Book Club Discussion | Wild Comfort

“This is something that needs explaining, how light emerges from darkness, how comfort wells up from sorrow. The Earth holds every possibility inside it, and the mystery of transformation, one thing into another. This is the wildest comfort. That's what this book is about.” (xi)

In an effort to make sense of the deaths in quick succession of several loved ones, Kathleen Dean Moore turned to the comfort of the wild, making a series of solitary excursions into ancient forests, wild rivers, remote deserts, and windswept islands to learn what the environment could teach her in her time of pain. This book is the record of her experiences. It’s a stunning collection of carefully observed accounts of her life—tracking otters on the beach, cooking breakfast in the desert, canoeing in a snow squall, wading among migrating salmon in the dark—but it is also a profound meditation on the healing power of nature.

If you’re reading along, please comment at the bottom of this guide and let us know how you connected to Wild Comfort.

Wild Comfort

Questions for Discussion

• Have you had similar experiences of finding lessons and comfort in the natural world?
• Favorite anecdote from the book?
• What do you think of the idea of the “secular sacred”?

Notable Quotes

Part I: Gladness

“You once were as wise as a snake. You have forgotten so much more than you know.

But the cells hold their memories.

Do not be surprised that the return of the light lifts your spirits. Do not be surprised that warmth on your back calms you and makes you glad. Feel your spirits lift as the sun rises higher in the sky: this is part of you, this snaky gladness, part of who you have been for a million years. Find the warm places; do not expect them to come to you. When you find them, stay there and be still. Be still and watchful. In this quiet, taste the air. Lick up the taste of it. Listen. Listen with the full length of your body against the ground.” (9, “The Solace of Snakes”)

“In my notes, there’s an odd relationship between happiness and sadness, which makes me wonder if these are opposing emotions after all, or if the opposite of happiness might be something else—meaninglessness, maybe, or emptiness.” (29, “The Happy Basket”)

“But what if I could see the familiar world as if I had never seen it before, even if I see it every day—with that wonderment and surprise? Or see it as if I would never see it again? Then imagine the glory. [...]

To be worthy of the astonishing world, a sense of wonder will be a way of life, in every place and time, no matter how familiar: to listen in the dark of every night, to praise the mystery of every returning day, to be astonished again and again, to be grateful with an intensity that cannot be distinguished from joy.” (36, “Suddenly, There Was with the Angel”)

Part II: Solace

“Rivers flow downhill. Rivers fall off cliffs. You cannot trust them. This is the way the world is. Life is a joke—exactly that joke, all of us falling to our deaths from the moment we are born. Where is meaning to be found in such a world—this world, this black rock, rock wren, heartrending world?” (79, “A Joke My Father Liked to Tell”)

“We all in our own ways catch the light of the world and reflect it back, and this is what is bright and surprising about a person, this rainbow shimmer created from colorless structure. Maybe there is no meaning in the world itself—no sorrow. In fact, no good or bad, beginning or end. Maybe what there is, is the individual way each of us has of transforming the world, ways to refract it, to create of it something that shimmers from our spread wings. This is our work, creating these wings and giving them color.” (82, “A Joke My Father Liked to Tell”)

“But I believe hope is not a gallows screen. Hope is what keeps us climbing the stairs toward gallows we know full well await us, which is what we do so nobly and what has become our art, our beauty, our cause for celebration.

To carry on, to continue, to make or find what gentle beauty we can before our lives end—this is the thing with feathers even when its head falls off.” (99, “Things with Feathers”)

“No measure of human grief can stop Earth in its tracks. Earth rolls into sunlight and rolls away again, continents glowing green and gold under the clouds. Trust this, and there will come a time when dogged, desperate trust in the world will break open into wonder. Wonder leads to gratitude. Gratitude opens onto peace.” (103, “Morning in Romero Canyon”)

“For how smart we think we are, how facile with words, we don’t have a word for this feeling, the feeling of being blessed by belonging. If the universe is an unfolding bud, then I am a part of its creative surge, along with the flowing of water and the growing of pines. I can find a kind of camaraderie in this universe, once I recover from the astonishment of it. Or maybe not camaraderie exactly. What is the opposite of loneliness?” (147, “The Possum in the Plum Tree”)

“The secular sacred. Secular: living in the world. Sacred: worthy of reverence and awe. Reverence: profound respect mixed with love and awe. Awe: fear and admiration.” (153, “The Time for the Singing of Birds”)

Part III: Courage

“Would we be so afraid of our own deaths if we didn’t love life so urgently? If there were no love, there would be no loss. I am quite sure about this. But I wonder if it has to work the other way too. If we did not fear or suffer loss, could we claim to feel love?” (179, “How Can I Keep from Singing?”)

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