The sun was high in the sky, but it could barely be seen through the thick canopy provided by the trees. It was the summer of- wait, it wasn’t summer. It was fall. My sixth grade class went on a three day field trip to some state park. Caumsett. The name comes from the Matenecock Indian tribe, and means “place by a sharp rock”. The permission slip for the excursion warned the parents that we should all pack extra boots. I remember thinking to myself, “Why should I bring extra boots? That’s just stupid…” Little did I know how badly I would end up needing those boots.
It was a pretty routine field trip, what with the animals and star watching and such. Being pudgy and unenergetic, I never had a flair for all that “nature stuff”. Ultimately it was my hatred of nature that became my undoing. We went on one of those nature hike things, and as usual, I didn’t pay any attention to where we were or where we were going. It was all the same to me. Just another face in the crowd, just following the leader. Then something strange happened. One minute I’m trailing behind everyone, the next minute I’m falling. No, I didn’t fall off a cliff and spiral to my certain death. As soon as my brain began to register what happened I started calling for help; I had somehow jumped into what I can only describe as muddy quicksand. I was up to my knees in this muck, and I couldn’t pull my legs out of it. This was the worst thing that happened to me in my entire time in the public school system, even worse than the time I got stuck in a revolving door in eighth grade. My whole sixth grade class had to double back and my teacher had to pull me out. Unfortunately, the suction (Actually, there is no such thing as suction. The air acts on the vacuum giving the illusion of pull, when actually it is the air pushing against it. Physics rules!) of the mud pulled off both my shoes and I had to walk an indeterminate amount of mileage through the woods in my socks. Because I never bothered taking another pair of shoes, I had to use a pair from the lost and found, which actually looked worse than my waterlogged shoes probably looked right then.
The experience was grueling, but my brief, albeit momentous time at a state park has had a great impact on me. But there are some things that school just can’t teach you. Some things you have to learn by experience. Things like transmuting lead into gold.
Alchemists have theorized for centuries that it was possible to convert common elements into more valuable ones, such as gold. Despite being completely disproved by modern science, some alchemists (such as myself) believe that it is entirely possible to transmute the elements. Armed with only my wits and a $100,000 government grant, I set out to win acclaim and respect from the scientific community.
I began my research by creating a special element table similar in design to the periodic table, but with the elements listed alphabetically. I operated under the assumption that an element starting with an even numbered letter combined with an element starting with an odd numbered letter would produce gold. I started with the simple equation a = 1. Several months later, I realized that my method was flawed. The equation should have been a = 89, since in elemental terms, 89 is the number of protons in one atom of Actinium. Using this as a cipher, I quickly found that when combining Argon and Xenon – two of the most stable gases – the resulting compound was gold. Unfortunately, closer examination of the gold indicated that I’d only succeeded in creating Pyrite- fool’s gold. The secrets of transmutation had once again eluded my grasp!
My disheartening encounters with both the great outdoors and the cold, unfeeling world of science have taught me two very important things. Firstly, avoid national and state parks. They’re nothing but trouble. Secondly, there is no way to turn lead into gold. It can’t be done. And anyone who tries is a bigger fool than I was.