The Transylvania Times -

By Park Baker
Staff Writer 

Jim Reynolds Plans To Keep On Rocking In Retirement


April 25, 2019

Courtesy Photo

Reynolds has made many trips to Iceland, which is a favorite location for geologists.

After 20 years of teaching students at Brevard College, Jim Reynolds is retiring, but it won't mean pipe and slippers.

The geology professor will attend the 2019 graduation this May, and two hours later he boards a plane heading to Iceland to continue leading trips for the Smithsonian Institute and work on his book, a geologic tour of the country.

That will be his first of three trips to Iceland this year, along with trips to Peru, the Galapagos Islands, and getting married in October. Retirement is looking like it will be busier than being employed full time.

Reynolds' fascination with geology began in 1958, when a toy Dimetrodon fell out his box of Trix into his cereal bowl. Confused, he asked his mother what it was.

After learning it was a dinosaur, that they were extinct and that their fossils could only be found by digging them up, Reynolds grabbed a shovel and by lunch time had made it to the top of the septic tank in the backyard.

He never found any dinosaurs, and he said he didn't get in trouble for the large holes in the backyard, but that morning sparked a fascination for geology - the science that deals with the Earth's physical structure and substance, its history and the processes that act on it.

When his father took a post doctorate position at the University of California, that trip across the country solidified his passion for volcanoes, rocky coastlines and how mountains came to be made.

After his family's move to Pittsburgh, Penn., living near a strip mine, he learned about coal and mining.

He earned the merit badge in geology as a Boy Scout and never looked back.

Reynolds has been teaching for 30 years total. His first two years were spent at Colgate University in upstate New York.

He received his Ph.D. from Dartmouth several years later, although his first attempt at a Ph.D. at the University of Mass-achusetts was set back by a stroke he suffered while in the field in Maine, which incapacitated him for about a year and a half.

"I had to drop out of the program there, so I went back to my hometown and Colgate hired me back to teach labs the first year and then teach courses the second year," he said. "By then, I was recovered enough to think that I could do a Ph.D., so Dartmouth accepted me again, and so I went back. I had this dream of going to Pakistan and working in the Himalayas, and Dartmouth was well funded for that. Then, when I got there, the opportunity to work in the Andes came up in Argentina. My college roommate grew up there, and I knew it was a wine region, so I was able to get my doctorate in the Andes and continued working there for 25 years, going back annually. I did two Fulbrights there also, teaching at Argentinian universities. That was a great experience."

Not long after receiving his Ph.D., and while teaching at Western Carolina University, he received an email from the geology club at Utrecht University in the Netherlands for their 50th anniversary as a club.

They said the only place they haven't been was Iceland, but none of its professors could go during certain dates, and they were looking for someone who knew something about volcanoes and glaciers.

"I said, 'Hey I can do that.' That was my first trip to Iceland, with 35 Dutch students," he said.

Reynolds later started leading trips to Iceland and Argentina with the Geological Society of America.

His first year at Brevard College, he took 20 students to Costa Rica. Over the years, he has led student trips to 12 different countries, which caught the eye of the Smithsonian Institute, which invited him to lecture about geology on cruise ships.

Those trips opened the door to more opportunities with the Smithsonian Institute, leading trips to Iceland, Peru and Argentina.

Reynolds has also been on the board of directors for the Galapagos Conservancy for the last seven years and travels there often.

Reynolds said he enjoyed seeing students come to geology class who have no idea what geology really is.

"They think it's a bunch of rocks, but then they come in and see that there's a lot more to it," he said. "It's a pretty intense science. It mixes physics and chemistry, along with its own aspects of science, and to a large degree biology with paleontology. Every year it pains me, but I get a senior taking geology for the first time and they said they wish they had been in this class as a freshman and made it their major," he said. "But when you're the only person here, there's not a lot of support for a one-person program. I just have to deal with that."

Of all the minerals that fascinate him, Reynolds said the one that intrigues him the most is the plagioclase feldspar, the most abundant mineral in the continental crust.

One member of this family of minerals, vibradorite, is extremely useful in studying geology and the temperatures that magma chambers are cooling at.

Vibradorite has fiber optic qualities.

If it is held on a sheet of paper with writing on it, the mineral reflects the text, magnifying it and lifting it off the page.

Reynolds has also been the president of the local Sierra Club Pisgah chapter and served as vice chair of the state Sierra Club for four years. He stepped out of that to come back here to the Pisgah chapter and be the chair again.

"The Sierra Club has been great," he said. "We're trying to interact with the local level with conservation and environmental issues. We have started to talk with the City of Brevard about transitioning to all renewable energy. There's interest in city council, but, of course, they're worried about the bottom line. But, not even in the long run, but in the mid-term run, it will save the city and the tax payers to transition to renewable energy. I would like them to go with electric vehicles and more solar energy use."

Reynolds said that all of the city buildings are run by coal-fired power or nuclear power and while investments up front are steep, the long-term savings will grow exponentially because the cost of nuclear and coal energy will only continue to rise because the cost of extraction of coal and uranium will only go up.

"The sun will not stop shining for another 15 billion years or so," he said. "Solar panels can save us a lot of money. Those power bills will keep going up. Once you install natural energy it just keeps on going. The sunlight will not start costing more. We would like to eventually start working with the county, too. Buncombe and the city of Asheville have both made a strong commitment to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, and other major cities are doing the same. Chicago just committed that by 2040 they will be 100 percent renewable. If Chicago can do it, I am pretty sure Brevard could do it also."

Some of Reynolds' students were directly involved in Brevard College divesting its portfolio from fossil fuels, an achievement that saw him receiving a national award from the Sierra Club for serving as an advisor. But, he said, it was the students who were responsible and sparking that activism in them is why he remains passionate about education.

Some of his students have gone on to work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin-istration and the U.S. Geological Survey, or gone into teaching themselves.

If he hasn't sounded busy enough, Reynolds is also the president of the Smoky Mountain Institute, a Winston-Salem based nonprofit.

The group is trying to transition the Galapagos Islands to 100 percent renewable energy.

Geologically speaking, Reynolds said Western North Carolina is fascinating. He said three major mountain building events formed the Blue Ridge Mountains and that Brevard itself was on an island that eventually collided with the mainland.

"The first event was about 450 million years ago when a bunch of volcanic islands crashed into Laurentia, which is basically North America," he said. "Looking Glass Rock is one of those islands. Brevard was on an island that collided with the mainland, and we see this island chain going from Stone Mountain, Ga., all the way into Quebec. Dartmouth, where I went to school, is also on one of those islands."

Park Baker

Jim Reynolds is retiring after 20 years as a geology professor at Brevard College.

Reynolds said that geological work is more important than most people realize because, "if you can't grow it, you have to mine it."

"That's true," he said. "If you cant grow it, you have to mine it, so right now everything that is metal, of course, came from the earth. All of our energy resources are coming from the earth and our water to. Clean water is essential for our survival, so finding that clean water is a definite geological endeavor. With a growing population, on an overpopulated planet, we are seeing more geological hazards.

"Every year there is an increase in the number of people killed by geological hazards. Society has to learn how to plan ahead for these disasters, which scientists know are going to happen, and build around them to accommodate that eventuality."


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