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Jim Letourneau's Blog

Investing, Technology, Travel, Geology, Music, Golf. I think that covers it.

Geology Books, Glaciers and Guinness

Last week, Julia and I agreed to start cleaning up the garage. I have been married 8 months now and some of my possessions are still sitting in boxes out of sight... except when trying to squeeze 2 cars into a 3 car garage. If our garage burned down tomorrow, I know I would quickly adapt to the absence of those boxes. I recall the frantic packing and moving of those boxes, with emergency assistance from my buddy Howard, right up until a few hours before the rehearsal dinner. Most of what remains in those boxes consists of my personal geological library. My area of specialty is petroleum hydrogeology and geochemistry - a good percentage of what I know ended up in a CSPG Technical Luncheon talk called Regional underpressure and gas saturation in the Upper Cretaceous and Tertiary of Central Alberta. Pretty obscure material, even for geologists. I like to think it challenged some people's assumptions. For some reason I chose to pursue the study of the fluid pressure and chemistry as opposed to the rocks themselves. I like to think of it as inside-out geology. This perspective is extremely useful in developing exploration models for large continuous gas accumulations. Anyhow, while some of my geological books are outdated, many contain the kind of information that doesn't show up in a Google search - at least not yet.

In going through my boxes of books there were a few obvious throwaways, a few keepers and a large pile of indeterminate books that I'd hate to not have "just in case" I need them. I found the experience frustrating. Julia was patiently coaching me along as I struggled to be ruthlessly efficient. One box of books that was definitely a keeper consisted of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes (3 volume hardcover) and The Complete Far Side (2 volume hardcover). One of the often ignored secondary considerations of packing is that just because items will fit into a box, doesn't mean that anyone will be able to lift them safely. I did not bend my knees or lift with my legs. I was going for an awkward back-wrenching 20 kg (or about 44lbs) pull up of comic brilliance. My back reacted by going into a brief spasm.

The last time I'd done some awkward heavy lifting was some 25 years ago and the object in question was my brother. We don't wrestle anymore. I spent the morning after trapped in the bathtub. I pulled a towel bar off the wall trying to pull myself up, forgetting that I was at home instead of in a university residence designed to withstand beer swilling barbarians.  I'm no stranger to back issues but it has been a very long while since I had an "episode". This was the culmination of an assortment of physical and emotional stresses...a sign... a wake-up call.

I gamely tried to continue going through my books, but found myself tearing-up as I dug through the next box and found some of the first consulting reports that I had authored. While I discovered late in life that crying at movies is a brilliant tactic in gaining female affection, I don't think it works as well in the middle of cleaning up the garage. My wife, who multi-tasks in dimensions that I am unable to visualize, was looking to find a quick solution to my little breakdown. "Are you OK? What's wrong?, What happened?", I was peppered with questions. I'm sure she was wondering if she had married a physical and emotional train wreck. Though I have degrees of emotional awareness, I find that clarity often reveals itself at a glacial pace. Not fast enough to answer Julia's questions - I needed some quiet time. A few days away from the garage, maybe a few weeks.

Anyhow, to make a short story long... one of the very few books that I found easy to part with was a paperback thesaurus (1 down, 200 to go). I have been using  Thinkmap's Visual Thesaurus for a couple of years now and not only does it make looking up words fun, it replaces a book or two. One of their "Word List" features caught my eye because it was about melting glaciers. It features a great list of words that my geological brethren are familiar with. Words like: meltwater, silt up, hydrologist, tectonics, wetland, water table, global warming, conservancy, glacial, climate change, seal level, sediment, grassland, shoreline, ecosystem, greenway, geologist, boggy, topographical, dry land, environs, habitat, species, crust, and refuge.  Some of these words lack synonyms, a near complete absence of lexicographic competition. Every group has their jargon but geological words are rarely presented in print to "civilians".

Fancy words like "glacial isostasy" or "isostatic post-glacial rebound" are what geologists use to describe what happens when glaciers melt. That these were left out of the article provided me with a minor degree of smugness. It appears that listening to lectures while in a dream-like state has provided me with the gift of geology trivia recall. As long as the concept wasn't on an exam, I'll never forget it. In my twilight years, I'll be in a locked dementia ward, unable to remember my children's names (I'm already having trouble with their ever increasing ages... is it 12 and 15, 12 and 14, 13 and 15?) poking my jello and talking about glacial rebound.

If you are fortunate enough to know a geologist, they will happily demonstrate the principle of isostasy for you. All that is required is that you buy them a pint of Guinness (of course they will insist that it is properly poured - perfect pints work best).  The line of contrast between the creamy head and the dark beer can be distorted by pressing down on the head of the beer. If you pretend that the Guinness head is a glacier and the beer is the earth's crust, you'll have a partial understanding of the concept. A deeper perspective may require that you buy the geologist several pints. If you're lucky they might even explain the origin of the Guinness cascade... how can those nitrogen bubbles be moving downwards?

I am better prepared to to detach, let go and declutter now but first I plan to meet with some fellow isostasy experts. Maybe they'll provide a good home for my geology books.