10.16.2006,10:06 PM
The Commemorative Journey: In Memory of One I Loved
Losing someone close to you never misses its aim at the heart. The arrow sails straight and true, dead center, piercing your heart and all the memories and emotions come tumbling out like a broken piñata. You’re overwhelmed with the past, the present and future, each pulling strings on your grip of life when confronted by death. Although no one can claim immortality, part of us goes with that person just as part of him or her remains with us. And no matter how many years separate the last time paths crossed, the impact is still the same as if it were yesterday.

I received the news last week. Despite the twenty-two years since we had seen each other, his death left me with a heart full of pain. Surrounded by whirling memories and all the associations, I chose to honor him and his passing as he would have wanted.

Despite obtaining degrees in literature, he chose to work with his hands and be close to what gave him solace: the woods. We spent many hours, sometimes days at a time, in the forests of Maine and New Hampshire: exploring old logging roads, hiking up mountains, finding mushrooms so large they filled a frying pan, hunting birds in the overgrown meadows along the woods, hiking into a cabin to spend days reading in front of the fireplace.

Because of my fondness for lakes and water, he would surprise me after a few hours of 4-wheeling on granite-rutted roads, miles into the woods and park next to a secluded lake where I could swim in silence and listen to the loons. He would hunt woodcock and I would catch fish for supper, cooked over a campfire. Then spread blankets in the bed of the truck with a tarp overhead and be lulled to sleep by the singing of owls and coyotes.

I loaded the bike with camping gear by the light of the porch lamps, before the sun rose. A gentle light rain seemed appropriate for my leave-taking and we rode out into the early morning darkness. I wanted to watch the sun rise as I rode to herald this journey. As I rode north, the sun rose next to me and behind the clouds to turn the sky a light blue-grey.

Hours later, riding east, clouds parted with sunlight filtering through as if someone had airbrushed lines in shades of blue and white from the cloud bottoms to the earth. It hinted a promise of a sunny day ahead. Just as I found the lake, bright blue sky and the sun smiled overhead. This was going to be a good day.

I found a spot to park and unload my gear a few hundred feet from the edge of the cliff overlooking the massive lake. As luck would have it, an empty shelter nearby would serve as my reclining area and a place to keep dry should it rain. The tent, dwarfed by the shelter, looked like the cocoon it would be at night.

Shedding the hot insulated gear, I donned the Camelbac knowing I would need the contents later. The camera slung criss-crossed over my shoulders, I started out on a hike along the forested rim of the cliffs that ran the perimeter of the lake. During the five-hour hike, I took him with me and we remembered all the things we used to do together, the many conversations, and the comfortable silence we shared. I pointed out the beech, oak and maple trees. And, Oh look! Your favorite tree; arborvitae, Cedar, the ‘tree of life.’ The feather-like evergreen branches heavy with glabrous white-blue berries and its exfoliating shaggy brown bark. Remember how you liked to crush a few scaled leaves between your fingers and breath in the scent as if it were a forest rose?

Do you remember when we sat on a ledge like this, you trying to convince me of the musical yet logical Latin language? Reciting passages from old English and Greek classics, while I recited from Walt Whitman, Shakespeare and Leonard Cohen? Marveling at the colors and form of lichen growing on granite, asking me why some stems are round and some square, or how do leaves turn colors: How does the maple tree know to turn red?

Remember teaching me to identify animal footprints and shapes of their scat, identifying songs of birds, predicting flight patterns of woodland and meadow birds, and the time we were lost in the White Mountain forest and turning the bend to stand in front of a huge bull moose? Remember the hours upon hours sitting outside in the black of the night trying to outline all the constellations in the sky and recite their mythology, when you woke me at 2am to watch a meteor shower outside in minus forty-degree cold?

Do you remember taking me to the lake to ice skate under a full moon while you built a fire and made hot cocoa? Me watching you play guitar and you asking me to sing? How you teased me for my mistakes when I built my cabin, and your patience in teaching me how to work with wood by ‘thinking’ like it? Helping me build the dormer in the loft, nailing a new roof and you gently talking me down off the roof when I froze in panic?

I took you with me as we walked through the forest, the deciduous and coniferous woods that you loved. Ever present was the lake next to us. Sometimes the trees would part or a path beckoned to the edge of the cliffs to reveal the vast blue water beneath us, contrasted by the buff-whiteness of the sandstone cliffs. The Tall Tree of the Forest that was you and the Lady of the Lake, as you called me; we walked along the dark path with patterns of filtered light from above.

And we shared many memories.

Just before sunset I found an expanse of white ledge that overlooked the large lake. I sat and watched the sun set, smiling. We have to take the bad times with the good, but it’s all the good times that I remember now. You knew why I had to leave and you gave me your blessing.

Your body may be gone now, but your spirit remains here with me, and your blood remains a part of our daughter. She’s more like you than you knew; I see you when I watch her walk and move, the dimple in her chin, the restlessness and sometimes-troubled mind. At times it is your eyes that stare back at me.

I hope they cremate your body and spread your ashes out and over Streaked Mountain, the wind catching them and take you to flight. I remember that was what you wished back then. I suspect it is still.

The sun lit the lake and the clouds in the sky with pink and lavender as it set.

And I said my goodbye and let you go.

I let them all go.


posted by Macrobe
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