Breaking Trail

There is this great scene in Deadwood, Season 1 where the well-intentioned, though somewhat bumbling newspaperman tries to convince Seth and Sol and Charlie Utter that the four of them — having recently “enjoyed” breaking fast together at the ubiquitous and unequivocally dubious restaurant in the hotel run by Mr. E. B. Farnum — should form a club of sorts. The idea is that having retired from their breakfast they ought  continue their discourse while ambling about town; a sort of gentlemen’s walking/talking club. The three, to a man, swiftly and steadfastly decline and go their separate ways, leaving poor A. W. still in the throes of what he feels to be a fine idea, whereupon he posits aloud a possible moniker for said club, “The Ambulators”.

In taking his leave, Charlie mutters something along the lines of, “I’ve never been one to join clubs.” Or something.

I know how he feels.

Last winter I “joined” the local curling club, which was indeed fun and at times I miss that brief, but amusing, interlude. Later that winter I “joined” a different sort of club by getting baptized, but that too has not really panned out for me (I have hinted at this before and know that it is a post for another day…). This winter I have pondered showing up and tagging along with the Fairbanks Running Club on their Wednesday evening running events… I have yet to go. I have a hard time sticking with the group thing, whatever the group seems to be. I picked up my old bass last night and plunked around on it, thinking “I would probably be a terrible band member.”

Then this morning I see this…


I see the purpose of clubs, being with like-minded folk, sharing experiences. I see that clubs can probably be good and useful things. But clubs usually involve other people… kind of a prerequisite really. It is not so much that I am always surly and morose and can’t get along with people… OK maybe it is, but never mind. Rather, I think it is more that I just prefer to be out doing my own thing; like wandering aimlessly around the new property (which I am unofficially calling “This Land”) on snowshoes with littledog. Just to get a sense of the lay of said land. Sometimes my thoughts just bog me down, especially when there is a lot going on and especially especially when there are big things going on. Being out on my own allows me to clear my head more than otherwise. I am able to let my thoughts wander instead of having to be concerned about those around me and what they are doing. Letting my thoughts range freely in this way, unfettered, allows them to move along; it is like opening a valve or conduit or something. Or maybe flushing a toilet… a purge of sorts. If I don’t take the time to do this now and again, things get convoluted and I run the risk of becoming useless and confused, unable to act or make good decisions. Uncertain of what is really going on.


“Borrowed” once again from

Dancing with the elephant in the room: or, the tale of the Norwegian Blue

We don’t really like to talk about death. That is really the whole point of the fabulous “Dead Parrot” sketch by Monty Python where John Cleese so aptly and animatedly prattles off all manner of phraseology alluding to the fact that his recently purchased parrot is, in point of fact, dead without coming too close to actually saying the words. “Bereft of life, he rests in peace. He has run up the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot!”

But we think about death don’t we? We may not like to admit it, but we do. Especially when it is staring us in the face. But then, as I just noted, it is often precisely when it is staring us in the face, that we try to avoid thinking about it. Pining for the fjords, indeed.

I have been thinking about death lately. In many different ways. Concrete. Abstract. Personal. Clinical. The idea of death has been running in the background for over a month now alternating between a dull roar, a peaceful whisper, and a near crippling cacophony. It makes many of the other thoughts that are running amok in there seem trivial much of the time. Other times I have to turn that on its head and focus, explicitly, on those other thoughts. Mindfulness. To be here, in this moment, in order to be at peace. If I do not actively push the thoughts of death back I would be mostly useless, much of the time. Mostly dead all day perhaps.

But this is not about me. At least it is not about my death. Well it is at that I guess, in that when pondering death, one must consider one’s own preconceptions about the subject. But in this case that is mostly on the fringes. Except, I suppose, when it isn’t. Pardon me if I am being a bit obtuse here.

You see, my Mom is dying. Has been for a while now really, and yes, I know that in truth we all are always dying. A bit more each day in fact. And yes I know that we are also living; I’m not trying to make this a half full/half empty discussion though. In the case of my Mom it is a bit more immediate than all that. She is currently in a hospice center, existing through those final days, how many of which is unknowable. Cancer has essentially taken over her body and is gradually, irreversibly shutting it down. There is nothing for it. Nothing doctors can do. Certainly nothing I can do. Not to change that fact anyway.

She is not dead yet, but I have already said goodbye and I simply do not really know how to deal with that. I was there at her side, not long ago, believing that it was the end. I went through that door, the one that was facing me, that of acceptance of fact… of death. But she did not. She snapped back briefly, surprising all of us, including the hospice staff. And then I had to say goodbye again, this time not knowing what would happen next. And now I am here and she is there and time is uncertain.

And life goes on. And how do you face that? She is not long for this world but neither of us have a clear sense of what happens next.

When I was with her she shared with me that she often heard music, when there was none audible to the rest of us. I asked her what it was like. It seemed to be comforting. I do not know the source, nor the meaning of that music, but I marvel at it.

One day I will get a phone call. One day I will have to face this death another way. I do not think that phone call is far off. I cannot dwell on it, but neither can I ignore it.

So you see, I have been thinking about death and the reality of this is that I do not know what to think. I have no beliefs about death, other than it is a fact of life. I do not know what happens next, for Mom or for the rest of us. It is inherently experiential, for everyone involved. It is unknowable, unsharable, unteachable. For we all must experience it on our own. Whether we are staring down the wilderness of our own death or that of a loved one, we all must break that trail anew when we come to it. Death changes life. Maybe that is the only thing to say.


3 thoughts on “Breaking Trail

  1. I wish your mom the best of care and comfort. Sorry it’s been so hard, the process of death and grieving are seldom anything else.

  2. I am so sorry about your mother.

    Your friend Will, now a graduate student at the University of Washington, shared your blog with me in response to a call for favorite blogs I posted on Facebook. I am glad he did. Your writing is fantastic.

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