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Life through Adventurous Eyes: Weathering the Storms, Writing the Stories

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

D.J. Green has lived an adventurous life. Now, weathered by time, she wonders, can words do justice to her memories? Luckily, she's a geologist, so her sense of time is a little different.


Sailboat glides on a still sea under a starry sky


I am weathered. The wrinkles that radiate from the corners of my eyes come from decades outdoors—working in the field as a geologist, backpacking through desert canyons, and squinting as I sail the sun-splashed Salish Sea. Laughter has etched deep grooves upon my face. My hair grayed in a time of grief. The life I am now so grateful for has weathered me in ways both visible and not.

            The unseen score my mind and heart. They have changed the way I view the landscape and seascape, and how I move upon them. The incidents, now memories, that left them range from the terrifying to the transcendent, but include what might also seem mundane, like the music of water rippling with the incoming tide and light breeze against the rocky shore just east of where I am anchored at this moment. For me, in nature, even the ordinary can feel extraordinary. That is why I try to find words to communicate that wonder.

            To come to this moment at anchor, I have had to learn—about a boat, about setting an anchor, about tides, and currents. Even about living in a small space with my crew, and myself, for months at a time.

            That is another thing about nature—the learning never ends—if I’m paying attention. Some wisdom has been passed to me by mentors, and some I learned on my own, often by making mistakes, which can be merely attention getting or full-on frightening.


 

A sailboat heads into the wind

I reef my sails earlier now, much earlier, having struggled to do so on an overpowered boat with the helmsman barely able to hold her into the wind while I haul and haul the furling line in inch by inch, the wind whipping wildly. I take the lessons of near misses, making notes in the ship’s log—don’t take this passage with a lot of current, even when it’s with us (not opposed to us), as the flow is too chaotic to navigate calmly; don’t dock at this or that marina unless it’s close to slack tide (and if I must, account for the current); favor the Whidbey Island side when crossing the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, particularly if there’s westerly wind and an ebb tide at Point Wilson. Simple things matter, too: Don't have a strict schedule on a sailboat. The wind and weather, tides and currents, should dictate our plans, not the calendar or clock. For safety, yes, also for comfort. Never one to thrill to fear (I don’t even like scary movies), all fun also stops when one is nauseous, a condition Neptune is more than pleased to provide.

            And then there’s the terrifying—what story to tell from my error in judgement while leaving a dock in high winds that almost cost a crewmate their hand? (Lesson learned—don’t sail  on someone else’s schedule, ever, and acquire more skills for springing off a dock.) Or when, despite five experienced sets of eyes searching, we lost the Hance Trail hiking out of the Grand Canyon in a surprise spring snowstorm. (Lesson learned—never take another backpacking trip without extra food, in case we need to bivouac and find the trail when the weather clears.) Or coping with breast cancer. (Lesson learned—don’t put off your dreams. Write that novel! Or this essay!) Far worse than facing my own mortality was losing my beloved in a fiery small plane crash. He was missing an entire month before the plane, and his body, were found—a time filled with dread, and the slimmest of hopes to hang onto. (Lesson learned—savor each moment together. Don’t sweat the small stuff, because it really is small.)

How to tell those stories? How to live in the pain, and later, to transform it? How to touch another heart? I don’t know for sure, but I try—pen to page or fingers to keyboard, day after day.


 

A woman unfurls a row of yellow lights

Transcendent moments also teach me. Awe, in a word. Is it possible, for example, to describe a total solar eclipse? Probably not, but again, I try. On August 21, 2017, as the eclipse swept across North America, I sat beside a farmer’s field, the cardboard edge of the eclipse glasses cutting into the bridge of my nose, and soaked up totality­—a time like sunrise or sunset, but on the entire horizon, not just to the east or west; a time when the birds went silent; one hundred fourteen hushed seconds to behold the sun’s blazing corona.

            Are there words to make the white and pale pink and eerie green veils of the aurora borealis dance across a page as they dance across my memory? How to express the wonder of bioluminescence sprinkling off my kayak paddle, the water spangled on a summer midnight along the British Columbia coast? What of the soft swoosh of carving a turn through thigh-deep, featherlight snow? Feeling the chill on my cheeks, seeing the sparkle of snowflakes on my goggles? Can words capture the heart-pounding climb from Boucher Creek to the Tonto platform, then the mind-boggling view across the Grand Canyon, through hundreds of millions of years of geologic time? What of watching bear cubs shake apples from a tree at a long-abandoned homestead for their mama to scoop up as they roll down the rocks below? Their antics reminding me of swinging on jungle gyms in my decades-past childhood. Can these scenes coalesce into story? I don’t know for sure, but I try.

            Where all this time—with my youth eroding, but my awareness growing—leaves me is a place of profound love of and respect for the beauty and power of nature. From a fossil nestled in the palm of my hand to distant, majestic vistas, it teaches me. Those lessons include how very insignificant I am. The love and respect inspire me, and the sense of insignificance provides me a feeling of great freedom—to explore and to create, whether I succeed or fail. For if I do not matter all that much, in the scope of geologic time, then failure on my part is not in any way the end of the world. The pressure to perform is less important than the motivation to live to the fullest. If my words about these journeys—to places, to myself—touch another heart or engage another mind, all the better. But either way I’ll keep weathering, and writing.


 

D. J. Green is a writer, geologist, and sailor, as well as a bookseller and partner in Bookworks, an independent bookstore in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She lives near the Sandia Mountains in Placitas, New Mexico, and cruises the Salish Sea on her sailboat during the summers. No More Empty Spaces, her first novel, will be released in April 2024. Learn more at geologistwriter.com.


Photo Credits:

All via Upsplash

Sail boat and stars, Johannes Plenio 

Sail in the sun, giuseppe Peppe

Woman with lights, Allef Vinicius

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