She fancied herself a desert girl. Born in America’s Sonora wilderness, surrounded by saguaro cactus. She fell in love with earth, not the planet with a capital E, but the rocks, minerals and, clays from which life springs forth. She did not feel the least bit surprised when she discovered her name, Terra, meant “Earth goddess” in an ancient language.
“I’m a Geologist,” she says.
“What does a Geologist do?”
Her golden eyes widen. Inside hollow pupils, a dust storm swirls. I see orange, yellow and lime-green vehicles, large as dinosaurs, clawing, tearing, and removing earth. With each acre stripped bare, the hollow inside her deepens. Leech fields miles long, leave chalky streaks down her soft, fleshy cheeks. Men with sly smiles demand Terra reveal the next vein, lode, and vug. I see she’s felt unhappy and used for a long time.
“They don’t love the earth,” she says through bitter tears.
“What if I told you, you could love the earth again?”
“I’d ask you to show me,” she replies.
I take her north. Past the temperamental Rockies. Beyond the gloom of the Pacific-Northwest to the last bastion of wilderness I know: Prince William Sound, Alaska. Not untouched by man, this place endures the elimination of its glaciers at the hand of climate change. Despite this, the land and sea have preserved their pristine nature. It is here I will show Terra how to love the earth again.
We travel in a small aluminum hull boat with an outboard motor into inlets, fjords and bays so calm, the movement of jellyfish underwater can be heard. We eat wild salmonberries, boil the rice from Chocolate Lilies, pull silver salmon from the water and feed their heads to bald eagles, tossing the severed parts high into the air. We watch Orcas hunt sea lions and spend half a day spying a baby humpback whale learning to jump with its mother. We examine granite beaches and shale outcroppings so intensely we almost miss giant brown bear prints in the soft mud.
On Knight Island, I show her remnants of a 30-year-old oil spill: crude oil resting black and thick and calm under gray granite rocks. A stain on the wild. We spend days upturning beach, revealing tar, taking samples, hands dirtied with foul-smelling soil until something inside her snaps. She stands, calm and firm.
“I’m ready to go home,” she says one cloudy, drizzling day.
“I’m a Conservationist,” she says.
“What does a Conservationist do?”
Her golden eyes widen. Inside flows the wisdom of a goddess. I see men with sly smiles, jailed, their strip-mining operations shut down, and government funding set aside for protection programs. Outside, her platinum cheeks pull ruby lips into a beaming quartz smile.
“They show you how to love all the earth.”
About the author: JC Mckinley lives in Colorado with his wife and 17-month-old daughter. He grew up in Alaska and loves how nature’s beauty enhances all our lives. His short stories have appeared on reflexfiction.com and are forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine.