Life in the Box: The Earth Moves

geologytv-smjpgHow can an artist express the grandeur of Earth? It’s a big place, and hard to reconcile with our cameras, paint brushes, poetry, or prose. So, imagine my surprise in finding a scientist who gives Earth’s grandeur a great description.

Talented professor and story-teller Michael Wysession steps up to a lectern with astonishing photos and animations to describe in great detail the movements of this liquid, fire-breathing, and cataclysmically shifting world we live upon.

In a set of 36 half-hour lectures called, “The World’s Greatest Geological Wonders,” St. Louis-based Wysession takes us around the globe, pondering great questions and telling amazing stories of our planet’s outstanding creations through layers of sand, rock, and time. The series is available through Great Courses, an organization that packages and sells lectures on all topics.

I’ve been through the entire geology set before, and am revisiting it because it’s so amazing. The first time through, I felt really smart afterwards, but I have forgotten a lot of it. So, it’s new again for me!

Where is the cave where crystals grow three times taller than the tallest basketball player? How did pieces of Africa end up embedded in Canada? What’s up with those toxic lakes that can kill entire villages? You’ll find out, and learn stuff to impress your friends the next time the topic of plate tectonics comes up.


When you were in school, did your science class teach you about Pangea and how our continents have been floating around and causing havoc with each other over the past few hundred-million years? This is one theory that’s become more substantiated in our lifetimes. For instance, Nova Scotia, Canada, was adjacent to Morocco, and New Jersey was touching the Western Sahara. (Link below to a few Pangea pictures and animations.)

I’ve ordered a half-dozen courses from Great Courses and have been pretty happy with them. Never pay full price for these! Call and ask for 70 or 75% off. Or, see if your local library has some or can order them. Our local library has a few of the several hundred in their catalog.

Some courses are a bit esoteric, ““What is the meaning of life? First, let’s define “meaning.” Next, let’s define “life.” Blah, blah, blah.”” But, I’ve really enjoyed the photography courses, this geology one, and one called “Experiencing Hubble: Understanding the Greatest Images of the Universe,” that takes viewers through time and space using out-of-this-world (duh!) pictures from Hubble.


Road Scholars Travel Education

If you enjoy the geology video series and want to see some natural wonders in person, take a Road Scholar class. The Road Scholar hosts know the best times and ways to get to these rocky caves and cliffs, and will include a local specialist to tell you more about them. I thoroughly enjoyed a recent Road Scholar class in St. Martin’s, New Brunswick, along the Bay of Fundy. We literally walked on the bottom of the Bay, as well as watched a river flow backwards, and gawked at a large piece of the African continent that stayed in Canada. This area is one on Professor Wysession’s video.

Another area I can personally recommend is the Utah Bryce and Zion Canyon trip. And, truly any Road Scholar trip to Americas National Parks has got to be great. You don’t just see it, you learn about it.

You can search the Road Scholar web site for other awesome locations Road Scholar is the “new” name for Elderhostel—changed to make it sound younger, I’m sure. Anyway, it’s “non-profit” and available to anyone. They used to cater to the “over 50” crowd, but I started at age 35, and now there’s no mention of age requirements on their web site. cave4x4-sm

The people who show up at these vacations are half the fun—usually including lots of former educators and current world-travelers. I also like getting local culture and history tied in with a well-run schedule and nice food and accommodations. They do keep you busy and well-fed.

*One more note on geology: Professor Wysession lives in St. Louis, Missouri. You might want to take note of the caves and weird formations he mentions that can be seen in the central states, like Missouri, Illinois, and Tennessee. Even Midwestern rocks are cool, pass it on!


Nancy Heather Brown is an Emmy Award-winning television producer whose career has included interviewing, writing, and editing for a span of four decades. Today, she uses gems from this treasure trove of life stories to add sparkle to her reflections on the creative process both inside and outside the box. 

“World’s Greatest Geological Wonders” course

“How the Earth Works” course also by Michael Wysession

See how our Atlantic coast and Canada’s lined up with Africa and Europe.

Animation of Pangea Continents Moving (over the past 250 million years)

Road Scholar Bay of Fundy learning vacation. See the September 25th, 2016 program if you like short hikes of two miles or less.