August 4, 2012
Little details. Today is full of them. I’m under the impression that I’ll do better at altitude if I boost my cardiovascular health. Usually I spend much of May and June in the desert collecting fossils and hiking between canyon outcrops. Whoops. This year I stayed home to work on a quantitative project, so I’ve been indoors and sitting in front of a computer for months! With two weeks til the trip, I decided to get in shape the fast and “fun” way: scaling the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook staircase three or four times a week.
It’s a surprisingly happening spot here in south central los Angeles. From the top of a 340 foot staircase, you get a nice view from downtown to the beach, with USC and my neighborhood as a bonus. Weekend days, weekday mornings and evenings, the stairs are packed with people of all shapes and sizes; it’s nice to see angelenos getting some exercise. Plus, it’s pretty humbling to be catching my breath and slowly plodding when a four year old suddenly jets past me. After two weeks of this and some yoga, I’m feeling a little more human. Not that I’ll be racing around in the Andes, but I should at least be able to keep upright.
We often joke that it’s easy to hike if we have rocks in front of us. It’s so true! If I need to climb up a mountain, or a canyon, or a hill, I might look at the top and trudge along. If I have some rocks in front of me? If those rocks might contain the fossils I’m looking for? If those rocks there – just another ten feet – just five more feet – just! I get going pretty quick. So here I’ve been, in Los Angeles, and the faster I climb the harder my brain is trying to interpret the “rocks” on these darned stairs. Layers of concrete, layers of gravel… It will feel amazing to have actual 200 million year old rocks under my feet – and in front of my face – once again.
In the past when Dave and I have met to discuss my research, I’ve often been overwhelmed by the immensity of the tasks ahead. To many canyons, too complex of mountain fault systems between them, two many fossils, too many questions. Dave would lean back in his chair and say, “Remember last month when we were at Eagle Mountain, how far we got from the suburbans once Frank said which fossil to search for? This project is just like that. I’ve had students who look at the top of the mountain and they never can start. They just stand there saying, ‘You want me to go up there!?’ But if you just take it one step at a time…” And he’d convince me to write a proposal, or an abstract, or a paper.
Now here I am. Last year of grad school. Near the top of the dissertation mountain. It feels pretty good.
Talk is cheap, though. Ask me how I feel about this next week, when the mountain is real, and it’s in the Andes.