Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Regolith, Orthoclase, and Other Lovely Words

I love rocks. I could spend hours in a dry stream bed, stumbling along with head bent and eyes on the ground. It’s time that should be spent with a companion, though. Not only so you’ll have someone to help you when you turn your ankle, but also so you can share the things you find: a whimsically shaped rock or one with a streak of exotic color or one that has been worn so smooth and round that it looks like it’s been polished.

Derrill and I try to bring back a rock or two whenever we travel. I have a one from Beartooth summit to commemorate the day we crossed that almost-eleven-thousand-foot pass on our way from Yellowstone to Custer’s Last Stand at Little Bighorn. I have another from Panaca summit, where we went to see the charcoal kilns. I have a beautiful hunk of rose quartz from South Dakota, and a much uglier piece of regular quartz from a mountain near Concunelly, WA (left). I’ve got lump of lava from Idaho, and a rectangular slab of red sandstone from St. George, Utah.

Little wonder, then, that when Derrill mentioned a geology course he had found on the internet, I agreed it was something we should do and ordered it from The Teaching Company.

This course consisted of eighteen hours of lectures in half-hour segments taught on DVD by Professor John J. Renton of West Virginia University. Sporting a curly handlebar moustache and with a genial manner and sly sense of humor, Dr. Renton made sure the lectures weren’t dry. The information was basic, which was good, because when Derrill and I were last in a college classroom, Plate Tectonics wasn’t yet being taught. We had lots to learn, including new vocabulary words. Two of my favorites were orthoclase and regolith.

Toward the end of the series, one of my sons called to visit, and as we talked about how much we were enjoying the class, I was going to impress him by dropping one of the terms into the conversation. But I couldn’t for the life of me remember it! I could remember the definition. I knew it started with an R, but I couldn’t summon the word. I went through the evening with a Grrr attitude, upset because I had forgotten my lovely new word and thinking that just as soon as it popped into my brain, I’d write an email to my son, telling him what it was and what it meant. The wow factor would be gone, but I would have redeemed myself.

I was just drifting off to sleep at midnight when the word came tiptoeing in to my brain. Regolith! That was the word.

“Are you awake?” I whispered to Derrill, wanting to share with someone the fact that I had remembered. He didn’t reply, so I turned over and muttered the word several times to myself to make sure that I’d have it when I woke up the next morning.

It didn’t work. I had to look it up in the lecture notes.

But that doesn’t matter. We’re on to Complexity now. It’s a math class, sorta. It’s only twelve lectures. And when we get through with that, we’ve got a short course on the history of the American Constitution, one on the history of the Bible and the making of the New Testament canon, one on the rise and fall of the British Empire, and one on the life and writings of C. S. Lewis. That should take us through the winter in fine shape.

These courses are quite reasonable if you buy them on sale, and there are always lots of them on sale. Check out the web site. You’ll find their Great Courses are a good workout for the gray cells. Except for vocabulary words beginning with R.


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Monique said...

Wow Liz I find we have more then just a love of writing in common. I took geology in college and I LOVE rocks. I rarely indulge myself however because my love of no clutter wins out, but I do enjoy looking at them...and I do have a piece of galena hanging round. In college my geology professor practically begged me to change my major...I aced the class with a 112%. I did enjoy it and, according to the professor, I'm somewhat of a natural. But my heart was set on psychology. I also have bought from the Great Courses company. We purchased a bunch of studies on the old testament...very secular view though. Don't recommend. But the others we have seen have all been good. I too recommend them.

Liz said...

Wow, Monique! I'll practice my vocab before I talk to you about geology. How fun to find we have yet another connection.