's me in the blue jacket, standing in the back row - second from the right. Next to me is my sweet Julie and my dear friend, Lorie is kneeling on the bottom left.  Hey LB, wasn't it this trip that you were medivac'd out of camp with kidney stones?)

Tom was everything that a geology professor should be and more: He was smart, rugged, engaging, witty, handsome and challenging.  He was an excellent instructor but he was known as a tough grader. To receive an A in one of Tom's classes was an incredible accomplishment. A grand feat, worthy of praise and admiration.

Mid-way through the semester, we took a field trip to the outer skirts of Death Valley to apply what we had learned in the classroom.  And as it often happens on geology field trips, once the tents go up and the fire is lit, people tend to get a little "lit" themselves.  On this particular trip, I was introduced to Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum. Charlie had packed two bottles of the stuff for me to take and share with my friends during our five-day outing in to the wild.  At the age of 22, I hadn't ever had Captain Morgan's before and I can say that without a doubt, nearly 20 years later - I haven't touched it since because OMG. That stuff is devil juice.

One evening as we sat around the campfire, Tom divided the class up in to teams of three and asked me, the appointed leader of my little group, which outcrop our team would like to study and map.

Like a buffoon, people later confirmed that I had willingly suggested the "Bonanza King" which is a Cambrian dolomite that is located at the top, very - very - very top, of a rugged mountain range.  What I'd studied on the formation had interested me and although I knew it's stratigraphic position, in my somewhat woozy state, I thought it would be SO MUCH FUN! to map the rocks at the top of the mountain. Woo hoo!! Party at the peak!! 

Now, if you haven't spent much time around 500 million year old dolomite outcrops in the desert, I'll just tell you that it isn't the kind of stuff you want to be walking around on. Shale would be better. Or even sandstone. But definitely not dolomite, that will easily rip through your pants and skin if you should trip and fall - or simply decide to sit down for lunch. You especially don't want to explore dolomite that is located two miles straight up a rugged range covered in jagged talus that is subject to landslides with one misstep.

What I remember from the evening is that Tom sat down with a bottle of Captain Morgan's next to him and was slowly pouring little splashes of rum in to an aluminum camping coffee cup, while six or so of his students shared the second bottle. At some point, I recall telling the crowd around me that I'd never been sick before from drinking alcohol in the entire 19 months that I'd been of "legal age".

I think they call those, "Famous last words." 

Lo and behold, the next morning, I thought I was going to die.  Dying I'm sure would have been less painful.  The horrific feeling that enveloped my body eclipsed the horrific feeling that had been brought about by too much tequila (which I've also never touched since) that I'd had consumed during a different geology trip to Texas. That is precisely why these days when I go camping, I drink Shirley Temples.  Straight up. With four cherries. On the rocks. Lessons are sometimes learned the hard way.

After being thoroughly repulsed by breakfast - a critical meal when you're on a geology trip because it provides the much needed energy to fuel your body - and turning my head while stuffing a salami and cheese sandwich in to my backpack (just in case I regained my appetite during the day) to try and suppress my gag reflex, we drove from our campsite along a bumpy road to the "range" that our class would be responsible for studying and mapping.

The whole way there, I prayed that we'd get a flat tire or experience a mechanical difficulty so great, that we'd have to stop and I could go hide behind a cactus.

When we finally arrived after the LONG, BOUNCY, SWELTERING van ride, I climbed out of the vehicle and actually laid down on the side of the road. I propped my head on my backpack and pulled my hat over my eyes so it looked like I was simply resting and not say, gruesomely hungover.  When Tom's van arrived - he hopped out and with a happy swagger - which confused the heck out of me how he could do that since he consumed more than a half dozen of his class combined - and surveyed the scene of his 20+ students, most of whom were predominantly horizontal and moaning.

He shouted at all of us, "Whatta bunch of pansy light weights. I'll flunk all of you if you don't get your asses up that hill and get to work!" Then he came over and peering down at me said, "Hey Foley. We're supposed to be MAPPING not NAPPING. Don't you dare come crying to me when I give you an F in this class. You signed up for the Bonanza King, remember?" Then he pointed his finger at the top of the mountain range and said, "Better get a move on. Hopefully, you'll get to the top before nightfall...."

"Wait a minute," I said, holding up a shaky hand to block the rising sun while squinting at the top of the mountain. "Are you sure it was me that got the Bonanza King? I don't remember that...." He nodded his head yes and gave me a wicked smile. I turned around away from him and placing my hands on my knees, took a few deep breaths willing myself not to pass out.

Right then, I decided that Tom was evil. Why, I'll bet he was drinking water the whole time, trying to teach a lesson to his budding geologists.

When I looked up, my two teammates, Aaron and Sabrina, were standing in front of me.  They weren't feeling so good themselves, and they glared at me when I whispered that we had been assigned the Bonanza King ... that gray dolomite, way, way, way, way, way up there at the very, very, very, very top of the mountain and they might want to go ahead and start walking.

I'll try to catch up soon. Or at least by next month. 

My teammates shuffled off while I gathered my strength. My body was suffering severe hot flashes and sweating spells alternating with bodily chills. It took me nearly three hours of hiking to catch up with them, and once I arrived, I plopped myself down and put my face on a jagged outcrop. Then for the next four hours, while my teammates measured thicknesses and bedding planes, I observed everything there was to observe about the Bonanza King. I wrote about the texture and the fossil marks and then I cracked a piece open with my rock hammer and wrote about the differences between the weathered and fresh surfaces and I can't even remember what exactly I wrote, but I filled my little yellow field notebook with observations and various sketches about the Bonanza King.  There was nothing else I could do, since I couldn't really walk and I didn't want to go back to the van and be chastised again. So I sat and I scribbled. And scribbled. And scribbled.

At the end of the semester, Tom handed out one A for his field class.  It went to our team due to our "outstanding and unsurpassed lithologic descriptions." I'm not sure if Tom was more surprised or me.  But I know that in the end, I learned a lot more from that class than just sedimentary petrology.

I learned about the importance of self respect. I learned about knowing your limits and being accountable to your team and those who rely on you.  I learned that taking the time to observe and then write everything there is to write about a subject can sometimes be the surest way to redemption.  And I learned that even when the odds are severely stacked against you and you have dried vomit on your shoe, if you put your nose to grindstone (or sedimentary carbonate dolostone in this case) you can still come out ahead.   Also, Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum?

No thanks. 


  1. Lesson welll learned.

  2. TeeHeeHee... I'm so glad that I was there to witness this! Wasn't that the same evening when you danced on the pool table? And.... well, the rest is geologic history...

  3. Lorie, OMG, I think you're right. I think that there might have been a pool table and juke box that night. Also, I think I kicked someone like they were a nazi?? Oy. Some memories are best forgotten!!

    Love you, miss you. Hope you're having a ball in the Pac NW! :)