This Bit of Earth

Yesterday morning I went for a walk, and there was ice, and I slipped--not wildly--yet enough so that my arms flailed, and I grabbed a nearby branch, and hoped for balance. But it wasn't a branch, really. More of a twig. And it snapped--a clean smooth break, like a bone, like a finger bone, like something fragile.

I held this piece of twig in my mittened hand, and I thought, How easy it is to be separated, how unlikely and unfortunate and strange. To be attached to something. To spend weeks and months and seasons and years shooting out of one particular tree, out of this earth, from some earlier seed of some other plant--to have all of that end in the palm of some clumsy woman? To have the breaking be that immediate, that no-looking-back?

The context is this: I've been thinking about death. In less than a week, I have lost two loved ones from different sides of my family (one of them young), and I keep driving down long open roads, looking at the snow, the bare trees, the gray grasses lying low in the ditches, and I know just as everyone knows that death is a part of life, that it is all cyclical, that there is no such thing as control. But. But,

If I had not been looking at that chickadee, if I had been wearing better boots, if I had not been worrying about what to say and what I should have said and why I didn't--I would have noticed the ice. I could have prevented at least that twig from breaking.

But of course I would not have. Could not have. The ice was covered over with thin powder, as it so often is--no more ill-meaning than a cloud. 

When I picked myself up off the ground, I carried the twig with me for a while. After a few paces, I thought about turning around, returning it to its original tree and leaving it there at its trunk, saying some kind of prayer. But I would have made those actions only for myself. 

To my left was an overlook onto a snowy marsh, and I walked up to the edge of land and tossed the twig in. It sunk, somewhere in all that white. And I don't think I delude myself in believing that this bit of earth, which was once alive, will find its purpose there.


  1. I have always wondered why all of us are surprised when we slip along the journey of life. It should be as expected as the next sunrise but somehow we are stunned. Almost all of us with very few exceptions.

    It is the "slipping" that wakes us up; that makes us aware of our surroundings. Death is similar for me. When someone dies I often realize what I have, and how precious all of this is.

    Beautifully written. Thank you.

  2. Emily,

    This piece blows me away! You take me with you, over the ice and into your thoughts. It's lovely and raw at the same time.

  3. Exquisite, Emily. The slippery place we walk at the edge of death all the time. Beautiful words and so deeply connected to the sacredness of natural world.

  4. This is beautiful. I send you my love.

  5. Thanks to all of your for your kind words. I'm moving more slowly these days, but moving forward never the less. Spring is coming.

  6. I enjoyed this very much. The positive nature of something as negative as death is affirmed at the end.


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