Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Writers Wednesday

Today's guest is retired geologist, Albert Lamarre. He shares his experience in crafting his book Mountains, Minerals, and Me and offers an interesting glimpse into his life of exploration.

Briefly, what's your book about?  
Mountains, Minerals, and Me: Thirteen Years Revealing Earth’s Mysteries is an account of the thrills and adventures of author Albert L. Lamarre, a young exploration geologist who learns not only about the rocks he is exploring but about himself. Enjoy his journey as he vividly recounts his first exposure to the geologic wonders of the western United States, the unforgettable characters he met along the way, and the scenic wonders of beautiful landscapes in which he worked. Follow him over a thirteen-year period as he grows from a wet-behind-the-ears new college graduate to a respected professional geologist who made contributions to the country’s natural resource base. The personal discoveries described here will resonate with many readers. So sit back and enjoy his exploration exploits―from being held captive at gunpoint by a Texas rancher’s daughter, to having his Tucson company-office bombed, to being left in absolute darkness in an underground mine in Idaho, to coming face-to-face with a rattlesnake in northern Washington.
This is a true-life story of the adventures and perils of a young exploration geologist who learns about himself and the geologic wonders of the western United States.
This book will be of interest to anyone who enjoys science (especially geology), travel, adventure, local and regional history and geography of the western United States, and the excitement of meeting new people and seeing new places. The book will also be of interest to students considering exploration geology as a career. The book genre is non-fiction autobiography, containing elements of science, action and adventure, and travel.

What led you to write the book? 
This book started out about six years ago as a project to clean out my garage. As I dug through boxes of old stuff, I came across dusty field notebooks, crinkled photos, and project reports that had not seen the light of day for a long time. Being curious, I then started to read through some of the material and I became really interested. I had forgotten a lot of the details of my exploration career that I was now reading about while sitting on the garage floor.
Consequently I started taking notes, just for myself, because my memory isn’t as good as it used to be. “I don’t want to forget about this,” I said. As time progressed, it occurred to me that my wife and two daughters probably don’t know much about this stage of my life, so maybe I should share it with them by writing it down. And so I started doing so. As time went on, this morphed into a project with a wider audience; maybe my broader family and even some close friends might be interested in my story too. So they became part of my target audience. Then it occurred to me that some of those people I worked with forty years ago would like to recall some of our adventures together by reading my narrative.
But perhaps most importantly, partway into the writing process I wondered if current geology students actually know what an exploration geologist does in the field. Do they know what they might be getting into if they became field geologists? So I did a web search and found that there were no published books that I could find that addressed this subject! Here was a considerable void in geologic education that I thought I could fill. Therefore, young people and geology students became my most important target audience.

What challenges did you face in the writing? 
There were two big challenges – trying to recover the details of things that happened up to forty years ago, and then trying to convey the information in a compelling and readable fashion. Fortunately, out of necessity field geologists must take good field notes and I was lucky enough to have kept all of mine. These were notes taken on a daily basis. And I still had my project reports that I had written at the completion of each exploration project. The Internet helped me fill in some gaps as to geography.

As for composing a readable document, that’s where my wife Janet provided invaluable assistance. She was my chief editor and critic. Without her the book would not have happened.

Please share one of your favorite "in the field" stories.
Oh gosh, I have lots of these, but this is my favorite.
In mid-June 1983, I was arrested in West Texas! Intrigued by the potential for discovering gold in Proterozoic rocks there, Vic Chevillon from Noranda’s Missoula, Montana office and I went exploring in the Van Horn area southeast of El Paso where we experienced the long arm of the law. As we drove along, we saw an outcrop in a field a little way off the highway, so we decided to stop, climb over the fence, and take a look. No harm in that, is there? Well, yes there is! Unlike in other states, all land in Texas is privately owned, and the ranch owner didn’t take kindly to our beating on the rocks on his private property.
Upon returning to our vehicle after a short traverse through the rancher’s barren field, we were met at the fence by the rancher’s daughter and her trusty shotgun; it was pointed right at me from just a few feet away. Clad in a dirty, white T-shirt and raggedy jeans, her body language meant business―she was wound tighter than a spring. “What do you think you’re doing? This is private property,” she said with an intense sneer on her less than attractive face surrounded by long, stringy hair. It was obvious this sturdy, rough-looking blonde was not to be trifled with.
Her older brother was called, the constable was called, the sheriff was called, and then her father arrived. He mumbled something about his land, paying taxes, and “Who do you think you are?” and the Constable informed us in no uncertain terms that we had trespassed on the rancher’s land and violated his privacy. The sheriff arrived in a cloud of dust and told us, “This old boy doesn’t want anybody on his ground. We’ll let the judge decide. You can either follow me or …” Whereupon we were escorted with lights flashing the entire twenty miles to the Hudspeth County courthouse and jail in Sierra Blanca, Texas.
On our escorted drive to town, Vic and I tried to guess how much it would cost to get out of this mess, and we wondered if we would have enough cash in our pockets to pay the fine. This was late on a Friday afternoon, and we didn’t think the office manager of Noranda’s headquarters office in Denver would have time to wire money to us. We certainly were not looking forward to being guests for the weekend at the Hudspeth County jail.
The decider of our fate, Judge Doyle Ziler, was attired in a rumpled, gray, cotton suit that matched the worn paint on the concrete floor of his office. He was a genteel, scholarly enforcer of the law, and justice was expeditiously dispatched. “Guilty!” After duly admonishing us, he fined us ninety-six dollars each, which we were able to cover. Whew! You can bet that went on my expense account! After saying our “Sorrys” and “We’ll never do it again,” we hightailed it out of the state and never conducted exploration in Texas again! Ever since, Texas has not been my favorite state. Someone once said that bad decisions make for good stories, and that was certainly supported here.
Vic and I received a prestigious company award for surviving this unfortunate incident—the coveted “Noranda AWSH** Award”, one of my most precious possessions. It states:
“Everyone knows that 1,000 ATTABOYS qualifies one to be a leader of men, and that one AWSH** Award returns the recipient to square one. It grieves me no little, therefore, to be faced with the need to tender this dubious award. I would not, indeed could not, perform this reprehensible task were not the facts so clear, the deed so onerous, the culpability so apparent. It is with great pain, much distress, and considerable chagrin that I hereby award, not one (1), but two (2) AWSH**S, one to Albert L. Lamarre and another to C. Victor Chevillon for getting CAUGHT (ugh). Shame on you both!     — G. Snow”

You traveled extensively. Do you have a "favorite" place?
This is a really tough question because I have enjoyed so many different places. I subscribe to this quote from Glen Heggstad who wrote in his book One More Day Everywhere, “When it comes to adventure travel, you can’t take a wrong turn.”
I think my favorite place was along the coast of Norway. My wife and I cruised from Bergen, Norway to North Cape at the very top of Norway, stopping at 16 ports-of-call during the day on the way north and 16 different ports-of-call on the return trip south to Bergen. The glacially created scenery was gorgeous of course, the Northern Lights lived up to their billing, we thoroughly enjoyed a dog-sled ride, and we were thrilled to be able to stand at the northernmost point of continental Europe. And what a thrill it was to cross the Arctic Circle and have it commemorated in an on-board ceremony where the ship’s crew poured ice down my back. This was a “working ship” that we cruised on so we got to visit with native Norwegians who were going from point A to point B along the coast; they were very gracious and sociable and we thoroughly enjoyed getting to learn about them and their culture.
I like this quote too, by Susan Sontag: “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”

What's the most important life lesson you learned during the thirteen years covered in the book?
There is so much to see and learn about this great country of ours. There is more than ample opportunity for life-long learning, and one should take full advantage of it. I mean this not only in regard to geology, but with respect to differences in geography, local cultures, customs, etc.

Do you have any advice for geology students or amateur geologists?
Don’t be afraid of what you might not know about your field, just go for it! Geology is a grand adventure; enjoy it to the maximum!

What would you like readers to take from MOUNTAINS, MINERALS, AND ME? 
Mentors are incredibly important to a young person’s career. As a student, you should cultivate a mentorship relationship with an experienced professional. As an adult, you should seek out younger people to offer them your guidance and counsel. My career as an exploration geologist would certainly not have been the fantastic personal and professional success that it was were it not for my mentor Geoffrey G. Snow, former president of Noranda Exploration, Inc. in Denver, Colorado. Geoff provided me with my first summer job in minerals exploration and subsequently with a permanent job with Noranda once I graduated from college. Not only was he my boss, but for thirteen years Geoff eagerly served as a trusted mentor to me, teaching me the ropes of the trade and providing trusted advice. He remains a friend today and is my personal hero.

Anything else you'd like readers to know about you and/or your book? 
·      Education:
Master’s Degree in Geology from The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario Bachelor’s Degree in Earth Sciences from Dartmouth College
·      Professional Credentials:
Certified Professional Geologist, American Institute of Professional Geologists
Member, Geological Society of America
Member, New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference
Member, Northern California Geological Society

·      Background:
I am from Bath, a small village (population about 500 when I lived there) in northern New Hampshire where most people were farmers or worked in the timber industry. I was one of five boys in the Lamarre family (no sisters).
In 1971, I received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Earth Sciences from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. In 1974, I received a Master of Science degree in Geology from what at the time was called the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. I attended UWO partly because my bosses at the time told me they considered the University of Western Ontario to be the best school for exploration geology in North America! I loved it.
Being from a rural setting, I liked the outdoors and was comfortable being by myself. Since I was an introvert at the time, I knew when I entered Dartmouth that I didn’t want to major in any of those “soft” subjects like sociology or philosophy, but I didn’t know what I would study. Geology had not been introduced to me while growing up. To Dartmouth’s endearing credit, the Earth Sciences Department had their best professor teach the introductory geology class and it was offered that fall of my Freshman year. I saw it advertised in the course bulletin so I enrolled in it, and I was hooked!
Curiously enough, there were four of us students from Bath Elementary School who ended up attending Dartmouth and majoring in Geology. This is from an elementary school where there were only eight of us in my eighth-grade graduating class!  One of the others was my twin brother and the other two were in the class behind us.
I got into minerals exploration because I was fortunate to get a summer job as a field exploration geologist where I worked with three more-experienced geologists who eagerly shared their work experiences with me. It turns out they were kindred spirits. And, while performing my duties as the youngest guy on the exploration project, I discovered that doing geology is like being a detective, and that really intrigued me. I moved around to other exploration projects that summer so I got to see some fabulous scenic country; that was not bad either.

My summer job the next year was on a team conducting reconnaissance exploration in the Alaska Range between Fairbanks and Anchorage. Our commute to work each day was via a helicopter that picked us up at base camp and took us to the highest peak around, then picked us up at the end of the day. As you can imagine, the mountain scenery with all its fauna (grizzly bears, caribou) was amazing. Upon returning to school at the end of the summer I told my fellow classmates that my summer job had been a scam. Imagine it, I said, they paid me to ride around in a helicopter all summer admiring the scenery! I was hooked.

1 comment:

Marlene Bolkan said...

Mountains, Minerals and Me is a great read! We are not geologists but enjoyed the book because the author made the scientific geology easy for any novice to understand. The personal accounts were very entertaining and written with a touch of humor. The earth science lessons were useful. It was clear that Mr. Lamarre loved what he was doing and shares a time in history when things were simpler. Mr. Lamarre's details of history, geography and science brought a sense of nostalgia to the readers.

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