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Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Last Word? Probably Not.


“You always have to have the last word!” 


That’s a show-stopper, isn’t it? Because if you respond, of course, it’s because “you always have to have the last word,” while if you remain silent, the accusation against you stands unchallenged. 


As the world turns and history marches on, though, mortal humans’ talking and writing days are time-limited, so no one ever has the last word. Nietzsche tried to have it by preemptively declaring that no one yet alive could understand him, but he’s been gone quite a while now, and challenges to his writings have yet to stop. What I’m getting at, however, in a very roundabout way, is that today will probably not be my last word on the subject of grief -- but as grief is once more my subject today, anyone who’s tired of reading about it might want to go elsewhere now.

A friend who has been in my life longer than any friends other than my two sisters recommended a book to me, Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. The author was a resident in neurosurgery, apparently on the verge of a brilliant career, when he was diagnosed with the brain tumor that took his life shortly after graduation. Writing his book (his only book, what with his life being cut so short), telling of his lifelong search for meaning and his feeling that surgery was a calling and not a “job,” then recounting what it was like suddenly to be, himself, the patient – this was important to him at the end of his life, probably second only to his love for his wife and baby daughter. I read most of the book with tears prickling but not falling. It was his wife’s epilogue that brought on sobs, when she wrote –


I expected to feel only empty and heartbroken after Paul died. It never occurred to me that you could love someone the same way after he was gone, that I would continue to feel such love and gratitude alongside the terrible sorrow, the grief so heavy that at times I shiver and moan under the weight of it. [I added the emphases.]


It never occurred to me, either. It was a complete surprise. I was astonished and amazed at the gratitude that washed through me along with the grief, almost immediately, and now, a year later, I continue to be amazed by – and grateful for – the gratitude itself, because it is not something for which I can take any credit. If I’d had to work to feel it, I might well never have gotten there. 


Other widowed persons, men and women both, have had experiences different from mine. Some lost beloved partners so suddenly that there was no time for a single moment to acknowledge the final parting, while others went through years and years of gradual and painful diminishment and loss. Just as every relationship, every love affair, every marriage is unique, so is every experience of losing someone to death. The last gift of time, and the gratitude for that time, is one more way that I was blessed. One more gift, after so many, and I continue to be grateful to be able to feel it. 




Let me be clear. Gratitude doesn’t mean I feel any less grief. The poet Saeed Jones said in a recent interview, reflecting on the loss of his mother (to whom he was very close), that happy memories and the pain of loss form “a loop that you live in” after the beloved dies, that loop a part of you from then on. We are forever changed. I don’t feel less grief, but I have, I think, probably been spared much of the anger that other mourners sometimes suffer.


My grief has also made me more open to the grief of others. Much as Dr. Kalanithi learned from his own experience as a patient the feelings his own patients must have felt all along, the shattering experience of losing a beloved can make us aware, in ways we could never have known before, what it means for others to lose those closest to them. This probably does not always happen – one might totally shut down to others instead – so maybe the opening is what someone who calls grief itself a “gift” (Stephen Colbert) was talking about.


“The loop you live in.” “Love and gratitude alongside the terrible sorrow.” “The bitter and the sweet … forever paired.” 


Loss without love would be trivial: “It didn’t work out.” Whereas deep love entails, in most cases, eventual piercing loss. Mais l'amour vaut bien la chandelle. (Or, to quote Billy Joel, “I’ve been a fool for lesser things.”)


This is who I am now: someone who was loved deeply and loved deeply in return and still love. But,  “My travels have changed me.” There is no "closure." There is no "recovery." Loss does not end. We just go on, changed.


Friday, March 17, 2023

No, Not Excavating, But Yes, in a Canyon

One of the most remarkable characteristics of the Earth is that the rates of its interior (tectonic) and exterior (climatic) processes are approximately balanced. Erosion can dismantle mountain belts nearly as fast as they grow. …No mountain is exempt from erosion, and the steepest slopes are subject to the fiercest attacks. 


-      Marcia Bjornerud, Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth



We are once again in the Dos Cabezas Mountains -- right in our backyard, so to speak, “we” being Therese and I and our dogs, Yogi and Sunny. Therese has explored part of this territory before, long ago, but it’s completely new for the dogs and me. The open-looking ground in the lower left-hand corner above is, once again, what remains of a former mining road, and our hike will take us back into the picture, past that big tree on the left and eventually deep into a canyon we can’t see at all yet. What looks like a road high above on the right, below the rocky summit, is an old mining scar, but we’re not going there. We will take what remains of the old road paralleling a rocky wash, descend into the wash where rains have washed away sections of road, and explore the canyon not yet visible – because while the land looks quite open in this initial photograph, most of what we will encounter on the ground is still hidden from view, only gradually revealed as we penetrate farther into the picture.

These massive, towering promontories, for instance, so close at hand! Did you see them coming?

The light, bright green plant in the foreground here is Mormon tea, Ephedra viridis. Early Mormon settlers to this region followed the Native American practice of making tea from the dried plant stems, for use not only as a beverage but also to treat colds. Commercial cold remedies are made from an Asian species of Ephedra; the Arizona species does not contain ephedrine, its effect derived instead from tannins.

Going is not fast or easy in a boulder-filled wash. Great forces were necessary to bring the boulders down in the first place, and yet not all monsoon floods were strong enough to keep pushing them. Sometimes the water had to go around the rocks instead, crumbling and eroding and bringing down soil from the banks of what was temporarily a stream to fill the bed with sediment and widen the whole course – except where the bed is bedrock rather than soil, and then the way remains narrow and rockbound.


We humans with our short lifespans and human-centric views of nature usually tend to think of erosion in negative terms, and yet structural geologist Marcia Bjornerud explains it as part of a constantly repeating cycle, the growth and erosion of mountain belts “keeping [the] planet on an even keel,” unlike other planets where volcanoes spew forth unchecked lava flows, growing and growing. “On earth,” she writes, “there are limits to growth, imposed largely by running water.” Bjornerud’s explanations and descriptions take her beneath the ocean, where sediments collect on continental shelves, but I’m sticking to the neighborhood at hand: mountains, rains, and periodically flooded washes.


Sunny and Yogi’s interests are even more locally focused than mine. A bone! They have found a bone! Trust those dogs always to find something thrilling – and better a bone than partially decayed rabbit carcasses or bloody deer legs left behind by coyotes!


I wish you could see how this boulder really looked. It sparkled in the sunlight, but my phone photo does not capture the sparkles. 

Our course has altered by about 90 degrees now, and we are getting into the canyon we wanted to explore today. These views are looking back the way we came, through that sunlight into the background and into deep shade. 

It was exciting to come upon a pool of water. 

Later at home, examining topo maps, I decided we had probably been in Walnut Canyon, and had we gone farther up we might have come to Walnut Spring. Maybe. (We saw no walnuts.) Whatever the name of this rocky slot canyon, it is not anywhere you would want to be during a summer monsoon. As our way narrowed, with massive rock walls on either side, the cowpath and/or game trail became more and more what I would call a precarious goat path. But the rocks were beautiful! --If only I knew their names! That will be in my next life, when I begin in girlhood to prepare for a career as a horseback field geologist….

Our way came out into the sun again eventually, but boulders lay thicker than ever ahead, and we agreed to turn back and call it a morning.

One main theme I have taken so far from Reading the Rocks is that the history of the earth, like the history of the universe, is a story of alternate mixing and sorting. (That, in fact, is the title of one of the author’s chapters.) Stars explode, and eventually planets and their satellites settle out of the chaos. Volcanoes erupt and jumble things again, but in time the boulders and rocks and stones sort themselves out. Tectonic plates collide and give us a new reconfiguration of land and sea. Maybe we need periodic upsets in our brief, small personal lives, unwelcome as they often are, to give us reason to reassess and re-sort, finding a new (though always temporary) equilibrium. What do you think?


Be that as it may, another satisfying mountain expedition has whetted my enthusiasm for further adventures off the beaten path and provided food for thought to accompany my reading.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Life With Dog: "It's just us, girl."

When she was Tiny Girl

When the Artist left Willcox, Arizona, for the last time, it was in a helicopter after hours spent in the ER at North Cochise Community Hospital while the ER doc scoured the state for a hospital that had a room available and could provide the necessary surgery. I had put a deposit down on the puppy only days before, and now, as the Artist was wheeled out to the helicopter on a gurney into the dark hours past midnight, I told him he had to get through the next ordeal, because “the little girl needs a daddy.” He was amused, knowing I was talking about the puppy. 


As the medical people were getting him situated in the helicopter, though, the pilot asked me curiously, “What is your relationship to Mr. Grath?” Oh, good lord! Did he think I had been referring to myself in the third person as “the little girl” needing “a daddy”? But I just said, “I’m his wife” and stood watching as the helicopter lifted into the night sky – for a flight the Artist described to me afterward as “transcendent.”


I won’t recount all the events that followed (have already done so), but three weeks later my husband was gone forever, and I had to start my much diminished life alone with “the little girl” we thought we would be raising together – the puppy, Sunny Juliet. 


Now I often say to her, “It’s just you and me, girl!” She doesn’t have a clue. 


Other than her first eight baby weeks, a traumatic parting from beloved siblings, and then 10 days with one of my neighbors (while I sat by the Artist’s hospital bedside), life with me is all she has ever known. Here in the ghost town, of course, she has her Auntie Cheryl and Uncle John and Auntie Therese, as well as her dog-buddy and playmate, little Siberian Husky puppy Yogi, but home is the quiet cabin with her dog mom. Or, in Michigan, our quiet farmhouse. Or rides in the car, again just the two of us. Sleeping on my bed at night. But outdoor exercise and adventure and exploration off-leash every morning, these days with Yogi and Auntie Therese as well as the Momma, so she has a pretty good life overall.


Unlike me, she doesn’t know what she’s missing.


Whether here in southern Arizona in winter or back in northern Michigan in summer, the Artist sometimes worried about my outdoor rambles. “There could be bears,” he warned more than once, “and what would you do?” Forget bears! What about a bad fall? I used to urge our dog Sarah to “go find David!” in the house or the yard, reasoning that if she got in the habit, I might be able to send her home for help if I needed help. (“What’s that, Lassie? Timmy’s fallen into the well?”) But never did I consider for one minute giving up the long walks, with or without a dog. And “without” never lasted long because, as the Artist put it to me once, “I need you, and you need a dog, so we need a dog.” 


The last time we had that conversation, it led to the search that led to Sunny Juliet. From the hospital in Chandler, waiting for his system to be clear of blood-thinning medication so he could have surgery, he urged me to bring the puppy home without delay, and then, when I had, he would ask every day, “How’s the little girl? Tell me about the little girl.” All his nurses knew about the puppy!


But then he and Sunny Juliet never had a chance to meet, and she has no idea what she’s missing. To her, life must seem complete -- which sometimes seems so strange to me, as I miss so much of the way it used to be!


(“Lucky dog!” we used to say to each other in moments of envy when I was young.)


I just finished reading, for the first time, A Man Called Ove, and what brought me to tears was Ove missing his late wife’s laugh. The Artist had an irresistible smile, and when he laughed, ah! Who could help laughing happily with him? I miss exploring the world with him, holding hands, our conversations, his smile, his laugh – so much!

So now it’s up to Sunny Juliet to make me smile and laugh. And when she and Yogi are wrestling, tumbling all over each other, or trotting down a cow path side by side, or when they are sitting politely, eagerness and impatience barely holding them still as they wait for treats, what could be more enchanting? So good fortune is mine, in that I have a good and dear little companion, day and night, wherever I am. Also, in both Arizona and in Michigan, I have good friends and neighbors, and my dog and I have beautiful open space to explore, just the two of us or with friends. We have good health, both of us. And we have each other.

Michigan dog play

Arizona dog play

How does anyone face life, day after day, without a dog? The momma loves her little girl!

The momma with Tiny Girl, before she grew big

Monday, March 13, 2023

To and Along a Ghost Town Trail


The Artist and I never took the Gleeson Road, never saw Gleeson, so I decided Sunny and I would make an expedition together and see what there was to see. 

First building on the Gleeson Road. It's for sale.

The Gleeson Road is the second road to the west after the Border Patrol checkpoint on 191. I stopped briefly to photograph the first building, but when we came to the Ghost Town Trail, I decided to stay on the Gleeson Road long enough to see Gleeson and then turn around. The Gleeson Cemetery is on private property, with a locked gate, so I had to turn back east without exploring that site. 

An old wreck of a building along the road, however, caught my eye on the way back, and I stopped to take a closer look. What could it have been?

Ready to move in? Turnkey? I don't think so.

Why is the weathering of materials so fascinating?

There were a few other old ruins to be seen, but one pretty little house right on the road looked quite habitable. At first I thought it was the historic Gleeson jail and was surprised at how homey a jail could look, with the overhang and the Chinaberry tree shading the tiny front yard.  

But no, when I got close enough to read the sign, I saw that the jail was a bit farther down. It too is on private property, though open to the public certain days and hours. Maybe another time. 

Historic Gleeson jail

High Lonesome

High Lonesome, this place was called! Was it a ranch? Mining offices?  Occupied? And why did the name seem so familiar? A week later I realized that it was the name of the fictional Joanna Brady’s ranch outside Bisbee in the mystery novels of J.A. Jance. A completely different High Lonesome.

Gleeson had a post office from 1890 to 1939.


John Gleeson … and his wife were an Irish couple who came to Arizona from Iowa and Colorado. They worked in the mines at Pearce – he as a miner and she as a boarding house keeper in the early 1890’s. Gleeson grub-staked a crippled friend and the man re-located [to?] the old mines at Turquoise. He sold out by 1914. Long before white men appeared in this area Indians were mining turquoise on Turquoise Mountain. Tiffany and Company of New York continues to work the mine when the demand warrants. The remnants of the older community of Turquoise came back to life in 1900 for a brief building boom, and there are still restricted mining operations here. 


-      Byrd H. Granger, Arizona Place Names, revised and enlarged, 1960


Of course, 1960 was a while ago now, so I don't know if Tiffany is still at work in the Gleeson-Turquoise area....

Mining activity on the mountainsides

But Gleeson had really only been a detour for me. My main objective that day was the Ghost Town Trail.

"Primitive Road" -- one of my favorite signs

The curves of the land are soft and beautiful to my eye, but looking closer one sees the scars left by mining. Now this, below, is it tailings or overburden? I have only just learned the difference: overburden is rock and soil merely removed; tailings have been processed in addition to being removed. 

But ah, here! This is the kind of thing I came for! Still handsome remaining walls of an old stone building. Could this be a remnant of the little town of Turquoise? I couldn’t stop photographing the building walls, inside and out, from different angles. Truly, this was vernacular architecture, made from materials at hand, and what more lovely materials could be found? 

Photographing the stone walls necessitated getting out of the car, which also provided Sunny with a little walk. Territory on both sides of the Ghost Town Trail is a patchwork of state and private lands. Some of it is for sale, though I would worry about water quality. 

I did not photograph every interesting ruin along the road. Some I simply missed. Then after the shot of this one below, staring me in the face, my camera battery ran out. If you want to see a little bit of Pearce, however, the last town before the trail rejoins the two-lane highway, here is an old post from explorations the Artist and I made together, and here is a post from the Historic Pearce Cemetery, a place I loved right away. 

Thank you for coming along on this expedition into the past of Cochise County, Arizona, and please join me for more adventures to come!