Although Westerman and Dunn are the experts, they resist rattling off information and instead patiently guide the students toward the “eureka” moments that define this course. “They say at the beginning that we’ll get to be scientists [by] the end,” says Richard Cumby, who puts away a beach ball to join everyone marching off to the geology site. The rustle of boots through grass gives way to a crunch over rocks on the nearby railroad tracks. Dunn stops to pull out a shovel.
After a few minutes of digging, student Johnny Walker discovers alternating beds of sand and silt. “This is the most important thing we’ve done all day,” Dunn says.
There have been, and will be, other important moments: scribbling figures in battered notebooks, watching dusk hit the river while savoring sweet corn and steaks, forming a friendship over a shared birthday. But for now, Dunn is right. Nothing matters but the story of this sandy soil, its connection to past and present.
“This proves it’s a glacial lake bottom,” Dunn says. “That’s pretty cool, I think.”
“That’s pretty cool,” student voices echo in unison.