Friday, November 12, 2010

Changes of the Seasons

It gets dark so early now. Although it’s a sense of false autumn in Houston, this time of year always reminds me of running in the woods in November for my high school cross country team. There was always such a feeling of desolation around this time of year in the Northeast. The trees are barren and skeletal, the ground damp and cold with fallen leaves, and the sky just full of the foreboding of winter. We ran in the woods on gravelly paths, but for some reason I thought the woods then were just as beautiful as in the height of summer or spring, despite the barrenness. Most of the time the sun would be setting and you could just see the fading sky lit up behind the bare trees. I always think of this time in November, wherever I am. It gives me a deep sense of loss and yearning.

Anyway, I wasn’t much of a runner then nor am I now. I usually came in almost always last at meets, but for some reason I liked going to them. Maybe it was because of the quietness of running through the woods. We ran in the hills behind a big cabbage farm and the smell of it was interesting mixed in with the crisp, sharp smell of forest dirt. I think that farm is gone now. There’s not much empty land like that left on Long Island.

I miss autumn so much this year. It’s a deep, wrenching yearning rooted down in my soul somewhere. I’ve always felt a sort of sadness when the seasons change. Why is that, I wonder? The time between the seasons is like a gear is shifting somewhere in the Earth, transitioning into the next lull, the next period of sameness and constancy. Take spring for instance. Out of the long quiescence of winter, one day the snow begins to melt a little. A crocus bud peeps meekly out of the earth. It is followed by several other tender green shoots, and then blossoms – the first blossoms of spring. Then early buds on some of the trees come out. The snow is all melted by now, and we have cool, wet days. The earth is uncovered and you can smell it in the air, you can definitely smell SPRING – just like you can smell the rain before a big storm. Then on the fringes of the woods, like on Northern Parkway on Long Island, the dogwoods unveil their delicate white flowers, like floating saucers amidst a forest of thin, black boughs. But this is all a transient state. Soon the buds mature, the days become warmer and warmer, and before we know it the lethargy of summer is upon us again with its weight of heavy ripening fruits and dense foliage. So heavy and dense, it just stays that way until fall comes, when everything changes again in preparation for the long, dull winter.

Back in September, I was walking back to my car in the neighborhood around Rice and found a few scattered autumn-colored leaves on the sidewalk. Of all trees, it had to be a Chinese talo, which is an invasive species down here in the South. Anyway, because my path had not crossed a maple that was probably sheddings its autumn foliage at the same moment, I picked up the talo leaf and kept it – the first piece of autumn! I pasted it right under an “Indian blanket” I had pressed in my notebook months ago… in spring.

And here are a few flowers from the last of summer (Texas-wise) - collected in early October during the department's new grad student field trip. These were collected on the side of the road somewhere just south of Enchanted Rock, when we stopped by to look at a Cretaceous chalk bed.

And finally... I have to put this here because the morning light shining through this morning glory was just so beautiful. When we were last up at Llano just this past weekend, all the morning glories had stopped blooming. So I'm glad i was able to catch them before the winter.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

River cobbles

This past weekend we went up to Llano for a class field trip. Along with the plentiful granites up there, we checked out a serpentinite quarry, where I picked up a few pieces with nice chromites - tiny, glittering specks embedded in magnetite layers. Spinel is a really cool mineral. I've really warmed up to spinel lately, having a newfound admiration of it. They are little engines that definitely could - recording melt depletion despite massive whole-rock metasomatic events. Spinel has hidden beauty you can only see under reflected light, it can take on a multitude of forms and textures in peridotites, from euhedral to holly-leaf shaped, sometimes wormy, or variably intertwined with garnet. Here's a spinel that underwent some sort of breakdown. You would never guess that such an unassuming mineral could have such a spectacular texture.

OK and back to the Llano trip - here is a very interesting river cobble I picked up.

You never know what you might find in a river.

On a final note, I like Daylight Savings Time more this year than last. I feel somewhat more in tune with the seasons than a few weeks ago, when I was feeling completely discombobulated.