From Crayons to Cratons

"Natural Disasters" with Professors Bercovici, Long, and Robinson at the Boiling Lake in Dominica

At the end of the week, I’m going on a Yale Geology Department field trip to Wyoming. To some of my friends this seems like the unlikeliest thing in the world, and though I resist an inward outcry when they say so, I can’t blame them for being surprised. After all, I majored in English. I took exactly two SC classes at Yale. I like to write poems.

However, if my seven-year-old self could talk to those friends, she would tell them that she loves learning about earthquakes and tidal waves, that her current favorite book is I Survived Mount St. Helens, and that she recently won a greeting card contest at the local toy store with a crayon drawing of a toy-spewing volcano.

So at the start of senior year, when I was frantically searching OCS for a much needed science credit, I stumbled upon a class called “Natural Disasters” and immediately started smiling. What’s more, as I flipped through the textbook in Barnes and Noble, I found a quote from Shakespeare’s King Henry IV in the chapter about earthquakes. So far, I thought, so good.

The page from Patrick L. Abbott's textbook for "Natural Disasters"

And it was great. Having somehow wriggled my way out of taking either calculus or physics in high school, I was suddenly doing homework problems involving velocity, viscosity, buoyancy—and I liked it.

Learning from Professor David Bercovici about the way the world works was fascinating, especially when learning about the “real world” of jobs was not working out so well. The areas where I had experience (writing, publishing, arts-nonprofit programming) had few jobs. My ideal post-college career of becoming a travel writer for Lonely Planet seemed far-fetched, I didn’t want to go to grad school yet, and my lack of calculus or interest in spreadsheets ruled out ibanking.

Then one day a recent graduate named Alex Kain visited the class. He talked about his experiences writing dispatches on an Ice Breaker in the Beaufort Sea as the public outreach coordinator for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. He showed the class a slideshow of pictures from the trip, including buoys ripped by polar bear teeth, snowy owls, and delicate cores of sea ice. After class, I asked him how he had gotten involved with the project, and he pointed to Professor Bercovici who was answering questions about homework at the front of the room.

When I met with Professor Bercovici and explained my predicament about post-graduation, he was incredibly generous and helpful. After going on the “Natural Disasters” field trip to Dominica and Martinique, he dubbed me “field poet” and within a few weeks, he had arranged for me to meet with Professor Dave Evans and graduate student Taylor Kilian about going to Wyoming in August as a field assistant. The trip will use paleomagnetism to study the position of the Wyoming craton (an ancient fragment of the earth’s crust) 2 Billion years ago. “Did I really want to carry rocks around for three weeks?” Taylor asked. I did.

Now, as I pack and borrow backpacking equipment from friends, I realize that at this time of year packing feels very familiar. But if there is a shadow of nostalgia in not packing to return to Yale, it is overshadowed by the idea of packing for a field trip to the mountains. Thanks to Yale’s FOOT program, I own a pair of broken-in boots. The rest will be an adventure.

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6 Responses to From Crayons to Cratons

  1. dhay6 says:

    Wonderful blog. I remember that volcano

  2. Elyse says:

    Gneiss post! And all future material for Professor Marris’s famous course on the Literature of Place. I look forward to following your adventures…

    EG

  3. Joe says:

    Go Natural Disasters!
    Go FOOT saving your feet!
    Go Laura!

    I’m so impressed.

  4. Candee Kilian says:

    I am thoroughly enjoying following your blog! Your wonderful writing makes me feel like I am right there with you. Happy Dike hunting!

  5. Emma says:

    I’ve finally gotten the chance to sit down and read your entire blog, and I’ve gotta say, that as one of “those friends,” I eat my words–this is completely awesome, and SO Laura!! I really enjoyed all your posts and photos… esp. the one of the shakespeare quote in your textbook :o). Keep them coming! It looks beautiful there. Way cool. Love you!!!

  6. Emma says:

    By the way,
    a) I don’t know what happened with that weird smiley face, and b) this is emma Led

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