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  • Writer's pictureBecca Dzombak

Perks of a nerdy family

I spent Memorial Day weekend in Flat Rock, North Carolina (just south of Asheville) with ten of the women in my extended family. We were gathering for my aunt's 60th birthday and had a weekend plan filled with hiking, history, and (to be frank) wine. Flying in and seeing the hills and valleys, I added another item to our agenda: geology.

It can be hard to 'switch off' the geology lens. Walking around somewhere new, especially somewhere with topography and exposed bedrock, you just notice things. Noticing leads to thinking. Thinking leads to pulling up geologic maps. Maps lead to discussion. If you're with other geologists, it's fun. If not - it's hit or miss. Luckily, with my family, it's a hit.

As we drove from the airport in Charlotte up into the hills, the south's famous red soil began to pop out, prompting questions from the other folks in the car. We talked about how soils form, the local parent rock, oxidation, and soil fertility. The southern extent of the last glacial maximum. How geology affects agriculture and socioeconomics.

As we hiked in Pisgah National Forest, my cousins noticed the trail sparkling. I grabbed a piece of schist and muscovite and talked about the metamorphic process. We found garnets. We watched the soil color change underfoot as the bedrock switched to granite further up the mountain. From our view at the top, sitting on exposed billion-year-old bedrock, we could see the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge province. They asked about the formation of the Appalachians. We looked at a cross-section from the Piedmont to the Appalachian Plateau. We talked about orogenies. We took selfies.

I say "perks of a nerdy family," but what I really mean is curious. Being around smart people who ask good questions ('why is the soil color changing?' 'is there plastic in soils?') outside of grad school is so refreshing, and it's such a good reminder of why you like what you do. It's easy to feel removed from the 'real world' and get laser-focused on your tiny area of research; with geology, all I need to do is take a walk, pop on the geologist's perspective, and remember that I like what I do because it allows me to read the world in a way others can't - until I share it with them.

(Landscape view of the Blue Ridge mountains in North Carolina; mountains covered in green trees, with a blue sky dotted with clouds above.)
View of the Blue Ridge mountains from Looking Glass Rock in Pisgah National Forest, NC.

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