Sunday, April 28, 2013

stratified snow and the stages of grief

Written two days ago.
Sixty degrees with bright sunshine, about 5 p.m. Friday, April 26. This time a week ago, we had a blizzard. The last blizzard. It came on a northwest wind and again today a northwest wind but a milder northwest wind. Much milder. Balmy, even. It wafts across these old fields of snow, lands softly on my cheek, and the sun warms my whole left side as I walk to the river.

Snowshoes, still. Tried it without, but my feet sank and icy granules poured into my low-cut muckster boots, melting quickly, dampening my socks. Snowshoes make it easier. But lifting them off their peg on the side of the cabin, I feel their weight. For the first time in months, I feel their weight.

So what does snow on a 60-degree day with sunshine in late April look like?

It looks like this.

A small herd of deer came through the other morning, and they left deep hoof prints in the snow. Now, melted snow pools in the bottom of these little wells of prints, and just above the water, the snow is clear—maybe it is slush? Ice? I peer into the hoof prints, look at the stratification.

I sit in the usual spot on the usual blanket looking out over the usual river, and I realize how good I am at sitting and thinking, sitting and thinking about things like snow. How old is this snow? How old is the bottom layer that is two feet under? I cannot remember the last time there was not snow on Lookout Point, the last time these fields were bare ground. Perhaps it was January.

I scoop up a bit of snow, hold it in my hand, study it. It is made up of small grains of ice that sparkle like diamonds in the sun. I squeeze it, and all the snow gets squeezed out. It becomes a lump of ice.

Taking snow in hand.

I catch a few grains of snow on a stick and hold it up to the sky.

It looks like this.

There had been a slight setback on my way to the river. On the far side of a small group of spruce I  noticed the corner of a box poking out of the snow, the box that Buster is in, waiting to be buried. My head—filled with the pressing glory of spring and all the things to be doing—slammed up against that box, and it knocked me down. I fell to my knees, crying. It lasted just a minute. Then I thought, “Damn. What I have to do is, bury Buster.”

Such is spring.

Written yesterday.
I went to the planned grave site to clear away snow. Elliott followed. Birds were singing, geese were honking, woodpeckers hammered away. The sun shone lightly through a haze; it was about 30 degrees.

Grief is messy, no doubt, whether you wear it on your sleeve or keep it close, and supposedly, or maybe surely, there are five stages, but as I dug through and cleared away about eight inches of wet, grainy snow, making a circular depression about four feet wide, I could not remember what the stages were. I was thinking about the stages because this burial was happening in stages. The ground I was uncovering was frozen. Maybe not frozen deep, maybe not frozen solid—I could hack at it with the shovel and make small indentations—but it’s hardness stymied me, and I knew I would wait until later in the day to figure out what to do.

While I was shoveling, Elliott disappeared down the river bank. He reappeared when I was done. The snow, by the way, was the same consistency top to bottom. We walked back to the cabin, Elliott and I, and I wondered which stage of grief I was in.

It became a hard day, too warm, too bright, nearly 70 degrees without a breeze. After lunch, the ground was still frozen, so I stuck my spade in a spot that had been bare of snow, about 10 feet to the east, a beautiful spot at the very top of the riverbank with the partial shade of a spruce and a view of the river. The spade sank into soft, sandy earth. I dug a grave. I hauled Buster over to it. I buried him. I walked back to the cabin, pinched the stem of the crocus that had bloomed that morning, walked back to the grave, made a snowball, put it on top of the grave, and stuck the stem of the crocus into it, as if it were a vase. I sat there quite a while, not wanting to move.

Buster, 18 years ago, just
a pup in the daffodils.

Written today.
So far this morning, I have opened the door for Elliott, letting him in and out too many times to count—I don’t count. I have filled his bowls with food. Opening the door once more, I complained: “All right, all right, come back in, I’ll let you back out whenever you want. I’m just your butler. Yes, your breakfast is ready. Guess I’m just your waitress, too. Your butler, your maid, your waitress, your gravedigger.” And it became a little song. Now Elliott sits on the raised footrest of my easy chair, next to my feet. He has the hiccups.


  1. Oh, this must have been a very hard thing you had to do for Buster. Like picking off a scab from a wound that was just beginning to heal. Had to laugh at your frustration with Elliott. We are slaves to these little furbabies aren't we? Thank God for Elliott!

    1. I like that scab analogy. It should be one of the stages of grief!

  2. It's a gift to us, and hopefully some solace to you, to be able to write so that even those who were not friends of Buster, can visualize him, understand your long connection, and grieve some with you.

    1. I've never shared a grief so publicly as I have this one. Writing about it and knowing that others, from close family to people I'll never know, may read it has brought me not only closer to what I'm feeling but in a way has provided a distance. It brings about a perspective that seems to come from within and without at the same time. Very interesting for me, as a writer, and I dare say helpful in getting through this loss. As is learning that others are getting to know Buster!