She takes a second loop through the park and dismounts to walk her bike along a narrow trail threading a grove of old cedars and big-leafed maples.
As she pauses to breathe in the moistness and the quiet of this oasis in the midst of town, she feels a light touch on her bare arm. A green bit of maple leaf is stuck to the skin. She peels it off and notices a couple more pieces drifting down past her face. She squints upward.
Above her on a big, mossy limb of an old maple, two fledgling owls—all downy fluff, gangly talons, and comical feather tufts emerging around their faces—clutch the branch and lean out to watch the drifting leaf bits. Shoulder to shoulder, they sway side to side to the rhythm of the leaves’ swooping glides. When those reach the ground, one of the pair sidles along the branch to an intersection of another leafy bough, where it plucks a new piece with its beak. It returns to its nestmate and leans out to release the green bit. Again they sway, leaning together like Tweedle Dee and Dum, rapt in contemplation of the dance of the leaf through the air.
Lindsey, craning upward, feels a grin stretching her face. She’s filled with the sheer wonder of this world she’s lucky enough to inhabit along with these experimental young owls.
She turns her bike back along the trail, then stops short. Red surveyor’s tapes dangle from wooden stakes following a path beneath the big maple, right through the cedar grove toward the hospital. It hits her in a sudden kick to the heart: This is the proposed route for the new access road.
Lindsey tries to get a grip on the shock and anger surging through her as she paces her bungalow, unable to grasp the monumental cluelessness of the road plan. And she’s got the weekend ahead of her to wonder about this upcoming “talk” with Administration. Plus there’s no message light on her phone. Should she try Newman’s number again? Her pride won’t let her.
Nightfall, and she’s back to pacing the cramped measure of her walls, trailed by HighJinks and Sombra anxiously mewing—furry mirrors of her agitation. Another hot flash assails her, and she grabs a spiral-bound notebook to fan herself. Then she opens it to a blank page, picks up a pen, and sits down to write out her confusions.
It’s a mystery, our connection to special places. I can’t explain why the one bend of my favorite trail quickens my heartbeat as it brings me down a dip where I veer off the path, over a windfall cedar, to crouch beside a tiny pool fed by a spring seeping from under gnarled alder roots. The smooth surface makes a reflecting glass for the doubled branches reaching skyward, reaching rootlike deep beneath the surface. I’m stilled, peering into what someone else might call a puddle, the way I’d label homely some beloved face only one person finds beautiful.
She’s writing not just to herself now, but trying to reach wider. Why not make it an essay? She’d once dreamed of being a writer, before Nick convinced her it was a waste of time. “Maybe you just don’t have what it takes.”
She takes a deep breath and flushes his voice where it belongs—down the toilet.
How do we feel when our personal nature-refuge is suddenly wiped off the map, crushed under bulldozer treads and scraped flat of trees, moss, birds? Reduced to mud? We’re slapped right down into the mucky stages of grief—shock, anger, denial—just as inevitably as facing the traumatic death of a loved one. So maybe a turn toward the rituals of grief might find us a path toward environmental recovery.
Lindsey writes about the young owls and the senseless proposed road that could easily be located elsewhere. She writes about her uprush of blind anger and then righteousness, the gut feeling of wrongness that must be rectified. She wonders how the Native Americans could ever be expected to recover from their shock over the ways of the settlers ravaging their land. How the words of Chief Seattle still ring compassion down the decades. “We are all children of the Great Spirit, we all belong to Mother Earth. Our planet is in great trouble, and if we keep carrying old grudges and do not work together, we will all die.” Maybe there’s a place for healing—for regeneration?—in that primal mud this “civilization” is laying bare as its blank slate.
I flinch when I pass a clearcut or a ravaged hillside slated for more urban sprawl. Don’t want to look at it. Seal myself off and go in search of a new “natural” refuge. But it’s the wounded places that need our love.
Suddenly Lindsey realizes that’s part of Nick’s sickness. He can offer only anger against the environmental shortsightedness and greed, can feel only his personal pain at each loss. Ultimately, it’s all centered on himself. And she wants to be bigger than that. Is there a way?
All of this finds its muddled way into the essay. She writes and rewrites all weekend, wondering if she’s finally gone around the bend, and what difference can these words make, anyway? Whether anyone ever reads them or not? But it’s somehow become an act of love, and faith.
She titles it “The Stages of Environmental Grieving,” prints up a clean copy, and addresses it to an anthology soliciting women writers on the environment. Then, what the hell, sticks a second copy into an envelope for the Weekly Whiplash, the local alternative newspaper.
Sunday night she lays the two stamped packets by her bike pannier. She shrugs and stretches her tight shoulders, shakes out her hands she should have given a rest from typing. Who knows? Maybe soon, after this meeting with hospital Administration, she’ll have a real long break from typing. These days, she looks for things to be grateful for: She’s managed to get through the weekend.
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