This is the fourth part in a short series from my time at field camp in college. You can read previous parts here. The last part will be posted next week.
I was alone, and things could have been better. Like if Doug was here. But it could have been worse too. Like if I had to work with anyone else. Last week during field camp, our field partners had been assigned, and while I liked the three guys I’d been assigned, let’s just say we had different work philosophies.
Doug’s hint during the mid term had cured my inability to read a map, and the last week had cured my desire for self-preservation. Since I had last heard Doug’s wahoo, I had nearly fallen off a cliff, been seconds away from being swept away by a swollen stream, bordered on heat exhaustion, and pushed the limits of my mental distress until it came close to breaking. (Or maybe it actually did break.) I hadn’t heard a single wahoo the whole time. Doug shouted from the mountain tops plenty, we just weren’t together. We weren’t even in the same canyon.
This week, I was glad to be working totally alone. Everyday, the TA would drop me off in the morning along a dirt road. Everyday, in the evening he’d be back on the road waiting. In-between it was all up to me. I didn’t see a single person.
If I wanted to talk to myself I could. If I wanted to sing “If all the Rain Drops” I could. (This was particularly pertinent, since it rained. Often. My feet squelched with every step I took. For an entire week.) If I wanted to wahoo I could do that too, but I didn’t.
My seven square miles were the farthest west in the class, which guaranteed my seclusion, since the bordering Indian Reservation and Ashley National Forest weren’t hot tourist destinations. Of course, if I needed company, there were always the cows, although, cows are not my favorite companions. They always look ready to gore me.
At first, the solitude and magnitude of it all was daunting. I, alone had to map my area. Yes we had mapped before, and on the mid term, I’d even mapped alone, but everyone was doing the same assignment. The map I made for this assignment was going to be used in a Master’s thesis and no one else was mapping it. If I screwed up, there wasn’t a backup plan.
When I entered my area for the first time, I didn’t have much to go on. We had only glanced at about a hundred different rocks that I could potentially stumble upon, and I had no way of know where I was geologically. This means I was unsure where I was in the span of 200 million years. I could have been literally anywhere (rivers, oceans, deserts) in that 200 million years, and only I could figure it out, because no one else was there. But you know what, I could take all the time I wanted, and identifying rocks is my thing.
Frontier Sandstone, Dakota Sandstone, Mowry Shale, Morrison Formation, Redwater Formation, Glen Canyon Formation, Duchesne River Formation. Duchesne River was like a weed. It covered everything. And halfway through the week, that’s what I had been walking through. All. Day. Long. Oh no, this wasn’t my idea. Our professor had hinted that maybe there was something that was actually interesting in this mess of a rock. I was going to do something useful, but he said go walk through the Duchesne River Formation all day.
The Duchesne was made up of the destroyed remnants of its ancestor rocks. A mere 40 million years old, it was the baby, having cannibalized it’s predecessors that were tens, hundreds, even thousands of millions of years older. The nature of the rock reflected its appetite. It had digested sandstones, shales, quartzites, and conglomerates, and now seemed unable to decide which of these it wanted to be. I am a geologist, and cringe when someone callously says, “A rock is a rock,” but the Duchesne River Formation, well it’s just a rock. It was boring and I had to walk through a ton of it before I could get anywhere useful.
A morning searching in the Duchesne was enough. I decided that I was, in fact, not going to find anything exciting. Climbing the large hill trying to escape the Duchesne River was harder that it should have been, but when I got to the top I could see across the northern valley, to where the older sandstones rested. That is where I wanted to be.
“This is a good time to eat lunch.” (Yes, I said this out loud. To myself.) It was also a good time to Wahoo. I was back on top of the world. I stepped onto a rock and opened my mouth. There was no one to hear me, no reason to be embarrassed. I had just talked to myself, but the wahoo wouldn’t come out. I couldn’t do it.
“The funniest thing happened today,” Doug said that night as we sat at a picnic table dipping French fries in Wendy’s Frosties. “I was on a hill, pretty high up and I decided to wahoo. I was wahooing a bunch, when suddenly there were all these cows around me. They were all just staring at me. It’s pretty creepy. So I made fun of them.” (See, talking to yourself, or cows, is not that weird.)
“You called the cows? How did you get rid of them?” I asked, savoring the icy chocolate and breathing in the warm summer air.
“Well I figured I would do like the cowboys,” Doug said with a smile. I gave him a quizzical look. He shrugged. “I yelled ‘Yah!’”
We enjoyed the sounds of the campground as we chewed the crispy fries. A volleyball game was materializing across the grassy field, and a family was roasting s’mores a few sites away. “I almost wahooed,” I said. “But I didn’t because, you know, I didn’t want to be chased by cows.”
Doug just laughed.