Monday’s class begins with a question.
Roger wants to know how this unique, rocky area we’re in, known as the Niagara Escarpment, got here.
Isn’t this his job?
But science is about asking questions, and that’s what my class plans to do all week, studying our surroundings for the answers.
The soft thud of boots on the sawdust path takes our class toward plump, monolithic rocks sloping down to the blue-green bay.
Bill Hanson, a former geology teacher from Marinette, Wisconsin, notes these rocks "aren’t particularly fossiliferous. "
"Right! " yells Roger, scaring us. "No critters! And there’s a very specific reason for that! "
Short version: The levels of land are layers of dolomite formed by an ocean. Where we stand was high ground, far from the water where shells once rested.
Once, Door County looked a lot like the Great Barrier Reef. The sea drained away, and the land moved from near the equator to, um, Wisconsin. Later, glaciers left this graceful, hilly terrain.
These discoveries reveal themselves as we wander grassy meadows, into hidden caves and underground rivers, along the sandy shores of Green Bay and through the quiet, marshy woodlands of Door County, blooming with lady’s slippers, false Solomon’s seal and forget-me-nots.
We study weather: waves, rain, sunny days, to figure out what formed patterns in prehistoric rock. Nature is about cycles. Millions of years of cycles.
It all makes my measly 35 years seem inconsequential, and I really like that. I’m a little dot on a timeline that has absolutely nada to do with preschool projects, sweaty deadlines or macaroni preparation. I fit in somewhere, too.
"These layers of rock are like an index, " says John Ford, a classmate from Geneva, Illinois.
"It’s just like reading a book, " Roger tells us. "And it gets really exciting when you start figuring out the story. "
I'm reading a few of my own layers on this trip. Peeling away worries that don’t seem so pressing in the presence of glacial waters and ancient rocks. Funny how a few good nights of sleep in a small cabin clears the mind. It’s nice.