Memory of the Day: Geology Field Camp and How I Got There

I entered college in the fall of 1964. I am pretty sure I have noted in other stories that I was not really ready for college. I had done well in high school and even had 4 years in the Beta Club (B average students). Sadly, high school came pretty easy for me so I never really learned how to apply myself to studies at the college level. At 18, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, only that I didn’t want to get drafted so I enrolled in college and chose as a major the one class I enjoyed in high school, physics. That lasted a couple of semesters until I realized that I would never get the math down that I needed for that major. There is another story there that I will share later. I decided that I needed to change my major, but didn’t want to lose the science credit hours I had already picked up so I changed to Pre-Med. What was I thinking? I managed to complete maybe another couple semesters majoring in Pre-Med when it became apparent that my GPA would never get me accepted into any reputable Medical School. What to do? Well, I was going to Northeast Louisiana State College (now University of Louisiana at Monroe) and they had a Pharmacy program. I decided I would lose only a few hours by changing to Pre-Pharmacy. Seems you only needed a 2.0 GPA to get into the Pharmacy School. Now a few more semesters later and it is the spring semester of 1967. I was taking Organic Chemistry for the second time having failed it the previous semester. I had also been notified by the Board of Deans that I was on probation this semester for failing to maintain a 2.0 GPA. In order to remain a student in good standing in the college, I needed to complete this semester with a 2.0. I didn’t. I got another letter from the board of deans advising me that there was no reason for me to come back in the fall.

That would never do, so I decided to appeal (beg) for readmission. I had a friend who was majoring in Geology and he recommended I give it a try. I could almost hear the Draft Board calling my name. Not being a quitter and still not wanting to be drafted, I wrote a letter of appeal to the Board of Deans explaining that I had seen the light and was ready to buckle down and that I felt I had finally found my calling, Geology. They reckoned that I could try one more time so I would be accepted for the fall semester in 1967 on probation again. Truth be told, I really had seen the light and knew this was my last shot. I was determined to buckle down and get it done. I also made up my mind to sign up for Advanced ROTC to make sure I didn’t get drafted because of low GPA. Again, that is another story for another time.

In the fall of 1967, I began my foray into the worlds of Paleontology, Mineralogy, Crystallography, and so forth. Turns out I did like these studies more than any I had to this point and I did quite well. I managed to start bringing my GPA up gradually. After the fall semester, I had a good B average (not cumulative). Over the next 4 semesters and one summer, I managed to bring my 1.45 GPA up to a 2.98. Quite a challenge for me, but I did it. I won’t say that I made B’s in every course, but I did make decent grades in most. Also, A’s in ROTC helped me bring that GPA up too. By the end of the spring semester of 1969 I only had to complete Geology Field Camp to graduate and receive my Army commission. As a side note, I would like to point out that General Colin Powell began college majoring in engineering and after nearly failing in that he switched to Geology, so we do have that in common.

I shall point out here that I paid my way through college by working in the summers as a pipeline construction worker and a riverboat deckhand. I also worked during school washing pots and pans in the student cafeteria and later working in the first McDonald’s restaurant in North Louisiana. I didn’t have the money to pay for my Geology Field Camp, but through the graces of our professor, I was able to get hired as a driver and a go-fer to pay my expenses at the camp. My duties included driving one of the school Chevy Impala sedans from Monroe to our camp in Batesville, AR. We also had to go on frequent field trips outside the camp and I would drive there as well. I helped Professor Hugh Doney’s wife with basic house cleaning, meal preparation and cleanup after meals. Both Dr. Doney and his wife were great to work with and I was used to working much harder in the summers. We had no television and no electronic toys to distract us so I still managed to have plenty of time to complete my school work.

One morning as we were loading the Impala for a trip, we discovered that the keys were locked inside the car. I don’t think I locked that door, but heck who knows? I only knew that I had to get them out. Fortunately we had the trunk open, and mostly loaded, I unloaded the trunk and managed without help from anyone to get the back seat out to gain access to the inside of the car. I crawled through to the front unlocked the doors and retrieved the keys. I got the seat back in place, it could have been a little loose, and reloaded the trunk and we were off on our adventure of the day.

Now, in January of 1969 I started dating Nancy Williams. By Easter I had asked her to marry me and we were scheduled to be married on August 22, 1969. Geology Field Camp was 6 weeks long and ran from the middle of June until nearly the end of July. Nancy knew I had no money and was working my way through Field Camp so she would write me letters and tape change to the letter inside the envelope. This was most welcome because it was the only way I could use the vending machines at the camp. With the change she sent, I was able to get the occasional Coke and a candy bar. One weekend, she and the wife of another Field Camp student drove up to spend the weekend in Batesville. It was a real treat to see her and talk to her face to face. Amazing what true love will endure.

For the most part we had projects to work during camp. The projects normally included geologic mapping of the area around Batesville and the White River. Our camp was on a bluff overlooking the river. The scenery was fabulous. The students at the camp were teamed up into 2 man teams (we had no women students at the camp at that time, though I imagine they do now. Not sure how they handle the logistics for that). I was teamed with a particularly bright student who was a whiz in all things academic, but who was a disaster in all things outdoors. He had not brought appropriate clothing or shoes for the rugged terrain we were in. I had my old work boots and clothes from pipeline construction jobs and such so was fine. My partner was also very clumsy and pretty naïve. I spent a lot of time keeping him from serious injury and telling the others at the camp to lay off him. As it turned out, we made a pretty good team. What I brought in the way of ability to scramble up and down rock outcroppings he brought in the way of understanding the science of it all. I feel like he learned a bit from me and I learned a lot from him that summer.

Towards the end of the 6 week camp, we were on an extended field trip into Missouri and Illinois. Somewhere in Missouri there is a really deep sink hole with my college class ring in the muck at the bottom. We were down in the sink hole searching for samples to analyze when I felt my class ring slipping from my finger. Yes, I know, shouldn’t have been wearing it. Well, actually, I did let it go. As soon as I felt the ring slip off I froze. I carefully and gingerly made a scoop with my hands and placed them into the muck under where I thought the ring may have fallen. I moved my hands closer together until the fingers were touching and slowly began to pull my hands straight up. I felt the ring in the cradle of my hands. I had retrieved it, but alas, as I neared the surface, I felt it slip again and this time I couldn’t find it so it is still there somewhere.

Perhaps the most memorable event of the camp and certainly of that field trip was our overnight in a Missouri state park. We slept under the stars on the ground in blankets or sleeping bags and swatted mosquitoes. The next day was an off day. We were able to wash a few clothes in the park laundromat and that afternoon we had off to go swim in a large pool in some river whose name I forget now. This pool was at the base of a cliff that was a good 60 feet high with a ledge about 40 feet up. Several of the guys were climbing up to the ledge and jumping in. I, foolishly, began deriding them for their safely jumping feet first into the pool. That came back to haunt me. They turned on me and before I knew it, I had climbed up to the ledge and was standing there. That is not the point in my life where I realized that I had a fear of heights, but it was certainly a reinforcing point. I stood on the ledge and yelled down to a friend who was a good 6 feet 5 inches tall, the tallest guy down there, and asked him to find the bottom of the pool. He dove and came back up saying he couldn’t find the bottom. That was encouraging. The cliff, as most cliffs, sort of slanted away into the water so a dive would require leaping out a good 6 feet or more to avoid the rocks at the bottom of the cliff. I picked a spot and with all my might, I leaped out and down toward the abyss. After what seemed like several minutes I impacted the water head first to the cheers of the group of college boys watching. My first thought was, “Never Again.” Did I mention that I was about to be married about 6 weeks later. I almost made Nancy a widow before the marriage.

After that, I stopped being a dare devil and just concentrated on my mapping, driving, cleaning and getting a passing grade so I could graduate. Graduation and Commissioning as a second lieutenant in the US Army all happened on August 16, 1969 and I made Nancy Mrs. Kenneth Grant on August 22, 1969, about 203 days after our first date.

P.S. I did not get drafted. I did go into the Army for the next 21 years. And, I did get to Vietnam anyway. Destiny, hmmmm?

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