I have always gone to the living world with my loneliness, my failures, my heart aches. She is a friend that is unafraid of my very ugliness.
This time is no different. But now it is nature herself that I mourn, needing to leave this land that drew me to her all those many years ago. This land that called across thousands of miles, telling me, “you belong here, come.” In the freshness of youth I listened, enveloped in some magnetic pull, drawn by the wild green force of the Northwest forests.
She did not disappoint. How could she in her endless expression of gleaming, the way everything tumbles over each other to fully live? To grow, to burst, the wither, to die. Perhaps she is the only truly healthy thing I know.
Oh, the growing! Really it is because of the moisture and the endless promises it makes. The trees respond with this stretch, stretch, stretch towards the sky, like they could just reach straight into the clouds and drink more. Below them sword ferns tower over adult humans, mosses form elaborate, lacy draperies, and mushrooms create industrious, hidden cities. Playful, unseen skeins run lines of communication and intelligence everywhere.
Oh, the greens! Every possible hue and utterance of green you can imagine. In the spring the forest is so fully colored in green that you can taste it on your tongue and feel it saturate your pores. You can perceive the aromatic oils of the trees moving through your nose to shift your brain, your heart, even the chemical balance in your blood. You can sense the effects of chlorophyll everywhere, penetrating your cells and filling the empty vessels of your pupils.
This land has taught me about the hieroglyphics of rain and its many expressions.The wind and clouds have spoken of bone drenching, liquid sun rays, and delicate misting showers. Even sloppy, sideways kissing rain. I know how deeply regenerative and life-giving this water is but the truth is I have also cursed the blanket of grey that is at times an immovable weight in the sky. I have spat at the winter moss that grows all over the trash barrels as I drag them to the curb. I have begrudgingly gone on yet another rain walk, my hood pulled up tightly to block out the wet but also everything else. Sometimes the rain has loved me too much.
It all doesn’t matter now. I can feel the end of my time here approaching, along with a pressure to mark and measure what it has meant to me. How do we ever really measure the way things quietly heal us, grow our hearts more open?
A free hour arrives on a glorious early spring day and I know that I must take a running tour of grief. I must visit every grandmother and grandfather tree I have come to love and cherish. I must find a way to soak up their essence and unfold my gratitude.
What an enchantment of a day. The forest is absolutely frantic with bird noise, tireless robin opera, hummingbird didgeridoo and the purr, purr of mourning birds. I relish every toss and turn of the trail, the way I know this place so well, the way other people might know every pothole of their childhood street.
I come across this interesting little cleft in the armpit of a root, a tucking away spot in the land as it waves and weaves its flow. I am intimate with this dip in the trail, the way the roots crest like a wave out of water. But today something is different. Someone has placed a row of sticks and debris in what could only be a shallow grave. I wonder what sleeps under there: a dead mole, a fallen bird, a little mouse with a swollen belly? Or perhaps this place is nothing at all, just the art installation of a child or the wood sculpture of a bored passerby.
It is no wonder that there are so many myths and stories about sleeping giants and dragons laying in the earth. I see them now, heaping, snoozing mounds of biomass that could be bodies, overtaken with roots and vines and rebirthed things. I take comfort in seeing the casual breakdown that is everywhere. For there is always some form of breakdown happening in us but the forest is so honest and matter-of-fact about it. My own breakdown suddenly feels appropriately welcomed.
Even with the sun generous in the sky, I reflect on how the forest feels in all of her other moods. How she grieves and sheds herself at times, her dead skin sloughing to the forest floor, a great mess of branches and leaves after a windstorm. I love her so expressive like this, when the wind lingers and the trees moan and sway and bash. Suddenly they are more than silent, slow elders but boats at harbour, creaking and bumping against each other, or ice floes stoically shattering, or a campfire crackling, popping. I hear a whine, a warning, a friendly greeting.
Yes, please. Sing to me just like that.
It is ironic that after running these trails for the last seventeen years it has only been in the last year that I veered off my regular paths and found the cruel joy of something missed all along. Hidden within an outlier trail, I stumbled across a lovely rickety bridge upheld by twisted cables.
Now I am not a huge fan of these crossings, the way the old boards give and you must completely place your trust in ancient wood and rusted metal. But once again I felt drawn forward.
One foot must be placed in front of another.
As I crossed there was that bouncy, uncertain swing beneath me but standing halfway, right in the middle of the abyss, something felt familiar. Something fitting about being suspended in mid air across one life, my feet about to land on a new path entirely. New land, new forest, new belonging.
I remember that there is no wrong path. Ever. There is only this one in front of me, the one I know how to touch.
My running tour of grief ends all too quickly and I still feel incomplete. When I arrive back at my car, all red in the face, exhausted, delirious, and heartbroken, I think: Hah! How funny to think that grief is ever really complete.
Once again I catch how I have been trying to tie it all up with bows of silky satin. Thinking I can sweep out the painful, terrible corners of myself. Quietly believing that I can keep myself clean from the dark hours of my life.
Somewhere deep inside I secretly thought that I could complete this grief.
A smile spreads across my face at this idea. Oh, how hard it is to shake our training, our longing for honey comfort and blue skies. Can I allow for the drowsy ache of grief without trying to fix it, smother it, or ignore it?
For when I first began walking these woods, I thought I was moving through them. But with time and repetition I began to slowly perceive how they have been walking through me, taking their sweet time with me.
The forest has held me with such mercy and tenderness, reminding me to do the same for myself. The trees always sway like there is hope in this story.