Grief and the Peace of Wild Things

I received an email informing me that today is Grief Awareness Day. The message exhorted me to contact certain Senators to urge the passage of federally mandated bereavement leave. I am constrained to agree: we desperately need to acknowledge and heal from our individual and collective grief.

How could any of us not be aware of our grief today, as Covid’s Delta variant causes record numbers of deaths in several states; as images of American soldiers and Afghanis killed during the evacuation haunt us, as Hurricane Ida tears through Louisiana, and threatens more fatal floods in Tennessee? And who among us has not suffered the loss of someone loved so fiercely loved and missed so terribly that our heart aches daily, no matter what joys we are blessed to receive?

In order not to despair, like the poet Wendell Berry, I seek the peace of wild things, “who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.” I seek the ebb and flow of tides, the inner sanctum of forests, the rush of wind, the rhythm of waves and the pulse of other life forms with which we share our precious burning and churning planet.

Our last Maine anchorage was in Gosport Harbor at the Isles of Shoals, a collection of nine sparsely inhabited small islands 12 miles from the coast. Cormorants and gulls nest on several islands. Trails on Star and Smuttynose Islands head through bog and beach rose to granite outcroppings where the crashing ocean reminds me of its terrible capacity for destruction, which human activity continues to fuel.

After transiting the Cape Cod Canal, Delfina headed through Buzzards Bay for Hadley Harbor. Christoph and I paddled our kayaks through small coves leading from the harbor, a protected anchorage off Naushon Island, owned by the Forbes family. Osprey circled overhead, clutching fish between their claws. Cormorants, herring gulls and white herons stood stoically on boulders facing into the gusting south wind as clouds billowed in the blue sky. A pair of bottlenose dolphins cavorted at the southern end of the harbor, snorting as they dove and surfacing to spray water from their blowholes. We paddled toward them and they swam in circles around us.

And so on this day of Grief Awareness, I find respite in the natural world. And like the poet, in its grace, I am free.

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