Wild Comfort, Indeed

A month or so ago, my daily trip to check the Post Office box yielded a package from Trumpeter Books containing a copy of environmental philosopher and lyrical essayist Kathleen Dean Moore‘s new book, Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature. The book came to me in my new capacity of Nature/Environment Editor for Story Circle Book Reviews, a glorious title invented by  Book Review editor (and well-loved mystery author) Susan Albert. (Susan’s very clever: now that I have a title, albeit honorary and financially unremunerative, I’m more diligent about scoping out books to review for Story Circle Book Reviews, the largest review site of books for and by women.)

I was excited about reading Wild Comfort and opened it right away, first perusing the backmatter, the list of notes about each chapter, and then the Acknowledgments. (I learn a lot about an author by what they read and who they acknowledge.) Then I started reading, and had to put the book down. Here’s why, in an excerpt from my review, which is posted on Story Circle Book Reviews:

I picked up Wild Comfort in delighted anticipation, until I read in the “Introduction,”

“I had set out to write a different book. I had begun to write about happiness. … But events overtook me. I guess that’s how I’ll say it. That autumn, events overtook me, death after death, and my life became an experiment in sadness.”

For the past eight months since my husband began seeing birds and was eventually diagnosed with brain cancer, my life has been an experiment in sustaining courage and balance. I didn’t want to read about grief, sadness or any of their relatives. I wanted that book on what makes a person happy.

A few days later, I picked up Wild Comfort again. And reading on, drank it in like a healing draught, like the smell of rain bringing life to my drought-stricken desert valley. This slender collection of essays moves as powerfully and inevitably as a tide, inching in, rising ever-so-slowly under the reader, until we are buoyed by the strength and truth that flow through Moore’s words. It is like the sun shining through a gap in the clouds, spotlighting the exact place that makes us stop and stare, overcome with awe at how beautiful life is. Wild Comfort may be rooted in grief, in loss, in darkness, but Moore’s words carry us inexorably toward light and hope.

I could quote an insightful passage from every essay, but here’s the paragraph from the beginning of the book that hooked me:

“Late on the night when I finished this book, I felt my way to the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Clouds obscured the moon. I could hear the shifting of the dark sea but could only imagine the surge and ebb of its rim on the sand. Then the clouds slid out from under the moon. The advancing edge of waves gathered moonlight and pushed it toward land. The line of light wavered there, shaking in the wind, then slid out to sea. And so it was, up and down the beach, a rim of light riding in on the swash and slipping back into the night. I was happy then, standing in the surge with lines of moonlight catching on my rubber boots. This is something that needs explaining, how light emerges from darkness, how comfort wells up from sorrow. The Earth holds every possibility inside it, and the mystery of transformation, one thing into another. This is the wildest comfort.”

Thank you, Kathleen Dean Moore, for Wild Comfort. Your words are a balm to my soul, and a reminder that it is life itself that buoys us no matter how rough the waters become, or how we thrash about, afraid we will sink. I needed that.


Notes from the land of brain cancer treatment: If Richard’s Tuesday blood tests show that his platelet levels haven’t dropped into the danger zone, he’ll begin his fourth round of chemo drugs on Wednesday. If there’s such a thing as “normal” life during brain cancer treatment, we’re working on achieving it. I’m determined to make progress on the book proposal I’ve been working on sporadically for the past six months or so, and I’ve promised an essay to the editor of a new anthology called Where Wonder Was Born, on childhood experiences in nature that inspired whole lives. So I’ve got writing to do, if I can only chase away the fog of worry that sometimes settles around me. (I know, I know: Just focus. If it were only so easy!)

And one photo from garden. That’s the peony bed above, with the emerging foliage of the peonies a glorious deep red at this time of year when nights are still frosty, punctuated with clumps of bright yellow daffodils and the tall stalks of yet-to-open “starfire” ornamental onions.

Spring has been fitful here in the high country of the south-central Rocky Mountains this year, with warm days few and far between, and more wind–and less moisture–than Richard or I can ever remember. Regardless of the weather, the days are lengthening and summer solstice is just around the corner. I’m not ready for summer–not that the seasons will slow to wait for me…