Saturday, January 22, 2011


Hannah has taken it upon herself to learn about rocks. With permission, she brought a textbook home from school and started writing down this particular chapter, taking notes like a college student. Its focus was specifically on igneous rocks, the kind created by magma.

I mistakenly say 'lava' and David corrects me.

Location, location, location.

Magma, it seems, resides under the earth. Lava is the term for when the molten rock is on the surface.

I am a bit astounded by this burst of self-directed learning. Not that I don't think my children are capable or curious. They just seem to rely upon me, a lot, for a push and a shove in a general direction other than arms wrapped tightly around my thighs. I like to see all of this. It's like blossoming, unexpected.

I see her with a textbook open on her lap, furiously writing about the Mohs scale of hardness, and I have to stare at her for a while. Sometimes, when you think you know all there is to know about your child, she starts telling you about how your fingernail (Mohs hardness scale ranking of 2.5) can scratch talc (Mohs hardness scale of 1) but not calcite, fluorite, or apatite (ranking of 3, 4, and 5).

And then I have to widen my thoughts of her a bit, to include this information that she swallows and regurgitates, happily, for me.

I took geology a long time back, just about half my life, and I remember being underwhelmed. In fairness, I was pretty much underwhelmed with everything back them. It was interesting, in a vague Christ-Almighty-is-this-place-old kind of way. But I was a bit of a bummer back then, flopping this way and that. I generally went where I needed to go, but wasn't necessarily thrilled at being there.

I remember the labs, and scratching rocks. I remember the film on vulcanologists, and the narrator talking about an unlucky team of them engulfed by a pyroclastic flow. Not that I needed an impetus to reject vulcanology as a course of study, but I still remember soundly rejecting any career that could find me enveloped by an insanely fast moving cloud of hot gas. No thanks.

Geology, as much as I could happily skip out on lecture, did leave me with at least one distinct impression. I can never look at the open face of a cliff the same way. All I see is layer upon layer, each signifying an insane length of time in the life of our planet.

It's humbling. We're small. And big. If that makes any sense.

Our professor took us on a field trip to the nearby Mendon Ponds Park, where we could see for ourselves the way the land was shaped by glaciers. Mendon Ponds -- with its kames and eskers, its drumlins, and a kettle hole chillingly named 'Devil's Bathtub' -- is visual proof of moving ice and what it leaves in its frozen wake.

I never did anything with geology. It was just a class to take.

Actually, no. I amend that. I did one thing with geology. I turned it into a story that won my college's fiction prize. The field trip, the lab spent scratching rocks, even the doomed volcano-chasers. I turned my disinterested interest into something resembling a plot. It worked, apparently.

I tell Hannah there are rock-collecting kits, rock-smoothing kits. I tell her that when it's spring we can look for rocks by Darby Creek.

Later today, we'll print out pictures of rocks that she'll bring in to show her class.

Something about it all stirs me up. I want her to hold onto these things. Interests that make us quirky individuals. Hobbies that utilize a focus.

What I know is that it's most likely just a blip, a brief burst of something, and that's okay. There will be lots of other bursts, of things I understand and things I don't. I just want her to continue reaching and exploring.

And if it's an exploration of all that exists beneath our feet, and things solid and shiny we can hold in our hands, layers we can peel back for clues and stories we can tell...all the better.


Anonymous said...

My daughter often says she wants to be an archaeologist, and I wonder because she's never been the digging in the dirt kind of kid. We went to the Peabody museum and she thought the casts of Lucy's skull were gross. However, she was pretty excited when I agreed to sign her up for a cake decorating class, and her science fair project involves baking cookies with sugar substitutes, so maybe she is getting pulled in a certain direction.

Interesting post, and good to hear from you after so long.

slouchy said...

I love your writing, Kelly. Each and every time.

Amanda said...

You are worth the wait.

The Homesteading Hussy said...

My dad is a geologist. Wish he would have made it fun for me:(

Monica said...

For someone who wasn't that interested in a class that happened half a lifetime sure remember a ton of details!

Ah yes, that's the writer in you. Lovely post.

Anonymous said...

From Leslie:

Kelly, thank you for sharing. This is my first time reading your blog. Here is a book that might be of interest. Samantha Hansen Has Rocks In Her Head by Nancy Viau.

We have a copy if you are interested. We haven't gotten to it yet.

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