I walked up to the summit of Mount Tom today with Lily. It’s hard to have a good cry when your kid is so cheerful about going on a hike. We clambered up and up the path, proceeded to the cliff edge, and we stood, with pink, wind-stung cheeks and blowing hair, gazing down at the valley below. Lily said, her little hand in mine, “Look at the tiny houses. And the blue snake, winding.” (The Connecticut River.) We looked and breathed. The cliff edge was exactly where I needed to be. I touched the edge with my hand, letting its tangibility into my fingertips, that physical demarcation of cold rock and air.
When we couldn’t stand the wind on our faces any longer, we curled up under some hemlock trees (all infested with the telltale whitish, cottony egg sacs of the hemlock wooly adelgid, which is on its way to decimating this signature species of our region). Lily spread out a large silk square she had brought along for us to sit on. I brought out water, nuts, and raisins. Lily chattered away about how wonderful everything was, the view, the path, the snack, the trees. I laid down on the ground, hemlock needles and twigs pressing into my hair, and thought about my gorgeous, beloved child and her exuberance. I thought about the mountain, wondering how many thousands or millions of years it would endure, long after the hemlocks were gone, as well as the lichens, fungi, blueberries, and us.
Some wall within me was breached, and I wept.
Lily asked, “What are you crying about?” She always asks. And I won’t lie to her, although I often keep it rather general and moderated.
“The world. It’s a beautiful world.”
“Are those happy tears?”
“Some of them are happy tears. I’m happy to be with you, right here, right now, on this mountain. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
“Are some not happy tears?”
“Some. That’s as it should be.”
“Have a leaf, so you can blow your nose.”
And what about the not happy tears? Now that I’m off the mountain, sitting in bed, cloistering myself from my family members, can I be honest? I can’t. There is too much at stake, for me, personally, and others around me. I grieve for the beautiful, ravaged world, daily, but I suppose I’m still selfish: I grieve for myself and all that is already lost, and all that is on the edge of being lost.