After three important people in my life passed away last summer—two important people, and one important animal, to be precise—my first momentary escape from sadness came as I walked through subalpine fields teeming with wildflowers. Mount Rainier’s Spray Park bursts into bloom each July with beargrass, Indian paintbrush, lupine, and avalanche lilies; we spotted a black bear, a mountain goat, and two hoary marmots playing among the flowers. Pika squeaked indignantly as we passed their hiding spots in the boulder fields.
On the morning I hiked Spray Park, the only antidote for grappling with so many endings was to witness even more new beginnings.
Our Seattle apartment building sits half a mile from Ravenna Park; for land so close to a busy strip of restaurants, businesses, and homes, the park feels surprisingly wild. As we walked through the park one evening, we approached a family who’d stopped in the middle of the path, eyes focused on the canopy of leaves and mossy branches. Curious, we paused next to them; before we could ask, they pointed up and whispered “Owls!”
Over the next few weeks, we kept returning to Ravenna Park at dusk to watch the resident barred owl and her three owlets through our binocular lenses: the mother savagely hunting and disemboweling mice for dinner, her babies awkwardly navigating their surroundings nearby. Every once in awhile, the babies would cautiously test out their wings.
My grandmother was prolifically crafty; in her spare time, she stitched countless needlepoint projects—throw pillows, wall hangings, piano benches—which adorned her home and the homes of her three children. When I moved into my first apartment, she sent me a handmade gift: the world’s softest crocheted blanket, made from variegated blue yarn.
To my complete surprise, Koko immediately adopted this blanket as her own; in fact, it quickly surpassed her tiger-striped catnip toy as her most prized possession. She’d knead the blanket over and over with her tiny pink paw-pads, hold it tenderly in her mouth, and fall asleep like that, mid-purr.
For those reasons, crocheting was something I ended up associating—strangely enough—with both my grandmother and my cat. And so, after they both passed away last summer, I found a sense of healing through learning to crochet myself.
I consider myself to be a creative person, but my hand-eye coordination is lousy, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d worked with my hands outside of the kitchen. So perhaps I should’ve been prepared for the reality of learning a new skill: complete and total frustration. I bought a crochet hook and a skein of burgundy yarn, then proceeded to hit wall after wall as I scoured YouTube videos for their wisdom, successfully learning what it meant to “chain” and “yarn over” but failing to replicate even these most basic elements of crocheting on my own.
Humbled by my own limitations, I scheduled a lesson with someone who knew what she was doing—a kind, patient older woman who may have been someone’s grandmother herself. It was like flipping a light switch. She showed me exactly when I pulled the yarn too tight, moved my wrist the wrong way, or picked up the wrong crochet hook for the job.
Sometimes the hardest part of trying something new is admitting when you need help. As I diligently practiced my new crochet skills, I was reminded how much the learning process mirrored the grieving process: both feel hopelessly overwhelming at first, but with practice and presence, you gain incremental comfort in your new reality. The only way out, as they say, is through.
In the past year, I’ve crocheted and donated 29 pet-sized, 20×20-inch blankets to our local animal shelter via Comfort for Critters, with another 6 waiting in the wings—even though it feels like just yesterday that I was staring blankly and helplessly at my brand-new crochet supplies.
Time marches on. And to me, using my time thoughtfully has begun to feel like the best living memorial to those who are no longer with us.
Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400