High Country News

Lessons from digging a grave

“Today was terrible, but it was also all these other things.”

THE ONLY PERSON I’ve ever buried was a stranger.

It was a chilly afternoon in mid-November, the kind of weather you’d expect at a funeral. Crisp oak leaves rattled softly in a steady breeze. It wasn’t raining, but the ground was damp, the air thick with the smell of pine and wet dirt. Autumn on the dry side of the Cascades comes as an impossible relief, with the summer’s blazing heat and wildfires finally giving way to cooler weather.

That year, I was working as a garden manager for Ekone Ranch, a nonprofit land trust in rural eastern Washington, a few miles north of the Columbia River. The organization’s 1,138 acres of oak and ponderosa forest include a summer

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