Catharsis finds its best depiction in Greek myth and Shakespeare’s tragedies, but it is never far from my experience. My eyes fill and my chest tightens each time Les Miserables’ Fantine sings, “Cosette, it’s turned so cold. Cosette, it’s past your bedtime.” And romantic that I am, catharsis can occur as I read books not quite equal to Greek tragedy, like Moyes’ Me Before You. And knowing the sad ending, I still chose to rent the movie. Catharsis—so good for my mind and heart.

Nature offers me moments of catharsis, a purification every bit as powerful as those times inside a book or theater. I have to “pull a geographical,” though, and move away from my own noise and my preoccupation with screens, big and little. What awaits me is the crunch of leaf beneath my feet, the flit of butterfly near my cheek, the feel of water cupped in my hand.


Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

William Butler Yeats


Two weeks ago, I traveled from Hillsboro to central Oregon and the Metolius River. The cabin that two of us shared was a small space (we washed dishes in the bathroom sink), but the setting was exactly what the sign above the door promised: serenity. No Wi-Fi and no phone service meant that the main sound came from the river, no more than thirty feet from our cabin’s picture window. How many hours did I spend mesmerized by water, marveling at its ever-changing light and shadow, listening to a lullaby, both wild and soothing, that it sang through the night?


For three nights and four days river purified me, released me from needless anxiety and silly fretting. Not quite the catharsis of an Oedipus, Othello, or Fantine, but I had the chance to sink briefly into a nature throbbing with life; into the rush of waters, into rebirth. Next year I will return to the woods, find a cabin called “Serenity,” and let the Metolius cool the inevitable fires raging inside my head.


4 thoughts on “Purification

  1. Metolius is such a lyrical name. I’m not familiar with first hand experience of Eastern Oregon/Central Oregon but I can relate to Nature’s calming power. So descriptive, thanks!
    I was also reminded of Ursula K. Le Guin’s writing on the Oregon High Desert—such details; my kind of preoccupation.

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  2. It’s been a while since I have returned to Le Guin. Thanks for the reminder.. Seems as though we are kindred spirits in our love for nature. Hope that you get to the Metolius someday–a wonderful escape.


  3. For whatever reason, I cannot comment on your post, on your blog….

    This is so typically Toni-lovely! I love the Yeat’s poem and will send it to a friend here who hails from Yeat’s Country…Sligo.

    And, I want to be at that cabin along The Metolius.

    Guess there is the “big” catharsis that we typically think of as catharsis – and the more gentle quiet catharsis of the sound of leaves under our feet….never thought of the latter as catharsis, but it really is, isn’t it? I know the feeling of “release” from the crunch and the sound of the river – and so many more things like that – – but never labelled it as catharsis, nor realized them as catharsis, but that’s what they are! Does that make sense 😊 And, maybe if I allowed myself some moments of “crunch”, then the tears that no longer fall would actually fall again…..been a long time.

    Love this piece so much – thanks, Toni!

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

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  4. Pat, what a writer you are. Love the poetry touches. and yes, you would love the cabin and the river. Let’s find a way to make it happen. Until then, Happy Ireland travels. May the green rise up to greet you.


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