| Even when I was a kid, I wanted to be a scientist.
The allure of investigating the unknown always intrigued me. I was probably
born to look at rocks. I'm sure I started wanting to be a geologist before
I ever even heard the word or knew that one could make a living by studying
rocks. It probably started one morning at the breakfast table in 1957.
I was four years old. As I filled my cereal bowl with Trix that morning
a small, plastic Dimetrodon tumbled out of the box and into my bowl.
"Mom!" I cried. "What’s that?"
"It’s a dinosaur." she replied. Today, I would argue with her that it was actually a pelycosaur, a primitive mammal-like reptile that dominated the terrestrial scene at the end of the Paleozoic Era. (It still sits on the window sill in my office.) Dimetrodon died off millions of years before the earliest known dinosaur ever thought about breakfast.
Back then, I accepted my mother’s word and asked my first questions about dinosaurs. I learned the word extinct that day. I also learned that one has to dig to find dinosaurs. That afternoon I took my little shovel and started digging in the back yard. My mother told me that I wouldn’t find any dinosaurs there in West Long Branch, New Jersey. Stubborn and determined to find a dinosaur, I continued digging anyhow... until I hit the top of the septic tank about a foot and a half down.
Like most kids, when they discover dinosaurs, I became a fanatic. A few months later my parents took me to the American Museum of Natural History in New York to see the dinos on display... I also saw a Dimetrodon! As a first grader in Syracuse, NY, my teacher once reprimanded me for spending too much time writing a dinosaur book. I wondered if Dick, Jane, and Sally liked dinosaurs; it wasn’t obvious if they did.
Two years later we moved to Pittsburgh. On Saturdays my parents often took my brother, sister, and me to the Carnegie Library and Museum. I always spent the most time looking at the dinosaurs and other Mesozoic reptiles on display. The immensity of time was beginning to gain some appreciation in my mind. In truth though, I was much more interested in the Pittsburgh Pirates who played at Forbes Field, across the parking lot from the museum. I was an Adjunct Professor at Pitt for a few years and still use the Pitt Paleomagnetism Laboratory . Forbes Field is gone but my old friends the dinosaurs are still there. I still visit them when I am in town.
We moved to Albany, California when I was 10. On the way out, I bought a small rock collection at the gift shop at Red Rocks Amphitheater, west of Denver. I sat with that box of rocks on my lap and identified every roadcut we whizzed by until we arrived in Berkeley a week later--I wish I was as confident of my identifications today!
A year later, in 1964, we moved to Hamilton, NY. Driving through northern California, Oregon, and Washington on our way to New York, I was completely captivated by the enormity of the Cascade volcanoes. The expansive lava fields of the Columbia River Plateau were beyond my imagination.
As a sixth grader in Hamilton, it fascinated me that nearly every rock lying on the ground had a fossil in it. These weren’t dinosaurs. These were funny-looking invertebrate creatures that thrived in a long-gone Devonian sea one hundred fifty million years before the dinosaurs appeared. As a Boy Scout I went to Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, NM. Our leader was an Earth Science teacher at a nearby high school. What he lacked in field experience, he made up for with enthusiasm for the geology of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Some of it must have rubbed off. I earned the Geology Merit Badge the next year while taking high school Earth Science.
Other things occupied my interest through my last three years in high school but the Geology bug bit me again before I entered Dartmouth College as a Freshmen. I read in the catalog that Geology majors were required to go on a field trip to Central America to climb active volcanoes. I made that trip my Junior year and was hooked. The next summer I worked for a mineral exploration company in California, Nevada, and Colorado. I knew I was hooked that first day in the field when a helicopter picked us up on the McCloud Reservoir Dam, in northern California, and flew us to a distant mountain peak. We were dropped off there and spent the day walking down a steep streambed collecting sediment samples in a dense virgin forest. At the end of the day the chopper picked us up and returned us to camp. We used the helicopter for a week to get to the most remote areas and spent another five weeks working on streams that had vehicular access.
I spent the winter of my Senior year in Guatemala mapping Tertiary volcanic rocks for the Instituto Geográfico Nacional (Guatemalan Geological Survey) with three other guys: Carl Nelson, Jake Dann, and David Hyde. It was rough going but, even though we were extremely naive in our interpretations, we produced good maps that were eventually published. I was launched.
|In retrospect, this is a pretty amazing photo. It was taken in November 1973 in the southern Arizona desert near Benson by a classmate (Ernie Page). I am the guy in the red plaid shirt (and very cool hat) on the right. We are all watching as our professor, Noye Johnson (butt to photo!), demonstrates to us for the first time how to collect a paleomagnetic sample in continental sediments. Little did I realize that 10 years later I would return to Dartmouth as a Ph.D. student to work with Noye on this very topic but on the east side of the Andes in NW Argentina. My career has followed this path ever since.|
I grew up a lot in Guatemala,
realizing that there is a world out there about which I knew very little. When I
returned to Dartmouth, my mentor, Dick Stoiber, asked me to stay to pursue a
Master's Degree with him. I decided that was a good idea. I married Haidee
Wilson just before graduation. We found an apartment and lived a few miles
outside of Hanover for the next two years. I returned to Central America for
three months and traveled back and forth across the Neogene volcanic belt in
Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. My results correlated the Neogene strata
across the region and also, eventually, helped me realize that much of the area
in which I had mapped as a senior was actually a large, Miocene caldera.
August 9, 2007