Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature
Kathleen Dean Moore
256 pages,
softcover: $15.95.
Trumpeter Books, 2010.

Writer, editor and activist Kathleen Dean Moore was settling in to write her next book when a series of personal tragedies changed everything. After several people close to her died within a few months, Moore abandoned her plans to create a book about happiness. Instead, she used her keen observations of the natural world to write her way to the knowledge that "sorrow is part of the Earth's great cycles." Her new book became a collection of profound essays titled, Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature.

Wild Comfort often drifts into vivid poetry. Moore describes the sun "slumped on the water like an egg yolk, peppered by frigate birds" and shares her experience of a night when you'd need  "a stone chisel to flake the darkness out of this sky." Poetry is a way to express grief, she notes: Sometimes, she says, "when death comes, only poetry is enough."

Although dark images appear frequently in these essays, threads of insight and joy are stitched in as well. Moore returns briefly to her original intention in "The Happy Basket," a sort of gratitude-journal-in-wicker experiment where she collects notes about what she's doing when she feels happy: "Fresh crab ... Frank and I held hands in bed last night ... A patch of sun and a glass of wine after work." Near the end of the book, an optimistic essay about the abundant life rising from the ashes of the Mount St. Helens eruption reminds us that nature will use the tiniest crack in a rock or patch of scorched ground as a place to start over. Moore posits that "destruction, creation, catastrophe, renewal, sorrow, and joy are merely human ways of seeing" natural events. Ultimately, she says, only change is real. While this is certainly not a new idea, her descriptions of insects under rocks, of snowflakes and fog, of water and tree branches show us fresh ways to value often-unwelcome changes.

Moore does not pretend to have a comprehensive definition of sorrow, or a cure for its pain. What she does have, however, is the skill to weave snippets from the cycles of nature into essays that offer beauty, reassurance and comfort.