Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Earthly Complexities

Fresh from the war, I started graduate school at the University of Arkansas. Separated from polite society for almost two years, I was trying desperately to regain some of its social graces. My new thesis advisor, Dr. K, reminded me as much every day.

Dr. K had an idea for a thesis project in the Ouachita Mountains. Arkansas is one of the most geologically diverse areas on earth. Almost every mineral occurs there naturally, and many other minerals are found nowhere else. Dr. K, a brilliant man, was a graduate of Cornell University and to say that I was a bit intimidated by him would be an understatement.

I wasn't the only person returning from Vietnam. There were half a dozen of us, including an ex-Green Beret. Dr. K and I were walking down the hall one day when we came upon Mr. GB, his back to us and obviously in deep thought. When Dr. K tapped him on the shoulder, he wheeled around, coming up with a vicious blow to the good Dr's groin and laying him out on the hallway floor. When Dr. K regained his senses, and his breath, he dragged himself off the floor.

I understood GB's motivation. It took me months to keep from hitting the ground whenever a car backfired near me. Still, I fully expected Dr. K, the chairman of the department of geology, to lower the proverbial boom on the ex-green beret. Instead, he began speaking in a soft, friendly tone.

"I realize where you just came from and how horrible it must have been, but you're back in the States now. I'm going to let what you just did pass this time, but sometime in the future I'm going to tap you on the shoulder. If you ever lay a hand on anyone ever again, for any reason, you will be dismissed from the Arkansas geology department and you won't be welcomed back.

I was with Dr. K the next time he came up on Mr. GB from behind. Believe me when I say, I wouldn't have done what he did. He tapped Mr. GB's shoulder and stood there, waiting for the inevitable reaction. As if in slow motion, Mr. GB bent forward, almost touching the floor, and then began his karate twirl. This time he stopped abruptly before he ever made his turn, his deadly blow pulled before ever making contact. When he saw Dr. K, he began to shake uncontrollably.

Dr. K nodded, smiled slightly and said, "Welcome back to the world."

In southwest Arkansas, just south of the Ouachita Overthrust, is a geologically complex area known only to a few lucky people. Before I ever set foot on the terrain, I got a lesson in life from an amazingly complex person that understood the human heart as well as he knew the heart of the earth.


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