What Geology did to me #1 – beard

I’m a metageologist, trained as a geologist but cast adrift amongst normal folk. I sometimes notice ways in which I’ve been marked by that training. Some are trivial, some not so much. I feel the need for a theme of quick whimsical posts so I’m going to talk about them a bit. Here goes…

Geologists like beer and have beards. It’s a cliché, but has a lot of truth to it; it certainly applies to me. I’m from the north of England so the beer thing came naturally (my dad buying me discrete half-pints in the pub from the age of 14). My beard I grew as an undergraduate studying Earth Sciences, so we can call this something Geology did to me.

Why did I grow my beard? Well, there were a lot of role models with beards – a good proportion of the teaching staff were beardies. My college tutor sported a fine specimen, wispy and slightly crazed. It definitely told you this man did a lot of fieldwork in Greenland; you weren’t surprised that he seemed to positively enjoy not washing during two months in the wilderness. Even some geophysicists, people ignorant of the pleasures of letting yourself go when in the field, were bearded, albeit they had neat goatee beards.

Why geologists and beards? Well, they are in keeping with the scruffy-chic cultivated by academics and people who don’t work in an office. Wearing a suit in my Geology department was definitely a sign of low status, marking you as a supplicant, looking for a job or selling something. Conversely taking no interest in your appearance marked you out as someone with no need to impress others. Not shaving fitted nicely into this.

Fieldwork is of course another excuse. It fits in with my beard’s birth, a rather fabulous summer of Geology where I stopped shaving as it ‘would have been too much trouble’. First I spent six weeks in Ireland doing my undergraduate mapping project. Next a month trekking in the Indian Himalaya, passing past Gumbarajon in Zanskar where the equivalent area of granite I’d laboriously mapped in Ireland was gloriously displayed in a massive vertical rock face. As well as the usual Indian tourist illnesses I discovered I had an allergy to my malaria pills which meant I didn’t eat for a fortnight while walking in the Himalayas. If you are looking for a weight loss programme, this I can recommend.

For the last event of this summer I arrived in Switzerland for an undergraduate field trip so fantastic that it was never run again due to excessive cost. I was not recognised by some fellow students, since as well as burning off my puppy fat, I had grown a beard. I found the contrast of the Himalayas with the Alps very stark. I really disliked the Alps as too tidy, too neat, too Gemütlich compared with the ramshackle majesty of the Himalayas. Switzerland consisted of neatly scrubbed rocks, above some manicured grass with cows, each with their own cute bell, with a public infrastructure that made England’s look shabby and chaotic. I hated it and took perhaps too much pleasure in being forced to dive behind trees and leave little bacterial mementos of my trip to India. Perhaps I was inspired by the shaggy majesty that now hung from my chin.

I still have a beard, as you can see from the photo to the right of here. It is slightly grizzled now, also a lot neater; trimmed and shaped, fit for the office. In my minds-eye though it really looks like this:

From Richard Thompson on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons via eng.letscc.net

Categories: What Geology did to me

Comments (2)

  1. Tony Bridge says:

    I would expect your Dad to buy you discrete half-pints, at 14 you’d probably not be able to handle more than one at a time! I’d also expect him to be quite discreet about it 😉

    My first beer was bought for me at age 15-ish by my surrogate father at the time, my English teacher at boarding school. The half of beer made a reappearance an hour or so later in the flower bed beneath the dorm window lol

  2. Ken says:

    My favorite University of Delaware Geology professor, Dr. Peter Leavens, sported a beard; as, do I. Cool slant on our species.

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