How many times have you gone trekking and wondered about an unusual mountain canyon? Have you driven past a road cut and marveled at the exposed rocks, or just picked up an interesting pebble to shove in your pocket for study later ?
Few of us ever graduate from that wonder to geological literacy. It’s not surprising. The barriers seem too high: the terms are often technical and off-putting to all but the most dedicated rock hound or professional geologist and the geologic timeline is hard to fathom. So as a consequence most of us remain geologically illiterate.
Yet understanding our geologic Earth is just as important as understanding the thin film of life on its surface. Our planet is 4.6 billion years old, and the oldest living things, tiny simple cells, didn’t appear until 3.6 billion years ago. Life didn’t colonize on dry land until 440 million years ago. This Earth has gone through countless violent affronts in its past and it always rights itself. Whatever we throw at it now with our misuse and destructive habits, this earth will not be destroyed. We might disappear and take countless species with us, but our earth will survive in the same way it has for eons, until the star it circles winks out. Don’t we owe it to ourselves to better understand this resilience?
How can we hope to grasp that deep history, most of it occurring eons and eons before anything crawled up on a beach? For most of us, images offer a way in. We humans are visual, story telling creatures. We’re drawn to images from the natural world and beyond. Think of the images sent back by the Mars Explorer, Alvin the submersible, or tunneling electron microscopes. These unseen worlds barley existed for most of us until we saw intriguing images. Then we were drawn into the stories, opening up a clearer understanding for ordinary people. Photography has been instrumental to scientific understanding since its invention. These images of rocks help to give us the visual description we need to begin a dialogue toward understanding.