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.