Friday, April 11, 2008

The Ridge Traverse

Over the last several years, between setting up a laboratory teaching/research program at a major university and raising a child, I have had few opportunities to take breaks, and fewer opportunities to participate in a lovely aspect of my academic culture, The Geology Field Trip.

So recently, for the first time in years, I packed my packsack (for two!) and my son and I hopped the ferry to Catalina Island, along with a score of Earth Scientists. It was a really nice field trip of the mellow variety—primitive camping, but the bus allowed us to bring in lots of gear. Dinners were huge plates of grilled meat and fresh salad. Daytime hikes were one-to-two milers, with lots of rockstops, lots of up and downs, and only a little bit of scrambling.

My son BedHater—at my side for three full days--was a microcosm. He exhilarated in the rock scrambles, but on the longer uphills, he drove me batty with his whining and crabbiness and aches. Downhills were joyous romps. On the flats, we conversed—about rocks and the Earth, about the vastness of the universe, about cortical development throughout childhood, about family, fears, friends.

He definitely gets it from me--the whiney uphills and glorious downhills. Being away for a few days gave me an opportunity to see that for many years I have mostly been hiking the uphill climb—sometimes steep, sometimes switchbacks, but always the difficult path.

And then I had one of my camping-trip insights. I saw clearly that my best option is to traverse the contour for a while: my opportunity to see how far I’ve come, to review what I have learned along the way, to see what parts of the path I’ve enjoyed, and what I haven’t. And to give my body and brain an active rest while I focus on evaluating the surrounding terrain.

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