Wingbeats

 In Ground Work

The trail is where I have calmed the clenching in my heart these past months. This morning, I ventured out in search of that, in the aftermath of yet another loss this tragic year—that of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a revered champion for equality. I wandered up the far reaches of an arroyo, and before turning for home, looked toward the mountains, a view usually so clear it helps me find my own clarity, but today is shrouded in smoke. Enough to dry my throat and sting my eyes. No clarity to be had. Perhaps today’s hike would simply be an exercise in putting one foot in front of the other, and that would have to suffice.

I’m seeking direction in these days filled with smoke, and fear—in how to make a difference in diversity, equity, and inclusion in the geoscience profession, and in finding what actions are my right actions as we near the most important election of my lifetime. Though I knew exactly where I was in the foothills, I felt lost.

Diverting from the contour I’d followed, I dropped into another arroyo headed down (and away from the solitude of the hour or two I give myself most days toward the waiting to-do list, which I also give myself most days). Within a few steps, a shadow and the whoosh of wings passed overhead. A crow, not flying terribly low (as they will sometimes), and still I could feel the air it moved wash over me, the pulse of its wingbeats in my chest. With that, a wave of resolve filled me. A rush of thoughts followed. And, at least for this moment, this day, I know my direction.

I don’t have to know, and in fact cannot, how to fly to feel the power of the crow’s wingbeats. I don’t have to experience, and in fact cannot, the injustice with which Black people are treated to work for change. I have much left to learn, but I know enough to begin.

I started my career when only ten percent of the geoscience workforce were women—I was asked if I planned to have children in a job interview (yup, illegal for a few years by then, and still they asked); I spent weeks working 14-hour days to prepare an operations plan for a complex project (one in which I would lead the field effort) only to be ordered by the client to go get the coffee at the break (because that would have to be the job of the only woman in the room); and I’ve heard men praised for being ambitious, while I was told to ‘tone it down’ (that’s right, what’s assertive for men, is aggressive for women). Never sexually assaulted, I was ‘handled’ in ways that would be fireable offenses now.

It’s no mistake I chose to spend two-thirds of my career working for and by myself. Only now, in that career’s twilight, am I acknowledging some of the deeper reasons for my choices. After nearly four decades, I’m letting myself feel the anger I stuffed so many times, to not be labeled difficult to work with (when, no doubt, for a man it would have been labeled as standing up for himself). Some days I seethe, but more days I channel that ire into action. I can use what I know and how I have felt to fight for a more fair future, in the geosciences, and in society.

‘Atta-girls’ are nice enough, but a smoke screen—where’s the equal pay and equal opportunity? It is well past time for true equality, but I don’t expect to see it in my lifetime. Still, I will take off and fly in that direction. Even small wingbeats will move me forward, and shift the air around me. Maybe you’ll feel it.

What are those wingbeats to be? For me, for now—contributing to and volunteering for candidates who stand for justice, equality, and protecting the environment; sending “Get Out to Vote” postcards and letters, looking inward at my own unconscious biases and bringing them to light, to shed or to harness; and participating in the Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists’ effort to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. What are yours?

“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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Showing 15 comments
  • Deborah Green
    Reply

    I cannot thank artist extraordinaire, Holly Moxley, enough for the beautiful painting she created for this post. Go see more of her amazing work at her website: https://www.hollymoxley.com/

  • Anne Frost
    Reply

    Powerful, Deb. Your words help me find clarity. Thank you for the wingbeats and shifting air.
    Anne

  • Yvette Jordan
    Reply

    Deborah, as I read your latest post, I sit in awe of your passion, wonder at the possibilities for your profession and pride for my friend of over 50 years. Yes, these are challenging times but there are glimmers of hope as like minded people strive to correct the course of this ship through their right to exercise their vote. RBG was a giant for women, the underserved and our nation but you are a giant, too. I know what you’ve done and are doing in your profession to advocate for equity and this African American woman couldn’t be prouder of her friend. Press on my sister, I’m standing with you. 👊🏽

  • Sara Eisenberg
    Reply

    This is wonderful! Your post is full of heart, lostness, resolve, surgical precision, and invitation to your readers to join the small wingbeat challenge. I bow to you.

  • Garry Maurath
    Reply

    Wow, extremely well said and quite an inspiration you provide in dealing with injustice!!!
    While it is helpful to the soul to focus on the good things in life, which give you purpose, you are spot on to remember the hardships, which give your life meaning.
    Also, love your graphics.

  • Bambi Forbes
    Reply

    Thank you, Deb. Extraordinary words.
    You express for all of us the pain we are feeling and can barely take a full breath to express. The world benefits deeply from your thoughts, your experiences – the message from Crow above you in the arroyo, the actions and comments you have tolerated in your profession – and your precious ability to pen the words to express it all.
    Again, thank you, and thank Holly Moxley for her crow painting. Full body chills, first the painting, then your words.

    With love,
    Bambi

  • Judith Pringle
    Reply

    Your words…wingbeats and shifting air. Powerful! We can be the change.

  • Jenn Bauer
    Reply

    Deb, thank you for vividly sharing your vulnerability while at the same time providing inspiration. I’m grateful for the women geoscientists that paved the path before me so that I didn’t have to go through similar struggles.

    Your wingbeats shift not only the air around you, but around everyone that you have touched. Perhaps, if we all work together to fly in formation, we can use our individual small shifts to create some gusts of positive change.

    Much love!

  • Eldon Gath
    Reply

    Beautifully said Deb. A murder of crows flew over me today, their beating wings literally waved my (Covid) hair, and I thought nothing (stop there) so elegant nor precise as you. Indeed I thought nothing, being gut shot in 2016, mentally dead in 2020, and RBG’d on Friday. Glad (happy) you are not similarly brain dead. Thanks for being you.

  • Vic MacQuarrie
    Reply

    Brilliant work my friend. All of G Dock is rooting for you all the way.

  • Kathy Troost
    Reply

    Deb, Your talent is inspiring and beautiful. Thank you for sharing your passion and insight with all of us.

  • Scott Burns
    Reply

    Another wonderful message – straight from the heart! I loved it!

  • Serin
    Reply

    Well said, Deb. Thank you for sharing, embracing vulnerability, and the learning journey. I’m hopeful that the path forward will be easier for the next generation because of trail blazing women like you. Kudos and thank you for speaking your truth. (Also, incredible painting by Holly.)

  • Kathryn MILLER
    Reply

    In these days of continuous challenge your words are helpful as well as heartful. In gratitude. Thank you. K

  • Anna
    Reply

    Deb, thank you. I cried reading this, especially thinking back to all the times I was sent to get coffee while the “real” engineers chatted. But by the end, it was tears of hope and determination. We have made progress, and we will continue to together.

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