Category Archives: Creative Nonfiction

 

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge, July 5 2016

Geologists will tell you in intro classes that divergent boundaries are straight lines, dividing one side of the earth from another. Geologists will also tell you, when you’ve spent another year or two studying science, that they’ve lied.

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge isn’t a neat line where a bridge can connect two continental plates. It’s messy. The boundary jumps across the island, striking it through with valleys. It creates a transition zone. A place where the land is both North American and Eurasian, but also neither one by itself.


I understand, of course, why science and English have to be separated on school grounds. It would be difficult to teach the concept of birefringence alongside a discussion about the purpose of poetry. It could be done. I know it could be done, but that takes time and planning and work.


Rocks line the edges of the desk I write on. Icelandic basalt. Pennsylvanian sandstone. Devonian shale. And tucked away in a labeled bag, I have two small rocks from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Little baby rocks, whose vesicles are not filled with dry moss. I only take them out occasionally to remember and remind myself of the messiness.

Of the transition zone where two different things are the same, and have been the whole time.

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I like to think of hematite as a dual mineral.

Hematite is a mineral that expresses itself one of two ways: 1) as a reddish-brown, earthy mineral and 2) as a dark metallic, somewhat blocky mineral. Other than luster and, occasionally, habit, the two types of hematite act the same. Hematite will streak reddish-brown. Hematite will be around 5-6 on the Moh’s Hardness scale. Hematite will always have the same birefringence and chemical formula regardless of how it expresses itself.


My friend usually has candles burning when I go over to her house at night. I think she likes the light and the petal-soft feeling candles provide. My friend tells me that she’s probably psychic, but she says it in the way that makes me believe her, even if I don’t necessarily believe people can be psychic.

In the candle light, under the pattering of rain on the skylights above us, she takes out a box of tarot cards, calculates my life path number, and sets to work deciphering the card.

There’s a lot of “hums” and “mmms” and she covers her mouth as she thinks.

And finally she says, through all of my reincarnations I have always faced a split of passions.

 

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A: I am metallic and grounded.

A: I am the scientist who writes poems that imagines her body as a rock, and I am the writer who experiments with similes made out of scientific fact.

A: I am the all-female crew of the people best fit for the job.

A: I am tired of my insecurities.

A: I am hematite piling on Mars body.


The classification of minerals is only helpful in terms of human understanding of a portion of the universe. At the end of the day, hematite doesn’t need to be called hematite. Peanut butter doesn’t need to be called peanut butter or hnetusmjör or anything in particular. There is no inherent good in classifying people by their menstrual cycles.


We exist as spectra and transition zones.


I am insecure in science, yet take the classes anyway. I am insecure in speaking, yet decided that my passion will include placing words together on a page, knowing one day I’ll have to read aloud in a room to a group of people that do not know me intimately.


Earth is the only planet not named after a Greek God, which is another way to say that Earth is the only planet not assigned a particular gender, which is to say Earth does not exist on a binary, which is to say, I think that’s how it should be.

 

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Elizabeth Pellegrino is a senior English (creative writing) and geology double major. She believes that storytelling and asking questions are the two most important lessons every writer and scientist should learn. Additional lessons would include: poetry 101, rock hammer safety, how to survive the eruption of a supervolcano, and a discussion on whether tea-making actually helps the writing process.

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Q: What color powder does the mineral make?


Streak: streak is the color you get when you rub (or streak) a mineral across a piece of white ceramic. This property is both a function of hardness, (many hard minerals like quartz will have no streak,) and the color of the mineral, (sulfur looks yellow and streaks yellow).

Reddish-Brown

“I could never do that,” my

writing                                                                                                                geology

friend says when I mention

the science lab I’m in.                                                                                           the poetry portfolio I have due.

“That’s too much

math                                                                                                                writing

for me. I’m not

science-y                                                                                                                creative

enough to do that.”

 

I used to think I’d find myself in Iceland. That flying across an ocean I had never crossed before, actually seeing the landscapes that were set as my computer background would unlock my insecurities. But then, maybe, I just wanted to hear the language I tried to learn spoken by a barista holding three lemons, who was trying to tell us not to plug our laptops into the outlets on the ceiling, because doing so would short out the entire building.

The food labels in the grocery store in Reykjavik were in Icelandic, which surprised me at first. I mean, a jar of peanut butter looked like a jar of peanut butter regardless of how the jar is labeled. It took a second though—a short time where the jar of peanut butter wasn’t peanut butter anymore. It was hnetusmjör. In that moment, between when I read hnetusmjör and saw the peanut drawn on the jar, I felt like the world and my perception of the world had shifted out of alignment.

As if, you were Schrödinger, lifting up the lid of the thought-experiment box, expecting to find that the cat is either dead or alive, and instead you find that it’s still both and the laws with which you observed the world through were wrong.


An English professor visited my college to give a talk about a volcanic eruption to geologists. I met him in a poetry classroom, where students asked him “how do you write about science?”

And he said, “well, you have to translate it, right? You have to take what the scientists are saying so that the everyday person can understand it and make sense of it.


I asked Nick what he thought of that, and he said that it’s the same way getting new students to understand science. That you have to use analogies, similes, to help students understand topics. You can tell them that the Mid-Atlantic ridge is like a Snickers bar. The crust breaks, while the mantle stretches out forming a caramel rope. Then they learn how to talk about the brittle crust and ductile mantle without the use of similes.

 

 

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I used to think I’d find myself in Iceland. That flying across an ocean I had never crossed before, actually seeing the landscapes that were set as my computer background would unlock my insecurities. But then, maybe, I just wanted to hear the language I tried to learn spoken by a barista holding three lemons, who was trying to tell us not to plug our laptops into the outlets on the ceiling, because doing so would short out the entire building.

The food labels in the grocery store in Reykjavik were in Icelandic, which surprised me at first. I mean, a jar of peanut butter looked like a jar of peanut butter regardless of how the jar is labeled. It took a second though—a short time where the jar of peanut butter wasn’t peanut butter anymore. It was hnetusmjör. In that moment, between when I read hnetusmjör and saw the peanut drawn on the jar, I felt like the world and my perception of the world had shifted out of alignment.

As if, you were Schrödinger, lifting up the lid of the thought-experiment box, expecting to find that the cat is either dead or alive, and instead you find that it’s still both and the laws with which you observed the world through were wrong.


An English professor visited my college to give a talk about a volcanic eruption to geologists. I met him in a poetry classroom, where students asked him “how do you write about science?”

And he said, “well, you have to translate it, right? You have to take what the scientists are saying so that the everyday person can understand it and make sense of it.


I asked Nick what he thought of that, and he said that it’s the same way getting new students to understand science. That you have to use analogies, similes, to help students understand topics. You can tell them that the Mid-Atlantic ridge is like a Snickers bar. The crust breaks, while the mantle stretches out forming a caramel rope. Then they learn how to talk about the brittle crust and ductile mantle without the use of similes.

 

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Q: How strong is a mineral?


Hardness: A mineral’s strength is determined by the Moh’s Hardness scale, where a mineral is ranked relative to other minerals and objects of known strengths. The scale is written from 1-10 and is logarithmic in nature; however, the way we usually evaluate a mineral in the classroom is by whether you can scratch it with your finger, if it can scratch a penny, and/or if it can scratch glass.

≤6.5

A list of all the famous male scientists I could think of off the top of my head:

  • Albert Einstein
  • Thomas Edison
  • Alexander Graham Bell
  • Sir Isaac Newton
  • George Mendel
  • Charles Darwin
  • Nikola Tesla
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Steve Jobs
  • Bill Gates
  • Steve Irwin
  • Neil Armstrong
  • Buzz Aldrin
  • Edward Jenner
  • Harrison Schmitt
  • Bill Nye
  • Neil D’Grasse Tyson
  • Elon Musk

 

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4.5 – 5.5

A list of all the famous female scientists I could think of off the top of my head:

  • Marie Curie
  • Jane Goodall
  • Marie Tharp
  • Sally Ride
  • Mae Jemison

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Q: What shape is a mineral?


Crystal Habit: crystal habit is the external shape of a mineral. Crystal habits are influenced by multiple factors, but one of the most prominent is the conditions (room, temperature) that the crystal grew in.

Earthy

I don’t remember when I moved to New York or when the elementary school in the suburban upstate town told me that my speech disorder required no more help.

I do remember, however, doing a reading test in 8th grade. Where all I had to do was read aloud from an essay, and the woman who was testing me looked surprised when I ended.

She didn’t need to say anything. She didn’t say anything. The timer blinked zero: zero zero in digital digits and I had only read 1/3 of an essay I knew in my gut most people had finished.

The rest of the year, my social studies teacher specifically called on me to do readings aloud in class. Each time he did it I was sure it was the test. I was sure he had been told I was a bit slow to transition the words I had read to the sounds I could make.

Blocky

Zoe and I sat diagonal to each other in a grouping of 4 desks for AP Biology. Our teacher was wandering around the room with his head hunched over to read names on the tests he was handing back.

Mine was face down on the desk. I had only glanced at the grade before hiding back away. The number in red was satisfying enough.

Zoe asked me what my grade was. I shrugged. I told her it was fine and that I was happy with it.

I didn’t ask Zoe what her grade was. She told me it was a 95, anyway. She told me that she was failing. She told me that a 95 wasn’t good enough.

And I knew, at the time, that her sense of failure for getting a 95 on a test was just an echo on her own expectations and self-worth.

But also, at that same time, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my 93 made me even more of a failure. That I would never be good enough for the sciences. That I would always be a failure.

       
       
       
       
       
       

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Skaftafell: July 20, 2016

I was wearing someone else’s socks, and I felt the water wring between my river-dipped toes as the mountain trail rose.


Q: do I double major in geology or not?


The geology major is        65 credits large:        requiring an        introductory class,

The socks didn’t quite fit me. They were too tight around the

Historical Geology,        Mineralogy,        Petrology,        Structural Geology,

ankles, and the knit was coarser than my sole was used to. What if these socks weren’t

Geomorphology,        Paleontology        Stratigraphy,

borrowed and really I was someone else walking in my own slog? I was tired of

3 electives,      2 semesters of senior seminar,        Chemistry I,        Chemistry II,

playing the geologist who separates her poetry and field notes

Biology I,        Biology II,        Calculus I,        Calculus II.     My creative

into different notebooks. I was tired of being the scientific voice in workshop to correct tries

writing major is only        44 credits:        4 workshops,        3 literature

at geologic metaphors. Wouldn’t it just be easier to stay in someone else’s socks

classes,               2 introductory classes,      and 1 elective.      The Geology minor

                                   and exist as one or the other?

was 33 credits,     and I just wanted some                             balance        between the two.

 

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Lanmannalaguar, Iceland:

is filled with banks of rocks colored by hydrothermal alteration from rivers running through the area. Some of the rocks were green, like chlorite, some were purple manganese, and I crossed a stream to pull red from the rock wall. A thin coat of red dust combined with the water on my hands. The mixture sank into the lines in my palms, looking like I was stained with blood.


Mars:

is red because of nanophase mineral dust covering its surface. Some of it is poorly crystalline hematite and maghemite and lepidoctoite that is too small to cling to rock, and the wind plucks it off of basalt and carries it across the planet. All of it is iron oxide, blown from basaltic surfaces and deposited in piles below thin atmosphere.

 

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Elizabeth Pellegrino

Where a Boundary

 

So many of us have this idea of what a space mission would look like to another planet or to an asteroid. And it’s a crew of mostly men and maybe a woman, you know, because that’s what Hollywood tells us these missions look like.

It’s fantastic to just turn it upside-down and conceive of an all-female crew. And what would that actually be like? And if it saves money, then maybe it should be worth discussing.

Kate Greene
“For Mars Missions, Sending More Women Might Make Economical Sense”

I remember the engineers trying to decide how many tampons should fly on a one-week flight; they asked, “Is 100 the right number?”

“No. That would not be the right number.”

They said, “Well, we want to be safe.”

I said, “Well, you can cut that in half with no problem at all.” [Laughter]

And there were probably some other, similar sorts of issues, just because they had never thought about what just kind of personal equipment a female astronaut would take. They knew that a man might want a shaving kit, but they didn’t know what a woman would carry. Most of these were male engineers, so this was totally new and different to them.

Sally Ride
“NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project, Edited Oral History Transcript.”

 

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