Dragons and Daffodils: Sabbatical Studies in Wales by Robert Raeside
What do you do when you are given 12 months of sabbatical leave from the University? The answer for me was to find somewhere to catch up on eight years of falling behind on the science, and on some of my research projects. With my wife and two sons we took advantage of as much of the Nova Scotian summer as we could, then headed east to the U.K. from August to June. My parents still live in Scotland, so it was natural to start there, and use that as a "home base". In fact, we spent most of the year at the University of Wales, College at Cardiff, with occasional forays to Scotland at Christmas and Easter.
After living in Wolfville for eight years it was quite a shock initially to live in the "big city". Cardiff is similar in size to Halifax, but is a very busy, bustling city. Despite lots of talk about recession and cut-backs in Britain, it is not evident in Cardiff. Buildings are going up, suburb areas are expanding, and it seems like everyone owns a car and drives it all the time!
One of the places that is experiencing boom times more than most is the University. In a program of rationalization, Geology departments across Britain were reviewed and ranked in the 1980's. In Wales, the "favoured school" was UWCC. Other departments were either down-sized or closed, and faculty moved to Cardiff. This resulted in an enormous department, with some unusual concentrations for a Geology department - paleobotany, geomorphology, oceanography. The amalgamation is now virtually complete, but it will take time for the expanded department to begin to function as a single unit.
I was given an office and access to departmental facilities and relished the opportunity to have "peace and quiet" to work on my own projects. One of these involved the compilation of a metamorphic map of the Appalachian-Caledonian orogen, stretching from eastern Greenland and Spitsbergen, through Britain and much of Europe, western Africa, eastern North America and northern South America. This involved a lot of letter writing and collaboration with geologists in 35 countries - it was interesting to note the rate of correspondence. Eastern Europeans were very eager to participate, but had little to contribute. Those with more to contribute were much slower - there are still holes in the map for Germany and USA.
My other main project was to bring together various studies on metamorphism of the South Shore of Nova Scotia. Ever since I arrived at Acadia, I have been supervising students on theses in this area, but now finally, I have a lull in activity. So I took with me 800 thin sections of Shelburne and Yarmouth counties, and spent a lot of time trying to figure out six different numbering schemes, searching to confirm the one grain of sillimanite seen by an eager honours student six years ago. I was impressed by how well the rocks had been described! Out of this effort, I was able to pull together an integrated story for the metamorphism of the Meguma terrane, and to prepare a field guide to this area of outstanding low-pressure metamorphism, ready for a field trip at the GAC-MAC meeting in 1992.
Other geological highlights of my stay in Britain were the visits to classic geological localities - the Ile de Groix blueschists in Brittany, the Mona Complex in Anglesey, and the Tertiary basalts, the limestone pavements, the Connemara migmatites, and the Donegal granites in Ireland.
South Wales itself was a fascinating area. Even though the surrounding geology is entirely sedimentary, the structure is well displayed, and the landscape is dramatically controlled by the underlying geology. Deep narrow valleys exposed coal seams, now completely buried by endless rows of houses in the mining towns, while the Brecon Beacons behind provide lots of "free space" for wandering the hills.
Would I do it again? You bet! When's the next flight?