Thursday, March 27, 2008

Picture of the Day - Sierra Nevada fossils

This is another of those maybe not so fascinating pictures, but it was kind of exciting for me. Off in the Sierra Nevada foothills for a class field trip last weekend (see Picture of the Day - Sierra Nevada Foothills ) we had a bit of extra time, and we made an unscheduled serendipity stop in a section of the Mariposa Slate along the Melones fault zone at Don Pedro reservoir. I've not kept up with the latest paleontology of the metamorphic belt of the western Sierra Nevada, and mostly I remember statements in the old guidebooks that the fossils are rather precious and rare, due to the effects of heat and pressure on the former oceanic sediments.

Just the same, one of the recent guidebooks mentioned that some sparsely distributed fossils might be found here, so we stopped and gave it a shot. As it turned out, the only person to find anything at all was yours truly, the instructor, but I was quite thrilled to be able to pick out a few pelecypods from the Mesozoic-aged metasediments. It was the first time I have ever found any in these mountains.

Still, even though no one else found anything, my students seemed to find my enthusiasm catching, as they gathered around to see the small discovery. It is this kind of moment that makes teaching geology so satisfying. After the last few days of discussion about high starting pay in the petroleum and mining industries (Get Rich Being a Geologist! But...? ), it is good to remember that some kinds of work have other rewards. After teaching for twenty years, and committing to huge overloads every semester, I almost make what some undergrads are apparently being offered these days for starting pay. But I wouldn't trade a minute of my career for the money, and I look forward to doing it for the next 20 years (if they let me!). I love seeing the moment when one of my students sees Yosemite Valley or the Grand Canyon for the first time, and I love to hear the squeals of excitement from a bunch of cynical adults find a shark tooth or a fragment of dinosaur bone for the first time in their lives.

Thinking about teaching for a career? There is a lot to be said for enriching the lives of others!

1 comment:

Geology Happens said...

I agree with you on seeing students observe something for the first time. I teach a class in the summer where we canoe down desert rivers and do a floating geology field trip. Two summers ago, a student asked what that fuzzy stuff in the sky was. She had never seen the Milky Way before. She was pretty excited.