Our relationship to the world is a swirling and fragile thing. It drifts timidly through the branches and leaves of life like a morning fog, so enveloping and real one moment and gone without a trace the next. What is beautiful can change with a few words or seconds and become horrible. What is grand from great heights can be plain down low. Or kill you, depending on how quickly you descend. It goes this way, good and bad, different in the eye of the beholder, ever changing, until one day it all stops.


Feelings war with reasons, a relentless battle for control of our being. We may be a pinball or a ship at sea, ragdolled unfeelingly by the chaos of the natural world, until in a momentary respite we assign a narrative arc to the random plotline. If what makes us human is art, then perhaps what makes art is simply our choice to make a story out of it all. I could convince myself, or anyone else, that all these things happen for a reason, that I believe in the trajectory of my bizarre and microscopic speck of time and space. Or I could say that it is all random and pointless, and list a series of events that supports the notion. With the right words and brushstrokes it might come across beautiful and hopeful, or perhaps random and cruel. We could tell a story and write in a happy ending, or we could see it all as poignantly sad, even the best moments bittersweet harbingers of loss to come.

Watching the leaves change, it seems that nature feels the same way. It is a necessary cycle, but what made it necessary? Could not trees work just as well without dropping their leaves and embracing the cold darkness of winter? Evergreens do. Still, they paint themselves flaming oranges and yellows and reds, a truly unreal display of fleeting beauty, before inevitable decay and renewal. As if to remind us that there is beauty in the process, that some day these will be the good old days, that we will use all of our tools to capture these brief moments of natural goodness and revisit them in darker days.

Feeling the seasons change is surreal, because it always brings with it a rushing nostalgia and a helpless terror. The smell of pumpkin pie spices and crisp, frosty mornings is universally cozy, but it also has the same plummeting feeling as watching your likely death rush towards you. We have no say in how or when it actually arrives, no gas pedal or brakes as we hurl towards the future.

With the unique perspective of a brain which has been damaged and slowly repaired, I have seen the different layers of our relationship to the outside, the way that what should make us sad and what does make us sad is not always the same, the way that our mood is such a fickle combination of chemicals and external inputs and some esoteric construct called free will. With the shared experience of waking up and being, sleeping and repeating, one can grow numb to the particulars, bound only to function, to perform the tasks necessary for survival and then to distract ourselves from the ridiculousness of it all. Even the best things can become too familiar, even Double Stuf Oreos start to go down so easily that we forget just how good they really are.

And then, the same situation which once was so good becomes a living nightmare, and we appreciate what we had more than we ever did when it was true. In the plummeting fall, we miss being on our feet. In the absence, we miss the presence. In the uncertainty, we become drunk on possibility and hungover on yearning. We pray for what might be and long for what once was. And as soon as the prayers are answered or not, we lose faith until we need something else. Retreating to the comfort of the past may be a beautiful way to identify what really matters, or it may be a surefire way to remain stuck in mournful hindsight. Seasons keep our reverie in check, but they promise only that things will always change.

The line between heaven and hell is razor thin. The silent and remote woods are blissful, the dappled Ozark sunset is beautiful. Until your dog goes missing among the hemlock and spruce and the sun ducks below the ridgeline. What was once a slice of Heaven on earth is now the setting for a nightmare. The company of a loved one is such a universal, indescribable gift. Until you say the wrong thing, or they get eyes for something new, or one of you dies. And then the absence of someone is far more searing than their company ever was good.


The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.