Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan…

– “A Movable Feast”, Ernest Hemingway

Since my husband’s death I have often wondered if I had to be away from the island in order to write about the place and him, me, our life together and apart. The island was the only permanent home we – my siblings and I – ever had, even though in my early years we could only spend a few weeks out there every summer. During middle and high school I lived there for three months, from June through August, and it became my haven – not only from the outside world, but also from my family. As my siblings aged, went to college and got jobs in “the real world”, I became the only child to spend the summer months with my parents, with my own cabin and twenty acres of forest to wander through. My forest bathing.

It was my place to dream, to read, to write and listen deeply – not only to myself but to nature. And it always centered me.

I never dreamed of getting  married, I simply never imagined it as a part of who I was, in the same way I knew I would never be a mother. I was a tom-boy. Perhaps nature brought it out in me. I loved nothing more than to walk barefoot on the pine needles, inhaling their scent brought forth by the warmth of the sun. I loved writing on my father’s typewriter, sitting on the wide, screen porch of the green cottage – the one we lived in before our grandparents died and we inherited their much larger one. I would stare for hours at the sun reflecting off the water of the lake – some days lapping lazily against the shore, other days making the sailboat rock in the waves creating a beautiful melody. I loved those moments. At night I would listen to the loons calling to one another as I lay in bed, or I would fight the mosquitoes and lay on my grandparents dock, staring at the stars, the Milky Way, and feeling at once so small and yet part of everything. I could breathe there. I could inhale deeply and nothing could harm me.

And then I met my husband. Naturally, my place became our place, in part because he was the first man I had ever asked to go there with me, to my sacred place. In fact, he may have only been the third person I had ever invited there. He fit in perfectly, finding ways to make beautiful pieces of art out of the natural surroundings. He found ways to help my parents organize. He fell in love with it as much as I did.

During one of our stays, we swam to the mainland and back to the island. My parents, both overly-cautious but also keeping any motor boats from chopping us into pieces, followed us in a canoe and a paddle boat. The water is dark there, deep. I kept my eyes closed most of the way to the mainland, as my imagination can dredge up frightening images at the worst times possible. I didn’t want to drown, thinking a great white was about to appear. We made it to the other side and after a short break headed back toward the island. And then something magical happened. Halfway across the water, the loons began to call. Not from far away, but as if they were on our side of the lake. I looked up and swimming next to us, about 30 yards away, were two adult loons, matching us, stroke for stroke.

It was a moment one would never forget. Just like when we were wed on that piece of land in the middle of the lake. When he asked me where I had always dreamed of getting married, I had no answer. And then I remembered, when as a child, I had jokingly boasted that I would be married on the island, if it ever came to that. He loved the idea and within six weeks, we were on our way. We had nine people at our wedding and my parent’s dog. We were barefoot on the pine needles. I wore a wreath of daisies. It was beautiful.

I never imagined marriage would change anything between us. We were such a solid pair. But it did, it made us a team. We were no longer her and him, we were we. We were we for nine blissful months until I found him that day – cold, still, gone.

 It took me years to be able to return to the island, to my sanctuary, my home. I had traveled the world and left bits of his ashes in numerous special places in his life. This was where the rest of him would be. The ash and bone, grey and similar to ancient charcoal, placed in a beautiful bamboo box, on a hill where you can see the lake, the sunset, next to my favorite dog’s remains.

I still cannot go there and find the peace it once held for me. He is everywhere. The wreath of daisies, dry now, hang near a pair of his old, black sneakers. I lay on the soft ground above where the bamboo box is buried, near the rocks I collected that spell out “I love you” and let the sun warm my frozen body, but it only gets colder. My heart only empties more and I cannot stop the tears.

For years people believed that loons mate for life. When one loses a partner they eventually find another. I love the man I am with now with every fiber of my being and yet I cannot stop mourning the man I lost. The place I lost. The place where I used to go when I was lost. I no longer have such a place. I cannot forest bathe. I cannot breathe.

© Sorrow & Kindness


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