Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Farewell to Wyoming

It's time for one last post about field camp, to show off some of the entertaining pictures other people took, many of which have me in them. I don't have much to say about the above picture and don't even remember it being taken, but somehow I think it encapsulates the personalities... souls, even... of Jordan and myself.

An unofficial group shot. There are many amusing poses in this picture, but I won't bother to explain them. Besides the handful of group shots taken during our six weeks, there were a number of photo ops for just the women; being only five, we apparently constituted a kind of natural photographic formation.

The choice of clothing in these photos is tells you something about our unique personalities, or perhaps our individual degrees of laziness. You can tell which photo was taken in the field and which on our "tourism" days because Jordan, who preferred skirts at all times, possibly because they required something like three fewer steps to put on, can be seen wearing jeans in the field. Jenni, with red hair, also makes concessions to the necessities of the field by wearing hiking pants, but may be seen in jeans on our tourist days. Kaylee and Abby do not see any need to alter their uniform of jeans and t-shirts for anything. I also seem to find the same clothing suitable for every occasion, it's just that mine is incredibly geeky. But honestly, I don't know why you would want to be wearing jeans all day in the 90 degree sun when you can have paper-thin, rip-stop nylon hiking pants. In the same vein, when isn't an Australian slouch hat useful?

This picture, however, probably showcases the pinnacle of my fashion sense:

I think about personal efficiency quite a bit. This should not be construed to imply I am conscientious; rather, I am lazy. Here we see the famous Australian slouch hat, which keeps the sun off my face and neck while also shielding me from awkward socialization, such as being asked whether I really like the Sox, or perhaps whether I might like to go on a date. It has a white spring-clasp on the ties which I scavenged from another hat because the one that came with this hat simply wasn't up to my tie-clasping standards. The work of the hat is abetted by my collar, which is turned up to ensure that I need only apply a minimum of sunscreen on my neck. I am wearing the long-sleeved shirt because I do not like to put sunscreen on my arms. I do not like sunscreen. I am wearing the gloves because it was chilly that day, but I am too lazy to take gloves off to write; thus, they have no fingers. Also notice the drinking hose very near my mouth, so that I do not have to strain to rehydrate myself, but may suckle at will, like a gerbil. I put a lot of thought into these things. The crowning glory, to which I am pointing in the picture, is the pocket protector. This came for free with my field book pouch purchased from, and, noticing that my shirt had a pocket for once, I made use of it. This meant that I was able to transfer all my pens and pencils from my field pouch to my pocket in one motion, saving me at least three seconds.

And now for something completely different:

Below, witness a night out.

There is something about geology that I do not yet completely understand, which is its relationship to alcohol. The Uncyclopedia parodies this relationship nicely with the introduction, "Geologists are 'scientists' with an unnatural obsession with geology (rocks and alcohol)," and goes on to state that "There is a considerable, and still growing body of scientific literature that suggests that geologists are in fact the world's first alcohol-based life form" in their seven-paragraph section entitled "Geologists and Alcohol."

I have had enough experience at this point to suggest that there is certainly truth to the stereotype of drinking being the essential geologist social activity, but I don't know why. It's not as though we were a body of shallow frat boys with too little imagination to find anything else to do after 6 PM in the evening (or 12 noon, depending). It's also not as though geology were terribly stressful, with warplanes strafing us and roadside bombs going off next to the vans all day. We're just looking at rocks. But the habit of drink is so ingrained in the profession that I have been told it is possible to discern the soil scientists from the geologists at a Geological Society of America meeting because all the soil scientists are standing about chatting, or heading off to bed, while all the geologists are in line at the bar. How bizarre. I also don't know what it means that I never liked beer until I started doing geology field work.

This is a story about beer. We were not allowed to transport alcohol in the state vehicles (those being the vans in which we rode about). This was no problem at camp, where many students had their own vehicles and could go out on errands. But when we were camping, all we had were the vans. At Atlantic City in the Wind River Mountains, a plan was devised: several intrepid beer-drinkers would be driven down to the store in a van, then left to walk the 1 1/4 miles back to camp with their beers. The two 24-packs and three 6-packs in the picture are just a few of the beers purchased on this expedition. When I saw the group of brave souls straggle back to camp after dark, they were red-faced and covered in sweat. This is the proper way to enjoy a beer, I think.

Here, some of the effects of beer can be observed, which include dancing in a "club" made from an abandoned bunk room in which the DJ works a laptop and outdoor gear enthusiasts switch their head lamps to red light mode and swing them about the room like a blood-drenched disco (blood-drenchedness not visible with flash). Each of the dorm rooms was named after a geologic period or formation; this room was called the Precambrian, and after this it became Club Precambrian. I had been taking a nap that evening and people kept coming in and saying there was a party in the Precambrian. In my sleep-addled state, I thought, That's billions of years ago. I'll never make it.

A normal evening meal.

Have I spoken about the vans? Here is one of our vans. We came upon this traffic light in the middle of nowhere in western Wyoming, with nothing but sage and barbed wire in all directions. The sign below the light said "wait here for pilot car." We waited for ten minutes; nothing stirred as far as the eye could see. Tyson said, "Is this a practical joke?"

Anyway, our three white vans quickly earned names: the Funvee, the Party Bus, and the Humdrumvee. The first two boomed with the strains of 80s rock classics, while the last made its way sedately, its occupants nodding off in peace. Unsurprisingly, I made my home in the Humdrumvee. However, the riders in the noisy vans apparently still managed to sleep, some of the time:

As the weeks wore on, this became the default view in any van. My fellow students and I all caught sleep when we could; they because they stayed up till midnight working on homework before clomping into the bunkhouse, and I because they stayed up till midnight working on homework before clomping into the bunkhouse.

Here is a picture from the bonfire on our last night, which I unfortunately missed because I wasn't feeling well. The fellow in the middle is one of our instructors, who really does smoke cigars and wield a riding crop. As a teacher, he is pretty much just like you would imagine he would be.

We were all asked if field camp had passed quickly or slowly for us, and most people said the time flew by, they felt like they'd just arrived. It was the opposite for me. By the time the six weeks were up I felt the summer should already be over (on the other hand, the three weeks since I've returned home have disappeared in a blink). I look at pictures of camp now and recall how stressed I was at the time, and feel my stomach wanting to tighten in time-displaced sympathy. It wasn't the work, it was the socializing; having to spend all day with people, then come home and eat with them, do group projects with them, then bunk with them too. That's about five times as much interaction as is healthy for me, especially when the majority of the group is ten years my junior with five times my energy level. Not that they weren't all wonderful people. But as Jonathan Rauch says in his classic article on introversion, "I'm okay, you're okay--in small doses."

The field camp experience was still very good for me, though, because I learned many things, including how to use beer for self-medication, and will be set to graduate after one more year of classes. For my next adventure I will be traveling to Tucson for a conference and some camping, and if anything interesting happens I will write a blog entry about that.

And it's farewell to Wyoming!