The far northwest weathered me. I learned at an early age to shoulder the weight of strong nature, to endure long periods of darkness, and to find comfort in solitary pursuits.
But, there was nothing, not a single thing about the country that made me feel big and Important. If anything, it made me feel a kinship with the raven, and beaver, and fox — each with a small, well-defined role and all requiring equal respect. Winter is king, and we were equal servants required to do our part in service to the spirits — a part of which was taking life.
The morning was cold. Damp cloud laced itself between trees so dense they appeared to be eternal. Mist drooped along the ridgeline on the day I decided to chop down the tree that separated my view of the sea. On occasion, I would marvel at its singularity, but more often I felt the necessity for firewood.
I chopped away on the tree for a long while. It had taken two hours to cut all the way back to the Civil War before I heard it groan. In another hour my work was done. The nearly two-hundred-year-old tree splintered, tumbled over, and died. As I rested, I listened to the surrounding trees brush against the breeze and considered the brevity, the quickness and the childlike hastiness of my actions and thoughts while gazing across a landscape of time I could barely fathom.
And, what of our life? Do we shudder at the moment when the center-most post of our life is severed? I think more often we confuse the moment of half-life with the sensation one feels while crossing the equator at night, in a boat; a single tick of a clock, and you are on the other side. Half of your life is over.
I’ve given a lot of attention to aging in this column over the past year. Again and again, I have drawn from the well of people’s stories of time well spent, and the difficulties facing us all as time slips its mooring and drifts far downstream. Many times I write of grand dreams and small accomplishments attained while in the comfort of our beloved city. So too, I’ve written of the quiet cries of the lonely, forlorn, and unsettled, and realize that “retiring” does not mean to rest as much as it means to withdraw from one place and take in something new, often deeply personal. And as always, it is our nature and the wonder of life itself that cradles us and helps us define our actions.
Sadly, there are those who tremble and fall before their time. There are those who no longer can see their way clearly through the fog of despair and anguish, and it is for them, I grieve for there is always a sanctuary, a door that can never be forced open, a last inviolable stronghold that can never be taken, whatever the attack. Your vote can be taken, you name, your health, or even your life, but there is one last stronghold that can only be surrendered, and that is love.
And to surrender it for any reason other than love is to surrender love herself.