When We Took You Home

We went this weekend, to the town where Lincoln and I took our 10-month-old baby girl— to the town where 4 years later her little sister was born.  We lived there for 34 years and then we moved to a new place, to be near those beautiful babies, now all grown up, with beautiful babies of their own.

We always imagined that we would find ourselves old, Lincoln and I, in that little town, the one where the rivers meet, where the north-facing hills rise covered in fir and larch, and the south-facing hills bake summer-grass golden, and solitary ponderosas cling bravely to rock and crumbling earth. 

We went there this weekend to scatter Lincoln’s ashes, to give him to a river that tumbles out of a high mountain watershed and winds its way through old growth forest before it seeks the valley bottom, a river loved by all of us, but loved, with a full-heartedness beyond telling, by him.

We gathered on a sandy beach one morning, a small group of family and beloved friends-that-are-family, and we cast silver-grey ashes to the air and to the water. They shimmered luminous in the sunlight and swirled in opalescent patterns in the river. We were quiet but not silent; we hugged each other and wept and laughed and spoke to him in private whispers or in no words at all.  Then the little ones discovered the maze of beach trails and we watched another generation find noisy joy, in that treasured river shore. 

I looked for something— a bird, a butterfly, perhaps, a coyote slipping along the far bank, a shape in a cloud, something I could imagine, if only for a moment, spoke to his presence. I felt a little foolish in my regret that nothing appeared. It was, however, a place to stir memories and as we climbed back up to the main trail, we talked of summers past.

Okay, I told myself, he is here, in this place, in our stories.  It’s okay. He’s here.

We went as far as the trail took us, to a lookout high above the river, a precipitous drop-off, where the remnants of a long-abandoned dam have witnessed Lincoln-legend canoe and kayak misadventures. We clutched our little people by the hand and let them peek over the edge before retreating to the safety of the path.

As we wandered back, I grew rueful once more …greedy for comfort. I wanted symbol and magic, a wish to come true. 

Even a cranky old crow would do, I thought to myself. 

On our return journey we met old friends who were biking toward us, on the trail.

Did you see the eagle? they asked.

And they turned around to lead us to him.  

He was resting, almost at eye level and unperturbed by our presence, in a sapling on our side of the river. He was close, astonishingly close.  As we watched him, he gazed, for a long time, one way up the river and then the other, that majestic white head and beak presenting a perfect profile.  He glanced our way once, and only briefly, before rising and finding a new perch further away. 

I think we all shared the same thought. 

Hey, I told him.  There you are.  

Late again, we laughed.

As we walked above the beach where we had spread his ashes, we could still see those swirls in the water, fainter now, like inverse shadows, gossamer tracings. They will not be there today, nor visible anywhere. Yet he is present, mingled with the river, drifting in the wind, gleaming for a moment perhaps, if I choose to believe it, in an eagle’s hooded eye. 

Home. He is home, wherever he is and everywhere he is.  If I choose to believe it.  And I choose.   

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