Ritual of Mourning and Closure

Greeley, Pennsylvania, United States—Wounded place on our land—Sandy Long and Krista Gromalski

Greeley, Pennsylvania, United States—Wounded place on our land—Sandy Long and Krista Gromalski

Our previous Global Earth Exchanges have been held at wounded places away from our house—Centralia, the Tennessee Gas Pipeline crossing of the Lackawaxen River, and Shohola Falls Recreation Area, all in Pennsylvania. This time, we decided to stay home.

We chose to perform a ritual of mourning and closure for the more-than-decade-old loss of our sacred space—the hill and upper half of our property where we used to go to escape the everyday claims of our lives: work, people, obligations, noise, unavoidable invasions like lawn mowing and leaf blowing, traffic and talking.

When we first moved to our home, we forged a trail that climbed the forested hillside, erected a humble screen house where it flattened into open sky, built a fire ring to commune with the stars, and a garden to nourish our bodies. There, we decompressed, sought silence, balance and restoration, journaled and dreamed and interfaced with nature, deeply and soulfully.

There, with no houses or human activity other than resting, writing and occasional gardening, many forest creatures visited—bear, deer, turkeys, woodpeckers, bats, snakes, insects, squirrels, chipmunks, mice and voles. Those years, though brief, were intensely sweet.

And then we learned the adjoining property was for sale, with the only building envelope being several feet from our hillside garden. We tried in vain to purchase the land, then witnessed its development. As the forest and swaths of foxglove fell, we came face to face with the loss of our cherished place. A modular home was hoisted next to the property line, a stone’s throw from our garden and fire pit and simple pied a’ terre, our “foot on the ground.”

We left it all there; walked away, down the hill and toward our home and yard and neighboring homes and commotion, the encroachment of voices and machines. We trained ourselves to not look back, numbed the loss by keeping busy, moving on and tying off the strands of heart still yearning to be up there—away, in a quiet, still place.

Over time, things fade. At least, perhaps, they soften. A series of poems came. The totems we placed along the path, and abandoned, began their slow disintegration.

And now, for our Global Earth Exchange ritual, we prepare the second fire ring we built at the base of our hill. We light white sage and smudge the ring, the hill before us, and then ourselves, in preparation for our climb back up there, for our return to our lost place of peace and beauty.

We find the mirrors reflecting the forest and sky, intact, but sooted with sap and dust. Who is that, we wonder, peering back through the smoke of time? Who are we, these years later?

The old pottery owl, crumbling and bleached; the wild garden overtaken with blackberry brambles; the lantern and its protruding glass shards; the dangling ropes that hint of where a hammock had hung.

The metal handle Krista forged for the garden gate, and the links of chain are rusting there. We carry them down the hillside with us as witnesses to the fire we will build after visiting the abandoned stones of the upper ring, still littered with old cinders, but blanketed now with pillows of pine needles.

We bow, and descend the hill, collecting debris with which to build our Radical Joy bird. When it is done, we light the feathers of its body and begin to read the poems that held this loss all these years. We ask to be released from this long and heavy sorrow. Poem by poem, the flames glow, the smoke rises, climbing the hill and lifting our grief.

We talk. We remember. We release what we can allow to be gone. The final poem is read; the last lines acknowledge loss. Our bird becomes ash.

Darkness draws its shade on the day, and on our Earth Exchange. Sun will come. In a matter of hours, there will be light.