Never mind what the dream was about. It could have been about so many things: my mother-in-law’s passing last month; my kids being far away; my own mortality, my husband’s, the dog’s… But in the moment of the dream I felt as deep and raw a sense of loss as I’ve ever experienced in waking life.
But then I woke up, and poof, the feeling evaporated. Soon after that, I realized that I haven’t heard the owl this summer. Usually I’ll hear him in the wee hours through the bathroom window, a muffled hoo, hoo, hoo, hoooo floating softly over the grass between our house and the woods.
His (her? their?) call has been a comfort these past 20 years. I first heard the owl a year after we’d moved in while I was in the midst of cancer treatments. That summer and fall, I found the nature here—the owl hooting from the woods, while I lay awake, feeling my poisoned blood pulsing in my abdomen, or a pheasant strolling across the lawn on a sunny afternoon when I was waiting for test results— to be comforting omens.
Being in nature grounds us. And, in fact, it’s good for writers. “Nothing coaxes jumbled thoughts into coherent sentences like sitting under a shade tree on a pleasant day,” writes Carol Kaufmann in last week’s New York Times, “With a slight breeze blowing, birds chirping melodies, wee bugs scurrying around me and a fully charged laptop or yellow legal pad at hand, I know I’ll produce my best work.”
I also heard writer and environmental activist Bill McKibben speak this week about why we must fight to prevent approval to complete the Keystone XL pipeline as one step in solving our climate crisis. He is so smart, so sensible, so inspiring, I hope everyone will join me in reading his new book, Oil and Honey: The education of an unlikely activist.
Nature is one of the things that truly matters to all of us, whether we know it or not. It is what binds us to this earth. We can’t live without it.
Now when I think back to that dream, I don’t worry about my mortality or my family’s — or even the owl’s, who if it was the same one, lived a good, long life.
No, I worry about the end of nature as we know it, and how little time we have to halt its decline. Not succeeding would be the greatest loss of all.