Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Crossing Boundaries

When someone we love suddenly dies, we question what we thought were the givens about life, and we begin to take risks that we wouldn't normally take. In the year after Evelyn died, I often went into nature to deal with grief.

This trip I have come to Yosemite to cross over the boundary from city life and enter the wilderness. 

On the Yosemite Falls Trail going up the canyon wall, I encounter a scattering of snow at the 6000-foot level. It gets deeper the higher I go, making the upward hike slippery and a little dangerous. When I make the turn at the bend, a cold wind funneling down the canyon pummels me, and I zip my coat as tightly as I can.

Higher up, where the sun on previous days has melted the old snow, the trail has refrozen into ice. I dig my feet into the snow on the sides for traction and straddle the trail for the last hundred yards. After two hours of hiking, I reach the top of the canyon where the snow is unbroken. At 7,500 feet, whatever sounds arise are quickly hushed by the foot-deep blanket of snow that covers everything.

My plan was to head west for the top of El Capitan, but I realize that if there is ice and deep snow here, then it’s likely that the same conditions exist over the length of the trail. I head off anyway, because I do things like this, figuring that if I can see part of the trail now and then, I will be okay. But after twenty minutes of tromping around through snow that is now up to my hips, I find no evidence of a trail.

I stop moving and consider my options. The trail runs along the rim of the valley. A slip over the edge would be fatal. I could also fall into a snow-hidden crevasse, break an ankle or hit my head, and freeze. I have not seen the tracks of the mountain lion that lives around here, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t watching. I calculate how much I can push my luck.

There are some boundaries I should not cross, and this may be one of them. How long can I stay here before the ways of the wilderness catch up?

Carefully I make my way over to the icy lip of Yosemite Falls to salvage the trip. Its thin winter stream flows over the edge like water being poured from a pitcher, and it flares out to a gossamer mist on the breeze. The heavy surge and thunderous roar of the river in spring and summer have quieted to this lacy plume. 

In the distance, under dark clouds, the frozen, slate blue mountains of the Sierra Nevada stretch out over hundreds of miles, with stark, raw peaks and snow-covered crests where only the solitary, the strong, and the lucky survive.

It begins to snow, lightly at first, then heavier.

I am standing in the wilderness where I could be dead in the next minute if I make a wrong decision, if I slip, or if that mountain lion shows up and feels threatened by my presence. How can I be so moved by these dark, frozen mountains mantled in snow that I do not fear my own death? Yet it’s been this way since Evelyn died. I no longer fear dying, and go wherever passion takes me.

This landscape, this unsettled place where some lives continue because other lives do not, this wild, untamed beauty stuns me into silence. It kindles my imagination because death and beauty feed each other.

When Evelyn was alive, there were boundaries I would not cross because I wanted to stay alive for her. Now I push on every barrier to see if it’s real or imagined. Too many matters that once held me back because of fear, have turned out to be illusions. Being alone in the wilderness was one of them. Today I feel amazingly alive.

I will push on the boundaries until I reach my limits. Then I will cross over and discover what is hidden beyond.


  1. Ever since my daughter died, I've been braver, been punching holes in my comfort zone. I thought that was because my daughter was so courageous, even gutsy, in the way she lived. But maybe, because she "crossed" the great divide, the idea of dying isn't as terrifying as it once was. Cheers, Mark.

    1. When the worst happens, the fear of death goes away. And I think we do borrow courage from our loved ones, as well as find our own.