Wild Darkness

EDITOR’S NOTE: I have talked to and read the writings of women living with metastatic breast cancer, and many have made the point that their experiences seem to have no place in today’s cultural conversation about breast cancer. In this excerpt, we wish to give one such woman a place to be heard. You can read Eva’s entire article at Orionmagazine.org.

Wild Darkness

By Eva Saulitis

Published in the March/April 2014 issue of Orion magazine and reprinted with permission.

In nature, death is not defeat

For twenty-six Septembers I’ve hiked up streams littered with corpses of dying humpbacked salmon. It is nothing new, nothing surprising, not the stench, not the gore, not the thrashing of black humpies plowing past their dead brethren to spawn and die. It is familiar; still, it is terrible and wild. Winged and furred predators gather at the mouths of streams to pounce, pluck, tear, rip, and plunder the living, dying hordes. This September, it is just as terrible and wild as ever, but I gather in the scene with different eyes, the eyes of someone whose own demise is no longer an abstraction, the eyes of someone who has experienced the tears, rips, and plunder of cancer treatment. In spring, I learned my breast cancer had come back, had metastasized to the pleura of my right lung. Metastatic breast cancer is incurable. Through its prism I now see this world.

. . .

Facing death in a death-phobic culture is lonely. But in wild places like Prince William Sound or the woods and sloughs behind my house, it is different. The salmon dying in their stream tell me I am not alone. The evidence is everywhere: in the skull of an immature eagle I found in the woods; in the bones of a moose in the gully below my house; in the corpse of a wasp on the windowsill; in the fall of a birch leaf from its branch. These things tell me death is true, right, graceful; not tragic, not failure, not defeat. For this you were born, writes Stanley Kunitz. For this you were born, say the salmon. A tough, gritty fisherman friend I knew in my twenties called Prince William Sound “God’s country.” It still is, and I am in good company here.

We have no dominion over what the world will do to us, all of us. What the earth will make of our tinkering and abuse can be modeled by computers but is, in the end, beyond our reckoning, our science. Nature is not simply done to. Nature responds. Nature talks back. Nature is willful. We have no dominion over the wild darkness that surrounds us. It is everywhere, under our feet, in the air we breathe, but we know nothing of it. We know more about the universe and the mind of an octopus than we do about death’s true nature. Only that it is terrible and inescapable, and it is wild.

Death is nature. Nature is far from over. In the end, the gore at the creek comforts more than it appalls. In the end—I must believe it—just like a salmon, I will know how to die, and though I die, though I lose my life, nature wins. Nature endures. It is strange, and it is hard, but it’s comfort, and I’ll take it.

Photo by Peter Miller on Flickr - https://flic.kr/p/o9Gpaj

Photo by Peter Miller on Flickr – https://flic.kr/p/o9Gpaj

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