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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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Grief and the Solace of Nature

(Earlier this year, Linda Schreyer interviewed me about grief and writing for Writers’ Talks at Studio West in Los Angeles. It was broadcast on Rare Bird Radio. The following is one of the topics we discussed. You can listen to the entire interview at http://t.co/9OWGGScNds )

When grief knots me up, I head for nature. Breathing the fresh air of the mountains almost always pulls me out of my funk.

Nature demands nothing of me. It accepts me as I am.

Nature goes about its life and provides openings for me to participate as I want. I can sit beside a river for hours and let the sounds of the undulating water soothe my sorrow. I can wander in the forest’s cool shadows when the heat and brightness of the sun become too much. Or I can tromp over mountains and physically work out my anger and frustrations.

In the evening, I like to sit in the meadow to listen to the birds and watch the red and orange colors of the sunset settle over the land, before it shifts to the purples and reds of alpenglow. The beauty of the natural world continues unchanged after the death of someone I loved. This surprised me because it seemed that everything had changed. In the darkness of night, I find solace.

When I met Evelyn, I had one other great love — Yosemite. When she died, I thought I had lost Yosemite, too, because the first time I went back, six weeks after her death, the trip was a disaster. For twenty years, Yosemite had never failed to inspire me with awe as soon as I entered the valley — iconic Half Dome, snow-capped mountains, green meadows, and waterfalls flowing down around the valley.

But that first time back, I ran into our happy memories of being there together, and they burned like bonfires,constantly reminding me who was missing. I ended up leaving early because it was too hard to be there.

On the morning I left, I went down to the river before dawn. The valley was still black, hidden in night. As the rising sun peeked over the mountains, it sent a beam of light into the dark forest in front of me and lit up a grove of green aspen across the river. I could see that it was amazing, but I couldn’t feel it. Yet I knew that I needed to remember this, so I took a photograph.

The message I sensed was that I was going to be okay, but I had to be patient and wait in grief’s darkness for the light to reach me. This photo would end up on the cover of my book, Mountains of Light, about hiking in nature to deal with grief.

When I returned to Yosemite later in the year, I was nervous. I felt that if I still couldn’t feel the beauty of the landscape, then Yosemite would be dead to me, and I would leave and never come back. But as I drove around the first bend by Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan rose up in its golden glory to greet me.

That trip I hiked every day from sunrise to sunset. After the first hour on the trail, the chatter of surface thoughts calmed, and I became aware of feelings I hadn’t had time to face. Now I had hours on the trail to work through them.

Because this was the wilderness, I paid close attention to my surroundings. Bears and mountain lions lived here, and occasionally I’d hear something large moving in the forest or see its tracks. I was hiking alone, and the trail often traced the edge of a cliff. Once I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I failed to notice that the trail had turned and stepped over the edge. I was able to stop my slide by grabbing on to bushes.

As I watched nature carefully, I saw how it dealt with grief — nature mourns its deaths for a moment, and then moves on. I also noticed that nature was constantly changing, even mountains made of granite. Rockslides continue to come down and bury trails and animal habitats. Mirror Lake fills in with sediment brought down by the river and becomes a meadow. Each spring the river floods and adjusts its course.

Our lives are always changing, too, because people we love continue to move away or die and take part of us with them. Each loss removes another piece out of the fabric of our universe. Being in nature helped bring wonder back in.


  1. Such beautiful, heartfelt writing Mark. Deep joyous read. Thanks to Elaine posting this link I was able to follow the thread through the labyrinth and find your inspiring words. I love what you say about nature and how you have found solace in her arms. Warm greetings, Deborah.

  2. Beautiful post. Just beautiful. I was just going to say that you should write a book and then looked over in your bio and saw that you have written four. I am glad to know that.

  3. Thank you for saying so. I'm working on a true grief memoir now, and it will have some of the material from these post. Hopefully I will finish the revision soon.