It’s crazy to think that over the past three years I’ve spent over a year of my life in the wilderness. Most of that alone. Surrounded by mountains, pressed in by snow, touched by wind and sun. With untamed creatures leaving tracks behind as evidence of their existence and sometimes letting me see them as they go about their business. And here I am again to add more months to that time.
This winter I return with a mixed bag of emotion.
I found out in the fall that my good buddy, my friend the cat had died during the summer. The preferred theory is that the cat was ready to go the way of all things and found a place, comfortable and enclosed (something to do with irrigation), to die. She could have gotten out, I was told, but chose not to. Someone, who didn’t know she had taken residence in that spot, flooded the line with water and that was the end. Goodbye, Kitty. Maybe she chose her own time. Maybe she’d used up all nine of her lives. Maybe she knew this winter would bring long strings of negative weather and she decided she’d had enough of that and said peace out. Who can speak for a cat? Whatever it was that happened the end result was the cat was dead.
My grief surprised me. And the anticipation I’d felt in returning was greatly diminished. As silly as it was, I’d told myself throughout the summer, “Only six more months till you see the cat, only five more months till you see the cat.” And that thought had given me great joy. In my life where I work hard to not become attached, I had become attached. I had been quite fond of my cat friend and I think she of me as well.
Though already months in the past when I heard about it, her death for me was sudden, unexpected, and sad. I knew the lodge would feel empty without her around.
As the days went by, as the holidays passed, I didn’t want to go back, but I also didn’t know where I would rather be.
I reminded myself, time and again, how lucky I am to have this opportunity. Because I really am. What better place to hunker in and write than a snowed in lodge practically in the middle of nowhere? It’s ideal. The past years, I’ve managed to churn out a good amount of work. Edit a ton of previous work and then refine and reedit and revise.
I also love the mountains, high altitude, and winter weather when I don’t have to drive in it.
I remind myself of all of this, often, with varying degrees of success in adjusting my attitude.
Then the time comes to return. So I do. With my grief packed in tight with my other things, I throw my bags onto a sled and climb onto the back of a snowmobile. As I cling to the backpack of the guy who is sledding me in, with the wind slipping coldly in under the scarf wrapped around my face, I practice gratitude. Who gets a chance like this? Who has a life like this? Don’t forget it’s amazing, I tell myself. And don’t fall off the snowmobile.
There is satisfaction in recognizing the landmarks as we get closer. I could ski in from here, I think,
I’ve done it before. Around this next corner is the giant rock. Around the next one, is the fence.
And then there are the buildings, there’s the lodge.
A lot of work has been done since I left last spring, and a lot of changes have been made. The caretakers I’m replacing give me a quick whirlwind tour of the new systems and set ups. If there’s one constant it’s change and that’s certainly true here. When the tour is done, everyone climbs back onto their snowmobiles and with the whirring of the engines they head back up the hill, out of sight and then out of sound.
Now I am alone. Again. This time really alone.
Ah, Cat, I do miss you.
There’s a lot to be done and it takes me days to get settled in, organized, to bring food in from the root cellar, to become accustomed to the new systems, to remember that I enjoy being in this place. I know that once I start my writing project, once I get past the hardest part of starting, I’ll feel better, happier.
On New Year’s Eve and then on New Year’s Day I’m still sad so I scan through pictures and look back over my calendar of the past year to see the highlights and the joys, the low points, the things I’m glad I never have to do again, and the things I’m glad I got to do. I realize from the outside how cool my life must look. Seeing the pictures I’ve taken, even I’m impressed. And that’s part of the story. That’s a lot of the story. I live a good life. But, every once in a while, there’s sadness too. There’s grief. And that’s okay, for if I didn’t grieve that would mean I didn’t love. And if I didn’t love how much I would miss out in life. If I missed out in life, if I missed on life, that would be the saddest thing that could happen.
Instead of saying I will never become attached again, although that’s easier on my feelings, I recognize the power of connection between one creature to another.
So to you, Cat, I raise a glass. May your rest be sweet. For your life was grand. And I was glad to know you.