The Gift of Geologic Time

by | Jan 16, 2017 | Ground Work | 22 comments

Waking before dawn with today’s to-do’s scrolling through my mind, I felt choked up just brewing a cup of tea – compile tax info, update Dad’s expenses, call the accountant, brush the dog, vacuum up the dog hair, do the laundry, work a closing shift at the bookstore, and oh yes, how’s the re-write of that novel I’ve been working on for years going….

Sandy's TracksI drank my tea, trying to swallow the anxiety spawned by the news and to-do’s along with it. Then Sandy and I headed out for our walk. He led me up the trail at sunrise, his fur ruffling in the chill breeze, his too-small-for-his-body ears bouncing with each step. A flock of Mountain Bluebirds, wintering in the junipers, took to the sky as we passed, the incredible color of their feathers flashing.

The Sandia Mountains tower 5,000 feet above our mile-high home, and we walk in their shadow. The banded uppermost layer is 300 million-year-old Madera Limestone, deposited in an ancient sea where crinoids and brachiopods and bryozoans flourished (creatures that still inhabit our oceans today, though in different forms). But the range is dominated by the Sandia Granite, a 1.4 billion-year-old formation (yes, billion!). Its reddish pink orthoclase feldspar crystals make the mountains glow, gold shading to deep pink, as the sun angle lowers late in the day, Sandia Granite 3giving the range its nickname – the Watermelon Mountains.

The views – of a billion years of time and thousands of feet of displacement on the faults that form the Rio Grande Valley – remind me to lighten up; my whole lifetime is less than a snap of the fingers in the story of this landscape. My ashes will one day be scattered in the arroyo beside my house, and I will be carried to the river and beyond. My adobe house will melt back into the earth, leaving hardly a trace for whoever or whatever inhabits this space down the track of geologic time.

Politics won’t matter. Money won’t matter. The stuff by which we define success, or failure, won’t matter. I don’t have to take life, and myself, so seriously. I’m free to explore and take chances. I can stand up for what matters to me, without thinking that one way or the other it’s the end of the world. Geologic time proves to me it won’t be.

Redtail HawkWhen I remember to live like that, in addition to having the courage to try, whether I succeed or fail, there’s also space to savor the finger snaps of my own lifetime – a walk with my beloved dog, making tracks in fresh snow, Sirius sparkling in a black velvet sky, Wynton Marsalis playing Where or When, a hawk soaring overhead, reading Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese, and the glint of a mountain moonrise. In those moments, my heart fills with gratitude – it feels physical, like my heart is actually swelling in my chest. Have you ever felt it?

I can’t imagine it being expressed any better than Oliver Sacks did in one of his last essays, My Own Life, “Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

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  1. Paul

    Kleenex please! Nice entry [from a fellow future deposit of organic residue]!


    Deb … Your elegant prose in “Gift of Geologic Time” is a beautiful reminder that one can, should, must stand up to what matters personally. Another moving gift from your gifted heart and mind and soul. So much appreciated. Love that you are sharing such things with me! May I share this with some friends whom I know would be as moved as I am by your insightful writings? Blessings, Gerry

    • Deborah Green

      Absolutely – writers need readers – so if any of you feel moved to, please spread the word to folks you think will enjoy!

  3. Moni Bates

    One of my realizations of how lucky I was to have lived my life as a conservation botanists was while driving to meet you and Paula for our nearly daily runs and hearing the day’s value of the dollar on NPR. One early morning, I asked my husband, “Who the hell really cares about the the value of the dollar over such an insignificant amount of time?” Well, there are folks who make that their livelihood. Nice for them. Meanwhile, I’m thankful,at least at times, to think in terms of geological and evolutionary time. It’s settles life down.

    • Deborah Green

      It does! That same walk, I was thinking about evolution too, and feeling grateful for the relationship that’s evolved between humans and dogs. Who else could take me for such fun, and thoughtful, walks beside Sandy and Capi? I can’t wait to hear about who will be “walking you” next, Moni.

  4. judi

    I will be sharing your beautiful story with my friends and family who have not had the good fortune to walk with you in person. I count myself blessed to have shared many walks with you and look forward to many more! Keep writing and sharing Deb.

    • Deborah Green

      Thank you, Judi. I’m the lucky one!

  5. Terry Groves

    Your insights inspire me while your prose paints a beautiful picture. I am both humbled and astounded by my fleeting presence in the history you describe but glad to be even that small part of it. We can extend our presence by writing our character in our stories and musings. Although they will not outlive the granite…a billion!…they will outlive our frail bodies and scattered ashes.

    • Deborah Green

      Well said, Terry. And so we keep writing.

  6. Irene

    Loved your vivid descriptions. Makes our longing to be there even more intense. Irene

  7. Carolyn Kinsman

    I love this post, Dear Deb! Yes, I know that feeling, brought on by the vastness of landscape — sea, mountains, the horizon line. They put me tenderly in my place, and it is so very sweet. Keep up the great writing!

  8. Evey Jones

    This read and lovely write fits in perfectly with my meditation each morning… good thoughts, like a gentle breeze, coming through and taking me to kinder shores, thanks, Deb

  9. Jane Gill-Shaler

    Thank you Deb. The gentle thoughtfulness you put into your writing makes my days brighter.

  10. Elizabeth

    Helps to put things in perspective, and makes me feel, for a moment, a bit less panic stricken about the near future.

  11. Sharon Galkin

    Our perspectives may differ regarding time in general and one’s personal place in it but your well-written words compel us all to pause, to reflect, to dream and to be grateful for every blessing. Thank you, Deb, for another wonderful post.

  12. Gary Rogers

    Nice story Deb.
    One of your lines reminded me of this quote, which I heard with my own ears one Saturday morning…
    “Don’t worry about life, you’ll never get out of it alive.” – Bugs Bunny

  13. Erik

    These days, it may not be comforting but, it may assuage the anxiety factor bearing in mind

    that there is no correlation between intelligence & reason.

  14. Vic Macquarrie

    Great story, Deb. I will have to tell you in person of the effect it had on me. Lots of love. Vic

  15. Sara Eisenberg

    This rocks, Deb! (Promise not to overuse this pun with you) So much of my life and practice is focused on staying awake to both linear and holographic time. But my awareness of linear time turns out to be kind of puny (not punny.) Thank you for opening me up to the grandeur and solidity of its stretch at the same time. And you pack so much of the feel of your daily life into your opening and closing, I get the solidity and beauty of that too.

  16. Kathryn MILLER

    Thank you Deb, THIS is beautifully written and fits the place that we both live. Such a great reminder. Thank you for helping me see the power of geologic time. In these days, it is helpful to have your thoughtful wisdom regarding how we all fit. Small or large, we all have a place. I am grateful for your insights here.

  17. Jenn

    Thanks for reminding me to keep things in perspective. And to take time out and away to just enjoy being for a moment. That is really what it’s all about.

  18. Carolyn Kinsman

    A lovely, loving tribute. And I’m glad you’ll be focusing on that book!


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Geologists study the earth and the processes that shape it. Writers study the human heart and the processes that shape it. The GeologistWriter builds a bridge between the two. Come across it with me!

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