By Gillian Kessler:
I had to say goodbye to a precious friend yesterday.
Over the past nine months of this insane pandemic, he’s been my number one confidant. He’s been my writing partner and my gym. He’s who I explore new music with, a trusted therapist, an honest and reliable presence, always there, always ready to hold whatever it is I’m bringing with me that day.
In late winter when he opened back up, he was melting sleet and thick mud. He was cold and windy and unpredictable. I needed his challenges then; I was in the throes of new grief—newly dead mama, global pandemic—and his harsh reality matched my somber mood. I’d glitch my way through those first hours of online school, anxious and confused as I tried to teach sixty children via Zoom. At 11:30, I had a ninety-minute break, and I’d race from the confines of my locked-down home and head for his company.
My feet would beat down the trail, tromp the frustrations into stones, into silt, my breath picking up with the speed and necessity of it all.
In spring, he decided to dazzle. The wide, yellow smiles of arrowleaf balsamroot burst from his pores, delicate purple lupine waved hello and dusty prairie smoke danced, their shimmer like the tulle skirt of a wandering ballerina. I loved meeting all of these new friends and anticipated their welcome day after day. I got to know the spots where snow melt and rain water would collect to form gorgeous puddles, the reflections of neighboring mountains and clouds shining from their surfaces. I learned how what was once earth turned into a mallard and goose playground; the green marsh would hold a bird party that my puppy, Bali, eagerly waited to be a part of. We’d curve the trail right where the Clark Fork comes into view and he’d bust forth, racing toward the water, emerging later covered in mud, all his new bird friends scattered, their peaceful respite temporarily agitated and akimbo.
The summer months were long and luxurious. You were green and dusty, the perfect temperature in the mornings, the perfect spot for an evening sunset dazzle show. It was here that I reconnected with friends, one on one on the trail, six feet between us, catching up on all the dramas of the day. I’d run into folks from the neighborhood, from the community, everyone eager to connect, to forge some semblance of normalcy as the pandemic raged on.
With the onslaught and shock of fall, you continued to keep me grounded. I’d go to you for reflections after long days teaching back in person, pray to you to give me the patience I needed to get through days where my hearing keeps me from hearing, the children in their masks a muddled mess of sounds. Those first days, I’d go to you in a deep state of exhaustion and unknowing.
I learned that "hearing fatigue" is an actual syndrome for the hearing impaired that is exacerbated by attempting to listen in a masked world.
My head would ache and I’d feel crazed, like I was unable to function in the work I so love to do. As time wore on, I’d tell you about little tricks I was learning, like how to run around the room and bend down so that my ear was closer to their masked mouth. I’d tell you how I asked them to answer questions on white boards so that I could read their answers and how growth mindset really was a scientific fact that could help us learn from hurdles.
You held me on my mom’s birthday as I celebrated quietly, without her. I looked to the sky and you opened all your light to me, the angles and shadows, the deep breath and elemental grounding I needed to make it past another milestone in my journey without her.
Yesterday, we said goodbye for a bit. I had to surrender, to hand you over to the wintering elk, give them time to stretch their weary legs and wander freely. I have to say, I’m a bit frustrated with the elk at this very moment. They don’t need you like I do. I guess there is some natural rhythm that can only be reset when humans take a step back for a bit, a step off, shall we say. I wonder where I’ll go to find all the answers that only you seem to be able to provide. I know there are open spaces all around my sweet town that I can explore. I have gratitude for all of that. But the blessing of you, right outside my door, your open arms and solid terrain, your sunlight streaks and summits, meandering trials and new avenues for exploration, is unmatched. You have supported me when I wasn’t sure how I could step forward.
You have been an expanse of grace, incomparable in your kindness and unconditional love, unwavering with the seasons, solid like the earth.