Charles Ferguson Barker
Early Spring, Michigan, 1975
The author and sister on Lake Huron, 1973
The author on a somewhat
larger boat ten years later, working on the geophysical research vessel SEAMARK, pictured here at anchor Santa Barbara Harbor, 1983.
Short Path Version:
Charles Barker is a geologist with an undergraduate degree in geology from Arizona State University, and a graduate degree in Geology from Boston University. He has been drawing and painting since childhood, and enjoys combining Geology and art in his books.
He now works at an environmental consulting firm in Detroit, investigating sites of soil and groundwater contamination, and air quality issues. He also teaches introductory geology at Wayne State University where he is part-time faculty in the Geology Department.
After graduating from Arizona State, he worked on the Geophysical Research Vessel SEAMARK mapping the seafloor offshore California. For his master’s thesis at Boston University, he studied the tidal hydraulics of the Scarboro River Inlet in Southern Maine (serendipitously, only steps from Winslow Homer’s studio, his favorite artist).
Long Path Version:
Born in Michigan, I attended Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona to escape the Michigan winters, and to explore the west. The west had always had a lure to me after a family vacation to the Grand Canyon when I was in elementary school. I was so taken with the west, and the Canyon in particular, that on the last day of the vacation I buried my favorite yo-yo at the edge of the canyon in a sort of tribute to the canyon, or pledge to return (realizing now that that action is likely in violation of several Park rules, or is something that should simply not be done).
As a freshman at ASU, I had considered majoring in Art or English, until I reluctantly took Geology 101 at my Dad’s suggestion to fulfill a science requirement. The combination of the subject matter, my instructors, and camaraderie of fellow students made me eager to major in Geology. Mostly, it was my instructor’s enthusiasm for the subject that was contagious.
After graduating from ASU with a Bachelor’s degree in Geology, I took a job on a geophysical research vessel out of San Diego (It sounds a lot more glamorous that it was). The Company had been founded by my former instructor at ASU, Dr. Robert Dietz, who coined the phrase “seafloor spreading” in relation to the new ideas of plate tectonics in the 1960s. It was very interesting and challenging work, and seems to confirm the opinion of a geologist with the Standard Oil Company of California who said in the 1930s about exploration field work: “the success of a geological field team depends on 10 percent geology, 40 percent surviving your environment and 50 percent getting along with your partner” (from Out in the Blue, C. Barger, 2000).
After 2 years mostly at sea, I decided to switch coasts and go to graduate school in geology. I was accepted into Boston University, packed up my car-top boat on top of my car (where else?) and headed to Boston. At BU I studied coastal geology and hydrogeology. Most of my field work was done along the coast of Maine. Good times, fun times, lots of learning, and lots of lobster. Again, I had the privilege of being taught by excellent instructors while at BU. I graduated from BU in 1988 with a Master of Arts in Geology. While in Boston, I wrote and illustrated my first Children’s Book, From The Outside Looking In, about a boy, sick, and staying home from school, who learns about plate tectonics from a puppet. The book remains unpublished, but is one of my favorites. (Contact me for a very crude self-bound version—photocopied and stapled—, I’ll make ‘em up one at a time for folks that want one!)
At the request of some elementary school teacher friends, I began giving talks about Geology (armed with loads of rocks and fossils) to 3rd graders. It was fun (see a student’s letter from 1987 in the School Visits page).
After 9 years in New England, I moved back to my native Michigan, and now work at an environmental consulting firm, and teach introductory geology at Wayne State University as part-time faculty.
In 2001 I was extremely happy to have my first contract for a Children’s’ Book – Under Michigan, The Story of Michigan’s Rocks and Fossils, published by Wayne State University Press. In it and other books like it, I try to explain the fascinating and unique geology of “home places.” I was thrilled when Under Michigan was awarded a Notable Book of 2006 by the Library of Michigan.
Next came Under Ohio, published by Ohio University Press. It was a delightful book to work on and I gained a huge appreciation for Ohio geology that I had not had before the project.
Under New England, published by University Press of New England took me back to New England. This book is very meaningful to me and I looked upon the project as if I were paying tribute to the land and people that gave me such great memories. I had fun looking up and if appropriate, placing passages from some of New England’s favorite poets and writers throughout the book to tie in the literature of the land to its geology.