Saturday, April 25, 2020


In this time of in-home sheltering, and thinking that my age puts me in the at-risk group, I certainly have given thought to “my life.”  Part of this remembering is probably a normal process when one ages and starts to think about their mortality; however, the coronavirus pandemic sort of exacerbates the situation and moves it on the front burner.  So far, I have made it OK, and hope for a well future.

I essentially have stopped watching most TV news and conferences except to check the local weather.  I want the country to leave disease control to the medical personnel and research scientists.  My only hope for our country, and the world, is THAT SCIENCE WILL WIN IF WE GIVE IT A CHANCE.

I also have reshaped my time to restack and “clean” my office, refile the books and magazines, and sort the minerals.  That has been a pleasant sort of exercise and has brought back many fond memories but:

You can't reminisce too much. Because you've got to keep pushing forward, you know?                  Daniel Caesar

My pushing forward is trying to understand the mineral chemistry of boron, and the boron minerals.  I am having troubles with the chemistry (even after help from Yooper Pete in Denver), so sometimes I must take a break and revert to reminiscing about youth, especially the geology aspect of “growing up.” I often wonder  how my younger years affected my career choice and then think that my entire life choices are probably due to: 1) growing in in a rural area with nurturing parents who let me explore the “outdoors” and tune into nature; 2) caring and enthusiastic primary and high school teachers (47 students in high school) where four years of English, four years of math, four years of science, and four years of history/civics and social science, prepared me for college (and life); and 3) geology instructors who mentored me all those years, even during the times I was greatly confused with crystallography and stereonets (still am).
The VO4 vanadium anion that is an integral part of the vanadate minerals.
I was rummaging around my office and came across a few geology items that brought back the memories.  A couple of years ago one of my former institutions found (in a dusty storage closet) and returned my Optical Mineralogy notebook.  That sucker had not seen the light of day in 50 years.  Although I turned out to be a softrocker and paleontologist, I thoroughly enjoyed Optical Mineralogy and Optical Petrology while attending the University of South Dakota.  It seems as if I spent hundreds of hours looking down that B & L single tube scope.  For a while I thought my right eye (dominant) was larger!  That also was when I finally determined (with a physician) that I really was color blind with several colors (red-green-brown; blue-purple).  The instructor would talk about thin section mineral colors and pleochroism and I was totally lost with some slides.  This deficiency later bit me in the derriere when I tried to enlist in the commissioned corps of U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (since engulfed by other federal agencies) and was informed that men with color blindness could not serve on their ships; a disappointment for me.  The recruiter suggested that I try the U.S. Army since color blind men often have a great perception of different shades of gray and therefore are quite good at working with air photographs (pre color).  The Army was in need of people who could examine air photos and pick out “things” hidden in a jungle environment.  I passed on the opportunity. 
An Introduction to the Methods of Optical Crystallography, by F. Donald Bloss, was first published in 1961. That edition still stands as a classic in the field...and for many years it remained a widely used textbook for undergraduate courses in optical mineralogy. Review in American Mineralogist 2002.
At any rate, each optical student had to keep a notebook describing the thin sections we observed and information we could use to identify different minerals.  Now, my artistic abilities floundered here but I struggled along using drafting and colored pencils to sketch minerals.  I thought of this notebook when I learned on the Rockhounds List that Donald Bloss, the author of my text An Introduction to the Methods of Optical Crystallography recently passed away at the ripe age of ~100.  I am certain that geologists of my age, and later, cut their optical mineralogy teeth with this book.

Speaking of older gentlemen, Bob Dole (now closing in on 100), was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives when I was growing up in Kansas.  He knew my parents from their mutual interest in the American Legion, an organization that World Wat II vets joined by the tens of thousands after the conflict ended.  My parents were “proud as pie” when Rep. Dole wrote them a letter about their son!

When I reveal to young persons some of my mineral/fossil collection, I always pull out an item and tell them “this is the reason I did not become an engineer.”  I show them a slide ruler and tell them it is a mechanical analog computer, yes a computer.  In college I just did not have the brain power to function well with this computer.  In some math and physics courses I had no choice since trig functions, logarithms, square roots etc. were essential to “passing the test.”  I just was not very skilled and certainly was not a geek who carried his (not many hers) ruler in a case clipped to his belt and called it a slipstick.  Most students of my age remember the science classrooms where a six- or seven-foot slide ruler hung on the wall above the blackboard and was used by the instructor for teaching.

The middle section of the slide ruler slide back and forth, left and right, while the clear cursor moves along the entire ruler, usually about 10-12 inches.
As a geology student, my classmates and I spent a fair amount of time outside working with maps and rocks.  Two of the staples of an undergraduate curriculum were courses in field methods and field camp, and the Field Methods text by Robert Compton. Field methods often involved constructing a topographic map using an alidade and stadia rod (the stick).  This was time consuming process as the alidade and board had to be completely level in order for accurate readings.  In larger scale projects, especially in field camp and project field work, we depended on hand levels, or sometimes on Jacob Staffs (Jake Sticks), and always on the staple Brunton Compass.  Today, with laser beams, satellites and GPS, and even cell phones I don’t know if students even know how to use a Brunton or hand level.  But that is OK as time moves on.

A hand level with its leather carrying case.  My eye height was 6 feet.  By looking through the telescopic tube, and keeping the bubble (on top of the tube) level, I could mark a spot on an outcrop or hill that was six feet high.  Walk up to that marked spot and shoot a new sight, etc.  After a while I could determine the height of the hill:  six shots times six feet equals 36 feet in elevation for the hill.  This level was even more sophisticated in that it could read stadia rods for more precise readings.

Plane table and alidade.  The surveyor/geologist is looking toward his partner holding a measuring stick (stadia rod).  Photo from sale items on EBAY.
The pocket Brunton transit for taking directions and reading slopes and angles. It took some skill and a steady  hand to use a Brunton accurately.  The Brunton could also be used as a hand level.

All geology students made their own Jake Stick, usually out of a thick dowel rod.  It was cut exactly to your eye height and a bubble was attached so it replaced a hand level.  In addition we stuck a rotating protractor on the stick in order to read the thickness of dipping beds.  A simple but nifty non-electronic instrument
Four other “must have” tools were: 1) an Estwind rock hammer; 2) a ten-power hand lens for magnification; 3) a pocket stereoscope for examining air photographs; and 4) a quality field notebook with appropriate pencils or permanent ink pens (no ball points). Nice to have tools were a hardness kit, either home-made or purchased, a tape measure, and a color chart.  I still have all of my original equipment except for the Jake Stick, the color chart and tape measure.  Of course, there were also the traditional army surplus canteens, knives, shovels, packs, coats, etc, and purchased cloth collection sacks (sample bags from drilling rigs).  Geology students, and other outdoor enthusiasts, were always on the lookout for surplus stores.  My favorite was in Fort Collins, Colorado.
The center hand lens was my original from the 1960s, the one on the right has both LED and UV lights, the left one is also lighted can easily lay on your desk or be carried in a jacket.
On geologic mapping projects we often used air photos obtained from federal agencies.  In order to see three dimension landforms on the photos a pocket stereoscope was used in the field while a larger mirror scope was available in the lab

What is left of my hardness kit with points of different hardness minerals mounted.  I also used a steel pocket knife and a quartz crystals and an unglazed piece of porcelain served as a streak plate.  A small bottle of acid (HCL usually) finished off the tools. 

Estwing pick and chisel head hammers (from their website).

My first rock hammer in Kansas had a chisel point with a leather handle.  The chisel was good for breaking shale.  Before heading to Field Camp (see Posting June 19, 2015) I purchased a blue handle, pointed pick for the hard rocks I would find in Colorado.  I have gone through several loupes but still have the original, along with a new one that is lighted with LED and UV.  My notebook with all of my dissertation field notes is filed with other books; however, earlier notebooks were misplaced (another word for lost).  I am not certain that air photos are still in use with computer programs such as Google Earth, widely available (and free).

One of the reasons that I became a paleontologist is due to the first, really nice fossil I picked up in a gravel pit.  The lower jaw of Bison sps., probably Bison bison, came from a deposit of Pleistocene gravel (a pit) along the Solomon River in Ottawa County, Kansas (my home county).  Now I had collected other miscellaneous items such as Cretaceous leaves (Dakota Formation outside of town) and Cretaceous clams and shark teeth (Greenhorn Formation on the numerous rock fenceposts) but this jaw was really, really nifty to me.  Wow.  What a find.  There was even a small article in the county newspaper about the discovery (somewhere in my files) by the”local kid”.  I believe this was a critical point in my life, a star guiding me to a career.

And finally, a textbook from my graduate days at the University of Utah.  Probably the finest instructor that I had in my higher educational experience was Armand J. Eardley.  Dr. Eardley was a geologist/gentleman in the old-time sense with khaki pants, often a tie in the field, and a gentle demeanor that led to a fantastic relationship between Dr. Eardley and his students.  He also was a tremendous help when it came time for my dissertation.  But perhaps the best advice I received from him was something like the following:  As a geologist and University instructor I spent much time attending meetings and working in the field. Always mentor your students and take them along to meetings. And,  I never forgot Mrs. Eardley at home, and she was particularly fond of silver jewelry.  Remember that as you move on in a career—I did.
Mentoring students Uinta Mountains, Utah.
“The past is a candle at great distance: too close to let you quit, too far to comfort you.”    Amy Bloom