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The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

When the Walk Ends

Posted by | February 1, 2023 | Filed under: Opinion
One man's best friend, on a walk at a different property (not the Wells Reserve, where dogs aren't permitted)

A few mornings each week, I walk my dog for two or three miles through a local town forest. “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep” this time of year, and the solitude is sublime. But recent jaunts have felt more grave; the number of trees toppled by this January’s storms has been staggering. All over southern Maine, including at the Wells Reserve, limbs and trunks lie across trails, their lives felled by remorseless winds and sopping snow.

It feels like I’ve been saying goodbye a lot this winter. Laudholm founder, volunteer, and original environmental educator Rhoda Frederick exited this life in her particular quiet and graceful way. Laudholm Trust’s fifth president, Diana Joyner, my predecessor and advisor, succumbed to a vicious cancer too early. This week’s news brings, of course, the usual odd trio of celebrity obituaries: my first crush, Shirley; the legendary “Golden Jet”; and one hell of a guitarist.

We all die. There’s no surprise there, though it seems to me American society still spends too much energy denying that fact. Would we lead our lives differently if we paid more attention to their inescapable ends? What if we knew how much time we had, per Nikki Erlick’s provocative novel “The Measure”? That might be Too Much Information, but I do think it’s healthy to, if not embrace, then at least acknowledge and ponder the limited time we have. The median American life lasts but 28,000 days, after all.

I mention this not to be grim, but to be honest. The memorials we’ve carefully placed along the trails of the Wells Reserve – plaqued benches, trees, boulders, and walls – can also remind the curious that others have walked these lands before. Some dates, embossed on bronze, cover spans that feel far too short. Others look like lives fully lived. Each is a milestone marking another being, one who came before and is owed a remembrance.

A walk in the woods, among markers or downed trees, opens one’s mind to impermanence. For those in the mood for a deeper dive, a series of walks and meditations led by local therapist Elizabeth Straka will take place in March here. Elizabeth has volunteered to be a guide through grief and compassion, and the healing space that nature can hold for each, especially when centered around a particularly arresting piece of sculpture. I look forward to her explorations.

My own father would have turned 73 today, had he lived a healthier life. After 16 years of his absence, the phantom limb of my need for his advice and approval no longer itches. I do occasionally wonder what he would have made of this current time. Franz Schubert, who died at 31, would have turned a ripe old 226 today. He and Jackie Robinson (104) would have something to say, I’m sure. “Would have,” though, isn’t such a useful phrase when it comes to those who have gone. They could not have, because they didn’t continue. They won’t say anything more.

We all only get so much time to say and do, and that’s the natural cycle of things. After all, the fallen trees release their lifetime of carbon into the air and soil, opening the canopy for those who will follow. And every walk through the forest must end. That’s what makes walks special.

A grandmother tree at the Wells Reserve recently lost another limb

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