I have to admit that for a grown woman, I probably do more than my fair share of crying, often over something I wish were different about my life. Sometimes the tears are a cleansing release. Other times I spin in a vortex of my own creation, like staying in the water until my fingers wrinkle and they lose all meaningful sensation.
But lately — in the chaotic aftermath of the Trump inauguration — I’m noticing that my tears are different, that they are no longer just about me, or even about me at all. Oh, I might start out crying about something personal, those might be the gateway tears, but sooner or later, larger, more difficult truths rise to the surface.
Heading north on U.S. 36, from Denver back to Boulder on the Saturday before Valentine’s Day, I looked over the broad expanse before me, the same cavernous vista I’ve seen many times. I gazed upon the vast oblong bowl that is the Boulder Valley, and at the magnificent, sharp, sky-cutting brownish-red rocky peaks, some softened and brightened by snow, jutting acutely upward in a veritable race to a clear blue sky above.
Having lived in this celebrated area for 19 years, I have, of course, as they say, seen this picture postcard before. Yeah, it’s nice, a nice place to live, that’s right. Yup. Uh-huh — are the bagels on sale at King Soopers or Safeway?
But that afternoon, looking out on this majesty that I so often take for granted, I started to cry. Love and appreciation for this arid land welled up, for its remaining wildness, its stark beauty, natural benevolence and seeming permanence. The Rockies may be young, in mountain years, but they are sure older than I am.
Suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, images of large furry white four-legged creatures stranded on floating glacial debris, the now-iconic images of the changing arctic that we’ve all seen, washed over me. I thought about the polar bears and their innocence, how they had done nothing to deserve the destruction being wrought on their home by their human antagonists, that are us. That is me.
Tears crawled down my cheeks as I drove.
I cried the sweet tears of a child, from the bewildered, aching heart of a little girl longing for a beloved lost pet. I cried for all the species leaving the earth, unable to live the simplest lives on a planet they have long inhabited. I had forgotten how much I love the animals, wildlife. My heart grew as wide as that valley, stretching open under great pressure like tight hamstrings in a yoga class.
On my way down to Denver that morning, traffic had slowed to a near-halt before my exit. Out the driver side window I spotted an enormous, oversized dark-brown teddy bear, torn and ravaged on the light grey concrete shoulder of Interstate 25. Poor bear. Poor teddy.
There was something disturbing and compelling about the injured creature –a juxtaposition of fuzzy-cuddly childhood tenderness, of blankies and runny noses and hugs, with broken glass, tractor trailers, exhaust fumes and cold, jarring engine noise. I had the impulse to come back and photograph it when I had more time.
On that shoulder, in some sense, is where we all start out. We all start out clutching our teddy bears, loving and caring for them, our other stuffed animals, and our real ones too, if we have them. Even Donald Trump. (And maybe, although we can’t be certain, Steve Bannon, too.)
I wondered if the polar bears were related to the sight of their similarly-afflicted brown polyester soul-cousin, the giant ragged teddy that some child had loved and lost, alongside the raging sea of traffic, commotion and speed that is modern industrialized life.
All I could do was drive, and cry.
I looked out through the windshield, once again, at the Front Range. Memories of favorite places I’ve hiked over the years arose. I thought of “my” Colorado wildlife, of the hawks and eagles, bighorn sheep and elk and coyotes I’ve encountered. I thought of the foothills backyard I once shared with a family of mule deer, and the day I discovered, to my incredible surprise, that they talk to each other.
Would that we humans could do the same.
Polar bears drifted by, trapped and hungry, dying a slow death they cannot possibly understand.
I don’t really understand either, is the truth. Maybe someday, someone can sit down next to me, and in a calming, soothing voice, explain it all in short words and simple sentences.
I drove and cried.
I cried like a girl.
I cried like a woman.
I cried, and cried, and cried.