I am no stranger to grief. It comes knocking every now and then. Old grief and new grief. If you live long enough, you experience it knocking at your door everyone and then. It’s inevitable.
When grief comes to visit, it’s like walking at the bottom of the ocean. It makes me feel so removed from my everyday life, but at the same time, it’s familiar and comforting. I know that the depth of my grief, the murky, dark pathway we all walk before the sun shines again is one of the measures of love. It can take time to rise back up through those murky waters to the surface again. And down here, at the bottom of the ocean, it’s possible to feel all griefs, all loves, that have come before.
What do you do when all the noise from a world in strife threatens to overwhelm your own voice?
I have long had the habit on New Year’s Eve of writing out a list of all the things I want to do in this life – all the things that motivate me, that pull me forward, that drive me to live deeply. Some of the things on that list are lofty, such as write a book about climate change, and some are simple, such as learn to make risotto or ride my bike in a metric-century. Sometimes I go back to previous year’s lists just to see what things have carried over from one year to the next – just to see: what are the common threads that drive me forward from year to year? What are the big things I can’t let go of?
I haven’t yet written about the day last year when the sky turned black at midday. It was so dark that my garden lights came on in the dim, orange twilight. But it’s August and we’re in fire season again. I find myself thinking about that day again because I’m cooped up at home with the windows closed as another smoke plume moves over Northern Colorado. Last year, we inhaled smoke and ash from late last summer to several weeks into autumn. The fires kept our skies grey for the better part of two months. But I distinctly remember that day just before Labor Day in early September when I braved the smoky air and temperatures over 90F to harvest my garden in preparation for an unseasonably early snow storm.
We’re deep into summer and the winter wonderland photos below might be a bit jarring for those living in the Northern Hemisphere. But this post about a trip to Zion National Park is ready to go out into the world. It’s long overdue. Travel is often my inspiration for blog posts. This past year led me to a lot of closer-to-home discoveries in the natural world – but, also, the lack of motivation to write, as we have all struggled to sort out life in a new version of this dystopian world. But here it is: my first visit to Zion.
I love that my first memories of Zion National Park will always be shrouded in an icy haze. Arriving in a new place after dark – whether it’s a rainforest, a bustling South American city, or a natural cathedral carved through the desert over millions of years – always leaves me disoriented. And then it snowed through the night, covering roads and painting still-bare trees in white. The world felt pillow-soft as I stepped out of my cabin. I walked across the grounds of the lodge, and the fog shifted to give me my first glimpse of a canyon wall. I had no idea how far these walls rose up, but I could feel the ones I couldn’t see – in the stillness, and in that sense of being enclosed and protected.
The last time I flew anywhere was back in November 2019 for a 3-day trip to Washington, D.C.
On my second evening there, after a long day in a working meeting, I arranged to meet a friend at the National Art Gallery on the Capitol Mall. My hotel was roughly within walking distance, but I decided to shave off some time by taking the Metro to the Mall, then walking to the gallery from there.
So, it’s been a rough week. A rough year. Sitting down to write feels like wading through molasses. There is always so much to sift through, that I don’t know whether to voice outrage, frustration, hopes or insights. Do I respond to protests and incomprehensible tweets by world leaders? Or do I let our current global challenges slide to the side and reminisce about the days when we could move around freely? Do I write about my greatest fears for our world or my tentative hope?
Truthfully, I spend a lot of my creative energy these days just trying to do my job – trying to create engaging, meaningful college courses that I teach through a screen – all about weather and climate. This takes place a 5-second walk from where I sleep, and eat, and shower, and think, and live my life. But because of what I teach, what I do each day feels much more meaningful now than ever, even those moments when we delve into the gory mathematical details of directional derivatives and radiative transfer.
But I’m reaching out today because I have a big milestone birthday coming up: the HALF CENTURY MARK. This is a big one right? It’s a big one, but there will be no party, no fancy dinner out, no room full of black balloons and people dancing to greatest hits from the ’80’s. (Don’t buy balloons, anyway. They’re bad for the environment. Not to mention that anything from the 80’s is probably bad for the environment – maybe even the music.)
But there is something that would make this birthday hugely meaningful and special, and I could use your help.
“You want to have everything clean before serving tea,” says my great-aunt Anna as she brushes crumbs from her kitchen tablecloth and sets out the tea stand. She moves slowly, using her cane as she shuffles to the refrigerator to pull out the cream. She’s 98 years old – maybe the only person I know who’s more than twice my age. She’s the only person on this planet allowed to pinch my cheeks. I ask if I can help her with anything, but she shakes her head and keeps pulling dishes out of her cupboard.
It’s been more than 100 days since coronavirus came to town. One hundred and six days, exactly, since Friday, March 13th, when I last stood before a classroom full of students. I remember the buzz in the air – the fear, the disbelief, the concern, the uncertainty. We thought we were going to be having classes online for only a couple of weeks. I remember washing my hands until my skin was dry and chapped that day, because, back then, we thought that contact was the primary mode of transmission.
I would have been a lot more freaked out if I knew it could float through the air on someone’s exhale – someone who didn’t appear infected.
I think that there is always a brief moment, when the world begins to lurch in a new direction, when we all try to deny what we’re feeling – when we try to deny that everything is off kilter. A few weeks ago, I gathered with a group of women from Homeward Bound via Zoom for a community yoga class. At some point, in a balance pose, I remembered the disequilibrium I felt crossing the Drake Passage in a storm. The initial rise in ocean swell came on slowly. So slowly, it was hard to tell anything was changing, except for the stirrings in my stomach.
Crossing the Drake Passage aboard the MV Ushuaia in a storm in January 2019. Photo from a video filmed by Lesley Sefcik. I think, for many of us, life right now feels somewhat like being on a ship in a storm.
Day 4 of Serious Social Distancing: It’s March in Colorado, which means the weather is up and down. The Poudre Learning Center in Greeley, CO was a great place to stay away from people.
Let’s get right to the point: Life is quite different today, for a lot of us, than it was a couple of weeks ago. And the uncertainty that hangs in the air about the coming weeks (months?) is gnawing at you. Maybe you felt it coming. I know I did. I felt cranky all through early March. The news of coronavirus filtered through into my subconscious – still third-page news, but it was there, and something didn’t feel right.
That was the time before the time when everything changed.