For many people, discovering what you want to do in life is not easy. Indeed, from my own experience, many of my friends in high school and (later) college had no clear idea of what they wanted to do with their lives. I was one of the lucky ones: I knew I wanted to be a geologist.
I can even trace that internal imperative back to a time when I was ten years old or so, visiting my cousin in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. I seem to remember that my cousin and I were making a nuisance of ourselves (as ten year olds are wont to do), and my exasperated Aunt Lizette gently nudged us out the back door to go look for quartz crystals. From her perspective, I am sure, it was to gain a brief respite from the directionless energy of young boys. To us, of course, it was an adventure.
And sure enough, quartz crystals we found. Of their geologic origins, I had (and have) no idea. But I do know that that adventure sparked a desire in me that never quite disappeared. I ended up majoring in geophysics at Penn State, and going on to graduate school at Stanford University to study earthquake seismology. Today, geology (in the form of mineral collecting) is more a hobby, as my professional interests led me to software and the web, but I will never forget that visit. Even today, as I catalog and curate the results of my most recent field collecting excursions, I often smile to think of that day and the lifelong affection for geology that resulted.
Sadly, I lost my Aunt a few weeks ago.
Those early quartz crystals are long gone now. Some were lost in myriad moves from place to place as I grew up, others were given away. The last ones I included in the gift of my original rock collection to the Georgia Mineral Society last summer: It was time for a new generation of wide-eyed young collectors to discover such treasures.
Though I mourn that she is gone, and such events are times of great sorrow, I still smile as I look at a pyrite from Glendon Quarry, and think: Thank you, Aunt Lizette, for nudging me out the door that long ago summer day.