Places, in Passing

Lately, I’ve been worrying a lot.

Living in the midst of a massive Ponderosa pine forest during an enduring drought will do that to a person.

I’m afraid of losing this place, and it’s a familiar feeling. I’ve lived other places that were on the edge—often about to be swallowed up by development—and grew up in a place that had long been pushed over it. In my childhood, the dammed-up Columbia River was already a faint shadow of its natural self and bent around the toxic Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where millions of tons of radioactive waste continue to confound attempts at remediation.

And from there to here, I’ve seen much beauty and found peace in places such as Ogden Valley, Half Moon Bay, Placerita Canyon, Cold Springs Valley, and Munn Woods.

Beauty and peace. And fear of loss.

Yet all of this worrying begins with the idea that something is being taken away from me. Each place, while it was part of my experience, also became part of my universe in a selfish, possessive way. I am here, I thought, so I want this place to remain as it is, or possibly even to return to what it was.

The truth, though, is that none of it was ever mine to begin with. The rivers, the forests, the parks—they are gifts, not possessions, and their intersection with my experience is ephemeral.

I suppose I could apply the same lesson to the rest of my life. All that I struggle so solemnly to retain lies within the sphere of my illusion of possession, but in a moment an outside force can reveal the futility of my grasping.

In death, of course, lies the ultimate lesson in transience. I doubt that I’ll have much to bequeath to whomever is there to receive it, and my deep attachment to the places of my life will vanish.

But my experience of them will be with me, in those final moments. Then consciously or not, I will exhale the sweet morning river, the pungent sage, the subtle vanilla pine, and my release of them will mark my passage, not theirs.

I will want to leave here believing that they remain.

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