After a heartbreaking Friday where I made the difficult decision to put Tidbit, my cat of 16 years, to sleep, I needed solace. I needed a reminder of the vastness of the universe, and how it comes and goes without paying attention to my grief or my needs.
I needed the mountains.
I rose before dawn and put on my hiking clothes and trail shoes. Filled the Nalgene bottles and stashed food and extra clothing in my day pack. Put the leash and harness on Shadow, tucked us both in the car and drove towards dawn.
I cried as the clouds changed colors in the coming sunrise. I thought of how Tidbit would sit on the back porch for hours, feeling the breeze ruffle her fur and listening to birds singing in the trees.
I headed to nature, because nature always soothes me, even if it doesn’t have all the answers.
The parking lot at the trailhead still had spaces. The air contained a chill, as the sun had not yet crested the surrounding peaks to bring its warming light. But the air tasted crisp and clean and the craggy rocks beckoned.
The trail started rocky and steep and I soon forgot my sorrow as I concentrated on staying upright. Shadow scampered ahead, leaping up rocks with the energy of a young dog while I followed at a more stately pace.
Both of us were breathless from the altitude change, so I made sure to pause frequently as we ascended the stone stairway to Eagle Lake. And when I paused, my breath disappeared even further into the beauty of the day, those mountains, the trees, the rocks, the colors.
All around me there was life and death. Tiny birds and chipmunks darted through the forest. Brown leaves fell off of aspen and larch. The dried up trunks of expired pines sometimes reached towards the sky, sometimes lay trailside. And all of it — the dead trees, the leaf litter, the barren branches — all of it looked beautiful. And we are all a part of it — plants and animals and even the mountains and lakes themselves. Everything in nature has its time and place to live and die, including Tidbit and me.
You could see history writ large on the mountain slopes, rock thrust up from below, then scarred by glaciers and knocked to rubble by snow. Ages and eras of change, adding up to a timeline upon which I barely appear.
As I hiked and gazed around me, I felt awed and small and soothed, all at once. I sat on a boulder overlooking Eagle Lake and wrote about Tidbit and her small life and how she meant so much in my small life, surrounded by the majesty of the natural world in all its glory.
After that, we turned back and descended the trail, back to the car, back home to loss. My grief has not abated, but I carry the perspective of my day in the mountains within.