I was excited to hear about the talk being presented about Eva Saulitis on October 18th at SUNY Fredonia. The event was a must given my admiration for her.
It was a reading and discussion of her work by her partner Craig Matkin, executive director of the North Gulf Oceanic Society, and Elizabeth Bradfield, naturalist-poet and co-director of the Creative Writing program at Brandeis University. One of the things that surprised me was that Saulitis had grown-up close to where I am from.
One of the things that surprised me was that Saulitis had grown-up close to where I am from.
Oddly, it was held in the exact same classroom that I guest-lectured in just two weeks before. The room was so full that I could not find a seat. In comparison, my lecture, which I had done half a dozen times before, felt pedestrian while listing to the musings from the giant life that was encapsulated in that moment.
Influences for Death: An Exploration
When I wrote my first book, Death: An Exploration, it was a learning experience that introduced me to new ideas and new thinkers. Also, it was an opportunity to ponder ideas from luminaries who I hadn’t previously investigated.
During that time, I discovered Eva Saulitis’s prose in The Week and her deft description of living with terminal cancer in her piece “Into the Wild Darkness.” Reading it humbled and intrigued me. She became the focus and inspiration for the second chapter of my book. So I was honored to be at her memorial talk.
To hear of bruins in Alaska devouring fish and orcas breaching the frigid waters, imagining her stalwartly observing and beautifully reflecting in her writing, was powerful. The impact of the words that remained of this observant life made me feel deep regret that we will not hear any more than she was able to leave behind for us.
In the process of her own suffering, it is clear that she became in tune with deep natural rhythms through her vigorous study of the natural world and introspection. This is illustrated when Matkin revealed that Saulitis ironically “predicted the day she was going to die a month and a half ahead.”
She had an acute sense of the enormous power of nature and our strange relationship to the wild world outside our homes. Her life spent deeply entwined with nature, reminds us that we are all small in comparison to this vast Earth and the wildness that dwells within.
It is significant how we see the world through her writing and the excellent job done by her dear friends Matkin and Bradfield to convey this unique perspective. I felt spellbound by her spirit. It struck me that this woman who came from this small corner of the Earth, which happens to be close to where I was thrown out onto this planet as well, was able to embrace the vastness of life and encompass so much and bear her secrets, her cancer, her truths. She was heroic in her fight with cancer and then was forced to pass over to the other side, and now seems to have become bigger than life.