Why does nature awaken our joys and soothe our sorrows? Kathleen Dean Moore explores this question in her fourth book of personal essays, Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature.
Moore, an activist and professor living in Oregon, had planned to write about joy. However, as she explains in the introduction, “Events overtook me. I guess that’s how I’ll say it. That autumn, events overtook me, death after death, and my life became an experiment in sadness.” Several of her loved ones died that season, both close friends and her father-in-law, who “faded away like steam from stones,” and in her grief, she turned to the natural world to be healed.
The three sections of Wild Comfort mirror Moore’s journey from gladness through solace to courage. Her interactions with nature—fishing for salmon, canoeing a misty lake, observing an eagle feather—reveal unexpected connections to her own joys, fears, doubts and memories.
Moore’s descriptions are powerfully visceral. In her essay “The Patience of Herons,” she writes, “And here is the work of patience: to become brave and fierce, set like a spring to seize whatever life puts in the way of our stiletto beaks. To stalk it and impale it and with a flip of our muscular necks, to fling it into the air and swallow it whole. Seize the day in a razor beak. This patience is the birth of joy.”
Employing a naturalist’s understanding of the world and a poet’s gift for language, Moore faces nature’s bracing truth and endless cycles of birth and death, wrestling to reconcile her own eventual death with a life of joyful surrender. “The bottom may drop out of my life,” she writes, “what I trusted may fall away completely, leaving me astonished and shaken. But still . . . there is wild comfort in the cycles and the intersecting circles, the rotations and revolutions, the growing and ebbing of this beautiful and strangely trustworthy world.”
Readers will not find much sentimental musing in Moore’s book. However, they will find that the world seems larger, wilder and yet safer than they had thought—more beautiful, and more like home.
Marianne Peters is a freelance writer and editor based in Plymouth, Indiana.