Sometimes on the LRT on the way home, I people-watch. I watch business people talking on their phones, students texting, and everyone plugged in to their iPods. Sometimes, wandering eyes meet mine. Sometimes I get a smile, and I smile back. But for every smile, for every glance, there are a hundred faces staring blankly ahead, detached. I wonder if I am just another one of those faces.
The loud laughter of a toddler breaks the disconnect. All those around look for the source of the noise, and finding it, smile. The toddler, looking around with such wide adventurous eyes, beaming at the world, connects instantly to his audience and his environment. So why don’t we?
Nobody plays with rocks anymore. I sense I’m getting an eye roll already. Full disclosure: I’m a geologist. Rather, I’m an environmental geologist. What exactly does that mean? It means that people make a lot of messes in this world, and I get paid to clean them up. Some of those messes involve water contamination. Others involve landscape damage. Still others involve atmospheric pollution. But I don’t deal with those. Those involve math.
I digress. Nobody plays with rocks anymore. And before you stop me and tell me that nobody ever did, think back to your childhood. I’m not talking first year or even high school. I mean WAY back to preschool. Back in preschool, rocks were cool. So was anything that could fly. And big explosions.
Remember how excited you got watching Bill Nye videos? If you didn’t, then I really have nothing more to say to you. What did we all want to do when we grew up? We wanted to mix chemicals together and watch them turn green and explode. We wanted to battle fires and have water fights with fire hydrants. We wanted to save the world. I still want to save the world. But I think the older I’ve grown, the smaller my idea of the world has become.
Why don’t we play with rocks anymore? There was a time when we did. Remember that gift shop in Jasper, where you stared at the shiny colourful rock and wanted to buy them all? Or when you used to throw big rocks in the water just to see the splash they made? Remember how every shell you found on the beach used to be the greatest thing in the world? And if it was big enough, you could put it up to your ear and listen to the ocean.
You might still have your rock collection tucked away in some box in your parents’ basement. They never could bring themselves to throw it out because it reminded them of how cute and adorable you used to be. Or maybe it reminded them of the rock collection they once had. Maybe it found its way along to some little kid, whose face immediately lit up. Or maybe it was dumped in an alley somewhere to be buried by dust from passing cars. This sounds like Toy Story 3 all over again.
I don’t play with my toy cars anymore, or my toy soldiers. I don’t throw paper airplanes at the teacher or hide under my bed waiting to strike at anyone and anything. I don’t launch those model rockets I made at camp in grade 5.
But I still play with rocks. Sometimes in the middle of the night, when everyone is asleep, I put my rocks out in a circle on the floor and classify them based on their mineralogical composition. Because that is what geologists do. You might think I’m just another weirdo, but that toddler on the train would grin and wave his arms. He would understand.