Saturday, October 30, 2010

Why Do I Like Geology

I’ve been asked to say what I like and don't like about my work or my life as a geologist.
--SIDE NOTE: I don’t often call myself a scientist, but I call myself a geologist, which I've heard is supposedly some kind of scientist, though I wonder some days, or maybe I just wonder about some people. Whew!--
These are questions that I’m rarely, if ever, asked in real life. What I’m usually asked is, what do you do as a geologist, because most people—as far as I can tell—don’t have the vaguest idea what a geologist does. When I’m asked that, I say vague things like, I map the geology out there, you know, the rocks (because I’m a rock person). Sometimes I’m asked—by people who have an idea of what a geologist might do, and who know that I work for mining companies—how is it that you find gold or whatever-it-is you’re looking for out there. Well, then I mention mapping to find out what is out there, drilling to delineate and define the ore, and looking for various hints and clues that depend on the commodity and ore-deposit type that I might think is worth looking for (or for which someone has paid me to look, if I haven’t had the chance to decide that for myself). I explain that some things look good because of past associations: certain colors in the rocks, certain types of brecciation, certain minerals, certain structural conditions, and possibly things like quartz veins if one happens to be trying to find a vein-type deposit—but maybe even if one isn’t, because quartz veining can indicate that something is going on in the area, some mineralization processes may have been at work.

And I explain that, really, to understand these things, to discover something undiscovered or to further delineate something already discovered but not yet large enough or good enough for anyone to want to come in and mine, that I or someone will have to sample the rocks, because assays and geochemical analyses need to be performed; these are necessary so I can tell what is really in the rocks and not just end up going on past associations. Past associations can lead you in a right or wrong direction, and that direction may just depend on blind luck. So samples are necessary, geochemistry is required.

And then I explain that I’m often working on a drilling project, whether it’s an early stage drilling project nearly immediately following the mapping and sampling phase or whether it’s an intermediate or end stage drilling program, where a mineral deposit of some kind has already been discovered or even partly drilled out. And that, once again, many samples with assays and geochemistry are required. Because, although a really good geologist can estimate copper grade in some kinds of deposits, gold grade is quite elusive, even in vein deposits where some of the gold might be quite visible.

So, what is my most favorite thing? The problem I have with this question is ultimately my problem with having favorites. I used to be asked to say what my favorite color was. I had to make that up. Because, really, I didn’t have one. I like, and have always liked, a hell of a lot of colors. Some not so much, most quite well. For a while I really liked lavender, and then I decided to have blue as a favorite color, perhaps as a reaction against the ubiquitiously female pink. At some point I decided that I didn’t like green—that was after living on the east coast where all the overgrown vegetation was obscuring my view of the geology. Now, there really aren’t any colors I dislike completely, although there are several that I favor, including magenta, various shades of purple, and some shades of green—among many others.

So again, what is the thing I like best about my work or my life as a geologist? I think primarily I like or even love rocks. I like working with them, I like being around them (they don’t talk too much, for one thing), and I like trying to figure out what they’ve been doing all the many eras, eons, and epochs that they’ve been in existence—depending on their geologic age. I also love the concept of geologic time, now popularly called deep time, and I’ve loved it for a long time (for me, that is—geologically speaking I’ve loved the concept of deep time for barely an instant). The rocks don’t even really have to be consolidated or rock-like, yet, for me to like or love them. Unconsolidated materials—soil, alluvium, gravels, sand—these are all rocks in the making, although many of the unconsolidated deposits won’t be preserved for future geologists to look at, but some of them will. And when I’m working with these unconsolidated materials, deposits, and formations of Anthropocene, Recent, or Pleistocene age—which I have mapped in some detail, and even drilled when needed—I often think about whether these particular deposits will get preserved and someday become rock, as though becoming rock is the primary purpose of being a deposit of any kind. (Yeah, maybe that’s weird, but that’s where deep time meets future time in my mind.)

So, now we’ve established what I like best—and because I like rocks best, and because I'm an exploration geologist looking for minerals, a few things become required, whether I like them or not. These requirements generally include that I travel for work, because one usually runs out of backyard rocks fairly quickly, and because the mineral deposits I'm finding, mapping, sampling, drilling, and delineating aren't usually found in my backyard (somone's backyard, maybe; if they had been found in my backyard, I'd alreay be rich and would just be blogging and traveling for a living).

Traveling, therefore, is a requirement. There are jobs that don’t require quite as much traveling; these are usually at or near mines. Some of these jobs require long commute times, and they usually require long working hours. By long commute, I mean as much as 2 hours in one direction. For compensation, the pay is often good, and sometimes the time off is good. Also, because travel away from home base is often required (except sometimes when working at mines), staying in motels becomes almost second nature. It used to be something I didn’t like, something that for some unknown reason even made me anxious. Now it’s nice to get away, at least for a while, and one reason that's so is that the rooms are almost always clean and not cleaned by me, and they have a greater feeling of space than the little house I currently live in.

And what do I dislike about the life? (Yes, we call it that: the life, like we were in the mafia or something.) That can depend on a particular job, but one thing that can be bothersome is office-type politics. Traveling away from the office, if one happens to have an office, gets one out from under the keen eyes of sometimes overbearing or over-managing bosses, gets one away from gossip and other related office antics, and can allow one the freedom to do one’s job properly. In the wide open spaces, one can feel free—even in these days of constant “on” required by cell phones and such, especially because cell service is not available in many prime exploration areas—unless one happens to be close to mines, freeways, major cities. Of course, by Nevada standards many of the “major” cities I’m referring to are quite small. Which is another good thing, for the most part.

What I have found over the years is that almost all good things have their downside in some circumstances, that good things become bad things, maybe just with repetition, maybe just because of the oppositional nature of things—and likewise for bad things. The things I don’t like under some circumstances can become things I like under other circumstances, and the things I like can become things I don't like, at least for some time being.

As far as using the things I like to motivate myself through things not liked: yes, I think I do that to some extent, but in some situations I’m more likely to motivate myself with things that arean’t strictly work related, by finding something that keeps my mind entertained or keeps me inspired. These things might be as simple as taking photographs when there is time, or finding something at work that I can do that is both helpful and personally rewarding, even though it might not be required or expected. And then other times I just plow through, knowing that mineral exploration is quite variable by nature, and that I’ll be doing something else soon, maybe tomorrow, maybe in a few months—but soon in the long scheme of things, and instantaneously by the standards of geologic time.


Lockwood said...

My stock answer to the "favorite color" question is paisley.

Silver Fox said...

Haha! That's an even better answer.

Ron Schott said...

I'm particularly fond of that new LED traffic light green. Mmmm, green. :-)

Wonderful post, Silver Fox. When it comes to rocks, we think alike.

Gaelyn said...

I like the sound of your job, but think I'll keep mine. After I'm done with a geology talk inevitably a visitor will ask if I'm a geologist. I always tell them I'm a generalologist. Don't know squat about lots of things.

Silver Fox said...

Thanks, Ron! And the first and only link goes to EGF's site, a wonderful green. :)

Silver Fox said...

Gaelyn, many explorationists are generalogists, maybe not to the extent your job requires. Love the word!

EcoGeoFemme said...

Great post! Green is my favorite hands-down, but I bet you're not surprised. ;)

I bet many of us could say that the best parts are the worst parts too, depending on the confluence of many factors.

Thanks so much for writing something for the carnival!

Silver Fox said...

Thanks, EGF! And your green - I love it. :)