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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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Solace of Nature

If holiday celebrations become too much, go outside and walk in nature, if only for a few minutes. Listen to the earth and its creatures. Nature continually surprises us with wonders we’ve never imagined.


When grief knots me up, I head for nature. Breathing the fresh air of the mountains, forests, and meadows almost always clears my mind and opens my heart.

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

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 brightness of the sun becomes too much. I can tromp over the mountains and physically work out my anger and frustrations.

In the evening I like to sit in a meadow, or on the side of a mountain, and listen to the birds chatting to each other as their day winds down. I watch the yellow and orange colors of the sunset settle over the land, and shift to alpenglow’s red and purple. Then, in the deepening darkness, I feel the companionship of night’s solitude.

I lost touch with nature’s beauty for a time. When I first returned to Yosemite, six weeks after Evelyn’s death, I ran into our happy memories of being there together. They burned around the valley like bonfires, reminding me who was missing. That trip was a disaster and I ended up leaving early because it was too hard to be there alone.

On the morning I left, I carefully made my way through the darkness to the river before dawn to say goodbye. As the rising sun edged over the mountains, it sent a beam of light into the dark forest, lighting up a grove of green aspen across the river in front of me. I could see that the image was stunning, but I couldn’t feel it inside. What this told me was that one day I would be okay, but I had to wait in grief’s darkness for the light to reach me.

Thankfully, when I returned to Yosemite later in the year, I could feel awe for nature again, and this helped balance my ongoing grief. I was afraid that I had lost my sanctuary. I marveled at the power of 3000-foot-tall El Capitan, delighted in the waterfalls, and was thrilled when coyotes and deer wandered by. That trip I hiked every day from sunrise to sunset. After the first hour on the trail, the chatter of surface thoughts had calmed, deeper feelings rose, and I had hours on the trail to work through them.

As I watched nature carefully, I saw how it dealt with death — nature mourned for a moment, and then moved on. I also noticed that nature was constantly changing, even in these mountains made of granite. Rockslides continued to come down and bury trails and animal habitats. Mirror Lake was filling in with sediment brought down by the river and becoming a meadow. Each spring the river flooded and adjusted its course.

Our lives are always changing, too, although we work hard to keep them the same. People we love continue to die. We start new jobs, and explore new interests. But because of death, I’ve learned that the tasks I do are never as important as the compassion I share with others.