Planning a New Class

It’s never too late to go back to a specialized knowledge or skill that you have, update your skills, and share them with others.

As a recent office-staff volunteer for UMA Senior College, I made the mistake of mentioning to Mick O’Halloran that I am a retired geologist. His eyes lit up, and the next question was, “Can you put a field trip together for Senior College?” I forgot about the request for a while, and then last summer, my husband Louis and I went out looking for bees because he was a volunteer for a UMO bumblebee atlas program. We were at Fort Edgecomb, and I made the mistake of looking at the rocks.

Bit by the geology bug, so to speak, I started to think a little more seriously about Mick’s request. My knowledge of the bedrock geology of Maine was basic at best. Furthermore, what I had learned in the past had mostly been forgotten. Since college, I have always wanted to take a deep dive into understanding the bedrock geology of Maine, and finally, I had an excuse, and now, with retirement, the time. I dusted off my old 1985 Bedrock Geologic Map of Maine, hung it on the wall, and started to hunt for places that would be suitable for a group visit from Senior College. I started reviewing the online resources available at the Maine State Geological Survey. Especially helpful was a series of articles in Maine Geologic Facts and Localities.

Site selection criteria were quite simple. I needed to find sites within an hour-and-a-half or so drive from Augusta. They needed to be open to the public, to have restrooms (or otherwise), and ample parking. Most importantly, the bedrock geology had to be interesting and easily accessible, with a good lunch stop nearby.

I was looking for thought-provoking outcrops that offer up a puzzle when you look at them. How many different geologic events shaped this outcrop? Which event came first? What happened next? How does this outcrop fit into Maine’s geologic history? It’s great fun to ponder over these puzzles.

With Louis as my driver and a lap full of maps, we started the hunt last September. As long as it wasn’t raining or snowing, we were out and about. Searching for sites is like going on a scavenger hunt. Our goal was to find at least one prize, one potential site, on every day trip. Every trip was an adventure.

The most fascinating bedrock outcrops turn out to be those that are at the coast. The coast of Maine has some of the oldest and most complex rocks in the state. I have lost count of the number of sites we visited, perhaps two dozen, checking out lunch stops and other attractions, such as museums, along the way. We visited bedrock outcrops located in Georgetown, Newagan, Boothbay Harbor, Pemaquid, Friendship, Tenants Harbor, Port Clyde, Owls Head, Camden, Rockport, and Rockland before running into the snow season.  I was disappointed to find that so little of the coast is available for public access. Only about three percent of Maine’s coast is accessible to the general public. The other limitation at many of the sites is a lack of sufficient parking.

We visited state parks, public boat launches, and public preserves. Some of the sites, such as Reid State Park, Pemaquid Point, and Marshall Point, easily met the criteria. Our search led us to many public preserves that we had no idea existed. Nicely wooded walking trails lead to old foundations, coastal bedrock outcrops, small unknown beaches, and outstanding views.

Other visits were less successful, notably our search for the Thomaston Quarry at the Maine State Prison. Based on a 2002 Maine Geologic Facts and Localities publication, we went looking for the quarry, thinking that this would be an easy stop. We drove back and forth by where we thought the quarry should have been several times and finally realized that the Thomaston Quarry had been filled in when the State Prison was demolished. It is now a lovely public park. Not a rock in sight.

For this upcoming fall Senior College session, we finally settled on five field trips. We will visit Birch Point State Park in Owls Head, Pemaquid Point and Pemaquid Beach, Reid State Park, Marshall Point at Port Clyde, and finally, a hodge-podge of bedrock sites in Augusta.

I am totally enjoying not only the outdoor excursions but also the background research and planning that it takes to create this course. I spent the entire COVID-19 winter updating my geologic skills. I went back to my original college textbooks and class notes and did a deep dive into the Internet, reviewing websites and professional papers for any new information that I could find. I learned about the most recent theories on the history of the earth, the evolution of the continents, and the causes of the formation of the rocks of Maine.

So this summer, all vaccinated, Louis and I will return to the sites to finish planning the visits. We will keep seeking out the best lunch stops. The class trips will start in September. I’ve never been a formal teacher, so this will be a new experience for me and prospective students.

Senior College gave me a great excuse to dive deeply into geology and create a class. I encourage anyone who has a special skill and some extra time to consider sharing that skill with other Senior College members. It’s never too late to go back to a specialized knowledge or skill that you have, update your skills, and share them with others. The Senior College staff provides support, encouragement, and guidance. I hope that as you read this article, you might consider putting together a course of your own for Senior College. It is a fun, rewarding, and worthwhile challenge.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2021 edition of the Illuminator.

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