When I was a little kid, I used to stuff rocks and pebbles anywhere I could. My pockets, socks, shoes and mouth even served as particular hiding places. Of course, it is quite difficult for anyone to succeed in this world with bulging cheeks of granite or limestone. Naturally I was scolded for such habits and taught that the precious pebbles I placed in my tiny mouth’s frame were choking hazards. I know upon first-hand accounts that it is very challenging to make friends on the playground with a mouth nearly bursting with gravel.
Don’t worry, I’ve since lost the habit, despite the amusement I felt of watching my various, and short-lived, babysitters run screaming towards me, frantically trying to pry the rocks from my tightly clasped jaws. However, my interest in rocks never ceased. Those extraordinary bits of matter have fascinated me since I can remember. I decided that if I could not attempt to eat these little fragments, I would surely keep them close by. It was then that I began my rock collection.
The selection of a rock, and admittance to the collection itself, was no easy task. I would pick up rocks from literally anywhere. The beach obviously was one of the most productive places, but parks, backyards, canyons and even the side of the road served as distinct searching grounds.
Before choosing a rock, many factors went into my final decision. It would begin with my eye scanning the ground until I caught a glimpse of a rock that provided some aspect that separated it from all the others. I would pick it up and thoroughly analyze everything about it – its shape, texture, size and color. Over the years my rock collection increased in size, as did my sincere interest. Going to the beach became a place of geological exploration rather than an opportunity to lie in the sun or make sand castles.
Now, sometimes, if you’re lucky, you will meet a person who, without intention, changes you significantly. You may know this person for a fleeting moment or a lifetime, but the impact can be the same. For me, this person was Mr. Stock, my seventh grade science teacher. I was absolutely terrified of the man and so was everyone else. He was a Vietnam War veteran with a frightfully bad temper. Whenever a student was disruptive or forgetful, he would turn bright pink and throw a full-out tantrum. He was skinny, tall and grizzled. He was always clean-shaven and had long and lanky arms that he would throw above his head when he snapped. For fear of his wrath, I always kept silent.
I still enjoyed his class. Clearly I was naturally prone to loving earth sciences and evolution, so I did quite well. And even though Mr. Stock could snap at any moment – he had the tendency to throw a lab chair at a wall and proceed to crawl beneath his desk for 10 minutes of silence – to me, he had an amazing sense of humor. He would tell the class stories of pranks he pulled as a kid growing up on a farm in Iowa, or war stories about the interesting Vietnamese culture he had observed. He’d also tell us about his controlling wife, his mischievous basset hound and all of his annoying in-laws who always seemed to be visiting. I often had to cover my face with my hands because I’d be laughing so hard.
The odd thing about his stories was that, as hilarious as I considered them to be, I was the only one in the class who would be laughing at them. I would be shaking uncontrollably at the endless tales of relationships and inappropriate situations, while my fellow classmates simply gaped back unresponsively.
It was through these moments that Mr. Stock took an interest in me as not only an avid student, but also an engaged listener to his storytelling. After class once, he approached me with his personal science and evolutionary encyclopedia. I stood petrified with fear because this was not only a person whom I respected so much, but also someone who was extremely and violently unpredictable. He handed me the volume and urged I use it for my own further reference in the course.
Later in the school year, my family decided to move, and I would have to switch schools. As I spent my final days saying goodbye to friends and faculty, I realized that I still had Mr. Stock’s encyclopedia. I kept it until my very last day, not really wanting to part with it. As I placed it in his hands, he took it and said he’d hear about me someday. In my intense shyness, I could say nothing back save for, “Thank you.” I don’t know where he is now, but I wish I could thank him again.
From the encyclopedia he gave me, I soon knew about all the varieties of rocks. I came to learn that rocks are classified into one of the following three categories: igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic. Of the three, the one that sparked the greatest interest in me was sedimentary rock. This rock is formed from the intense pressure of air and water upon sediments of soil and minerals to form layers, hence its name. Each layer is laid down upon the previous layers through a process called “superposition.” The gaps between each of these layers are called “unconformities.”
The reason for my significant interest in solely these types of rock was how it necessitated millions of years of pressure to form only several sedimentary layers. No two are alike. I have many pieces of shiny quartz but it’s the sedimentary ones that truly stand out to me. I think it’s because on some level I humanized them; I began to think of people as rocks. Some people are immovable and ignorant boulders, but others are often these impressively and intricately layered individuals. Each has their unconformities, but through the very same pressuring processes became uniquely layered. Mr. Stock was layered. He had his familial hang-ups, a rural upbringing, a friend or two that went AWOL and he was assuredly nuts. He was also a phenomenal teacher who at the very least made one 12-year-old girl smile every now and again. For that, I’ll take all his unconformities any day. So keep to your rock collections, your odd hobbies, your various interests that grant the odd looks and jabbing jokes at your expense – these are the layers of your life.
Emily Felder is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.