As a kid, I always loved field trips. They were like days off from school, but you still got credit for going. And when I look back at my life's field trips, I realize they always managed to teach me something, no matter how much I goofed off.
That said, the prospect of my first official rock-reading field trip did daunt me a bit. To drive into the desert and pick over stones, what does one need? What do first-time geologists wear? Should I pack a lunch? Would I be overburdened, or underprepared?
The morning of our trip, Deméré emerged from the museum decked out in flannel and denim. He was all good mornings and smiles. Lean and wiry, Deméré appeared at once distinguished and tough, a curious combination. He has a quiet, stately air underlying what I took to be concentrated intensity, very much like the museum in which he works.
Deméré packed boots, sunglasses, binoculars, a camera, rope, lunch, and the defining tool of his trade: a pick. A pick is a dangerous-looking weapon. Deméré's pick weighs about seven pounds; it's three feet long. And not only does he chip away rock with it, but he uses it as a walking stick and also a comfortable seat in the field. A few hours into our trip, Deméré also produced a hat exactly like the hat of Indiana Jones. He grimaced at the association, but it tied together my impression of Dr. Tom Deméré.
Before we could leave the parking lot, Deméré wanted to show me around his workplace. We went in one of the back doors of the Natural History Museum, up some metal staircases, and entered the offices and private collections area somewhere far away from the main exhibits. Deméré had laid out maps across a broad table: he wanted to give me a sense of what we would be seeing that day.
Deméré illustrated how San Diego County is divided into three distinct geomorphic sections: the Coastal Plain region, the Peninsular Ranges, and the Salton Trough. He pointed out numerous fault lines that riddle our city and the areas around it. He started to tell me about the landscape and about the kinds of rocks inside the landscape, and then, as he tried to wrestle his giant maps back into tidy rectangles (note: geologists don't seem to be any better at map folding than the rest of us), Deméré explained that we would have to "look through the topography and try to see the geology." This interesting theme would resurface often over the course of our trip.
After the overview, we took in a short tour of the museum's impressive fossil exhibits. You should go to the museum yourself to see them; they're fascinating and informative. And, unlike in any natural history museum anywhere else that I've ever been, the fossils in San Diego's museum are local.
During the museum tour, Deméré tried to engage me in all sorts of technical rock-related conversation. But I could hardly keep pace. We hadn't even seen a single wild rock yet, and already my head was juggling more new phrases and concepts than I could comprehend.
One thing I started to think about, as Deméré and I piled into my car, was the concept of time. In Real Time, it was 8:27 a.m., the 22nd of April, 21 minutes since we'd met, etc. But the thing I know about Real Time is that it isn't real at all; it's just a useful, simple, invented, human concept. This thought, combined with what I'd heard Deméré expound about epochs and eras, got me to considering other philosophical notions of time. Specifically, I started to contemplate the kinds of time that our respective jobs (writing and geology) represented to my rocking mind.
In Writing Time, we are roughly 1659 words into this article. It has probably taken you somewhere between 6 and 11 minutes of Real Time to read your way here. (Unless you're like me, and you prefer to go through written works in more than one sitting, in which case it may have taken you many days to read this.) Regardless, it took me several weeks of Real Time to write my way here.
But true Literary Time has less to do with reading and writing than it does with the time of the human imagination. This is to say that Literary Time is, in the end, largely a product of a writer's style. For example, I may alternately choose to embellish or leave out whole portions of our trip. One writer's moment may linger pages on a single description, while another's digresses sentence by sentence over multiple ideas and events.
But Geologic Time... Geologic Time is Real Time taken to stupendous limits. I find the only way to understand the scale of Geologic Time is to employ an analogy. Think about it like this: human beings live, on average, 75 years of Real Time. The average rock has been around for somewhere between 4 million and 400 million Real Years, depending on the rock. That means a single second in Geologic Time lasts more Real Years than a person lives. Start now. Now. Now. How much can you do in a single second? One Mississippi. One one-thousand. What can you say or get done? Well, that's how much the average rock does while we're toddling in diapers, learning to brush our teeth, finishing school, conquering adulthood difficulties, raising families, and aging gracefully. No wonder rocks don't seem to accomplish much of anything.
Such has been the gist of my musing, which, in this article's convoluted version of Literary Time, brings my writing and your reading neatly back to the beginning, to the Real Time commencement of our geological field trip.
Tom Deméré and I piled into my beat-up old Ford Explorer. The plan was to drive around locally for a bit, in the canyons around the museum, and then to head out through Mission Valley, up into Mission Trails Regional Park, and then to take the 8 to Ocotillo, exit into the Coyote Mountains, and finally loop back through Anza-Borrego, Shelter Valley, and Julian, and come home.