It’s Monday so it’s time to write. I recently wrote about the death of a friend. Once again, it’s Monday and I’m writing about processing her death. I guess this is how we do it.
Her death was so unfair that for most of the first two weeks after the news, my grief was overcome by my rage. My grief was expressed as irritation at having to do the mundane tasks of living. I was easily annoyed by my loved ones. I had no patience for the internet. I didn’t feel like making or eating food. Bourbon with amaretto and lemon juice was enough of a meal for me.
I kept dreaming of the mountains. Anxious dreams not nice ones. The mountains seemed to be taunting me saying, Oh, you’re angry? Really? That’s interesting because it looks like life is moving on pretty nicely for you. How lucky for you.
Menacing as the mountains were, they were also speaking the truth. It’s true that I felt guilty.
I wanted to be alone, alone with the mountains.
I made a plan to go to my Quest site directly after her funeral. This was the plan:
Forty hour fast while I…
Snowshoe in to basecamp, about a 1,000 foot elevation gain.
Bushcraft. No tent.
All night fire vigil.
Snowshoe out after sunrise.
At some point in there, to scream at the top of my lungs until my throat is raw.
The hike in took four hours. Often my snowshoes would sink in until the snow was above my knees. With a thirty pound pack on my back (I had brought a heavy wool sweater and a special, but bulky, ceremonial blanket with me), at times it was both physically and psychologically difficult to haul myself out of a sink hole only to find myself sinking in again. At times I wanted to call it a day and just make camp where I was.
But then I would remember her struggle with cancer. I’d remember that this thing I was doing was not struggle. It was a privilege.
What choice did she have but to take the next step? She had a five year old daughter to raise.
The next step would come a little easier for me.
When I finally reached my destination and started to dig out a little burrow to fill with spruce branches and chop wood for my fire, it began to snow. Hard.
Almost like hail actually, but not so icy. Just billions of BB pellets of snow showering down on me. I draped my wool blanket across some branches and huddled underneath, the little fire warming my face.
In a million years, she never would have done this, but if she had, she would have laughed the whole time. She’d have shrieked with delight when it started to snow. She’d have taken a thousand pictures. She’d have called it magical.
I thought of her and felt only sweet sorrow.
I spent almost the entire day chopping wood for my all-night vigil. Since I had exerted so much on the hike and was fasting, it took a lot of effort to accomplish little.
By the time I’d chopped enough hard, frozen wood to last until what I estimated would be about 5am, I was too tired to rage. The snow had stopped and now the sky was grey and gold with the sun setting behind the mountain range before me.
I thought about the injustice of it, the wastefulness, the infuriating senselessness of taking a life like hers. But I had no energy for rage anymore. The mountain had taken it from me, like poison sucked from a snakebite.
My body was heavy, but heavy like carrying water instead of swinging iron.
As the sky went dark, I sunk into my snow burrow in the mountainside with my little fire, and the coyotes began to mourn with me, and I felt held by something big enough to carry me and my grief.
I promise, I’ll be easier on you than I am on myself.
The 2018 Quest happens under the full moon in June.