June 25, 2013
The truck to pick us up from the mountaintop field site was late, and it was getting cold. Etewhaldo suggested we hide from the cold inside one of the miner’s quarters. I thought they were all abandoned. There’s a cluster of maybe four or five buildings the size of mobile homes, each devided into little offices or dormatories, here on the top of the mountain. We’re about 2500 meters up, I checked the schematic of the mine. Yesterday, inside the mine, we were at about 1700 meters. My ears have been busy with popping. A clearing near the top of the mountain contains a big earthmover, the abandoned offices, and a lonely guard tower where a very official and fairly whistful young guy is in charge of checking the names of everyone who comes and goes, appearing suddenly in big 4×4 trucks and disappearing just as suddenly. He doesn’t have a computer, even though that’s where the best internet is (AHAH!) due to a huge aentena. And he doesn’t even appear to be allowed a book or magazine. As Silvia and Etewhaldo and I wait for our truck, now 10 minutes late, I tell them in Spanish about firewatch towers. As an adolescent I felt a whistful romance for firewatch towers in the wildernesses of the west, where a person might spend 4 months alone, watching the forrest, with only a radio and books and an imagination. I was convinced I’d be a famous writer if I could just get a summer job in a firewatch tower. Ed Abbey, Jack Keruac I think… good writers needed to have such experiences. As I explained this to the other two, I noticed the quiet guard peering through the window listening intently to my broken Spanglish, with his bare desk and clean reflective vest, and a sad expression. Etewhaldo found some cookies and candies in his pack for us, and I joked with Silvia that this was dinner. Getting cold, he led us to one of the abandoned buildings to shelter from the wind, as our car apparently wasn’t even on route yet.
The day was a bit of a bust scientifically but not bad all and all. Sort of like a rain day. In the morning Etewhaldo wasn’t at the mine offices to meet us. In fact the whole geology department was closed and locked. Apparently the two preppy guys my age I noticed at the cafeteria last night, sitting apart in colored polo shirts and looking nothing like locals or miners – are the grandsons of the owning family. They popped in for a surprise visit, and this took the geologists away from their other work. So for the morning Silvia and I had an office day. It was good luck, as it took a long time to correctly package all the samples from yesterday’s mining adventure. It was so loud, and so hard to communicate, that the numbing on the samples and the symbols on the mine schematic didn’t match. I figured it out, made notes, wrapped the mudstones in paper and plastic, labeling the samples inside and out, trying to protect against breakage in the bouncy truck. We’ll see how well I did.
I was almost done when the guy from the core warehouse came up asking if we had photos that might reference some markers in the core series. Long story, but the entire sequence was destroyed after we left. It boggles the mind. At least I got descent photos. I spent the next hour making him a massive photomerge in photoshop. Such a shame.
After lunch Etewhaldo came back and took us again above the clouds. He’d had a crew clear off part of a road cut so we could better see the rocks. We asked for about 4 meters. When we arrived, in unusually hot sunny weather, carrying all my junk (bastante equipaje) the roadcut was cleared by about 40 meters! Machete-d leaves and branches all around, and there the rocks we came to see. We looked and sampled and discussed. I felt bad about the plants, but the jungle grows really fast. Its very strange becoming a geologist after being a biologist. Particularly, as a paleontologist, I think in VERY long timescales. I brought screens for the light for photography. I’ve been lugging them around (they’re lightweight but awkwardly shaped and bulky) for days and people keep asking why I have them. Today they worked great; they can mellow the shadows of a bright sunny day into the even light of a late cloudy afternoon. The only problem was refolding the large screens into small circles, which had the three of us laughing and trying again and again. It was a good toy for three grown scientists to feel silly.
After the first road cut we went around the back of the peak, along a road that’s been out of service for some years after a small rockslide. The jungle was so thick you wouldn’t imagine cars once drove there. And the rocks above, with a fabulous overhang, and vines and water dripping down on us… sadly, the wrong rocks. These were the same we contemplated from above on Sunday, and now that we were seeing our destination, it was not quite the horizon we wanted.
And so, with evening coming on, we returned to the guard tower to await our truck. We tried to get into one of the little rooms. Rather than abandoned, inside there were several sleeping mats, a hotplate with pots, and small stores of peppers and food about. Just as soon as we pulled the string on the lock and it broke, the three miners came out of the jungle in their orange jumpsuits. Amusing awkwardness ensued as we explained we busted their lock on accident, but also Etewhaldo harangued them about their machete job above. So these were the guys who cleared the roadcut for us! And now after a long day they wanted to get out of the cold and we had to figure out how to break into the last not-so-abandoned room on the mountaintop.
We kept thinking our truck was arriving, but it was other trucks bringing other workers. They come and go in day and night shifts; the mine never sleeps. Eventually Etewhaldo and Silvia and I set up in an abandoned office to wait out the cold as the workers got into their house and started some cooking. They offered to have us over for dinner but we couldn’t eat into their stores when there was cafeteria food waiting for us below. Inside the office, two large desks, and a bookshelf were covered with dust. On one shelf were the largest moths I’ve ever seen in the wild, and a stack of forgotten accident prevention forms. The miners came by with some hot water and mugs and powders for coffee and hot cocoa. We thanked them and made hot drinks and continued telling stories. In the jungle Etewhaldo told us of his friend who got lost for an hour after taking a five minute pee break on the river bank during a boat trip. The jungle can be dangerous. I told about a winter evening when the metro rail was delayed an hour, so Amir and I huddled in a glass elevator at the elevated station. We spent an hour making friends in the elevator, going up and down, up and down, each time greeting the new member of the society of people waiting for a train that wouldn’t come. A drunk guy drove onto the tracks, and the city needed to cut the power. I was able to tell it mostly in Spanish. It really bothers me when I am lagging in following funny conversations.
The sun set was amazing, in billows of dark clouds marching from over the series of peaks separating us from Lima. Home for Silvia, who misses her husband and teenage son, though she really loves getting into the field. I took some photos. The miners teased the guard to pose for my photos, so he struck one like the construction worker in YMCA.
It was dark by the time we made it down to the main offices, and busses were arriving with nightshift workers. Busses and busses. It’s been really interesting getting so see what life is like here, and getting to know the geologsits. After dinner, Etewhaldo came to our casita to see some slides, and we must have shown him an hour of geology presentations. The poor guy watched half of my dissertation defense. In a sense we’ve done this visit in reverse, explaining why we’re here at the end. But he’s even more interested now, and we’re gradually widening our sphere of people with information to share about our investigation. I was really pleased that he knows Julio, from the mining company that hosted us last year, and who we will see again next week. I showed him thin sections of the microscopic view of a sponge that Julio found.
On our drive we saw two armadillos, and on the basketball court there were bats chasing bugs in the evening. It will be strange to leave the jungle, and head to the snowy peaks tomorrow. But it will be reallllllly nice, hopefully, to see some darned fossils. I don’t know, the next site is also a mine. We’ll see. Either way…
Winter is coming.
June 24, 2013
Monday June 24
Another wild day of adventure in the jungle.
I spent the morning deep underground, and deep back in time. I’ve got a schematic of the mine that shows how deep down we were, and how far from an exit, but I haven’t read the specifics yet. In particular, I avoided reading this while actually in the mine.
At the moment I’m interested in a series of black shales between fifty and two hundred meters thick, laid down some time in the Early Jurassic sea. Shales weather into mud, so in the jungle, farm, high plains, or mountains, they’re not well enough exposed to examine the conditions of the sedimentary environment. But underground, in a freshly cut tunnel through the mines, the rocks are as fresh, complete, and well exposed as one could dream about. We got a quick look yesterday, and made arrangements to spend the this morning taking samples.
The idea was that I would measure the section and mark the sampling sites with red paint, then the team would follow behind and make the samples. Taking samples requires time and caution. The rock needs to be selected from the correct level, with a piece likely to show sedimentary or fossil features. The piece needs to be labeled with a number, a location, a date, etc.
It was dark, and LOUD. We sloshed through water up to our boots, and searched for signs both geological and man-made on the walls of the tunnel. We could have been in the middle of the world. It was actually a huge relief that every 20 minutes or so a truck or huge earthmover would drive through. We’d stand along the walls or in an alcove to let it pass. Very strange to me was when individual miners would pass by on foot. A point of light in the distance would materialize into a person who, after brief greetings, would continue down the impossibly dark long tunnel in the other direction.
Every time miners came by they approached us, shook hands, exchanged greetings and questions. In general people here are very big on introductions. People will stop what their doing in an office, walk across the room, shake my hand, exchange greetings, then go back to work. Its awkward for me that the standard greeting with women is a little cheek touch, without actually kissing, but making kind of a kissing sound. I’m just too uptight and American to do this with total strangers. Guys seem to recognize this, but they don’t want to be rude either. Ever experience that encounter where one person moves in for a hug and the other for a handshake? Same thing, only more awkward. Anyway, in the mine there’s no kissing, haha, but certainly lots of handshaking. I think maybe spending one’s day in the dark and noisey and challenging depths makes human contact all the more vital and welcome.
It was an adventurous experience and a scientifically challenging one. We used all of our heads to compare the schematics with what we saw in the rocks and with our expectations. In the abstract we conceive of sediments deposited over time slowly in a marine environment. This turns into rock and we can, 200 million years later, sample those same sediments for chemical signs of life and environmental conditions. But a lot went on in those two hundred million years. Building the Andes, for example. And these rocks are smack in the middle of it. This introduces breaks and faults in the rocks, fluids that burn through and bring new minerals, ore deposits, and destructive forces that change the chemistry completely.
The sampling was altogether a success, followed by a lunch on patio overhanging the jungle. Pear juice, empenadas, and as always soup, rice, potatoes, and meat.
After lunch I got another treat: the core warehouse. This is where they store all the cylindrical tubes of rock taken with a large drill. From the surface down, or from the mine up, a huge machine can drill out a tube of rock tens of meters long. This can expose the transitions between bodies of rock. The miners keep a huge stock of these to look for valuable ore. For me, they laid out several meters of core that form an example of the contact between two important units. One is terrifically altered, making it promising for mining. The other, my black shale, is fairly intact. An afternoon of photographing and observing, followed by the bouncy ride back to the housing units.
They’re putting us up in this lovely house on a property like an old resort. I went for a walk around sunset to look at the jungle. Along the drive from the mine there’s a rope and wood plank swinging bridge high across a rushing river. More than anything I want to walk across it, and indulge my millionth Indiana Jones experience. But, like examining bats caught in my corridor or identifying the butterflies, crossing rope bridges is not what I came here to do. All in due time.
At dinner we sat with some miners and talked about sports and politics. It was good practice for my Spanish which is still very inadequate to hold a conversation. There are just too many holes in my vocabulary. But already I’m doing better than last year, and I’ve only been in the mountains two days. Let’s see how I’m doing in two more weeks.
Thanks all for following! Tomorrow night we move to a different mine, and I may or may not have internet. Hasta luego!
June 23, 2013
Sunday, 6/22, 6:30 pm
A white knuckle day of adventure, some of which I’m not even at liberty to share. Spent the day shouting expletives in my brain, but saying little. In the morning we drove up the steepest cliffs at the top of the jungle peaks, into the clouds, and hiked around to look for the rocks we seek. No sponges here; I’m searching for the rocks deposited at the same time as the sponges, but in places the sponges were not dominating. This way I hope to compare and contrast, and to construct an interpretation of how widespread the sponge phenomenon was.
The drivers here are CAVALIER. Holy #$%^. Sheer cliffs, thousands of feet down, barreling up mountains sides, but slowing, perfectly, expertly, each time we encounter a tiny bit of water, or an oncoming vehicle. Yesterday on the drive up into the Andes and down the rainy side (was that only yesterday!?) the whole transit requires passing massive transport trucks going 5 mph. But, oh, 1/8 attempts, we’d have to duck back behind the truck because there’s another vehicle oncoming. Every driver just takes this in stride. Almost the only honking I encounter in the highlands is the friendly greeting or safety honk when taking hairpin blind turns. Holy crap there were so many hairpin blind turns today. And the gigantic trucks coming out of mines and tunnels unexpectedly on one-car-width roads…
Walking was tough for the first 10 minutes. Up a hill, following acclimated Peruvians, with my weak lungs and brand-new-out-of-the-box steel toed boots that don’t quite fit. I purchased them the last day in LA, east of downtown, between two doctors appointments, on late notice they were required. Can’t complain. If some rocks go sliding I don’t want broken toes.
Tiny yellow orchids. Vibrant purple flowers. Butterflies I didn’t have time to watch closely enough to see all their damned colors. Rocks. Bastante rockas. Rocks in the trail, rocks hidden by thick jungle vines and a foot of moss and soil. Rocks exposed in giant patches of bare vertical cliffs on the mountain tops, or Better, or worse, depending on when you’re there, gigantic patches of fresh rock exposed by massive landslides. Walking down the first mountain peak, through narrow passages in thick jungle, suddenly there was a little shrine set in the vine-choked cliff-face. A shrine with the long bones and skull of two humans. Very old, found here when the mine was first explored. Now they are set in this little shrine, with candles and what not, and the site is named after them. The first ones. The mine site is named the first.
It’s been such an amazing day. Decked out in miner’s attire; they lent us clothes. Steel toed rubber boots, thick pants and overshirt, hard hat. After an hour or so of security clearance, we went outside for a Sunday event of flag saluting. Two men operated a PA and microphone, and we stood in rank with about 25 miners to take turns listening to announcements, saluting the flag, and singing the national anthem. I wished I’d known so I could practice. As it was I got enough looks for being a female – curious looks. I didn’t want to be rude by laughing out loud when two miners in hard hats approached to present the flags – goose stepping the whole way. It was just so goofy and serious and corporate and spirited, all together in the gathering mists of this mountain top jungle, that I had to bite my lip hard to keep from laughing. Three miners were given the honor of hoisting the flags, and one made a speech. Tomorrow is a day to honor workers of the countryside, and from what I could tell he made a moving declaration about his family, the value of the land, and the labor we must not take for granted. Finally it was all abruptly over, and Silvia and I were introduced to the head honcho of the site. He had an expression that he didn’t find our work interesting, but he didn’t seem to doubt that his geologists did. And they do. That’s been the best part.
I’ve been treated like a total expert and professional. The geology team hosting us spent a half hour laying out maps and schematics of the mines, geology, and region. They gave their analysis and opinions, then listed to our questions. Together we decided what sites to visit today. It was completely crazy. From the top of the mountain to its Moria-esque forbidden inner roots; on this trip we get to see everything from the rocks at the surface to cores from the lowest reaches. By the end of the day I was up to my rubber boot tops in water, following two men I could barely understand, past the blaring sound of a ventilation system, into the terrifying but spectacular unknown. This is exactly what I came for, and so much more!
Now a shower, and dinner, and organization of the day’s photos. Thanks for following!
A long day. We packed the truck in Lima about 8am, and arrived at our first major destination about 5pm. Now it’s about 9:15, and once again almost time for bed.
I really love Peru. I feel very comfortable here. Largely Silvia is responsible for that. She’s made expert arrangements with geologists and companies, with the truck rental, etc. I get odd looks from many people, I guess because my blonde hair is fairly out of the ordinary, and I’m not generally on a tourists’ corridor nor am I traveling like one. That’s just as well; I’m not a tourist. After a second glance at me people just go about their business. A lot of workers seem surprised to see me in a mining truck, but they’ve all behaved very politely and respectfully. Silvia says, though it’s changing, that there are still pervasive issues of machismo and dismissal of women in mining and geology fields which are mostly populated by male workers. Around Lima I saw plenty of women in blue color positions; collecting garbage, unloading trucks. Riding from the airport the first night, I saw a female traffic cop who stood in front of a speeding bus, and when it finally halted right in front of her, she banged on the window and gave the driver hell for disobeying her directions. Geology and mining is interesting because it’s parts manual labor and parts intellectual. Silvia is very highly respected by all the senior mining personnel. She told me tonight that when she first came to this mine, as an 18 year old college student, her group drove all night to reach it, only to be told at the entrance that women were not permitted within the mine. A fellow female student told the mining employee, “That’s your rule, so it’s your problem, not mine!” As a compromise, the company finally allowed them inside, but only dressed in baggy men’s clothes, so as not to distract the miners. She said afterwards the miners laughed with them that it was still apparent what was happening. It’s good to see how far things have come. Already tonight our presence has raised some eyebrows, but everyone’s been very polite.
The road was long. Up the mountain. Up, up, up, up. I would have slept but the geology is too exciting, and the motion of the truck to bouncy. Up up up the mountain. People live all along the roadside, in small rooms built of hollow bricks, disastrous conditions in even a moderate earthquake. We passed the family trout farms, that use the water flowing along the deep valley by the road, in little carved out ponds on the steep cliffsides. By the time we made it up and over the highest peaks, I was so hungry I ate almost a whole grilled trout.
After lunch we were disappointed to find that a main road was closed, so we needed to go around by an unpaved way, adding an hour to our already fairly delayed trip. But what a drive! Winding winding winding down the mountain, across the high planes, down into the jungle on the rainy side of things. Today I saw the biggest chickens I’ve ever seen, a few hundred lanky cruising dogs, hundreds of sheep, one llama, and also one of the nation’s signature birds: the freaking enormous hummingbird. I’ll have to check with Dave or the internet. This thing was the size of a parrot, but with a wide red tail and hovering in the damned air like a helicopter. I’m used to it out of their thimble sized friends, but this thing was huge.
People live on the sides of the road up the mountain, and in the high planes there are mining villages, each with a large church and courtyard at the center of dormitory style housing and sprawls of brick shacks. Down lower on the wetter side the fertile valleys were filled with terraced gardens with livestock and adobe houses. We passed two villages large enough to host active soccer games. Then down, along a rushing series of rivers, with constant water falls crossing the road and a big rainbow in the cloud-adorned sky, into the jungle. We were barreling down these unpaved roads, and now and then would stop to ask directions to our destination. Finally, in what seemed like the fifth tiny cluster of buildings in the middle of the lowering and narrowing jungle, at 5 pm Silvia announced, “We’re here!”
It was anticlimactic. An hour and a half of paperwork, medical checks, hard hat issue, showing our documents. We wanted to give a presentation to the geologists about what I’m looking for, but it will have to wait til morning. Finally we headed up a hill to the little cluster of smurf village accomodations, which are really quite nice. For dinner at 7:30 we had Chifa in the cafeteria – that’s a cafeteria’s version of Peru’s version of Chinese food. It was actually pretty good. Sweet tamerind sauce on meat and veggies with rice. The climactic scenes of Con Air was on in the dining hall, and I enjoyed explaining the plot to Silvia. After dinner we spoke a while – or rather she did – with a geologist colleague. I can follow conversations and generally understand 50-90% of what’s said, depending on who’s talking. Siliva and I have been taking turns speaking English and Spanish, and mostly she’s speaking English. I don’t know if its more for my benefit or for her to practice. She’s terrifically fluent but doesn’t get to use it as often as German. Its hard brain work, searching for words. So now I’m ready for bed. We thought we’d see some rocks this afternoon, but so it goes. I’d rather see them in the right context. One of the geologists we bumped into during dinner is fairly confident we can see the contacts I want, so I’m excited about the morning.
We don’t have internet until they configure our laptops somehow at the main office. Silvia let me borrow her phone and I sent text messages to my husband and sister, asking them both to update my parents, who would win the gold if worrying were an Olympic sport.
We’ll see what rocks I get in the morning. Can’t wait.
11:35 pm, Lima
In the morning we go to the Andes. Like last year Silvia arranged for me to rent a truck and a professional driver. This time for about three weeks. The first site will be a new one for me, and we’ll look at outcrops around an active mine. I might actually go in one of the mines in the next few days – just to have a look at the geological features, which Silvia says are quite spectacular.
These days in Lima have been quiet, and I’ve had plenty of time to focus. Not that I HAVE focused. Instead each hour has been a bit of an urgent frenzy down one scientific rabbit hole or another, as I try to get ready for this trip, and ready for the coming year. Which ammonites will indicate the time frame I’m looking for? Or rather, what time frame should I be looking for? Maybe I should expand it, think more broadly, think about the way these deposits all around the world differ and test what they might have in common. Then there are all these cool side-tracking papers I find, like investigations of healed scars on ammonoid shells; the ammonite survived the attack, but an attack by what?? Another ammonite!?!? Bum-ba-ba-buuuuuuuum crimeshowtheme!!
I finished my dissertation this spring, but an unusual circumstance eliminated the job I’d had arranged to start in the fall. So at graduation time I wore the costume, half-heartedly, wondering what the coming year would bring. My husband, meanwhile, earned two postdoctoral positions, back to back, one of them very far away. I’ve been happy for him but it’s been bittersweet compared to my own publication rejections, position dissolutions, and general insecurity about the future.
Things have been looking up since I came to Lima. Simple things, like positive correspondences with international collaborators or experts offering opinions. Plus Silvia arranged for me to use an available office, so I’ve made the most of that! Skype and phone calls from various professors in the states, who were duly impressed that I was in an office at a university in a different hemisphere. It’s funny what prestige a door can give!
I gave a seminar talk on Thursday, which went very well. Like most seminars, most of my audience was politely but marginally interested in the content, so I tried to keep it upbeat and showed lots of interesting pictures. A handful of students and professors were professionally curious, and I wanted to represent my university well. PUCP is developing key connections to high level universities in Europe and the states, so I’m really proud that USC is able to connect here as well.
Bed time, bed time. I repacked my bags, so I’ll leave behind the airport wheely with some city attire, and bring along tools and packs and a duffle of rougher clothing. I also sat on the bed and measured the strike and dip of a chair with my brunton compass. Thank goodness this time I got it right the first time! I guess it’s like riding a bicycle, if I was usually drunk every time I got on a bicycle after several months. But now it appears I’ve got the correct muscle memory, and I won’t fumble about in the field.
OK, tomorrow: Up the Andes, Back in Time!
June 19, 2013
Greetings from Lima!
Apparently I’m in South America. Six months ago I relished the idea of traveling down to the winter lands of Peru to flee the heat of another Southern California summer. I miscalculated. We’ve been having June Gloom in Los Angeles. Surely it’s no time and place to be stuck in a car, where the 80 degrees will sneak up on you and you’ll wonder what sadist invented jeans, but outside there’s a breeze and an overcast sky and even the animals are holding their breath til the real summer begins. Here in Lima, I’m sipping manzanilla tea and looking over a little casa courtyard under the perpetual white sky. In fact just as a write, pinches of blue are breaking out, and blinding light. 60 degrees, give or take, for the week.
It’s a stunningly well-appointed casa in a nicer district of Lima. Beyond the eclectic furniture and original art, the walls, floors and counters are lined with different kinds of fairly stunning stone – what do you expect from a pair of married geologists? I’m staying at the home of my collaborator, Silvia Rosas for a couple of days before we head to the field. She sent a car to the airport, and I was delighted at my first experience of having a man hold a sign with my name on it! I’ve only seen that in movies. I’m almost thirty, but I’ll take my thrills at burgeoning professionalism and self-importance when I can get them.
Last year I came to the Andes on a hunch, and it paid off big time. Well, in some ways. I’ve been studying the aftermath of the Triassic/Jurassic mass extinction event, which clobbered marine life 200 million years ago. In Nevada I found staggeringly vivid evidence of widespread siliceous sponge dominance in the kinds of habitats that were once dominated by biocalcifiers – corals, clams, snails, and their more obscure prehistoric friends. For various reasons I wanted to see if Peru’s rocks recorded a similar phenomenon across the mass extinction. The trip was brief, but a huge success. I opened several cans of proverbial scientific worms.
Six months ago I might have thought this would be my last trip down here for a while, but the tides of fate are shifting a bit and I hope to return often. One condition is the same as last year. I have multiple co-authors in publishing this research, and it’s still not in print. This means I can’t share too many esoteric specifics of what I’m looking for and where I find it. I hope, though, that readers might enjoy some updates about the search, and it’s more fun and accessible context; where we go, what we see, what adventures we might find.
They had earthquakes here, the last two days. When Silvia showed me around the house on my midnight arrival last night, the tour included the fastest earthquake exits. It doesn’t really bear thinking about. Earthquakes down here can be much more severe than those back home in Southern California. The reason is a giant slice of the Earth’s crust is still shoving it’s stubborn way beneath the slab that carries this continent and it’s Andes mountains. Back in Los Angeles, in contrast, the offending plate has long since been slurped underneath North America, and only a relatively small piece remains, plunging slowly under the mountain volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest. Coffee country.
A small washing machine buzzes intensely. Some carved wooden owls dangle in the sunlight. Outside in the yard there’s a shy rabbit. I’ve got work to do. Manuscripts to revise, citations to edit on my thesis, reports to submit to my generous funding agencies. And the subtler work, the intellectual preparation for this impending geological adventure. I’m not really sure what to do, resting my feet in the warm sunshine over the cold stones.
The flights were not tough, save a headache I’ve been entertaining since somewhere over the gulf of Mexico. On a 6.5 hr flight from Houston, all the tiny screens buzzing movies from the top of one seatback to the face of each passenger presented a chilling apparition. In and out of sleep, I felt like when I opened my eyes to look around I was peering into people’s dreams. Bouncy jeep rides, passionate romances, fist fights, shootouts. Tough men in the wilderness and hot women in tight skirts. I gave up working on a presentation and had a budwieser while watching Ghostbusters. Later when the turbulence was too fierce to write or work on my translation practice, I resorted to a recent and impossibly scripted Jason Stathem action movie. Explosions, grappling battles, car chases. I’ve loved action movies since childhood, and would daydream about Indiana Jones-esque predicaments. On Friday Silvia and I will ride in a big 4×4 truck up a treacherous mountain road, albeit in the hands of a calm and seasoned professional driver. Then the mines, not that we’ll actually go underground, but there’s an atmosphere of importance and intensity when you’ve gotta show steel toed boots and a slew of medical clearances. The real work is looking carefully at the sand and tiny fossils in massive walls of rock, but the context – professional workers in hazardous jobs, challenging environmental degradation risk, passing llamas and sheep, snow and rain and wind. It beats the hell out of sitting at my computer at home. And I’ve been sitting at my computer at home, finishing that ol’ dissertation, for several months. It’s time I get out and live my own action movie. Sans fistfights, of course.
And the love story? We’ve got that too, folks. I got married just four months ago, to the same seismologist I left behind to come here last year. When I get back in three weeks we have about 30 hours together before he heads to central Alaska for a week. Then we embark on the post-doctoral fellowship years, the years of funding and professional improvement, years of commuting between states for weeks or – hopefully – months at a time to see each other. Until we get two good jobs… It’s this kind of thinking that can make the mountain hard to climb. Hard to start the manuscript revisions, paper submissions, and presentations that stand between me and the next years of settled family life. But I’ll be in the Andes this week. If nothing else, I’ve got to take one step at a time. OK, back to work. Thanks for following, all. I’ll post more specific updates soon.