On this New Year’s morning I traveled to the veldt…the edge between the domesticated and the wild. It is a place of great wonder and transition; for some of us it’s hard to notice. For me, here in this lovely spot where I live, that means I walked down to the water…to the Puget Sound. I have not begun my day by wandering down to greet and thank the one who arcs across the sky each and every day, for many months. When I murmured the question “Why?” in my heart, the answer revealed itself in the way of a slow and graceful, shy reply.
Recently I returned from a trip back east, visiting my family: my sister-in-law and older niece. That journey is still a hard one; to the home that used to be so full of exuberant life spilling out of my brother and younger niece who’ve been gone for over two years now. That very same home is still often filled with palpable grief, and jagged anger. Standing on the outside of the anger, as I do when I travel there, it has been puzzling, heartbreaking, hard to witness, but this morning when I arrived at the gently lapping in-breath and out-breath of the great swollen Puget Sound, I began to understand that it was the same in my own home. It takes on a different form from theirs, so it is only now that I begin to name it.
There in the immense stillness of the morning, the answer slowly came. This stillness yet more captivating as signs of the recent storms were apparent everywhere: large and small sticks floating at the water’s edge, another slice of the cliff having slid, heading back to the sea, to the source. Seeing the waters so calm after a stormy high tide feels like walking into a room when you know that some great mischievous adventure has just occurred, know it because you heard it, but the moment you cross the threshold everyone in the room has a look on their face like, “What? Why are you looking at ME?” The only give-away is the fact that there is one vase still slightly trembling from all the commotion that you just heard but did not arrive in time to witness. That’s how it felt when I saw the water this morning, like the last bit of great swelling had calmed JUST before I turned the corner. And the great beauty of the waters turned to look at me, only slightly smiling as if to say, “What?”
Back to my question, “Why has it been so long since I have visited the ones that I love?” and finally the answer began to unravel. The searing pain that burned through me, the great loss, the great clutching of life that occurred in my family caused me to strike out at the ones closest to me. For me, that is the wild ones, this wild place. It is nature. That is whom I have the deepest, most intimate connection with. What I profoundly understood is that when there is a devastation, the blinding rage and heartbreak, the grief, that pours out uncontrollably, of course strikes the ones closest first. Only because they are the closest…they are right there.
I keep seeing the image of a lion striking out toward anything that comes near it when it has been injured – an image only, as I have never been near a lion in this state. I have been in very close proximity to domestic cats traumatized by house fire, and when I tried to catch one of them, it bit me HARD on my outstretched hand. In that moment, I knew that cat had nothing against me specifically; it was simply protecting itself in the only way it knew. The eruption of the volcano clears everything; all the beauty that lives just at its edge, not because it wants to destroy those sweet and tender plants, but simply because they reside…right…there…on the edge. And they get scorched, blasted, burned, incinerated. Some go quickly, others have a slower death. But what I also know is that it, life, almost, almost always, does come back to those places. It is not destroyed for good. Because we are such a motley crew…we humans, there are many, many different faces and phases of grief. Sometimes people hold each other up together as they grieve, sometimes the weight is so enormous, there is initially, just collapse. If there is no one to catch us, all in the path will be taken. Down.
My anger, or maybe ferocious grief, did not take the form of striking out at nature and thereby destroying it, but more subtly by my withholding it from myself, and I suppose, disallowing nature to have visits from me. I have also often, literally been feeding myself in a way that does not feed me, but instead does everything but feed. I have, in some way, been withholding life from myself. This is a way to numb the pain…or to use another phrase: a way to deaden the pain. Interesting, hunh? That seems, in a way to be what I’ve been doing…deadening my life. Is this an unconscious urge to walk a parallel path as my brother and niece who no longer live? When I write these words so clearly, I understand more of my wandering heartbrokenness these last years.
When I walked down to the water this morning, the view was exquisite. Mt. Rainier was partially cloaked in her luscious cloud cover; with one shoulder exposed to reveal the big snows she has received in the last few days. The Olympic Mountains were also almost completely “out” of their cloud cover…beautifully blanketed with fresh snow as well. Stellar jays and Kingfisher were ratch-ratch-ratcheting at each other, at me, at the day. At this moment, the one whose shining face I greeted at the water’s edge this morning, is shining brilliantly through the window I face as I write. A lovely advantage to neighboring these young woods in the wintertime is that most of the trees are deciduous and by now have dropped their leaves. When we have the great good fortune to see our bright shining orb in the winter, he beams right directly into my little cabin. Because I initially moved here in the summer, this delicious little secret was not revealed for many months and is such a gift when it happens. It is so bright right this minute that as I gaze out the window, the slender strands of random spider web lead threads are glistening here and there, as deep as I can see into the woods. This is magic. This connection is indeed part of my nourishment and noticing how deep my wonder is as I gaze gives me a sense of how devastating it is for me when I close my eyes, my heart to this that is right…next…to…me.