After reading my last essay, A Year of Love and Death, on the losses of 2020, both personal and worldwide, my brother-in-law sent me a poem by John O’Donohue called For Grief. My partner George’s Irishness was a wild and wonderful force in his life. In the years before his death, he explored Celtic spirituality with his usual exuberance and loved John O’Donohue. So I was doubly moved by the poem, which means more to me every day. I share an excerpt below.
These quiet winter days, while I find my way back into words, I am full of memories stretching from the first time George and I met to our last day together. Because we both loved roaming around, there are wonderful memories from trips we took. Among the most vivid are from the years we spent traveling the U.S., living full time in an RV. We launched ourselves in 2011, but I didn’t start this website until 2015. Luckily, that year included one of the greatest adventures — our trip to Alaska — full of magic, mystery, and incredible beauty. After the poem are links to the posts and galleries from that wonder-filled journey, including a trip toward the Arctic in the Yukon.
When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you gets fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence …
There are…days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.
It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way …
Gradually you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And, when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.
from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings
North to Alaska
There is a great mystery on this journey: the fact that I seem to choose some places to go, and that others call me to come. Alaska called. And, every time I looked at the map, the voice seemed to be coming from Denali, the ‘Great One’ in the Athabascan language.
When someone told me that there was a place in Fairbanks called The Place Where You Go to Listen, where the music was composed to reflect a constant stream of information from seismic shifts, geomagnetic changes, and the flow of time and weather, I instantly decided to go. I hadn’t even planned on including Fairbanks in the trip until then.
I fell in love with Homer as we drove down the uninspiring last slope of Route 1 into the town. I have no idea why it happened then, before I’d even seen all the things there are to love.
There are a lot of potential Alaskan icons: salmon, Denali, the Matanuska Glacier, the grizzly bear, the moose, the bald eagle. But, not only is my passion for wildflowers, but all of those other icons never seem to appear, in summer, without fireweed somewhere in the picture. So, it’s my icon.
If you want tundra, you have to go far enough north. It was late August in the Yukon, the last day before a wintery storm was blowing in. To satisfy my longing for arctic plants we drove as far north as we could for one afternoon, through a stunning land of jagged mountains, luminous lakes, trees turning gold, and a landscape carpeted in glowing fall colors.
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