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.