Surviving an Outdoor Major as an Indoor Kid | St. Lawrence University

Surviving an Outdoor Major as an Indoor Kid

Madeleine Frank
2019

A ladybug scared me on the van ride back to St. Lawrence. To give myself some credit, there were multiple ladybugs and they were all very active. Every time I flinched, I apologized profusely to the rest of the geology lab students in the van.

"Sorry! I’m fine. I just don’t like bugs.” I couldn’t see their faces from my shotgun position, but I could imagine the looks of confusion being directed at the back of my head.

We had just finished a lab for geomorphology—measuring glacial striations in Talcville, New York. The location was beautiful (most geology labs are). The week before that, I went hiking in Stone Valley next to the Raquette River and climbed up a pile of glacial sediment in Pumpkin Hill, New York. I’ve hiked waterfalls, climbed ancient river deltas, and explored every road cut in the North Country. And, to be honest, I’ve struggled with most of it.

It’s not that I don’t like nature or that I don’t appreciate the beauty of a nice metamorphic rock (a nice gneiss, if you will), I’m just not an outdoorsy person. In general, I’m not very physically fit, I have no sense of direction, and if I get a bee sting, I will start crying. All of this seems blasphemous for any geology student. During my first year, I tried to hide it: I’d wipe my sweaty face before anyone could see my struggle; I’d pretend to sit down to look at a rock, when in actuality, I was just about to pass out; and most importantly, I attempted to feign enthusiasm. For example, “Wow, I sure do love climbing steep banks in direct sunlight!” or “Yes, I’m totally down with standing in the rain for an extra twenty minutes just to learn about this sandstone.”

Now, however, as a senior, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter if you finish the hike last, it just matters that you finish it. It doesn’t matter if your raincoat is from J.Crew and not Patagonia or North Face, if it keeps you dry. It doesn’t matter if you’re scared of bugs, if you’ve collected the right data. Most of all, it doesn’t matter if you don’t love the outdoors, as long as you love learning.

My love of hadrosaurs and Martian plate tectonics and twinned quartz crystals is what makes me a successful geology major, not how many mountain peaks I’ve stood on or how fast I can hike a trail. I’ve survived my studies because the payoff was worth it to me and because I’ve had a good group of people standing, hiking, and getting soaked, right beside me. Everybody in the Geology Department is willing to help with a homework assignment or give you a drink from their water bottle if you need one. Sure, my classmates may be puzzled by my fear of ladybugs, but they’ll help me coax them out the window if they can.