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Photo: Patrick Frenette.

August 4, 2020
If I weren't a Conductor, I would be...

"I think my true calling might be in geology and paleontology."

By Charles Barker

Way back in November of 1986, I got a call from the General Manager of ABT asking if I would be interested in conducting some shows of The Nutcracker for the Company at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. I’ve been here ever since, and how could I not? ABT is a fabulous company with amazing theatrical experiences every year.

If I weren’t a conductor, there would be several other occupations I’d like. I adore Homer and all things ancient Greek and Latin. I plan to pursue that in retirement. But I think my true calling might be in geology and paleontology. Last summer, my family and I took a road trip from the Black Hills to Yellowstone, and we detoured off the highway onto an obscure mining road to a place called Devil’s Kitchen near the town of Greybull, Wyoming. After passing a sign that warned, “Enter at your own risk,” we pulled off that road to the brink of a half-moon shaped, half-mile deep canyon of sandstone, mudstone and calcedony, with white gypsum covering the base. Because of its shape and location, it’s a giant natural oven.

It took us a while to find our way down into the canyon as there were no trails or paths, but once we got to the gypsum and poked around for a bit in the sweltering 110-degree sunshine, we found what I had come for – a gastrolith. It is a walnut-sized piece of well-worn porphyry that had once been in the gizzard of a 1,000-pound Cretaceous-era sauropod to aid with its digestion. My family was not as impressed as I was to find a stone that had been in a dinosaur’s stomach, but I still carry the gastrolith with me all the time and am all too willing to talk about it to any interested party.

While on tour with ABT in Oman a few years ago, I had the opportunity to explore something most geologists never see: the most dramatic ophiolite sequence on earth. Undersea vulcanism created massive amounts of pillow lava, automobile-sized balls of lava hardened under millions of pounds of pressure, which are now exposed in the hills of northwestern Oman due to a geological anomaly 90 million years ago in the Gulf of Oman. Nearby, walking the dry creek bed, I found a large outcrop of Hawasinah formation, a rumpled rug of allochthonous, deep-water sediments that were thrust onto the Arabian continental margin beneath the ophiolite.

And it’s not all just rocks – part of the ophiolite sequence, peridotite, actually absorbs atmospheric CO2. There is a tremendous amount of peridotite in Oman, and several geologists are exploring the possibility of CO2 sequestration. It would be fun to join their team one day.