It’s been almost three years since I last went fishing. THREE years. I couldn’t tell you all of the exact reasons why that’s the case, but I have some strong theories. There is the obvious period of time in there when Megan went into rejection, was admitted to the hospital, and ultimately lost her fight. It was the farthest thing from my mind. There have been a few Ohio winters keeping me indoors in that time span also, but that only adds up to a year and a half in total.
I did not drop a line in the water last year at all. I didn’t even get my fishing license. I was still grieving Megan, certainly, and Sarah and I met and became a couple over the spring and summer. She moved here in fall. But that still doesn’t explain why i did not take a few hours, a few worms, and a fishing pole to any one of the hundreds of lakes, ponds, and streams within a 20 minute drive of here, at least once.
As I write this though, the scent of insect repellent is all over me. My hands are grimy and have a rich bouquet of bluegill, worms, and pond water emanating from them. I’ve got a few nagging itches from either a plant i came in contact with, or a bug that decided to have a taste. A few tiny pinholes in my index finger make it slightly uncomfortable to type, as well as remind me that I should be a little less clumsy when baiting my hook.
And I’m happy.Read more
Straddling the North Carolina- Tennessee border, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a sea of lush forests, countless animals, and high mountains. It’s my favorite place on earth. I’ve been there countless times since I was young, and until Megan died, it had never been more than a few years since taking a trip there.
I know the park well. I know miles of its trails and the chill of its creeks. I know the tourist town of Gatlinburg, just outside its western border, with all of its restaurants, shops, and hordes of people. Though the area is constantly evolving, the mountains silently remain the same, as they have for millions of years.
This is where Megan and I had our honeymoon.
This past week, I dug up all my old journals from boxes and drawers to photograph for my grief e-course I am building. In the course, we will spend a week writing about our grief, and so I decided to go back through my own journals to look for examples of some of the raw emotions I have captured since this journey began.
One of the things we talk about in the course is writing poetry. I have found poems able to express my feelings in concise, creative ways that are very different from journaling. This poem in particular, feels both hopeful and hopeless at the same time... such a mix of the true emotions I have felt since he died. Each time I return back to this poem, I'm reminded of that time a year after his death when I wrote it. I'm reminded of how nature can serve as a powerful metaphor for our struggles, and how poetry can give us a different kind of voice for our grief. Enjoy...
The American Chestnut is a large, stately, useful tree. At one time, over a quarter of the eastern American woods were populated by this tree. The wood is rot resistant, the nuts are delicious, and even the oils in its bark has medicinal properties.
Nobody wanted to see the Chestnut go away, and it didn’t want to die off. Over eons it evolved into the strong, prolific queen of the forest. It provided shade, shelter, and nourishment for the rest of the woods, and it provided it’s resources for the native Americans and settlers in the areas in which it grew.
But it got a raw deal.Read more
It was just a little walk. As we pulled up to the trailhead on Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, there were very light snow flurries. We were at 4100 feet above sea level, and had plans to hike along the western ridgeline at Dolly Sods, the highest plateau east of the Mississippi.
Sarah, Shelby, and I took a trip this past weekend to the area. Shelby had been here once before, I had been here at least 15 times, and Sarah had never been. I wanted to show them both a few of the varied landscapes and terrains that are unique to this place, and I figured a day hike of a few hours would suffice.
10.5 miles later, I quite possibly had learned more than they did.Read more
"It is not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves. - Sir Edmund Hillary"
I’ve walked in nature my entire life. I’ve hiked, and camped in woods, deserts, jungles, alpine mountains, swamps, boreal forests, and caves. I’ve lived, overnight, in snow, thunderstorms, ungodly heat, wind, and cold. Mosquitos have eaten me alive, and bears have walked through my campsite while I lay in my hammock. I’ve been alone for days, with no cell phone service, and I’ve slept surrounded by 100 other people in the trees, each with their own stories.
I must have built a thousand fires, and stared at them for hours, each one like a new episode of my favorite TV show. I’ve laid on my back in a blueberry heath in West Virginia and watched stars frame the Milky Way, on nights so clear and cold that you hold your breath, because you don’t want the condensation of your own breathing to cloud the view.
I’ve also parked the car at a city owned garage in downtown, and walked through the concrete jungle. There are trees there just the same. Snow still falls in cities, and weeds still grow in cracks. The architecture is different, with even the most elaborate buildings paling in comparison to the beauty of a simple cliff face. Although nature is there, and is not nearly the same, it still has its benefits.
I think I may be starting to sound like a broken record with all of my “nature” posts, but regardless, I’m writing about it again. I’m even stealing the title of Sarah’s post on Sunday, and rolling with it. Seeing as how we’ve both written about something we did together, I see no shame in making a “Part 2”
It feels odd, seeing as Christmas is just a few days away, that I am not deep into grief at this moment. Perhaps the distraction of getting ready for the holiday, having a young daughter, enjoying life with Sarah, work, or a million other things is keeping me from falling into the dark pit of despair and mourning.
Really though, it’s nature. Sarah and I have decided, and followed through with it, to go on a hike at least once a week. Northeast Ohio is blessed with a national park, state forests, numerous well-run county parks, and very varied terrain in a relatively compact area. This past weekend, we traveled to Mohican State Forest, resolving to spend a night in twenty degree weather. We’ve talked of going backpacking since we met at Camp Widow, and finally, we did it.
There exists in Cuyahoga Valley National Park a small waterfall called “Blue Hen Falls”. For thousands of years, this ripple of water has been flowing over a sandstone ledge in 3 ribbons, proceeding on its course towards the Cuyahoga River.
Spring Creek, it’s namesake being a natural seep about 1000 yards upstream, isn’t a spectacularly big watercourse. It’s no deeper than a few inches, and the falls are only 15 feet tall or so. There are no grand dams, shipping canals, or ports. It has been unaltered by man, and in my opinion, no improvement can be made upon it. It is beautiful and perfect just the way it is, and it feels as if it’s my place whenever I am there.
I shared this special place with Sarah last weekend. There were other people hovering around, visiting the falls, walking their dogs, or just taking in the views, but still it felt as if it was my place to share with Sarah. There are other, more imposing waterfalls in the park. There are a multitude of other streams, both large and small, taking different courses, flowing differently, and sometimes being altered by the progress of civilization through the years, but this small creek, no more than a trickle in comparison to many of the others, is still my favorite.
I'm always astounded at the things nature teaches me about life and grief. This week I went for a walk at a park near my new house. It's a wilderness park, with one trail that makes a 2 mile circle surrounding a prairie. For years, this area was farmland, and the park system has now preserved it to allow the landscape to fully restore back to it's original state. For miles all around, it is now an expansive prairie, flanked by thin fingers of woodland and bogland where the ground slopes low. Mike and I first found it a few weeks ago, and it has quickly become my favorite escape since moving to Ohio two months ago.
Firstly, not many people go there, so it's easy to feel almost entirely isolated in nature while you're there, which I love. Secondly, with the time of year, all the plants have begun to die off or go dormant, with their seed pods yawning wide into the brisk winds and tossing their seeds into the breath of autumn. From the moment I first laid eyes on this place, I was completely drawn to it. With dozens of varieties of flora, even dead plants create a kaleidescope of textures and shades – from browns to tawny yellows to silvery blues. For weeks I've been feeling a pull to go back here... to feed my eyes with all the richness of seeds and grains, cattails and milkweed pods, dried leaves and rustling grasses. To be surrounded by a place where death is beautiful...Read more
Prior to losing Megan, I was an avid backpacker. 5 or 6 times a year, I would meticulously plan a trip to the mountains over a weekend, and disappear for a few days. No cell phone service, no emails, no TV, no distractions. I am at my most calm and reflective while I am in nature.
It was a way to recharge my batteries and spend time in a primitive space.
It's been two years since I last spent a night in the woods. Megan’s organ rejection, and her subsequent hospitalization put a complete stop to any outdoor pursuits. My gear sat, collecting dust until a week ago, when I finally felt ready to leave the world behind and disappear again.
I can’t say that, to me, this moment was any less significant than our first Christmas without her, her birthday, or even meeting and dating Sarah. It felt important to be putting a boot on the ground again, for the first time knowing that I wouldn’t be returning home after a long weekend to Megan. The thought did not escape me that it also meant that the guilt I usually felt, that of leaving a disabled wife with a young daughter, was no longer present either. I was unencumbered...truly “free” for the first time in over 12 years.
That freedom is important. I had always taken my trips around Megan’s various hospital stays, procedures, and during “healthy” times. When I was discharged from the Marine Corps, I didn’t have a regular experience for a 22 year old. Megan and I met three months after my discharge, and she went in for a two week hospital stay the next day. Our twenties were spent months at a time, depending on whether she was admitted to the hospital or not.
With that said, last weekend I dropped Shelby off at my parents, sent a “bye for now” text to Sarah, and stepped off into the woods.