In the immediate aftermath of a loss, you may find that you wake without remembering. Maybe it hits you within seconds, maybe it takes whole minutes. Either way, grief will strike. It might hit you like a wayward wave, bowling you over, ripping the air from your lungs. Maybe it’s a quick strike, less cinematic, more like a gut punch, a face slap, a snake bite. Or maybe it’s a slow swell, starting with a distant thunderclap of remembering, a realization that incites your hair follicles and slowly, relentlessly floods your consciousness. Maybe it’s not like any of that. Maybe it just fucking hurts.
I was fresh off the loss of her, hadn’t made it more than 10 hours without a full-body cry and I was probably running from the devastating emptiness of a single-dog house. But, I was there, in Montana. Work sent me there, and I, being an opportunist, added an adventure to the backend of the work. It was a decision I’d made before I lost her, one I kept in the immediate wake of the loss. An escape, I thought, might help with the healing.
I had to say goodbye to Sadie, Wolf of my Heart, on June 5th.
It has been weeks and weeks, and almost months, and I am still heartsick and aching.
I want to tell you the story about her life. I want to tell you how she came to me, what she was like in those early days and weeks. I want to tell you about the shoes she ate, the snuggles she demanded, the comfort she provided. I want to record all of it, but how? How do you capture 13 years of perfection? How do you pay tribute to a creature who made life worth living for all those many years?
Blah, blah, blah, 2020 sucked, but it wasn’t all bad, blah, blah, blah, deep thoughts, etc. Here are some things that got me through that dumpster fire of a year.
MY RUMPL. A Rumpl is a blanket, but like a really good blanket made for outdoor adventures. It is very cozy, very good and very warm. If I made a list of five adventuring items I am deeply in love with, my Rumpl would be on that list (along with this pillow).
Really, I’m a little surprised it took me so long to hurt myself while alone in the wilderness. I am clumsy. I trip often and without reason. Sometimes my ankles roll out from under me, just for fun, as if they have better things to do than keep me upright. I am forever knocking into things, dinging myself lightly on furniture, cabinetry, sun shades and dog paws. I stab myself in the eye with a mascara wand at least once a week, never mind that I’ve been wearing mascara daily for more than 20 years.
I found the trail two years ago, back in 2018 when I first visited Death Valley National Park. It wasn’t a planned hike. I didn’t even know there was a trail there, didn’t even know what it was called. As soon as I saw it though, I knew I was meant to take it.
I’d followed a long, winding, bumpy, gravel and pit-ridden road for 26 miles to get there, to get to the Racetrack. It’s this far-flung and magical place in Death Valley. It’s a place where stones float themselves across the floor of the desert, gouging a path as they go. It’s a place where you can be totally alone in a vast and incredible desert.
I took a deep breath, trying to find the words to explain a thing that used to be so close to the surface that it seeped from my pores. It wasn’t information I’d introduced to anyone in so long and this wasn’t the time to dig into it, to crack it open and unpack it.
Quickly, I said, “When I was 16, a friend, David, committed suicide. He gave me a ride home that day, asked if I wanted a ride the next day and I said no because I was afraid of missing the bus and then twenty minutes later he was dead.”
I wasn’t 10 minutes into the park when I felt the overwhelming need to remove my bra. It wasn’t the right kind of bra for such an adventure. It was a polite society bra, the kind you wear to the grocery store, to dinner, to work, to anywhere but the wild. It wasn’t a bra I could sweat in, and, given my arrival into the desert, it was time to sweat.
I drove almost 1,000 miles, starting in Los Angeles and driving across California, through the bottom corner of Nevada and the top corner of Arizona, up and into southern Utah, to Zion, to Bryce, to Capitol Reef and then up, up, up to northern Utah, almost all the way to Idaho. Alone in the car for that many miles, I played the same 13 songs on a loop, mostly Lord Huron, Manchester Orchestra, Joni Mitchell and Nathaniel Rateliff. I listened to just three podcast episodes and the radio only when my rental’s bluetooth refused to recognize me or my phone. I thought a lot, mostly about love, a little about loneliness.
It’s October, but this morning I ran in 100 percent humidity, so everything is a lie, I guess, but here’s a few things making life a little less miserable.
I spent a decent amount of my youth on a farm and even did some 4H things for a bit and so I love a fair, any fair, especially a big fair like the State Fair of Virginia. I love fair food, I love the colors and the people watching, I love the 1,000-pound pumpkins, but most of all, I love the critters. I love the horses and the cows and the pigeons and the pigs and, more than anything else, I love the ducks.