“My manuscript. It’s missing.” I’m on the phone with the computer tech person John who I’ve come to know far too well in two intensive days of resolving my Macbook Pro’s groaning weight of issues.

We’d come to this pivotal moment when he thought he’d restored the essentials back onto my computer and was about to have me erase the backup drive.  Calmly, John helped me find my Scrivener application and the file. There was one huge problem. The only document he could unearth was two years old.  I opened the version of my kingfisher book in dismay. Two years of work–poof! Gone.

kingfisher  no parking sign
Facing the loss of my kingfisher manuscript stared at me like a big NO sign, with that little, taunting kingfisher challenging me to find a way. (Marina Richie photo)

Bereft. Heart-pounding. Protesting within. No, this must be a nightmare. I’ll wake up. There’s no way I could re-create  the last two years of writing. I’d come so close to finishing and now I faced a disaster. Yes, I had a printed version from a year ago, but even that gave me a sense of despair. So much had changed since then.

John Steinbeck lost two months of his writing once. The book? Of Mice and Men. The culprit? His puppy ate a chunk of the book. He went on to rewrite the missing chapters and produced a masterpiece.

I didn’t find this comforting. That night I tossed and turned, waking up to an email back from the Scrivener writing application help desk that proved far from helpful. Basically, I was supposed to know where the backups went of the file and if they didn’t show up under .scriv, she couldn’t advise me.

In the three hours before John could return to his call with me and continue the search, I was far from moving past grief and denial stages. What I did feel strongly was another sensation: empathy for all whose hearts beat the wild pulse of loss, and empathy for those who care about them and no words can be the right ones.

I’m a conservationist. I know loss. The two go hand in hand. I’ve seen the felling of  500-year-old monumental ponderosa pine snags on the Upper Imnaha River last summer and grieved.  Even as a child, I witnessed the erasure of an entire woods that used to be my daily retreat when my family lived in Arlington, Virginia, during those challenging junior high school years. I had returned years later, to walk to the monastery through the hardwoods, to see if I could find the trees I climbed to read books, and instead? I found streets and houses and no woods at all, as if they’d never existed.

An artist recreated an entire tree in the WONDER exhibit at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C.  While intricate, detailed, and a work of great beauty, it falls short of what a real tree can offer us. Yet, we have to have artists and writers to reveal to others what they might otherwise miss in life. See this tree and perhaps be moved to care, to restore, and to save the forests.  (Marina Richie photo)

When can a loss be restored or  rewoven? Or when is a loss forever, as in extinction?  I can rewrite this book. I can put the energy back into it, and come up with something potentially better. When an ancient tree is felled, it’s gone. When habitat is developed and destroyed, it’s gone, and with it the owls that nested in hollows, the warblers that wove delicate nests on branches, and the bears that denned under massive roots, the elk that slept at night in soft, sleek pine grasses in the forest shelter. When a river is poisoned and the fish die, the kingfisher vanishes too, and so do the sandhill cranes that Aldo Leopold forever etched in our minds with these lines:

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins as in art with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words.” Marshland Elegy, A Sand County Almanac.

lone crane sculpture-like!
Sandhill crane at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge  (Marina Richie photo)

John called me as my thoughts kept spiraling down, the empathy expanding, and the grief still raw.  The Apple tech expert has to be part therapist. He reassured me, explaining that my manuscript had to be in the backup drive. It’s lost, but he would find it. He gave me an analogy. Think of boxes without labels stacked in a garage. Each one has its contents, but from the outside you can’t tell what’s inside. A search on a computer is like this. If a file is hidden inside a box without the right label, the file is difficult to find. Then he went on to tell me it would be as hard as finding a needle in a haystack. This was not reassuring.

John took another tact. By some miracle, he walked me through a procedure to restore the laptop to the exact way it was in the beginning with all its huge problems that had led me to call in the first place. We were back to square one-three days later. When it was time to click on the Scrivener application, I could barely press my finger on the “S” of the program icon. It was terrifying. And then? There it was. The latest version restored. Back. Returned. Hallelujah!  Jubilation!

And yes, we went forward again to fix the computer and it does seem to be purring along. I now save my manuscript in multiple ways, sending it on email, putting it in the “Cloud” and checking where it’s backed up.  That place. The “Cloud.”  Sounds mysterious and it is- this floating Internet place where files can live. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could save all the pieces of nature in the Cloud? We could call them back. We could even call back the extinct ones. The passenger pigeon could live in the “Cloud” and return to forest habitats we would restore on earth.

Afternoon thunder clouds reign over the upper Imnaha River of Hells Canyon National Recreation Area one summer day. (Marina Richie photo)

A real cloud  is a masterpiece of its own.  Whether  gathering in a formidable thunderstorm of bruised majesty or lazily gliding in cotton whiffs across the sky or playfully assuming the shape of swans, monkeys, or seals, a cloud serves as the illusionist in our lives. What’s real? What’s not? The shape-shifting cloud crosses the sun, casts momentary darkness and chill. The cloud brings life-giving rain. The cloud can be the restorer, and the place that harbors memory and daydream.

Look to the cloud. Look to the sky where birds fly into the hidden recesses of mists. On cloudless days, the sky is the canvas waiting for the artist.  The clouds come like words tapping from my fingers, sometimes with drama and other times  musing and floating. The cloud signifies imagination in our lives. Look to the clouds in nature. What might we accomplish that lifts us up from gravity and into the realm of birds?.

vermilion flycatcher Patagonia/sign
Vermilion flycatcher in Patagonia, Arizona’s city park.  Where a beautiful bird lands on a sign with a dog on a leash seems to say- let’s do this together. Find our way. Be inspired.  (Marina Richie photo)
Clouds above the Grande Ronde Valley Oregon. (Marina Richie photo)