Department of English

Fall 2010 Edition

My New Eyes

Kaitlin Pollock
Expressive 2010 2nd Place
Professor: Bryce Christensen

Marcel Proust, a French novelist, once stated, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." During my sophomore year of high school, all I wanted was a new landscape. It seemed to me that a world of fascinating discoveries lay on the horizon past my small hometown, just beyond my fingertips. That changed after I spent six weeks on a paleontological field crew with a group of people I never would have regularly associated with. That summer was a season of discovery about my surroundings, but more importantly it was a summer of discovery about me. It was then I realized it's often the times we least expect to learn something, we learn the most. That summer I was given new eyes that forever changed the way I viewed the world around me.

Tropic, Utah—my hometown. Population 642, including the cows. In today's world of "here and now," one would think that a person couldn't survive an hour and a half away from the nearest Wal-Mart. As someone who persevered through the "disadvantages" of small town America, I can say now that I am grateful I am a small town girl. My backyard was a wilderness of adventure—my imagination grew to be as big as the acres of alfalfa that envelop my small beautiful valley. As a child I ran free through the hills pretending to be Indiana Jones on a quest to unearth a treasure that would change the world. Huts were built, friendships forged, and happiness was felt in the arms of my small town. I wouldn't trade my childhood experiences for anything.

As one grows older, imagination fades until it's almost nonexistent; reality tugs on the arm and beckons further and further from the days of make believe. School, work, and extra-curricular activities thieved away what little free time I had. No longer was the world as it was for me as a child. Things regarded as important before started to seem unimportant and embarrassing. As I drifted away from the realms of innocence and imagination, differences between my life and others were brought to attention—the grass seemed to be greener on their side. As I transitioned into high school, this became even more apparent.

My cousin happens to be from a large city and, therefore, from a large school. When we would see each other, she would tell me about all of the exciting and fun classes she was taking that were offered in her large school. Ballroom dance, AP Art History, bowling—the list went on and on. What did I have to compete with that? Well, I could take biology, chemistry, and American government, all of which are required classes. The few electives my high school offered were broad, closely related subjects. I felt trapped. I was missing out on learning all of the "cool" subjects because of the size of my high school. I wished I could move away and broaden my horizons at a larger school.

My dad is a geologist who works at Bryce Canyon National Park for the Natural History Association. One day he mentioned that a position on a paleontological field crew studying Bryce Canyon was opening up to one high-school-age student in the county. He explained that Weber State University and BCNP were partnering up to expand knowledge on the fossils contained within the park. One student would be "lucky" enough to be on a crew with a professor of paleontology from Weber State and a hand-picked selection of his best college students. My first thought: I pity the poor nerd who gets that job. When my dad suggested I apply for the position, I laughed and told him I didn't want to. But the more he talked it up, the more I considered it. I ended up submitting an application with little expectations that I'd be selected. A couple of weeks later, I was notified that I got the job. Of course.

The project supervisor lived a couple houses up my street; I went to him to find out some details. He is a family friend and he certainly looks the part of a paleontologist. Standing at around 5' 11", this full-bearded man is one of the nicest people I have ever met. His contagious thrill for discovery and passion for his work radiates outwards and encompasses everyone around him. Ever since I have had the pleasure of knowing him, I have noticed that he is the type of person who makes me want to stop everything I'm doing and go find some fossils. That day I went to see him he welcomed me warmly and let me know what to expect once I started working. I was informed we would be doing a comprehensive survey of all the fossil content in Bryce Canyon National Park. This included hiking 3-5 miles of rugged terrain each day and locating possible fossil sites; taking 40-50 pound test bags back to base camp; washing and screening the dirt; and fine-picking the material under a microscope. It turned out that I would be on the crew with seven other people, all of whom were college juniors and seniors majoring in geology. I was suddenly very nervous about being a part of the crew. I started imagining them all as the type of people who were rough, rude, and wouldn't want anything to do with me. What if they don't like me because I'm so young? How am I supposed to get along with these people if none of them believe in the same things as I do or even have the same interests as me? These were some of the thoughts that tormented me, and I resolved that for the next six weeks I would be silent, just do my job, and try to ignore them without getting in their way. How little I knew back then…

My first day arrived. At 7:45 A.M. I found myself taking steps filled with apprehension up to my boss, Jeff's, house. I just could not see a way that it was all going to work out. Maybe I could fake sick, I thought to myself. Adorned in my backpack, hiking boots, and sun hat, I was introduced by Jeff to the rest of the crew. I remember being surprised that most of them were normal looking. I guess when you grow up watching movies you expect the average paleontologist to be in khaki shorts, a button up shirt, with tall socks and a goofy hat, but they wore everyday regular clothes. We all tried to make awkward small talk and I had never felt so out of place or different. Eventually we split up into smaller groups and then headed out to the vehicles to start the day. I was put in a truck with two of the guys—one a 6' 5" giant teddy bear, and the other a balding vegan with a bushy red beard. There I sat, smack dab in the middle of these bizarre smelling strangers wondering what I had gotten myself into. (One thing I learned during my summer internship is deodorant is not a top priority for field geologists.) The only thought on my mind? I'm going to kill my dad when I get home. As we set out for our destination, Cory, the giant teddy bear, reached for his iPod and selected a song to listen to. When he made his selection, time stood still. In that moment, my ears heard "Hotel California" by the Eagles. My eyes were opened, and I knew that all of my fears and assumptions had been dead wrong. These were my kind of people.

Throughout the course of the next six weeks, I grew closer to these people than I ever thought I would. As it turned out, we had much more in common than I assumed. They were great people who had unique views to offer me. They helped expand my views and opinions on life and the world. While sweating out in the hot summer sun, battling the bugs, climbing steep hills, and discovering fossils of ancient animals and dinosaurs, we forged a bond of friendship that will always make me remember that summer with a smile. Science brought a group of people together that never would have chosen to be friends under normal circumstances. Although we had many differences, it was our similarities that brought us together and helped us become friends. I was in better shape than most of them, and I knew just as much about fossils and fieldwork as they did. Together we were all in new territory. They had great senses of humor and were, in fact, regular people working towards a college degree, not the rough people looking for a fresh piece of meat to subject to mental bullying I had imagined. What these people helped me see through our experiences together was far greater than any Lasik surgery could provide.

The things I learned about Bryce Canyon, stratigraphy, ancient mammals, dinosaurs, and geologic time were interesting. They gave me a greater appreciation for our historic predecessors and my hometown area. It also validated my beliefs, and offered me opportunities to grow into who I am. I realized that I was in a very unique situation most individuals would never find themselves in. I was a part of a research team that basically mapped the fossil content of Bryce Canyon National Park. We discovered things that helped enlarge the understanding of the Park's historic environment. Even my cousin with her fancy classes couldn't compete with that.

Overall, that summer holds fond memories. There were days when I was tired of packing a heavy pack filled with dirt that may or may not have contained things we were looking for. There were days I thought I was going to die attached to a microscope. And the gnats? I cursed them every day for their relentless and incessant flying into my ears, mouth, eyes, and nose. But, I wouldn't have had it any other way. That experience changed me. It brought the realization that life is about the here and now—what we make of the situations we are given. Different situations arise in everyone's life; the uniqueness of our opportunities provides chances for lessons to be learned about ourselves. There is always something good in any situation. As someone who grew up in a small town, I can confidently state that I was provided exclusive circumstances that I'm proud of. Further still, since I have grown up ten miles away from a national park, I have been provided with additional opportunities that others may not ever dream of having. I rarely considered my environment to be positive until that summer. It was then I realized that I was raised in the greatest town in the world. My new eyes help me continue to see that every day.