The Wild Muse

wildness, wonder, and the spirit of place


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Everything Grief Demands

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“…he knew even then
he would leave us. Black trees, black vines spilling
across tarmac. The promise of disappearance,
the deepest breath.”

from Still Life with Damnosa Hereditas and Dark Constellations, Sandra Meek

I lost my father two weeks ago at the age of 62. It was unexpected and left my siblings and me reeling, trying to grapple with the reality of the sudden death.

Bargaining is of course one of the most predictable stages of grief, but I couldn’t help but want to strike a deal with the universe. My dad had finally started to come into himself, to soften, to connect with loved ones and the life he wished he had led.

I am sad and sorry he didn’t get to backpack the Uinta Mountains again or make that promised road trip to the West.

The author Haruki Marakami said, “In a sense our lives are nothing more than a series of stages to help use get used to loneliness.” I think that is one of the truest statements on what aging feels like, and I have felt the impact of this unavoidable progression since I was young.

The longer one lives, the more acutely intimate she is with the ultimate truth of life, its essential aloneness. When we lose others we are reminded of the final and most important act of aloneness, dying.

In that, I hope those who die young are spared some of the ache of loneliness. Some folks don’t take to it well, and my dad wouldn’t have been one who did.

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Until You Fall

When people I love die, I dream of them falling. I never know where they are falling to, or into, or out of…but they fall. I try to catch them. They sometimes beg me to, but I cannot.

When they look at me, begging and falling…all I can do is watch.

I think death, or at least the initial departure, must feel like falling through unseen territory. Some welcome the fall, relieved to be weightless and free, some struggle. Maybe they always secretly preferred the earth to the sky.

I am certain I would be one to struggle. The ocean frightens me with its overwhelming and infinite waves – and the thought of free-falling through air is terrifying – nothing like angels or birds with their soft promise, just a dull stone hurdling into darkness.

I have always been an earth beneath my feet woman. Dry earth, rock, root, flesh and bone…things to cling to…none of this ethereal business. You can keep your heavens and waterworlds.

The Thing About Walking

I got up at twilight and headed out on one of my favorite trails, right in the heart of the city. It runs through a corridor of the North Mountains and creates a sense of wildness – even in an epicenter of 4 million.

Walking is myimg_3076 way of coping with hard times. Movement is my therapy, particularly when I am stuck in anger, and I have been angry since my father died. Some reasons are personal; some are sadly becoming more universal.

You see, my dad stopped taking his medications because he couldn’t afford them. He worked in public service for years, but retired without a pension or any savings. He opted for paying his bills over taking care of his health. To think of this makes me enraged. No one should be forced to choose debt over their health.

My rage, in part, is that I find myself in a similar situation: how can I afford insurance; how can I NOT afford insurance? People who work very hard all of their lives end up penniless and desperate. This happens all of the time and no one likes to think of it unless it comes down like a fist upon them.

I pondered these injustices up on that ridge. During this time, I watched as a bulldozer edged the semi-wild, yet most precious terrain, heralding another new housing development.

It is so like us to be plowed under, obedient…

Being here, among city sprawl and the busy lives of busy people, I am reminded of the land around me and all that has been lost…all that modernity has buried.

This culture has bulldozed its apathy upon us. And it is only when our own heart is breaking and the anger demands answers, do we feel the scrape of the blade cactus face (1 of 1) and grieve for everything that has been lost.

Into Another Life

That was not the story I wanted to write. I am tired of writing about poverty and death, the loss of land and clean water, the indignity of making the “lesser of evils” choices.

I would rather tell a story of women washing auburn hair in a cold creek, or one of children with full bellies and the ability to sleep peacefully; of firefly illumined fields and hollows.

But, I am not a believer of fate. Any wreck you pass, there was a cause and an effect. The stars do not conspire against your happiness any more than mine.

While this anger hastens, it is the story I write – it is what I must walk and sing and offer up. That is the burden and release of grief, to bring us down to the last ember.


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The Severing of Limbs, Not Roots

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Winter Trees, A. Sato

Her silence and wild
falling is a compass
of hunger and memory.
Jennifer Sweeney,
The Snow Leopard Mother

Recently, my grandmother of 94 found herself in a situation many older people find themselves in, and that is whether or not to sell the family home.

Home is not just a place in the suburbs where one might insist on features such as a pool or a bigger garage. Home for her is the trials of young marriage, of saving every penny, of building one’s home – not by contractor but by hand.

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Ghost in the Forest, Thomas Dodd

In this way, identity is not something we are given, but something earned. We are bruised into Self and sustain so many tumbles and twists before our personhood is built into recognition.

To think of Self in this way, we are always tumbling and rebuilding with the raw materials of experience.

During my 20s and 30s, there were a few consistent materials of Self that I made use of: alcohol, chaos, and movement.

Removing these qualities has been less like  wrecking ball demolition and more like decay. One brick crumbles, then another…but it has been a slow process of abandonment.

Standing now, I am heavy. No longer defined by these things, but still so filled with their ghosts and swallow nests, ribbon and rotting wood.

“To know who you are, you have to have a place to
come from.”
Carson McCullers,
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Giving up that which once sustained me was essential to survival. It allowed me to grieve the Self that survived hurricane and tornado. There were roads and windstorms. I chased and chased my house, the places that could only reside under the skin.

At 42, I find myself lost in an in-between state, just as my grandmother. A narrowing of definition, the container that once held me has changed. In its place, something else.

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Stone & Water, A. Sato

When I speak to her, Ada Lenora, she tells me her room at the nursing home makes a reasonable home, yet lonely all the same. Photos of my grandfather line the walls and her comfy chair, which accompanied her to the facility, sits like a token in the corner.

We drag our homes alongside us sometimes, unwilling to abandon, unwilling to rebuild. Despite the crumbling walls and fallen beams, it is possible to only see its former beauty.

We are limited by our containers. These homes that collapse make – at best – facsimile selves. I would rather bear the spirit of a tree, dipping my roots in water…quenching the thirst of Self with memory.

Life can ax my limbs but my roots remain.

My last conversation with my grandmother ended with her telling me (as she has told me before) how much she misses my grandfather and how she often expects him to walk in and lean down and give her a kiss as he would do when coming in from the garden.

When I think of my time in Indiana, I think about the trees of my youth: dogwood, tulip, walnut, cherry – their stories contained in leaves, bark, chlorophyll under the nourishing sun. Many of these trees no longer stand.

The last time I was home I sat on the stump of the former cherry tree, planted by my grandfather many years ago. I dug my toes into the loose soil. There under the earth, I hit knuckle-bone of root and breathed in the green humus of life.