An Introductory Statement
"We study something only to understand how little we know about it."
- Katagiri Roshi
When I came to Virginia in 1974 virtually the only thing I knew about its geology was what I had learned in historical geology text books, and those books were published well before 1974. What I knew was so general it could easily be summarized in a few pages.
But I was hungry to learn, so some of the geologists at Madison College, as it was then, began to take me around to outcrops, and introduce me to what they knew, most specifically George Farmer and Bill Roberts. And I must have been an unending source of questions for I wanted to know everything. Having been a biology major as an undergraduate, and done my graduate work in vertebrate paleontology I had split my course work between zoology and geology; jack of two trades, and master of none. So, I was working from a sparse background, and was naive, or hopeful, enough to ask many questions for which there were no answers at the time.
By 1974, plate tectonic theory was beginning to take off, and influential papers such as those written by Dewey and Bird, and Dietz, and others were just beginning to reevaluate Appalachian geology in light of the new theory, still at that time deeply embedded in Marshall Kay's geosynclinal theory.
So, having consumed what was known about the local geology by my colleagues I began to scour out on my own to learn things. And here I was aided by two circumstances. The first was, virtually all my technical geological training had been in soft rock geology, and very short on igneous, metamorphic, and tectonic geology. And it was in these latter fields that most of plate tectonic papers were grounded. As a result I had to self-educate myself in those fields as best I could. But there was an advantage to this, because I began my studies uninfluenced by the bodies of knowledge and theory that had existed prior to plate tectonics, and took my cues from all the new papers coming out that looked at the earth through the very different lens of mobile rather than a fixed processes.
I looked at all the new ideas . . . and immersed myself in them, to the limit. Not that it was not confusing. During most of the late 1970's and early 1980's geology was trying to resolve geosynclinal theory with plate tectonic theory, and I can still remember compiling lists of comparative terms just to keep them straight; "Let's see, an eugeosycline is now a continental shelf, which is a divergent plate boundary , or is the continental shelf the miogeosyncline; well it depends on who you read,. . ." And I drew cross section after cross section, trying to make it all fit spatially and temporally. I still occasionally run across one of those old drawings; my we have come a long way! But this fast theoretical evolution just kept me dancing, and encouraged me to not settle down too firmly on any idea, something true to this day.
The second circumstance that aided me in my learning of Virginia geology was the arrival of Dave Poche in the geology department. Dave remained with us for only about three years, but they were three of the most intense, stimulating, and fast paced years I have every experienced. Things were changing fast and we hungerily immersed ourselves in them. We read papers, by the dozens. We traveled to other parts of the country to take field tips with some of the movers and shakers in the newly emerging paradigms. We took long field trips with our students and tried to apply all we were learning to everything we could see locally and regionally. And we pushed each other right to the limit.
I used to joke at the time how one of us would sneak down to the other's office, open the door, throw an idea like a hand grenade onto their desk, and declare, "Think about this, won't you!", and then scurry back to our office. And then a few hours later, the door would open, and the hand grenade of an idea would land right back, only transformed into something even more new and interesting. Even after Dave left this went on for a long time, as he fed me all the new theories developing in the petroleum industry.
Yet, one of my frustrations was that in my studies and in contacts with other Virginia geologists I was reminded over and over just how little I knew about Virginia geology. They were always a flood of information about the details of Formations, and outcrops, and structures I had never heard of. And it has not changed much; I always feel very ignorant of the geology I love so much.
But there is another side to this coin. Because of some quirk in my personality, and because of my general ignorance of the details of Virginia geology, my interests began to focus not so much on the details and Events in the geologic history but on the "boundary conditions" between the Events. I became more and more interested in how a mountain building event transformed into a period of tectonic calm than I was about either the mountain, or the calm. And I wanted to know how this transition was reflected in the rocks; how we recognized a transition when we see it.
As a result my model building efforts, even from the very beginning, were focused on constructing a complete geologic history of Virginia from the oldest event we could find to the present. Initially I wanted to find the simplest Sequence of Events that defined the complete history. Or, as my students well know, the "simple ideal model." Everything for me is initially focused on finding the "simple ideal model," of stripping away all the details and complexities until what remains is what is most quintessentially true (after all, what is someone so ignorant of the details going to do.)
And I wanted a theoretical paradigm to explain each stage in the simple ideal model. Initially this was mostly geosynclinal theory. Looking back over notes, maps, and cross sections created in those first years in Virginia they are dominated by geosynclinal terminology and concepts. But there is also a drawer full of cross sections that represent my halting transition to first a combined geosynclinal/plate tectonic framework, to finally a pure plate tectonic framework for Virginia geology.
The One Page History Of Virginia is the culmination of this search for a simple, ideal model. I really do not know when it was first formulated; probably in the mid-1980's. Sometime I will have to go back through my collection and try to find the first full formulation. (The current version was created when I learned how to use a computer drafting program)
The down side to simple ideal models, of course, is that important things get lost in them. And simplicity can lead to distortion. So sometime in the mid 1980's I decided it was time to try to fill in the details. I began a systematic literature search of everything I could find that dealt with Virginia geology. I crept through the literature looking for the story among the technical details, complexities, ambiguities, contradictions, and gaps. And I wanted a story that someone with minimal background could understand - my undergraduate students.
And I returned to the basics too, to learn things about tectonics, or structure, or igneous/metamorphic rocks I had never learned in the first place. I am hyper aware that I come to many of these subjects from great ignorance, but I am also very willing to learn whatever I need to learn. Some of my friends and colleagues must have gotten tired being pumped for knowledge, and "truth" in their fields (especially since "truth" was often changing very fast.)
The advantage to being so ignorant is that I have never been locked into any discipline, or the "party line" of acceptable truths in those disciplines, and have been quite willing to look at things afresh. And the advantage to being trained in an interdisciplinary subject is that, since no discipline is really home, we make ourselves comfortable as best we can where ever we are. And many times this was necessary as grand interdisciplinary, synthesizing papers of the new plate tectonics completely changed the framework in which ideas were considered.
Sometimes I would go to basic textbooks in petrology, or structure, or whatever to get information, and have to ignore most of what they said because it just did not mesh with the ideas in the new papers coming out, or more often, they had nothing relevant to say about how the subject fit into the new paradigms. But I am not alone in this; most of us past a certain age have had to go through the transition of giving up old, pre-plate tectonic concepts and recasting everything we thought we knew into a new framework.
I think about this sometimes when I go back to my classic Stratigraphy/ sedimentation text book by Krumbein and Sloss. What a marvelous book that was, especially the latter parts that tried to relate sedimentation to tectonics (and which we never read or studied in any class I took). But virtually everything we use and think about as important today in Stratigraphy/ sedimentation, from flow regime concepts to Bouma Sequences, are not in that book, because they did not exist when it was written.
In any event, my goal was to write a book on Virginia geology, and by 1988 I had one in manuscript form. I half heartedly tried to find some way to get it published, but was held back by knowledge that I still needed to do a lot of research. And then I got side tracked into other adventures and schemes that caught my eye, some geologic (Sequence theory), and some not (Evolution of the Brain and Intelligence, the title of a course I teach with Bill Boyer.)
(Another disadvantage, or advantage, depending on how you look at it, of not being a specialist is that you can be so easily side tracked by some neat idea; one of the main ones for me was chaos/complexity theory that culminated recently in teaching a course on it. And, by the way, one of the subjects of chaos/complexity theory is the nature of boundary conditions at transitions, not far removed from my core interests.)
And more recently I was also side tracked by a new colleague in the department, Steve Baedke. Along with the many other things he does very well, Steve is a programmer and a web page designer. And always being easily seduced by something new, I took off on that path to learn as much as I could. But the end result was this idea we hatched to create a web page on the geology of Virginia, a main limb of which would be a section of the geologic evolution of Virginia. We were drawn to this just because we think Virginia's geology is so neat, and the web is a good medium to get more people to know about it.
So, I dusted off the old Virginia geology manuscript and began to think about how to put it into a web format. This series of pages is the result. Frankly, it is based mostly on the 1988 manuscript, the only formal document I have, massaged here and there by things I have read and learned since then, but not formally written out before. I have also continued to gather literature, but have not had a chance to systematically read it yet.
Therefore, all my misgivings about what more needed to be done to the 1988 manuscript before it could be published are only enhanced. And I know of many ideas and illustrations I would like to include in this work that are not here yet. And I am aware of new ideas that I just do not know well enough yet to integrate into the story. By the way, this web history, although extracted from the 1988 manuscript is not the manuscript. The 1988 manuscript was written for myself and so is full of formation names, correlation diagrams, maps, rock interpretations, etc. I needed to piece a history together from the technical literature.
But perhaps there is an advantage to jumping the gun here and putting out in public something that is not ready, or perhaps could ever be ready. My goal always in this endeavor has not been to present my self as an expert on Virginia geology (impossible in any event), or to pontificate as an authority, but to learn. So, my hope is that colleagues who know more than I will be able to take what is written here and point me in the ways to make it better and more accurate. Or, alternatively, they will create pages of their own that we can link to and that explore some of the geology in more detail from their expertise, and in that way help me to learn more and redirect what is written here.
Always, I come back to the quote at the top of the page, "We study something only to understand how little we know about it", and that is my goal, my mantra, and my way of life.
Lynn S. Fichter
July 24, 1999