I learned what little I know about geology from
Carlos. We met on a mountain in Wyoming. I was
twenty-four, impressionable, full of music and myself,
on the cusp of a grown-up life. Carlos was ten years
older. Like other geologists in those days, he was a
teacher, climber, explorer.
He saved my life in climbing mishaps, twice. First, just
before he left for a year at the South Pole. My
inexperienced party was off route, and Carlos guided
us down through the moonless night. And again a
year later when my climbing teacher fell, leaving me
pinned to a narrow ledge, helpless to know what to do
for an unconscious 180-pound man with broken ribs
and crushed kneecaps dangling from my belay line 60
feet below. Miraculously, freshly back from the South
Pole, Carlos appeared with the rescue team.
I loved him spontaneously. He loved me with a patient,
tempered love. I went to live—we called it an open-
ended visit—with him on the west coast. In the eyes of
an east-coast girl, continents away. He was willing to
learn about music, sought ways to show he
understood it mattered, although how it might adhere
to a life together—given the size of my ambition—was
not altogether apparent. There was no New York
Philharmonic in the university town where he taught.
We were like two exotic birds traversing each other’s
native habitat. We thought we wanted to get married.
It felt daring to be held in the crevice of his love.
“Which one is younger?” Carlos quizzed me while
hiking one day. He had picked up a weighty rock
consisting of three layers: outer slabs a startling
shade of pink flecked with bits of mica, and a hardy
inner streak of dazzling white quartz. It was one of
those sandwich rocks that have two layers of one
composition divided by a mid-section of another. The
correct term for this common formation, Carlos had
told me, is an intrusion. And the uninvited center is a
vein. Funny, how a structure so ancient and
dispassionate would assume names so human.
“The middle,” I answered promptly.
Carlos emitted a small, pleased, “Hm,” surprised that I
had retained something from his occasional,
impromptu instruction. The quartz had “intruded” into
a fissure in the feldspar, and crystallized. He didn’t
embarrass me by trying to pin me down on actual,
“And which one will erode quicker?” he asked,
perhaps testing his own capacity to over- or
I fidgeted. I searched my newly-acquired catalogue of
superficial, unrelated facts. Terms such as igneous
and Mohs Scale of Hardness fluttered through my
mind, free of any useful context or detail. Lovely,
luxuriant, irrelevant words like olivine and plagioclase
suggested themselves. “Um, whichever is softer?” I
ventured at last.
Carlos laughed out loud. “Safe!” he hooted. “You
have me there!”
And safe is what I chose. Unimpeded by compromise
or conscience, I flitted away, fled to the familiar
geography of the life I knew—concerts, auditions,
family expectations—heedless of the fact that beneath
the weathered, calm, well-mannered, brave
adventurer was a truly good man.
I saw Carlos once more, years later. We had each
sifted into our own familiar territory, formed
conventional families. He was clearly forgiving.
Whatever the clefts in his heart, they had long since
filled with yet stronger material.
But I find myself ever-amazed that time and erosion
can accomplish only so much, and that despite
breakage or abrasion, shards of the young girl persist,
reckless as shale, sandwiched between softer layers
of this now grown woman.
Marcia Peck’s writing most recently appeared in Tribute to Orpheus
2 (Kearney Street Books) and Open to Interpretation: Fading Light
(Taylor and O’Neill). “Long Distance” (Flashquake) received a
Pushcart Prize nomination. Water Music was runner-up for the
Faulkner-Wisdom award for an unpublished novel. "Memento Mori"
was awarded first prize in New Millennium Writings' 2014 contest for
short-short fiction. She is a cellist with the Minnesota Orchestra.