Pocket the Ash

Pocket the Ash

by Katie Huey

Rummaging through the blue bin of snow clothes, I grab gloves and a hat before stepping into the backyard. Leaves demand attention before flurries of snow arrive according to winter weather warnings. 

Red rakes sit in the shed, waiting to be pulled from the pile of worn wooden handles still warm from lingering unseasonal heat. I wrestle with stubborn tools. I am ready to tuck the garden into its bed like a toddler resisting bedtime.

Muscling burnt orange and crimson leaves into piles takes three hours. I pull the rake towards my center stirring mixtures of grass and sticks. Tired life. With each scrape of the earth, up swirls too, tiny puffs of darkness. I watch the grit lift and land. Wisps of crisped needles and incinerated pines burned black rise into the air. As the ash enters my nose and eyes, I sneeze. The tiny particles make my eyes weep. 

Despite our best efforts, the air demands we inhale what’s left, leaving traces of particles in our lungs.

While I rake, fire consumes the foothills and the majestic Rocky Mountains of which my grandfather taught me to sing mere miles away from my home. Burned wild flowers travel by dangerous gusts of wind to mix with city maples and the dying aspen leaves in my backyard. 

The setting of my wild adventures of youth and family traditions are now forever changed by the swath of loss. Can memories burn as a sense of place is destroyed?

I think about the sacredness of these ashes settling. They smear white streaks on my windshield and sneak into the crevices of the freshly laid concrete patio. Five years prior, I felt my father’s ashes land on my toes. I watched his grit swirl with the wind and land, eventually, on cracked, dry earth. I witnessed his urn burning in a controlled fire as a summer ink sky turn speckled with stars. The mountains were witness, too. 

My body feels the magnitude of life and livelihood turning to vapor among flames. Having experienced significant unraveling, I ask, what beauty is found in the sweeping of what’s left into tiny piles? May the act of smearing the grit on our fingers be a beautiful thing?

Turning again to my chore, I increase pressure on the leaf blower and watch blackened piles swirl up into mini plumes of darkened ash. I watch the mess move, mirroring the blooms of smoke seen from airplanes, thousands of miles up into plum purple skies.

May we not disconnect the black piles of soot and grit from the immense loss up canyon roads.

It’s insensitive, perhaps, to have hope in the hurting so soon. 

The destruction is horrifying. The longing for what could have been, pervasive.

The honoring and remembering? Sacred.

Sweep what’s left into piles. Place the white and black smears on your altars of hope. In the wonderings of what’s next and how will we ever recovers, know this to be true – What was will never return.

We weep for this truth.

Using your fingers to pile, gather, pull towards you the mix of earth and sticks and dead things crisped. Move among the ash.

What will be is still left to be seen.

As I place the rake back in the shed, snow begins to fall in tiny flakes blanketing heat in white. I pray the moisture douses the flames and the burning will cease. And that we all may create space, with the tender embrace, for the gaping holes that form when we stare loss in the face. Stand witness. Sweep up what’s left. Pocket the ash. Honor the scar. Hard, beautiful things.


Featured in our December 2020 issue, "Creation During Covid (Part 2)"