By Katelyn Dendas
It has been 10 months since my friend, teammate and freshman year dorm mate, Evelyn Andrews, passed away. I don’t remember what the grief counselor said or what transpired after that Monday, but I do remember arriving at the entrance of the Arcata Community Forest in my white, tennis shoes with a rambunctious dog, Mayes, and my sad girl hours playlist.
Different forms of grief were transpiring within my team but I wanted to be among the redwoods, searching for a reason or answer to this loss. I walked for two hours going from trail-to-trail, stopping to explore everything that caught Mayes’s attention, but thinking for too long hurt my heart even more.
On my way into the forest I had two separate phone calls, one to my mom and the other my dad. Both times with tears rolling down my cheeks as I continued to ascend to the top of the hill, out of breath but telling them every detail I knew.
Over the four months prior to February, Evelyn battled Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, a secondary blood cancer that was a direct result of the treatment from her lymphoma in 2017. In the end, a clotting complication common in AML patients developed and was not overcome.
Humboldt State University Athletics stated for the record that Evelyn died cancer free.
Ev 2, Cancer 0.
I found comfort walking among the giant redwoods that day. In the forest everything felt small. Like the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrow defines ‘sonder’ as,
“The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”
“An epic story that continues invisibly around you,” the Arcata Community Forest continued on, from the plants above ground to the roots stretched out below.
No clue that Evelyn was fighting for her life 300 miles away, the trees have seen so much that her passing didn’t stop them from living their own. I continued to walk the forest feeling like a passerby. For a moment I stopped to appreciate the sun beaming through the tall trees and the tears started to roll again, but this time they weren’t as heavy. My breathing felt light and I was happy, smiling upon memories of shenanigans and chaos with Ev.
The sun shining through felt warm and hopeful. I took out my phone and tried to capture what I was seeing. It was magical. The next day, I found out that the timestamp of that moment was the same time the machines were turned off and Ev had taken her last breaths.
I can’t explain it, but reflecting on that picture and feeling that moment over again, I am constantly inspired. The forest helped me make sense of the heart ache I was feeling. For a couple of minutes on Mon., Feb., 17 at 3:30 p.m., I felt connected to everything.
As I continue to get my degree in environmental science and management, the pressure of time running out gets heavier. Climate change becomes more daunting and depressing. There is a lot of work that needs to be done.
Sometimes shrugging my shoulders and pondering if ignorance really is bliss. But then I remind myself of this moment that I had. In a time of deep mourning, I had the ability to walk in a forest full of old redwoods and heal. I didn’t have to go far to experience a viable ecosystem.
The Arcata Community Forest is a treasure. A treasure that not everyone can say they have or will experience. Communities around the world are being trapped into concrete jungles with the natural world degraded around them, when facing sorrows and pain there is no environment to escape to.
I miss Evelyn Andrews so much. She still amazes me, for even in her last moments she continued to show me the light. She is constantly inspiring me to fight for the environment, to give it my all and metaphorically leave my mark (remember leave no-trace when actually in nature).
Everyone deserves a moment out in the environment that makes them feel connected to everything because, “an epic story continues invisibly around you.”
Such a beautiful and moving tribute. I lost a close friend during my freshman year at college 46 years ago and my thoughts often return to him as much as yours will to Evelyn. She was blessed to have you a friend. Live well.