Friday, August 16, 2013

Damn, I'm good

There are all sorts of things I'm not very good at.

It's not that I don't do them, or like them, but a lot of the things I do and like to do I'm just not very accomplished in. I cartoon, but not like a real cartoonist and write but not like a real writer; nobody would pay me money to draw or write for them. I'm fascinated by history and military history (as you probably know) but nobody would hire me as a professor of history or to lecture on the Battle of Khalkhin-Gol.

I love to sing but I'm not a very good singer. I adore my bride but nobody ever confused me with a Great Lover (though I practice as much as she encourages me to...). I love my kids but will never be Father of the Year.

I still try and play soccer and lacrosse to the extent my hip will let me, but I was never better than a mediocre amateur player in either one.

I can cook a mean feojoada but I'm not good enough to be line chef at Denny's.

So I'm no different than most of any of us; I can whittle a bit, splint a fracture, ride a motorcycle, sew a seam, discuss a play, give a foot massage, be gracious when complimented, argue a point, paint a fence, share a companionable silence...but only to my limits which vary from severe to trivial.

But one thing I can do; I can do geology.

Late this morning one of my engineers asked me a question; "What's the age range of Holocene (that is, younger-than-10,000-year-old) sedimentary deposits in the Grays Harbor region of Washington State?"

Now I gotta tell you; I know from squat about the Holocene deposits in Grays Harbor. Never worked there, never really studied the place.


I DO know who has. And so I started chasing down the work of Brian Atwater and Curt Peterson, two geologists who have studied the impact of tsunamis on the Oregon and Washington coast.

When the Cascadia subduction zone detonates it typically does two things; it drops the coastline down anywhere from a couple of feet to a couple of meters, and it generates a big wave, a tsunami, that washes over the now-lower-coastline. This is usually preserved in the stratigraphic record as a layer of ocean-bottom or continental shelf sand over organic bay or even upland deposits. The old forest (or coastal swamp) is dumped into the ocean and then the big wave dumps the sand on top. Oh, and after that there's usually a slow uplift, so above the tsunami sand you get tide flat mud or even marine or beach sand that slowly gives way to upland soils and topsoil.

The two guys Peterson and Atwater have been studying this since the 1980s, and in the process have had to do a lot of drilling and coring along the Oregon and Washington Coasts. So I figured that if I tracked down their research I'd come across something that would point me in the right direction.

And as it happened, within twenty minutes I'd pulled up Peterson and Phipps (2012); a study that gave a direct correlation between sediment depth and age at Grays Harbor.

I provided the information to the engineer less than an hour after he'd asked the initial question.

Life has provided me with the usual number of censorious looks, shaken heads, pursed lips, and drawn-down brows. I've had my normal share of being laughed-at, bitched-out, and cussed at. I tend to think of myself as, I suspect, most mentally-healthy non-flaming-asshole people do; a mixture of accomplished and incompetent, a middling-sort of person with no more than average gifts.

But every once in a while I'm afforded a wave of pure satisfaction; every so often I scare myself by being extraordinarily good at something. Geology is one of those things.

I may never be a great artist, or lover, or leader, or singer, or father, or husband, or human being.

But geology?

I'm like a fucking Zen master at that.


BigFred said...

I can butcher a hog, and can draw a 2 iron (steel shaft) over a water hazard.

Podunk Paul said...

I think you're a better writer than you think you are.

FDChief said...

BF: Y'know, I had to learn to gralloch (remove the entrails) as a deer hunter and then in the service learned to cut up small animals, but actual large-animal butchering is a genuinely difficult skill. I mean, you can do a half-assed job with a little experience but you waste a lot of meat. To be able to do a truly competent butchering is a pretty darn enviable accomplishment.

Paul: (blush) Well, I try...

FDChief said...

On the subject of golf, however, I'm still in the "good walk spoiled" category. And that with my father the Master Chief a scratch golfer and all. Sad, but there it is.

dee said...

I totally agree with Paul.

Leon said...

One day, I dream a beautiful women will stand alone on a busy street and cry out "can someone explain Ancient Roman politics to me?"

And that will be my time to shine...

BigFred said...

I also agree that you are a better writer than you think (I am extremely critical of my cooking). My favorite uncle was a butcher, Navy Cook in WWII. In the time I spent with him over many summers in my youth camping and hanging about with my older cousins, the phrase, "Everything is easier with a sharper knife." was often mentioned. It was a small butcher shop in a small town and he was not the owner. It paid, both literally and figuratively to get all the meat off the carcass. And the pure magic of what he could to to a turkey in November was sublime. It has been many years since I have done it, but I would hope I still can,