I went to hear Kathleen Dean Moore read from her new book Wild Comfort at Powell’s on Friday evening. I first learned about Kathleen when I attended the Beargrass Writers Workshop at the Mt. Adams Center in 2001. I was deep in the abyss of scientific data writing my thesis about the conservation of the Canada Lynx in Washington’s Cascades. Nature had become maps and charts and research studies. I had lost track of the true essence of nature. The combination of the workshops and the authors’ readings was amazing. I was quickly regrounded in the beauty and comfort of nature. Kathleen read from her book Holdfast. I fell in love with her lyrical style and her subject matter. After the workshop I decided to start at the beginning with her book Riverwalking and then I moved on to Holdfast. I missed the release of The Pine Island Paradox so I am very happy to be reacquainted with Kathleen’s writing again.
Kathleen’s words were amazing again. She spoke of the comfort she finds in Rachel Carson’s words about nature’s dependable rhythm and how spring comes after winter and dawn after night. I have been searching for those cues myself this spring. I spent most of my childhood in a four season climate and winter always meant snow. We had snow here in Portland two winters ago, but not this winter. This year’s snowfall was on the ground for less than 24 hours. I know that we are on the crest of the transition to spring, but where was winter?
Snow as winter’s emblematic seasonal cue was absent and I spent most of the winter in self imposed seclusion healing from cold after cold. I am so grateful to feel almost healthy again. Kathleen said that, “It is very had to tell the difference between gratitude and joy.” Joy is defined as an emotion and gratitude as a feeling. Both themes have been floating through my thoughts recently. I had not previously thought of them as being linked, but both have been running through my thoughts recently. I know that I am both happy and grateful that I finally feel better.
The worst part of the final segment of my cold was that I lost both my sense of smell and taste for about a week. I struggled with cooking meals and had to get Rob to taste my curry sauce to make sure I hadn’t added too much heat. We sat at a stoplight next to a roughly idling car and Henrik asked, “What is that awful smell?” I assumed that it was exhaust, but I could only guess based on my sense of hearing. As soon as my congestion had cleared and I could taste and smell again I made a mug of hot chocolate. I had been longing for milk since I had been avoiding dairy during my cold. In my opinion, milk is one of the best mediums through which to bring chocolate into my mouth. The combination of Straus whole milk and Rapunzel Organic Cocoa melded together into a mug of hot chocolate that felt like tasting beauty. Was my joy enhanced by my gratitude?
Kathleen also talked about fully utilizing our senses during her reading on Friday evening. She read the first essay in Wild Comfort, which is called The Solace of Snakes. The last sentence of the essay is, “Listen with the full length of your body against the ground.” We don’t usually travel in the same fashion as snakes, but it is sage advice. We see with our eyes, smell with our noses and taste with our tongues. Did more of my senses than just smell and taste participate in and enhance my experience with the mug of hot chocolate? So what about listening? Can you listen with more than your ears? Can you listen with you whole body? I usually look for beauty with my eyes, but I also smell and taste beauty. Now I will also try to listen for beauty with my whole body.