I met Robin Botie in the oncology ward kitchen at Strong Hospital in Rochester in 2008. We leaned our weary bodies against Formica counters and whispered our sad tales while warming food in the microwave for the ones we hoped to save. I loved Robin’s thick brown hair and warm sorrowful eyes. I learned that she lived close to my home in the Finger Lakes.
We shared this horrifying world of cancer, but my husband Vic was 67 and had lived a fortunate life. Robin’s daughter Marika was 18 and every cancer treatment threw her body into crisis. If Vic’s lymphoma felt unfair, Marika’s put my world into perspective.
After Vic died, I lost touch with Robin, but a year and a half ago, a friend sent me Marika’s obituary. Then, I heard that Robin was writing a book about her experience. We met in bereavement groups, joined the same memoir writing group, and both signed on with Jill Swenson of Swenson Book Development. Moved by Robin’s powerful writing and our shared experience, I invited her for a walk in my woods
Strolling through falling leaves on a glorious October day, we headed toward my neighbor’s woods as I’d done a hundred times. I focused on Robin and the interaction between Marika’s dog Suki and my dog Willow. When it was time to return home, I couldn’t find the right trail. I knew the general direction, but yellow leaves coated the forest floor and obscured the tractor tire prints and horse piles that usually marked my neighbor’s ungroomed trails. Laying out three parallel sticks at each small fork in the path, I quickly proved that we were circling.
I was lost. Not hopelessly dangerously lost, but muddled and defeated and mad at myself for not paying attention. I checked my cell phone and it had one bar, so I knew I could call for help. But I didn’t want to. Instead, I anxiously searched for the trail back home, wanting to give up, sit in the leaves, and cry.
“I’m OK,” Robin said cheerfully. “This reminds me of a poem called ‘Lost.’ Do you know it?”
“It’s beautiful here,” Robin said. “I’m having a wonderful time.”
I sighed and looked around. It was beautiful and I had my cell phone. Relax, I told myself. So, you’re a little lost. What’s new about that?
We walked south through my neighbor’s land on a wide clear trail to a dirt road at the edge of the woods and took the long way home along familiar roads. We ate homemade minestrone soup, laughed about our adventure, did a tick search on our dogs, and agreed to walk another time.
A few days later, Robin sent this poem by David Wagoner called “Lost”:
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.