It's taken me about a month to process the experiences I had during my residency in March. Writing about them has been an important part of digesting the journey. I spent about three weeks in Scotland, which was the kind of trip I spent so much time preparing for that once I arrived, it felt like I was walking in a dream. I knew I would be going to places that were important to my work, but to actually be there felt surreal. I think that this post is as much for me as it is for anyone interested in my process or what I did while I was away. It's not only a documentation of my residency and rock adventure, but a look back on the wonderful privelage of travel that I've enjoyed.
After arriving in Edinburgh, I rested up for a night and then immediately departed via train for Dunbar, the town closest to Siccar Point, one of the most important destinations of my trip, and the reason I was arriving a week before my residency. This is a kind of mecca for students of geology, and although Scotland is filled with geological wonders and sites that could keep you busy for an entire lifetime, nothing compares to this one place for me. After settling into my room at Dunbar, I walked around the High Street for awhile. I still felt as if I was half awake, not really grasping that I was in Scotland yet. I visited the birthplace of John Muir, a gorgeous white building at the north end of the street, with extremely helpful folks inside. I met a local artist named Gordon who helped me plan my journey to Siccar Point, giving me advice on the best way to get there. I think at this point I started to feel like my feet were on the ground.
After a lunch of chips and haggis (which I promised myself I had to try this time), I set off down to the bay for an afternoon walk full of exploration. I wandered around the remains of Dunbar Castle, then scrambled onto the rocks of Lamer Island, tracing the lines of the dikes in the sandstones. I found and collected amazing samples, inculding some slate with pyrite inclusions that I held up like a treasure. I wanted someone else to witness my find! But I was alone and digging around where no one cared what I did. My pockets started to get heavy with how many rocks I was sticking in them, when I realized that this was only my first day in Scotland. I tried to be more selective with what I was picking up, but it was difficult. I went north along the John Muir Way, walking the coast and stopping every 100 yards or so to bask in the richness of the view. I was absolutely astounded at what I was taking in, but moreso, I was getting my bearings. This was the place I had read about, dreamt about, and wished to see -- and here it was in front of me.
I ended the evening with a delicious whisky in the bar of the hotel I was staying at, listening the sound of the locals' voices telling stories about their jobs, their babies, and their boyfriends. I knew the next day would take me to Siccar Point, and as I tried to fall asleep back in my room, I could only imagine what the rocks would look like in real life. On Saturday morning, after a full Scottish breakfast, I began my hike out to that fabled point at the entrance of the James Hutton Trail.
After 20 to 30 minutes of hiking, my face burned by the cold winds, I finally reached the entrace to Siccar Point. It can be best described as a rocky promontory that juts out into the North Sea like a picture of the broken past. I was standing on the grassy hill above it, looking down.
I'll save the romanticized tales of its visage for another time, however this was truly a moving moment for me. One I won't soon forget.
I recall the difficulty at making it down the hill, slipping with each step I took, my shoes caked in mud, and the eventual decision to slide down on my butt toward the bottom. How would I get back up? I'd figure that out later. When I finally reached the end of the steep trail, I was relieved as you can probably imagine. Now warm, I shed layers and left them on the first boulder I found, and set my sights toward the contact point that I'd so longed to touch. Careful not to slip (for one wrong move left me stranded), I reached the boundary of Silurian and Devonian, a ground up conglomerate settled somewhere between the two. I ran my fingers along the tilted greywackes. I found myself giddy, quite like John Playfair when he arrived with Hutton in 1788, but at the notion that these rocks seemed to tell me a story.
After all my hours of exploration at Siccar Point, I knew I'd need to begin the journey out, and I'd have to give myself at least an hour to catch my ride back to Dunbar. I started climbing the hill back out, which was not a walk or even a steep hike but a literal free climb along the side of the hill. The hill was stepped in such a way that it was "easy," however I am not accostomed to any sort of wall or rock climbing. I really talked myself through that one like a champ. Once I reached the crest of the hill (cliff), I celebrated by collapsing. Then I took a picture of my tired-ass self.
The following day I returned to Edinburgh with the express purpose of visiting Arthur's Seat. I had one day left until I departed for my residency and I was, in effect, following in Hutton's footsteps. There are some amazing geological features to see at this site, the remains of an ancient volcanic plug. I am not as well-versed in igneous rocks as I am sedimentary ones, but so much of Scotland's geological history includes volcanic activity as an agent of change. I was mainly interested in seeing the Salisbury Crags and then leaving, as I was exhaused from my previous day's trip and still wished to rest up. After four hours of hiking, and one accidental tumble down some rock steps when I lost my balance, I finally came to the crags. I'll again summarize that this is actually another outcrop in which Hutton recognized that previous beliefs about how the earth worked, its cycles and its age, had to be incorrect because of what was factually present just by "reading the rocks." I find his tenacity and ability to understand rocks something of a fascination, to say the least.
Tomorrow, I will publish a post that delves into what I worked on at my residency at Hospitalfield, who I met there, and my trip to Paris afterwards.