I watched the sun go down tonight. Once again, it painted the cliffs red as it fell over the palms covering the spit of land that protects the harbor. I thought of my mentor and friend, Bill Gregg, who passed away last Saturday, I just found out. He was my professor in college, teaching mostly structural geology.
I had him for three classes and once spent the better part of a year working daily in one of the local, abandoned copper mines, taking his structural class. He made us map and measure all the faults, from one end of the East adit, to the other. It was one of those "landmark" classes you took in geology. How many people had a classroom in college that was blasted out of solid rock? Often, a rock, or water would fall on one of the lights, causing it to short out, or explode and we would be left in total darkness until one of us switched on a headlamp that all of us were wearing on our miners helmets. Invariably, Bill was the one, faster at it from all his years in the mine.
I also worked for him one year, teaching the lab for his structural class, as a senior. He took out extra time to teach me how to teach and gave me some golden advice I still use to this day, as I mentor the youngsters who end up working for me out here at sea, far from the rocks I still love, thanks to guys like Bill.
Bill was also a friend and one of the few instructors I saw socially outside the department. He was fun to hang around, easy-going and had a great sense of humor. I remember he and his girlfriend, soon-to-be-wife, Jane, were one of the strange cast of characters that could be found at some of our memorable dinner parties, that ranged from "things we killed", to a Star Trek dinner that saw the likes transporter accidents by the infamous JP, and baked tribbles (my dish and I will give you the recipe, if you wish) washed down with Romulan ale and Klingon blood wine. God help us, both were food-coloring and Boones Farm wine. I thought I would die the next day when I came to, I have never touched that crap since and I bet it was the last time for Bill, too.
Ditto on the Dave's Insanity Sauce at the Great Thanksgiving Feast on the lake that also saw the mom of one of my Indian house mates from Water St. She went around crying and hugging everyone and I remember Bill pulling me aside after his teary hug asking me who she was, again? He and Jane were there to cheer me on earlier that day when I invented Naked Salmon Fishing in Lake Superior and nearly froze some important bits off, too. Unbelievably, we were all sober at that moment and I have no idea what possessed me. I've never been that into fishing before, or since. I love to fish, but usually draw the line well below that.
He taught me geology. He helped to bring out my love of rocks, their origins, the processes that make and shape them and our world and how to tease out their stories, stories available at everyone's feet that only a few can read. I am one of those lucky few thanks in part to Bill.
We often talked in the break room down in the basement of the old geology building. He helped me deal with splitting from my now ex-wife, being divorced himself. He helped me with my personal life and I would like to think I helped him with his. I told him I thought his new girlfriend Jane was a hoot, anyway and he married her, so I wasn't far off the mark.
He had a lot of other interests and our talks ranged from space exploration, to earwigs, to the social sciences and other cultures. He was always interested in other cultures and people and I distinctly remembering him talk of a visit to Zambia, or Zimbabwe and wondering aloud if I would ever travel the world. He predicted I would, saying that it would suit me, well. Here I am in Angola, some 10 years later, reading of his death, thinking of him as the sun sets over Luanda.
Finally, even my son, who now attends my alma mater, has Bill to thank for what has to be one of his best childhood memories. While I would love to take the credit for being a "cool" dad, it was Bill, during one of our coffee breaks who suggested that my son might get a kick out of riding his bike in the mine when he heard I was taking him along for one of the off-hours mine tours I was giving to the local high school, or cub scout troop. I know I will never forget the sight of my little boy (whose taller then me now), riding around on his little bike with training wheels, several hundred feet underground in an abandoned copper mine, his smile beaming brighter than the miners lamp on his over-sized helmet, thanks to Bill.
It's been a couple years since we last spoke. I always made it a point to drop in on him whenever I stopped by the university, whether on business, or just for old times sake. He never failed to drop what he was doing and take a few minutes to bullshit with me. He would always lean back in his chair, put his feet up on the desk, hands behind his head and ask me where I'd been lately, or what I was doing. He really listened and always had an idea to help, or a suggestion for what I was doing. He was a thinker, of the first order, that guy. He also always managed to sneak in a geology question, or two, just to make sure I was keeping current and not loosing it. Sadly, I've not kept current and I lost touch with him the past two years and I see now that I fucked up. Life has a way of capitalizing on your mistakes and knifing you in the kidneys, doesn't it?
Bill, later dude. I'm gonna miss you and will remember that dip is always 90 degrees to strike as well as the path water takes on a dipping, flat plane. Forever.