Deborah Tosline: Author, Geologist, Hydrologist, and Mother

Once the helicopter dropped her off at the site in Montana, Deborah Tosline removed her fire-retardant suit, tested her radio contact, strapped on her geologic tool belt and secured her firearm.

Deborah was in her early 20s when she set off for that trip in Montana, one of her first jobs as a geologist. Known to some as a geologist and hydrologist, to others as an author, and to another as a mother, Tosline navigates life through a scientific lens and intuition.

It was 1991 when Deborah spent about three months working as a temporary hydrogeologist in Hawaii. Her days consisted of working on groundwater contamination reports, but she spent the nights pushing her daughter Jacqueline’s stroller all over Waikiki for exercise. Jacqueline, now 29, remembers this trip as one of the many adventures with her mom.

Shortly after their time spent in Hawaii, Deborah made plans to backpack through Europe, and once again, brought her toddler along for the ride. “I knew no one,” she says. “I had the first two nights reserved at a pension in Amsterdam, and after that, I had no idea where we were going except that we would fly out of Milan.”

“Traveling in a different country alone with your three-year-old was not a common trip for single women at that time,” says Jacqueline, “but my mom packed up a neat pack that carried all of our essentials: a couple changes of clothes, three of my favorite books, an umbrella stroller, and a notebook to record everything we did, and that was it (except for three day’s worth of organic food to start us out). We constantly had people coming up to us and talking to us on our train rides. I would sit on grandmas’ laps as they had broken conversations with my mom about our travels,” Jacqueline remembers. “That trip is one of hundreds that represent the strong-willed nature of my mom and her teachings to me.”

Deborah had to be independent from a young age, and she has her healthy lifestyle to thank for giving her the ability to do so. 

“As a young adult, to enable myself to work well over time, I felt that if I practiced a healthy lifestyle, I would be able to work and take care of myself,” she says. Deborah followed her intuition along with reading about food, exercise and mindfulness. “If I felt good a couple hours after eating, doing or being, then I did those things again.”

“I used good food, physical activity, mindfulness, yoga, music, neuroplasticity, and cognitive therapy as coping mechanisms to meet my own and life’s challenges. Lucky me, it was the best thing I did for myself,” she says.“I am fortunate to have felt intuition and to have listened to it. I’ve made wrong decisions in my life, but for some reason, my intuition regarding a healthy lifestyle has been so right; perhaps it’s just a survival mechanism.”

It was around 1976 when Deborah was able to drive a car wherever she wanted. One of her first stops was a health food store where she walked the aisles.

“I don’t remember having any money or buying anything,” Tosline says, “but it was the first of many slow visits to independent health food stores and cooperatives through the decades reading labels, reference books, smelling herbs and tinctures and essential oils and delicious foods.”

Tosline is not only conscious of what she puts inside her body, but also what she puts on her body. Her book, Skin Remodeling DIY: An Introduction to the Underground World of Do-It-Yourself Skin Care, was published in 2015. “In my twenties, I remember constantly applying plain yogurt, honey or avocado to my face while I was at home on Saturdays,” she says. And in her thirties, she transitioned to vitamins and other ingredients from health food stores for facials. 

During the late 70s, Deborah began college as a ceramic sculpture major – not what you’d expect from a geologist and hydrologist – but she quickly realized that art school wasn’t going to cut it. “I thought that I was not truly an artist because I would not suffer for my art. The truth is that my brain is overrun with creativity and there is never enough time to create.”

As a result, she made the transition from an art student to one of the few women in the Geology program.

Looking back, Deborah remembers men outnumbering women in her geology classes. “However,” she says, “what stood out to me was third-semester calculus. It was a class of about 35 men and three women.” The men would often gather in the professor’s classroom to go over problems. So one day, Deborah decided to do the same. “When I tried to get instruction from the professor, he slammed my book shut and told me that I did not belong in the class.”

Despite bumps in the road, Deborah graduated with exceptional experience under her belt.

“I thought that I should try to work in my field to assess if I would enjoy Geology,” she says. So as a sophomore in the geology program, she applied for work with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Flagstaff, Arizona in 1979.

“I drove to their office once a week to ask if they had any jobs. They told me that I could call to check on jobs and I said, ‘That’s okay, I will continue to stop by the office.’ Not long after that, they offered me two jobs.”

Deborah was hired as an Astrogeologic Technician who studied aerial images of Mars from the Apollo space missions. “I did not know it at the time, but when the USGS hired me in 1979, they were required to begin hiring more women. I am grateful,” she tells me.

Deborah’s first job was to program a programmable calculator, process a table of numbers by hand, and write the results in the table. “I enjoyed the peace of processing data,” she says, recalling that she spent months working on that task. Once she finished, she remembers two scientists coming in to talk to her.

“I was a sophomore in my geology program, so I was early in the program and had not graduated yet. The two scientists told me that there was one other person working on this task, a male graduate student. He had programmed his calculator wrong and all his results were wrong. My results were accurate, thank goodness!"

Deborah now works as a hydrogeologist and Program Manager. “I coordinate with partners and stakeholders to conduct progressive water resource management planning using Low Impact Development features for urban stormwater management and holistic watershed management.” As complicated as it sounds, she initially found challenging was how to manage a predominantly-male team.

“It seems that for women there is a fine line between men accepting women and men considering women to be negative,” she says. “So, it is a very careful path to tread and requires extra mental resources to assess each situation. In my research, I learned that management styles are very closely linked to male characteristics and as more women become managers, the cultural management style will evolve to be more collaborative, mirroring female characteristics.”

But her work is just one aspect of her life, as she is a woman filled to the brim with passion, creativity and ideas. “Through my life, I’ve thought that if I run out of ideas, then what? So far I have way more ideas and interests than time.”

Deborah’s scientific experience and knowledge shines through in her way of thinking and reflects in her daily life.

“I may have had analytical mind tendencies before the education. If so, they were only honed by my scientific training, as a geology, ecology and hydrogeology student and the on-the-job training all of which taught me how to conduct research, how to review scientific articles, collect and compile data, assess the data, and make interpretations,” she explains. “I use these skills in every decision that I make…I use this process, professional judgment (based on experience) and intuition to make decisions…I am a big do-it-yourselfer.”

And she’s right; just take a look at her home.

“[I] remodel any home that I have lived in,” she says. “Last year, I developed and built my own prototype for a vertical garden…It works great…That was what I did for fun and I still enjoy it…Wow…this makes me seem kind of odd. Throughout my life, when I wanted certain things and I did not have the money to buy them, or the money to hire folks, or wanted something custom made, I taught myself how to build and fix things by reading,” she says.

Deborah has taken on the jobs of tearing down walls, hanging sheetrock, small rewiring jobs and plumbing, tiling, and even building her own furniture.

“She is constantly teaching herself new things and applies them to her everyday life,” says Jacqueline, Tosline’s daughter. “These traits have paved a path for me that has allowed me to be strong-willed and incredibly independent in my own life. From traveling to starting my own business, they are fundamental assets that will stay with me forever and I cherish, whether it be knowing how to cook at the age of 7 or knocking down walls and hanging sheetrock at the age of 15.”

Deborah, now 59, resides in Arizona and keeps herself busy by working five days a week along with her inexhaustible list of other pursuits, one being her daily hike.

“She does everything from sewing, to gardening, to cooking. She taught herself how to play the piano and the guitar. And she can sing! You know, she’s just absolutely incredible… We have this joke going, I always tell her she’s an overachiever,” says her good friend, 64-year-old David Torre while laughing.

Her retirement plans? Deborah says she dreams of completing a detailed geologic mapping of a 7.5 minute USGS quadrangle. Or perhaps she’ll go with her other option.

“Maybe when I graduate (retire) I will get a piano bar gig once in a while,” she says. Or, for all we know, she’ll probably do both. 

“At 59,” says Deborah, “I am able to work as well or better than I ever have. This lifestyle has afforded me not only peace but also an excellent and beautiful quality of life and I am so grateful.”