Writing the lede to a piece of journalism can feel like dangling from a rope over the abyss. I’m there now, puttering up to write another obituary, sitting in a Queen Street coffee shop while rain thunders down, trying to direct my eyes to the dreaded screen not to the umbrella-sheltered passers-by. I am thinking, thinking about that abyss.
Robert Kerrich, Earth scientist. My newest subject. Okay, here’s a story about the real abyss.
Dr. Kerrich kissed his wife goodbye in Saskatchewan and set off for a conference in Hawaii. While stashed in a room full of other scientists, cluttering his mind with paperwork and Powerpoint, he accepted a proposition and high-tailed it out of there.
From a Howard Johnson’s to the mouth of a volcano, literally.
He was lifted by helicopter into a volcano to capture gases, an offer he simply could not refuse.
Here’s his wife, Bev:
“He said, well I had to get into this asbestos suit with a bunch of jars strapped to my waist by a kind of tool belt, and he was lowered into the volcano. This is valuable research.”
“Weren’t you afraid there would be one of those lava bombs?”
“Yes, of course,” he said, adding that it was sweating hot in that suit and his first terror was dropping the samples.
I like the title “Earth scientist” and I like that Earth is capitalized. It adds lustre to a much-maligned and degraded planet.
Dr. Kerrich dropped into volcanoes. He also chatted with little kids about that solid thing they stomp on in the playground–again, I refer to Earth.
For one class of first graders he popped into Tim Horton’s on the way to the school and picked up a box of timbits, as a prop, gathering the kids in a circle for their lesson.
He also handed out fossilized dinosaur poop, borrowed from the Natural History Museum of Regina, transporting his crayon-hefting pupils more easily back to Precambrian days and teaching them the distinction between meat-eaters and veggie-eaters.
And now, here I go, finally launching into telling Dr. Kerrich’s life history. I’m set to make the dive.
Read on anon in the (nearly extinct) newspaper.