Written by Emma Bouchard
My brother passed on the cusp of fall. A time when trees become open and vulnerable, as the forest quietly surrenders itself to the universe. This is what grieving is like. Suddenly there you are, deeply rooted and bare branched, in a never-ending winter. For a while, you live in gray-scale and stale air. You keep the blinds drawn, drink room temperature coffee, drive with the radio on AM static. Instead of hiking, I organized my clothes by type, frequency of wear, and then color. Six times. For a while, you don’t go outside.
One morning, I woke up and saw fantastic colors splattered on the skyline. I opened the door and the smell of rain drifted through the frame, I felt the lingering evening frost in the air, I realized the leaves were changing. I grabbed my pack, put my brother's picture in a Ziplock, and hiked through a downpour to where wilderness scrapes the sky.
That day, I sunk my bones into the earth and I cast a mountain from my grief. What I mean is, on that hike, I cried every single step up to the top. But, when I got there, as I cried the tears swirled into the rain and saturated the soil. I watched as my pain sprouted into the tallest tree on the ridge. I found my brother climbing to the top.
I could hear him in the branches, I saw his freckles in the leaves, felt his strength spread through the roots. The blue of his eyes suddenly cast across the sky, and I swear every creature in the forest looked up. You see, my brother has become part of everything alive. His soul detached, free to flow along the wind currents, his courage evident in every acorn and pine cone. I see his persistence in the horizon and I find him anywhere the road ends.
My brother is physically absent from us, yes, but he is more present than ever. Like his spirit, nature is not isolated. It is connected to each dimension of this life, past and present. Wilderness is the place the soul transcends the body, and my brother, his soul is home. Here, in these wild places, we are all home.