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by Jim Connolly

Howard Shifflett November 19, 1927 - May 25, 2014

Howard Shifflett
November 19, 1927 – May 25, 2014

This past weekend I received the news that my first geology teacher, Dr. Howard Shifflett, had just left us after an 84 year career as an extraordinary human being.  I first met Howard in 1971 when I took my first geology classes at Long Beach City College.  I wrote about it in an essay that was part of David Kuenzli’s book “Diving Deeper: Mastering the Five Pools of Happiness” (2010; Dog Ear Publishing).  Howard was the person responsible for igniting my lifelong passion for geology and the extraordinary planet that we live on.  After writing the essay (reproduced below), I did some investigation and discovered that Dr. Shifflett (he was Mr. Shifflett when I took his classes and working on his Ph.D.) had a long career as a teacher of geology at LBCC and went on in retirement to lead numerous geology-related tours for anyone who was interested.  My only disappointment was that I was not able to reconnect with Howard before he passed, but I was happy that his son Mark found my essay online and has been able to share it with his mom and others who knew Howard as students, colleagues and friends.  It is my hope that publishing this on the NMMW Website and Blog and adding a link to it on Howards memorial page will help get the word about this extraordinary man out to more people who knew him.

Amazed by the Earth

James R. Connolly

In 1971, after a tour in the Army, I was living in Southern California and working for an airline to pay the bills. Bored with the corporate world, I cut back on my work hours so I could take a few college classes.   I was introduced to Geology for the first time by a Long Beach City College instructor named Howard Shifflett.  In the first class, Mr. Shifflett handed out a sheaf of stapled pages that were mostly blank.  This was to be the text book for the class – an outline that I was to fill in myself from the subjects he covered in his lectures.  Listening to his lectures, I became fascinated with the idea that the earth is a living, ever-changing system that you could understand by careful examination of its features.  The jagged mountains, the flowing streams, the hills and valleys and the different types of rocks and minerals that formed them told an intriguing story of how our planet came to be as it is.

I had majored in chemistry in my first failed attempt at college, finding it somehow too abstract and artificial.  To me, Geology was solid and physical.  To see ripples of sand in a stream and recognize these same structures frozen in the layers of gloriously colored rocks that I had seen in the deserts of the southwest got me more excited about science than I thought possible.  Over the weeks, as Mr. Shifflett’s magical outlines began to take shape, I knew I had found my calling.

The second course, “Field Geology,” was open to those who completed the introductory course.  It was in the field that Mr. Shifflett’s lectures really came to life—in the ever-startling landforms of Death Valley, the dramatic volcanic landscapes of Mono Lake, the stark majesty of the Mojave Desert and the rugged peaks of the Sierra Nevada.  My previous experience with science was in my head.  Geology, in contrast, was in not only in my head…but also in my hands, my eyes and my heart!  In an odd but compelling way, I began to feel more in tune with the the earth and its rhythms.

The earth, as you may know, is continuously being re-created by competing processes that operate in both tension and harmony.  The slow, uniform geological processes of weathering, erosion, transport, deposition and burial gradually grind down giant mountains, move them as sediment hundreds or even thousands of miles away, and transform them into new rocks.  The catastrophic processes, including volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis and meteorite impacts, punctuate the slow and steady processes with bursts of high energy as they push up newly formed mountains by powerfully energetic jerks or knock them down with explosive force often causing great catastrophes including mass extinctions, enormous destructive floods and other events that reverberate through eons of time.

Somehow, all of this made grand, internal cosmic sense to me.  Though our human time scale is much different from that of the earth, the slow and steady processes, punctuated by abrupt, energetic ones still seem to me today to be a good model for understanding the evolution of our lives.

After Mr. Shifflett’s classes, my life was changed.  Thirty-seven years after my first Geology class including a career as a professional geologist, I still find the endless shaping of our planet by geologic processes a source of awe and wonder.  Someday soon, after retiring from the work-a-day world, I look forward to sharing my excitement about geology with a new generation of students, young and old. Perhaps I can even help a few of them make the connection between their own lives and that of the awesome planet that is our home.  Thanks Howard. I am still filling in your magical textbook!

(from: “Diving Deeper: Mastering the Five Pools of Happiness” by David Kuenzli, 2010, Dog Ear Publishing)

Mario Hinojoza


You are missed, Brother

At the NMMW Spring Retreat in April there was significant discussion about the untimely passing from this life of the young man Mario Hinojoza who was one of our Men’s Wellness brothers, having attended and been active in the past two NMMW Conferences. Mario took his own life early this year.  After much discussion of our grief, anger, and other emotions, it was suggested that we take a two part call to action for our benefit and the benefit of Mario’s young child.

1.  Each man who had a connection with Mario, no matter how brief, is asked to write a remembrance of Mario and send it to Robby Beck for compilation for use by Men’s Wellness members and to be given at an appropriate time to Mario’s child. Robby’s contact information is:

Robby Beck
P.O. Box 572
Clayton, New Mexico 88415

Office: (575) 374-2993
Cell: (575) 207-5992
Fax: (575) 374-8458

2. A goal of raising at least $1,000.00 for the benefit of the child to be administered through Barry McIntosh and Young Fathers of Santa Fe. Contributions should be sent to NMMW Treasurer Scott Dow at the address below,

Scott Dow
Treasurer, NMMW
9 Avalon Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87508

Phone: (505) 690-6645

Checks should be made out to “New Mexico Men’s Wellness” with a designation for the purpose of the “Mario fund.” Contributions made at the Spring Retreat have put us well on the way to reaching our goal.


(Photos by Joseph Woods and Uwe Schroeter)

Earthprayers for our loved one’sThe earth heals and is our mother and father really, I know it to be true in my life and many people over the years reported to me it gave them comfort when they held the earth prayer (a golfball size little earth with a heart drawn on it) in times of difficulty or stress.  It is composed of sacred earth and a small amount of straw.  An idea that is new to me is to put a person ‘s ashes in the earthprayer that is transitioning to the other side and for their families to have something to hold to give them comfort when they want to feel a sense of their loved one.  We forget but we are made of earth and no matter how sophisticated or technological we have become that will never change.  And holding one of the earthprayers with their loved ones ashes in it, will bring comfort and a sense of holding an essence of them.  Hard to explain in words but feeling the earthprayer with their ashes it becomes easier to experience and understand.  My friend Bernard mixed the mud and mixed the ashes and made a heart to contain his wife’s ashes and when he feels lonely for her he picks up the heart and always feels better.

This could be an idea for putting Pet’s ashes into one of these earth containers.  I like the idea of a small earth ball with a heart drawn on it, but Bernard had his whole family put some ashes into different earth containers [he made a heart for his wife ‘s ashes] with another friends ashes became a small [or larger earth sculpture} and as the story continues most people have a sense of the presence of their loved one in the earth container, and it brings comfort.  We can also do ritual and say prayers to the person, as we are adding ashes to the earth and making benches.  In talking to a doorways meeting I mentioned an earth bench and the woman next to be liked the idea so well that she wants to work with her and her family to put her grandfathers ashes in an earth bench so she can be held by her grandfather when he leaves and she will feel held by him as if in a hug.  I like to play with ideas and as something that wi ll be affordable.  In most cases creating larger and more complex objects wi ll be negotiated with compassion.  robert francis “mudman” johnson 208 1/2 polaco street, Santa fe NM 87501.  505-954-4495

an earth prayer for a loved one
is love personified
in a sacred earth prayer
a great mystery of love and soul
is smiling with us on our journey home


For a downloadable (and printable) color document with photographs of some earthprayers, please click here.

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