Weaving Grief, Nature, and Art-Making

IMG_4108In his poem The Peace of Wild Things, William Stafford wrote about going into nature at night when he felt despair. “I come into the presence of still water,” he wrote, and that calmed him down, gave a sense of perspective. I don’t so much go into the woods at night but yesterday morning I took my despair for an uphill hike. The walk did both me and my sorrow good.

Shortly after beginning the climb a red-shafted flicker shot through the air, landed on a Monterey pine and went up the trunk using not only his feet but his strong, pointed beak. (Flickers are a kind of woodpecker.) I felt privileged to witness this because the flickers are incredibly shy and usually get away from people as quickly as possible.

Father’s Day approaches, and it’s nearly four months since my father died. My favorite aunt died yesterday. Some days my grief defines me. This sorrow is like a heavy stone I pull behind me or I try to slip it on my tongue—big as it is—and swallow. Grief is not a bad thing, just a sad one. It slows me down no matter where I carry it.

Odd how sometimes memories approach of their own volition. Often after a visit my father would walk me out and stand on the sidewalk as I drove away. I’d roll down the window and wave or toot my horn. Many times I said to myself, “Is this the last time?”

My father was a complicated man. Our relationship was not easy. He could be and often was unkind to me. But we loved each other fiercely and shared a reverence for art.

In the evenings when that stone of despair sinks inside me, I go to the table where I make things with my hands, arranging images; I cut, layer, and glue colored paper. Last night I wove these pieces together in an effort to weave myself together. This evening, were you here, likely that’s where you’d find me.