June 4, 2013 — I spent most of my youth surrounded by really intelligent people. It was mighty tough to have a coherent conversation at the family dinner table if the powers that be wanted to take you on, let me tell you.
My stepfather was a chiropractor who served on the state’s medical quality assurance board even though he wasn’t a medical doctor. He graduated second in his class, falling by a few points to — get this — his college roommate.
And my mother, a child of the depression who dropped out of school after the seventh grade to go to work as a waitress to help support the family, was actually just a wee bit brighter. Both were members of Mensa, a group that includes only the smartest 2 percent of people on the planet, and much to my stepfather’s consternation my mom scored a couple of points higher than he did on the group’s qualifying IQ test.
As one might expect, many of my parents’ friends were super-smart science folk, and many of our family outings were actually visits to uncommon places with some kind of specific scientific interest — the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor site (back in the days when the Sierra Club thought the proposed power plant was a good idea because it would provide virtually free power across the Golden State) or the God-awful New Idria mercury mine in the coast range or the hydraulic mining sites near Columbia where the gold miners washed away whole mountainsides or the search for a sunken Spanish treasure ship off the coast of Northern California (deduced, of course, after a careful translation and reading of the ship’s log). My stepfather took up scuba diving to study the plants and animals that live beneath the sea, caving became a family hobby so we could check out and consider the intimate details and differences between limestone and marble formations and then document them with photographs. My parents and their friends were into ologies of all sorts and varieties.
Even though I don’t really have the mind or the patience for science on that level (a list of Latin words phrases makes me scurry for cover), I not-so-happily endured my relative stupidity and enjoyed being around these people because at its core science is really very interesting stuff, and they were clearly so turned on by their individual fields of study.
So when I took a quick tour around Lake Almanor with geologist Charles Watson and recent master’s graduate Mike Parker the day after the earthquake, I took an unexpected trip back to the days of my youth. It was a real honest-to-goodness flashback.
I mean, a huge rock fall near Canyon Dam was practically the occasion for a celebration.
“Wow, look at that,” an excited Watson said as we neared a huge boulder on the side of the road that had fallen from a spot higher up the bank. “That would have caused an earthquake all by itself,” he quipped.
After nearly being rear-ended by an unsuspecting motorist, Watson pulled his pickup to the side of the road, and we busted the cameras out to joyfully record the event for posterity. Now most of us would drive right by that boulder without a thought and barely notice it. I’m not a geologist, but they are, and that makes all the difference.
Truth be told, we didn’t discover any world shattering artifacts during our quick tour around the lake, and except for some snapshots, a few scribbles in Parker’s notebook and this column, no one would ever know a thing about our adventure, but let me tell you this — it was a real blast.
Thanks Charles and Mike for the new memories and an unexpected journey down memory lane. I hope we can do this again some time.
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