25 February 2019

On the Horns of Mourning, Part 2

I have never possessed a ranch in the middle of solitude. There was a time in my life where my need for that ranch was desperate.

The light went out of my life in August of 2003 on the day my son died, hard on the heels of the death of my daughter not much more than two weeks earlier. What light there was flickered wanly in my heart, to be replaced by suffocating darkness, cold and infinite. The shock had me frozen and paralyzed. As it slowly abated a singular thought ice-picked its way into my mind: run from the dark, as fast and as far as my shattered heart would allow. There was no destination other than to find a place away from the world and its obscenities.

The Elkhorn Ranch was unknown to me at that time. If I had been aware of its existence, while engulfed in the miasmata of grief, I almost certainly would have mounted an expedition to visit. What I know now is how much I needed a ranch then.

Wide open spaces and time to explore them: true luxuries not within my possession. I called a truce with my job, and my employers were sympathetic to my need for time away to grapple with the fallout from grief. The tether remained. A journey to big sky was not possible. Temporary respite manifested in the form of a week-long trip split between western Massachusetts and Nantucket Island. The Berkshire Mountains embraced my soul with verdant arms of arboreal grace, while the deep aqua green waters of Nantucket Sound laved away some of the pain that patinaed my heart. I dreamt often of uprooting, of selling off possessions, and moving to where the sea and forest would insulate me from the outer dark.

The sabbatical was not to be, of course. No ancestral lands, or manor house, or second home to be found. There were no territories offering sanctuary, those places having been subsumed by statehood in the intervening years between myself and Teddy. As the days wore on I came to understand that I would have to explore the territories within in order to attain peace without. My habit of long walks in the woods and by the water would become the proxy horseback rides away from civilization. As such, I rode far and often in search of that place where I could hang my hat by the door. The Elkhorn Ranch I needed was somewhere in the recesses of my mind.

To be continued.

18 February 2019

On the Horns of Mourning

There is nothing like death to stoke the engines of escape. Shock is the fire, grief is the gasoline. To lose one beloved is catalyst enough. To lose two in succession is to inject pure oxygen into the roaring furnace of the soul. Experience this and watch the world turn from cherry red to arc-welder white. Survival is possible, but not guaranteed.

Consider the life tragedies of Theodore Roosevelt. In 1884 while serving as an assemblyman in the New York State legislature the future President was called home because of the severe illness of his mother Mattie. On February 14th, she died of typhoid fever not long after Theodore’s arrival. In the afternoon of that same day his wife Alice, who had given birth to their daughter Alice Lee Roosevelt two days prior, died from undiagnosed kidney failure. In his daily journal for that day, Theodore inscribed an ‘X’ above the terse entry “The light has gone out of my life.”

To say that light has gone out of life is quite an understatement. That dual tragedy appears as a cosmic gut punch with a fist to the back of the head on the way down. Anyone would be forgiven for collapsing under the force of such a terrible blow. A small mercy to be had in embracing the floor or ground or whatever one finds to grasp. Is it the hyperabundance of gravity or the lack thereof that impels us to seek an anchor, to avoid getting sucked in or drifting away? Thus is the pressure of grief.

Theodore Roosevelt undoubtedly felt the gravity that threatened to tear him apart, counteracted only by an anti-gravity that reached out from the west. It took him from New York to the far western reaches of the territory that would eventually become the state of North Dakota. On a quest for solitude, the future President ventured out to a ranch he already owned, the Maltese Cross Ranch, and ended up purchasing the land for a second one about thirty-five miles north of the town of Medora. He planned on raising more heads of cattle, and he dubbed this sanctuary the Elkhorn Ranch.

It was there that Roosevelt, it may be surmised, wrestled with his grief and how it framed his life. He kept the ranch until 1890. The fate of the Elkhorn is in itself an interesting reflection of the effects of mourning on the soul.

To be continued.

11 February 2019

She A Baller

Over Sunday lunch she opened the conversation with a surprising declaration.

“The German Bundesliga is my favorite league name to say.”

This was not the most likely thing one might expect to hear from the mouth of a 14-year old girl, but in her case not totally inexplicable. She likes football, what America calls soccer, and even typically calls it football in conversation. Yet, the extents to which she delved into knowledge of the game were not realized until she voiced that comment about the Bundesliga.

I raised my eyebrows. “Bundesliga? Really?”

She told me it was because she really likes the sound of it, especially as compared to the names of other major national football leagues. Spain’s “La Liga” comes in second. Premier League (England) is just meh. Major League Soccer? Fuggedaboutit. And Ligue 1 from France is a non-starter (boooring.) I didn’t get a chance to ask her about Futebol Brasileiro, so her thoughts on Brazil’s top league will have to wait.

Her take on football in general did not have to wait. She enjoys playing it and watching it. With the Women’s World Cup taking place in the coming summer, interest is particularly high. She has her favorite players. She wears the kit. What is most fascinating to me about her curiosity, interest, and delight in the beautiful game (she has heard me say “jogo bonito” more than once) is that it is almost entirely self-generated. As much as I love the game I have never felt compelled to push football on her. She started playing at an early age and has maintained connection ever since, an occurrence I find gratifying and grounding.

Case in point was our last summer vacation. We had a week down by the ocean, in the midst of the 2018 World Cup. Sun, sand, and ocean? You bet. But she made a point of wanting to watch the two-a-day matches leading up to the knockout rounds. Me, well, I couldn’t argue with that. Quality time with my daughter, cheering or groaning depending on the run of play, and pouncing on the opportunity to bellow “GOOOOOOAL!” Beautiful game? You bet. But most importantly, a beautiful slice of life.

04 February 2019

#79 (Winter)

Crystal fading light
Life love disappears slowly
Will shoots rise again?