A piece of me was left in Europe. It was one last thread to a year spent abroad, and to a relationship that no longer existed. I was set to fly out in a few weeks to retrieve it.
Then my flight to Dublin got cancelled.
In Grizzly Years, Doug Peacock opens the book in the wilds of Wyoming, in winter, when the grizzly bears get slow like molasses, a thick lethargy that sludges through their blood, and makes them want to bed down until spring.
He was there, out of season, not as a griz tracker, but as a troubled man needing to perform a last rites. A bear, one he’d gotten to know, was shot by a sheepherder, illegally. He now had the skull, cleaned by the tainted hands—poorly—strings of connective tissue hanging loose from the bone. Together, they sat by an open flame.
His daughter had said he should return the skull to her home, to bury a life prematurely annulled.
In the morning he would do so.
The day was three seasons in one. Cold rain gave way to damp gray then afternoon sun with a high in the 70s. These spring intervals are fickle just like the traction on the rock as they went from saturated to chalked up.
It’s this uncertainty of footing, of having to trust in the nature of things, of yourself and of the connection to something slippery, that puts you on alert.
I was supposed to be in Albania by now. But I willed the flight grounded.
The email came through, “We’re sorry to inform you…” I was sorry too, but I needed more time. I was awash in doubts: Should I go back? Do I really want this? Do I have to see her?
We were bouldering outside, it felt good to have my hands on sharp granite. I thought about staying and I thought of nothing at all. I thought about what climbing had meant in our relationship, and how that would be something we would carry forward in our woven narrative. I thought about wanting my gear back.
He took the skull and brought it to rest outside the den where the mother’s cub was settling in, left to its own devices from here on out.
The trouble with a change in plans is the need to communicate them with another party. We’d been trying to minimize talking, or at least I had, and I now needed to coordinate a new set of arrival dates, meeting times, exchanges.
The back and forth was hard for both of us. She lobbed a salvo,
“If you don’t really want to meet up, I could ship it wherever you need.”
I hadn’t thought of that, locked in as I was on a plan already set in motion; A march on a path that I wasn’t sure I wanted to be on any longer. The bigger trip was a tour through the Balkans, more climbing, more rootlessness. I had convinced myself I wanted to go and stopping in Budapest was the easiest course.
This new option was a cold shower for all of it.
The skull was placed in a willow that sat at the opening of the cub’s hideaway, to watch over it through their deep sleep. Peacock draped a small bear paw of silver and turquoise atop the skull. He spoke, “your fur against the cold, bear…”
The chrysalis was woven complete: Paper wrapping, padding placed, shipping labels printed and pro forma invoices filled out and slapped on. It shipped out Tuesday at noon, and with it our last tether severed.
Three days and two continents later the mail arrived on the front porch at 4:29pm.
“…When my skull lies with yours will you sing for me? The long sleep heals…
The package in hand marked the tying of our loose ends. The spool was finished.
What’s left is a tapestry, beautiful in its own way, perhaps misshapen, but uniquely ours. It was left unfinished and finished all the same. It’s better that way.
We’ll store it away and admire it for what we created together, a parcel of the past.
“…We will find new life in the spring.”