The small creek flowing down the incline on my left drew my attention, and I hoped there might be a good place to set up my camp out of sight of other hikers and backpackers but not too far from the main gravel road into Jawbone Flats. It wasn’t a steep climb and in old-growth forests there isn’t much undergrowth. I went off-road, looking for a couple trees that would support my hammock and be close to the creek for easy access to water and to that soothing sound.


I needed soothing. I’d forgotten what grief felt like.


I’d forgotten how disorienting it is. How the force of gravity seems to double. How breathing ceases to be autonomic.


The bad news had been delivered on a Friday morning; I spent the afternoon finishing up some important work, the evening packing up my camping gear and putting some food together, and Saturday morning driving to Opal Creek Wilderness, where I would spend the next 48 hours doing the simple tasks of sleeping, cooking, brewing tea, reading, walking, and remembering to breathe. I would let the solid green of ancient trees and the flowing sparkle of renewed waters be my companions. I would be alone; I fled conversation and explanations and others’ words.


(I first heard of Opal Creek back in the 1980s, when environmentalists were working to save it from logging. When the sunlight hits the creek, it becomes obvious why they named it Opal. I learned that the waters had never tested positive for giardia, so it was there that I had my first taste of untreated water, putting my Sierra cup under a trickle that came out of a rock formation and drinking deeply.)


The two days in that place got the healing and recovery process off to a good start. It felt a little uncomfortable telling David he couldn’t come; it felt a little scary camping on my own. But when I walked out the weight felt a little less, and the breathing was a little easier after being among old old trees and clear flowing water.


-— JP