The smoke had created a form of depression in my mind isolating me once again in my life. My thoughts on repeat wondering when will this all be over? Will it be over?
My eyes burned, my throat was sore and my breathing which is already at a limited function since my accident 40 years ago became ever more difficult.
Those things weren’t bringing me down the most. It was something else. My freedom is found in the outdoors. But it was the one place I could not go. I could not go to my flowers that were covered in ash. I could not roll along my garden which was being chocked in smoke. My grass, trees or even the ability to clean it all up was all out of bounds to me.
This doomsday feeling continued for seven days straight inside my heart and outside my windows. Not only in my town but up and down the Western US.
Alive, breathing and with a loving person I went to bed each night feeling guilty for my despair when I knew there were others out there who had lost everything including loved ones.
I was safely sheltered in my bed on the eve of September 18. When I woke up the following day to start my morning routine I yelled, “LOOK! You can see the sky!”.
Big puffy white clouds.
Beautiful blue tone sky.
It was a miracle, but I did not feel empowered by the gift.
I was still sad.
The smoke in my mind and heart had not dissipated.
I was struggling to find my gratefulness.
Looking for a distraction I asked Alexa to play one of my favorite podcasts, “The Daily”. A story came on by Bianca Giaever who had been working on the west coast when the fires broke out.
One morning during the fires Bianca had awoken with the phrase “an Obituary to the land” in her head so she had asked her friend and poet, Terry Tempest Williams, to write about it. In the episode, Terry reads part of her poem.
She compassionately speaks about fires, the earth, life loss and how humans have become the kings of the universe unaware and disconnected to all living things around us.
“The obituary will be short. The time came and they died to the old ways of being. Good riddance. It was time. A terminal disease. Where humans put themselves in the center of the universe and in so doing have been dead to the world that is alive.”
Her words struck a chord. We forget about the force of the trees, the ecosystem that is keeping us alive and how nature nourishes us and feeds not only our body, but our souls. It is all going on in and around us but we continue to neglect it.
Do we not see it, or did we get so busy that we have become detached and forgot about it? We are constantly worried about our futures, living in our pasts and neglecting our present. Or like me. When is this smoke going to end? When can life go back to normal for me? My yard is so messed up. When will I be able to go back outside to tend to it?
See, I hadn’t given my main thoughts and heart to the forests. It then started to rain but not outside as we’d all been praying for. It was the tears streaming down my face. It was a part of me out there burning up. A part of you. If we are not building up and giving back to fill the earth with love and respect, we become stuck in a cloud of depression.
I was washed clean by the opening of the sky but my friend nature was dying and I wasn’t there. Not out of lack of caring, but lack of getting out of my own head. My own space.
The forests are a part of me. It is where I roamed. I grew up in the Northwest small-town of Brownsville. I spent most of my time in the forest. Climbing those trees. Playing in those streams. Watching those wild animals.
I am created by bits and pieces and memories of those places. I love the forest and now my friend was on fire. I must have known because even though I wasn’t consciously thinking about it I was feeling that emotional distraught.
I had let go. Burst into tears crying like a little child. Even my caregiver could not console me. No one knew, including myself, that the heartache the depression the feelings I had were because my friend was yelling, screaming……. dying.
I had missed the calling. I grieved the entire day and still do for the loss. We are all so busy on our technology. Lost in that center of self.
The forest is my happy place. When I go there it is my escape and I’ve always felt empowered by the mighty trees. How the world inside of that forest can seem to handle anything. Can sooth anything. Can restore anything.
As Terry reminds us may we raise a fist full of ash in celebrating the life that once was and is now lost. In your hand is the memories of birds, trees, living peaceful creatures like our hummingbirds and butterflies. Frogs, flowers, ferns a baby deer, a chipmunk. Whispering there in that handful of ash are the memories of destroyed photos from the wall of a cabin, trinkets, a secret place of solitude, books that were written years ago passed down by family and friends and small town businesses where towns people started their days for generations.
Now that the smoke is cleared, and although we know fires still are burning let the largest fire that remain be the ones inside of us. The ones that keep us rejoicing for waking up every day. The one that reminds us of the forests that still stand with their tenacity, resilience, and determination to regrow. Just as we regrow through our trials. Stronger.
Let’s thank God most the earth still remains for us to take a step back and remember what we are most thankful for. Let’s start being distracted in nature not from nature. Go plant a tree, clean up some trash in a local woodland. Social distance with some friends while you do it. Rebalance yourselves so that you can be there best for the earth and your community. So that you can remember what is truly important.
I’ll leave you with some final words from An Obituary to the Land by Terry Tempest Williams:
“Grief is love. How can we hold this grief without holding each other?”
With an attitude of gratitude,
Ron Heagy Jr.