Friday, August 6, 2010

Stairway to Heaven

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least… sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields….” ~Henry David Thoreau in “Walking”
As I drove up the mountain on Saturday evening, returning from Seattle, I put my arm out the window of the truck to feel the cool, fresh air. It was 88 degrees at the airport in Ontario when we landed. It was about 74 at home. I shut off the truck when I pulled up to the cabin, got out, and listened. Yes. The water was still running in the stream. Here is my reward for all the snow I shoveled and dug out of and drove through this past winter; the stream has not gone underground this summer as it usually does. Water still spills over rocks, and I fall asleep at night directly under an open window, hearing the music it makes as it dances down the canyon.
The morning after my return home, I climbed down into the canyon and hiked up the stream. This is where I find tranquility. Rarely does anyone else hike the stream bed. This summer, because the stream is still running, I simply walk up the rocks—a natural staircase to heaven, if you will—letting the water flow over my feet and legs, stooping to splash water on my arms if the temperature soars too high. You would think the water would be ice cold, but not so. The effect of shallow water running along over hot rocks is sort of the reverse of pouring your tea over ice cubes; the snowmelt loses its biting edge and becomes just cool, like water from the garden hose.

As I walk on this particular morning, I stop to watch a hummingbird feed from wild red columbine. Overheard, a red shafted flicker lets me know he is wary of my presence, though the hummer doesn’t seem to mind. A huge yellow and black butterfly drifts by—papilionidae—the “swallowtail” butterfly that was a magical creature to me in my childhood… and still is. Farther up the stream, I stop for a drink of water, setting the backpack beside the stream, and I nearly tread on an alligator lizard as I step back into the water. He is magnificent as he suns himself, and I watch him until he becomes self-conscious and scuttles under a rock.
Finally, I reach The Flat Rock, a huge boulder that I climb up on to rest and eat lunch. The stream runs over half of it, so I sit on the smooth dry side, the water flowing just inches from me. As I sit, I can look down to the valley. I hear nothing but birdsong over the sound of the stream on this brilliant day. There is nothing jarring or grating or frightening or distracting, nothing to dismay or sadden me. Just the sunshine on my shoulders, the scent of pine and wildflowers, a soft mountain breeze… and my cool, wet feet.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Where Eagles Fly

Many of you sent kind thoughts before I left for Seattle, and I want to thank you for your words and your support. My brother Dan passed away last September, and, though we had a memorial service here, he had requested that his ashes be scattered at sea. It took us awhile to coordinate that, but, thanks to his friends in the Seattle area, we were finally able to fulfill his wishes on Friday evening.
Dan’s love-for-a-lifetime Andrea had arranged with two boat captains to pick us up from the dock at her home on Bainbridge Island. My sister, my brother and his wife, myself and a few of Dan’s lifelong friends climbed aboard the boats and headed out onto the water. It was a gorgeous evening with still warm sun and calm waters.
Just as I heard the captains saying they’d found a spot, I saw a bald eagle leave his perch atop a tall pine on the island and fly across the water in front of the boats. We were all stunned. I’ve never seen a bald eagle in the wild before. It was late evening; the bird should have been roosting. But it simply took what seemed to be one more flight for the day, winging its way across the sky, then returning to the same tree.
By then the captains had powered down their boats and tied up together. We drank a toast to Dan—Irish whiskey, of course—then sang a long sad rendition of “Danny Boy.” Very few words were spoken as his ashes were given over to the sea and flowers were cast upon the spot. Quietly we watched them drift atop gentle swells.

The captains powered up the boats, and as we began to move slowly away, the same eagle left his perch one last time, flying across the water once more, this time behind us, as if to bid us farewell.
Rest in peace where you so loved to be, wild boy… beloved brother…. Thanks for reminding us that you have gone where eagles fly.