It’s spring in the Pacific Northwest, a time when plants that pushed leaves through near-frozen winter ground begin their promiscuous blooming. Next to the hardy hellebores, narcissus and daffodils show off their yellow bonnets. Slender willow branches, brown in winter, turn spring-green as their leaves sprout. At Lake Quinault, where we spent a few days this week, skunk cabbage flowers shine golden in shaded wetlands. Oxalis leaves begin to carpet the forest floor. Curled baby fern fronds unfurl. Sun breaks through rainclouds as the days lengthen.
Spring is the time of new beginnings. Our spirits lift; anything seems possible. What a contrast to a year ago, when a terrible period of illness, death, fear, economic devastation, and violence started. This time last year, we could only glimpse what was coming.
All of us have lost someone or something. Over half a million people in the US – a number I can only begin to comprehend – have lost their lives, most in isolation from family and friends. Their loved ones – many millions – have experienced deep grief at a time when collective practices and rituals to honor the dead and comfort the living were blocked.
Through a combination of luck, privilege, and care to avoid contagion, my loved ones and I have survived. For that, I am incredibly grateful. The biggest loss we’ve suffered has been physical separation from our granddaughter, now almost three years old, for nearly half her life. When we do see her this summer, we’ll meet the delightful little person she has grown into.
When trees die in the rainforest, they immediately become homes and food for the living. Snags and stumps stand for centuries, sheltering generations of woodpeckers, owls, squirrels, bears. Huge trunks lie on the forest floor, their structures breaking down as mosses, fungi, and insects get busy on and inside them. Seeds and spores begin to sprout in this new soil: huckleberries, ferns, maples, Douglas-firs, Western red cedars, Sitka spruce, hemlock. Rows of saplings send roots around and through each trunk’s bulk, seeking soil. Death nourishes life.
Amidst tragedy, outrage, and chaos, we have grown in new ways this year. Facing catastrophe, we reached out to others in our communities to do what we could to help. Powerful, Black-led protests against systemic racism, spurred by ongoing, brutal murders of Black people, drew more support and participation than ever. Many white people moved to a deeper level of understanding our complicity and committed to the next steps to undo it. Led by Black women in the South, we worked hard together to meet dangerous threats to our democracy by defending the right of all citizens to vote. We managed to defeat a would-be dictator and wrest control of the Senate from his enablers.
When hurricane-force winds knock down hundreds of shallow-rooted rainforest trees at once, the landscape changes dramatically. At first, death and absence prevail. Soon, life asserts itself. Sun-loving alder and Douglas-fir saplings take root and grow, nourished by those that have passed on.
May the abundant waters of this region cleanse and rock us as we grieve. May the spirits of our ancestors and loved ones who have died be with us as we rebuild amidst the wreckage. May we have the courage to do so in a way that ensures justice, opportunity, and freedom from oppression for all.