Saturday, December 11, 2021

A reflection

December 4, 2021:

It's the early afternoon on one of those gray days that Minnesota churns out from about the time the leaf show is over to about the time that snowfall gets serious; it's as if Mother Nature, not quite sure what weather to go with, simply throws the gray blanket over the state until she makes up her mind. I am wandering the Mississippi River gorge in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The view from the Shadow Falls overlook.

Late fall is the absolute best time to look at geology in the field in Minnesota. Mosquitos and ticks are gone. The plants that hide the rocks from view from late May into October have keeled over from a few good frosts. It's finally a civilized temperature, and people like me whose skin does not have a setting between "freckle" and "burn" can defy the sun. It is usually dry, so mud is not an issue. There is simply not a better time.

Mifflin Member of the Platteville over the Pecatonica Member over mostly concealed Glenwood Formation.

There is also a feeling of "carpe diem" that adds just that little bit more to it. The closer you get to the end of the year, the closer you come to the snowfall that will stop the fun. You can do this in the snow, but it's not as easy. The ground is covered. Rocks become frozen to the ground. Ice is always lurking; sure, you can slip in dry fallen leaves, but you can see them. Ice isn't always so obvious, and icy patches can quickly build up in areas that are heavily traveled. Don't get me wrong; I also like being out in the winter, but for reasons other than geology.

Platteville snails.

The winter will wear on, then it will be replaced (all too soon these days) by spring, turning the ground into mush. Spring will then be replaced by the vegetation and murky heat of summer, and summer will linger obnoxiously well into September. It's a long wait from the end of November or early December to the return of those perfect conditions.

Hardly anybody ever asks why there is a strange person clambering up and down hills, looking at rocks, and occasionally taking photos of them and muttering. This time, though, someone pointed out this shell bed.

Every time I go out, I see something new, one more little piece to the puzzle. Maybe there are outcrops I hadn't seen, or a stratigraphic association I hadn't noticed before, or I spot something that twigs a connection I hadn't made before. Maybe I stumble on a goat trail to some site I hadn't been aware of, or I realize there's a geological landmark I ought to see. Plus, the experience of being outdoors, wandering as the mood strikes me, constrained only by my own physical capabilities (and common sense), is a wonderful thing. If you're outdoors, and you're quiet and observant, the world will reveal itself to you in bits and pieces. Two pairs of eagles flying in close proximity; a red squirrel defying all larger competitors; the crescent moon coming through the trees; a wall of stromatolites; ancient tidal beds—experiences are out there, if you are open to them.

A small ravine I'd never noticed before.

Looks kind of like an impression of a large nautiloid shell; unfortunately couldn't find the nautiloid to clinch it.

On a different time scale, I have no idea how many times I'll be able to do these things. Eventually there will be a last time, because I physically can't do it, or because I'll no longer be in a convenient position to do it, or because I won't have enough existence to do it. Will I know it? Maybe, maybe not. It's not something that can be planned on a calendar. I turned 40 earlier this year. Normally I have nothing to do with birthdays, but it's a little hard to ignore certain of them. I certainly don't feel it to any great extent; truth be told, I've lost track of years since I completed my thesis. For all I know, I could still be 25, except 25-year-olds get less sass from their knees (one of them has occasionally trotted out a nifty bit of patellar prestidigitation ever since a childhood injury, while the other is just a whiner). 40 is not all that old. Then again, several older friends and extended family members have passed away in the past few years, some of them suddenly and unexpectedly. They were older than me, but the point still holds: you never know when it's going to be the last time or even the only time to see or do something.

December 5, 2021:


  1. I had been over there pretty much cleaned out vast majority of decorah and the "pebble paths". If you walk further downriver on the beach there are another big ravine with magnolia gastropods and cephalopods fossils. That one 'shell hash" is Magnolia - heavily strophomena and rafinesquina minnesotensis (Rafinesquina minnesotensis is the very inflated sizable brachiopods) with Hesperorthis being very distinct with their coarse appearances. I had better luck with another ravine several miles downriver for platteville since this park is really over picked. Not telling you which ravine lol.

    1. I'm in "catch and release" these days, although I've always got my eyes open for basements under construction and road work.