One recent Saturday morning, I hopped into my trusty little Subaru Forester, the car I call “Mountain Goat” for its ability to nimbly handle seemingly any road conditions, and drove to Westcliffe, a former mining town on the upper edge of the wide Wet Mountain Valley to attend an all-day workshop on creating websites with WordPress.
I left home at quarter past seven, as dawn light fingered down the mountainsides from the high peaks. I arrived in Westcliffe a bit over an hour later, ready to dive into the workshop. Eight-and-a-half hours later, when I closed my laptop, I had set up my gorgeous new website/blog and had the first of many pages finished. I was elated—and completely wrung out.
My eyes ached, my brain quivered like jello, and I was acutely aware that home was an hour’s drive away. A very scenic two-hour-drive mind you, with post-card pretty peaks rising from wide valley-bottoms, plus a winding river canyon. But not an easy one: the two-lane roads alternate between fast and straight, and narrow, winding and slow.
I was all too aware it would soon be evening mule deer commute time, when deer amble across the highway aimed for evening browse, oblivious of traffic.
I forced my gritty eyes to scan the landscape as I drove, alert for twin-hoofed travelers. I wasn’t five miles out of Westcliffe when I spotted some, but not the kind I was watching for: a herd of about 100 pronghorn drifted up the grassy slope, the last stragglers still crossing the road.
I stopped to shoot a few photos. As I admired the sleek pronghorn, I felt a physical pang of grief that my late husband Richard was not with me to admire them. We shared a delight in all of the wild lives that inhabit these spectacular and harsh landscapes.
It felt like my heart was splitting. I pressed my hand to my chest. “I miss you,” I said out loud, and swiped tears from my eyes. After a moment, the pain receded; I put my camera down and drove on.
The road swooped around a curve and wound through scattered pinon and ponderosa pines. I slowed for a tighter curve, and three robins flew low over the road. Then two more, with a third behind them.
The last bird suddenly turned and flew right into the car hood. I braked, but couldn’t avoid the bird. I felt the soft thud of contact and looked up to see the robin fluttering. And I didn’t stop.
Maybe it was the grief, maybe the exhaustion… Whatever, I drove on. And castigated myself.
Perhaps that sounds soft-hearted. It was “only” a robin, a common bird by all accounts. There are lots of robins. But only one specific bird that hit my car. And I didn’t stop.
It wasn’t until I reached home that I realized why: I simply couldn’t deal with another death. I hit my limit last Thanksgiving weekend when I helped the love of my life die as gracefully and mindfully as possible from brain cancer. My heart isn’t ready to weather another, be it robin or man.
Grief, I am learning, is no more linear than life. Both twist and turn, offering spectacular beauty and serious pain; the calm of long, straight stretches interrupted by hair-raising rises or drops; and without warning, events that sometimes simply fly straight at us.
We duck, a robin flutters on, and somewhere, if we’re lucky, love smiles.
When have you pushed your limits? What did you learn from the experience? Write about it!