Haunted by waters

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” ― Norman McLean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

Earlier this summer my Mother passed away. She had lived the majority of her life in the Pacific Northwest where most of our family is from. It is a strange feeling I have that no one from my family lives there now, even if my older brother lives near Portland. I think the sense that there is no one from that older generation living there that brings about that notion in me. It seems there are only the ghosts of my past that live there now. The feeling is a strange mixture of sadness and a joy that comes from the memory of those people in me and my love for them.

My mother and I had our difficulties. The hows and whys are not as important as the fact we didn’t connect as we should have during our time together. When she passed away it was so final. I would never speak to her again and would never have the chance to repair what we had broken. My greatest wish is when I pass I will get to see her again…to see all my departed loved ones again but especially her. Perhaps we could both say all the things to each other that circumstance in this life prevented us from saying. Perhaps we could have time together unburdened by all that burdened us in life.

I needed to say goodbye to her. I needed a ritual and she deserved a fitting one. Earlier in the year I had planned a trip to visit my daughter in Pullman, Washington where she attends Washington State University and decided this was a perfect opportunity to spread my Mom’s ashes and honor her.. I had always wanted to see the Clearwater Valley in Idaho. So after a 4-5 day visit in Pullman, I would be off to Kamiah, Idaho for a couple of days then on to the Lochsa Lodge which is right on the Lochsa River about an hour from Lolo, Montana. My Mom was born in Idaho so spreading her ashes near the headwaters of the Lochsa seemed fitting. There was some symbolic gesture I was trying to effect. A final journey for her to take. From the snow-covered mountains to the sea. The Lochsa Lodge is near the headwaters of the Lochsa River. A beautiful place for her to begin her journey.

One of my favorite movies is A River Runs Through It. The final scene is at the river. Norman McLean has outlived everyone and he now finds himself at the river alone to find solace and remember those he loved. This particular scene in the movie always got to me but I never really tied it to my own experience and understood it’s power until now. I started thinking about the symbolic nature of rivers. How they represent life and the endless cycle of time. How a river represents eternity.

A mountain represents the highest levels of thought and spirituality. A mountaintop is as close as you can get in nature to Heaven. It gets covered in snow and rain during the Winter and in the Spring the snow melts and out from the side of the mountain a spring emerges. This spring converges with other rivulets and forms a creek which then joins a river. Rivers join together and eventually empty into the Ocean where all things become one. The spring represents birth, the joining of creeks and rivers represent our relationships and those who result from them. When the river empties into the ocean, it symbolizes death… when we all become one. To me, this was pretty powerful stuff.

On the day I was determined to finally say goodbye I hiked a few miles down the river and found a beautiful spot. I waded out into the cold, clear water to a suitable rock in midstream and spread her ashes and said goodbye. I hoped she approved of the spot I had picked for her. I prayed that I would someday meet with her again and have that chance for redemption and salvation from a life of missed opportunity. I was alone in the river canyon which was shrouded in a blanket of fir trees…the wind gently rustled their boughs and adding to the song of the water rushing over the stones. The eternal symphony of the river canyon. I pierced the symphonic calm with a tremendous yell. I wanted to signal to the world that she was now a part of this place and so was I. When all of the air had emptied from my lungs I drew a huge breath and noticed an Osprey had heard my cry and circled me a couple of times. It held a trout firmly in its talons as it tried to ascertain who was making such a racket in its peaceful world. I took it as a signal that this beautiful place understood my intention.

 

I made my way back to shore and as I sat there putting my socks and shoes back on my cold feet I recalled again the end scene from A River Runs Through It. He is all alone. All of his loved ones have passed away and all he has now are their memories and the thought that their words are in the river. The river speaks to him with their words. It was a very comforting thought. I thought of the symbolism of the river and I suddenly understood the connection of the river and eternity. If you were the water running past this very spot…someday you would again snow on that mountain and become a spring and join creeks and rivers and eventually flow past this exact same spot. Also, if you stood on the bank of that river for long enough…you would eventually see the same bit of water flow past you again. It might take an eternity but it would happen. Then it dawned on me that this inevitability… the inevitability of eternity could also mean that if you knew someone… if you loved them and wanted to see them again, you would. All you had to do was wait on that shore long enough or pass by the same spot again. The thought that the people I loved and now miss would be waiting for me, or I waiting for them, brought a smile to my face and a sense of contentment I hadn’t known before.

I think I also began to understand my own life a little better. I read somewhere you can never step in the same river twice. The constantly flowing water is everchanging and renders someone standing still, stuck in a world of constant change. Perhaps that constant change is unsettling and our natural inclination is to try to stop the change. I see now the futility of trying to stop a river from flowing. Maybe my Mom and I both spent our lives trying to stop our own river and would have both been better off simply jumping in and going with the flow so that we could find a new and better place downstream. Perhaps we should have simply let the water flow on by and hope for something new, something better. I can only speak for myself. My hanging on to the bitter memories of the past was my trying to stop the river. It didn’t work and the price for my foolishness, my immaturity is huge. The old saying “water under the bridge” should have meant more to me. As I walked the miles back to the Lodge I contemplated the notion that the past should be left there. Things I can’t change or stop should be allowed to flow on by and there is always something better downstream if you are not happy with where you are.

 

It seems I too am forever haunted by waters.

 

 

I will come back here from time to time to listen for her words, and hope, until we someday meet again, she can hear mine.
Until then, I love you, Mom. Rest in Peace

 

The Shimmering Wind

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20160308-IMG_0336  Man has always shaped his world… and has always been shaped by it. The world we live in is perceived by and held in our hearts by the quality and quantity of its physical and spiritual attributes. The earthly and celestial elements we hold dear can intrinsically alter who we are. We can absorb these characteristics in to our being and regard ourselves indistinguishable from them. We can become as abundant or as barren in our souls as we behold our world to be.

Equally, we bestow human attributes and emotions upon our world. We strive to humanize our world to make it our sanctuary and sometimes unknowingly, our hell. This creates an illusion which masks reality but can also create a reality that obscures the illusion. The determining factor one way or another is often the presence or lack… of love. If we mold our world out of love we can create an illusion which masks the reality of man’s selfishness and the world’s indifference. If we mold our world to suit our desires we can obscure the illusion of love and create a reality of emptiness.

The far northern coast of the Big Island of Hawaii is an idyllic paradise. From the moment man set foot on this rugged shore thousands of years ago to the present day, its inhabitants have revered its beauty and abundance. The Big Island, with its variety of physical and climatic zones, is divided into districts. The names of these districts were given by a people who were imminently bound to the land both emotionally and spiritually. These names were often passionately representative of the feelings they evoked in the people who lived upon them; none more so than the district of Kohala which means “cherished land”.

Rain falls here in copious amounts as clouds laden with moisture are driven in by the nearly ever present trade winds. The plentiful rain showers combine with ample amounts of warm tropical sunshine enabling every living thing to flourish and multiply in abundance. Open ocean swells break upon jagged rocks at the foot of cliffs that stand as fleeting barriers to a sea that wishes to reclaim what was once hers. Mountains that rise green and regal in the distance are a home to Gods and Mythical beings… and the memory of the cataclysmic events that shaped this land.

If there is a single distinguishing characteristic of Kohala which would define it for someone who had never had the opportunity to spend time there, it would be the wind. Strong trade winds from the northeast blow for weeks and sometimes months on end. During the summer these trade winds are a cooling respite from the heat and humidity of the tropics. During the fall and spring these breezes can either be a cooling relief or likened to a cold and wet blanket on a chilled evening. Their virtues alternating, not unlike a tempest child who can’t quite make up their mind which one to be. During the winter this child’s indecision gives way to certainty as these blustery winds grow to be downright chilling. Cold, grey and angry clouds scud by depositing their contents in a never ending procession until everyone and everything is cold, damp and miserable.

Occasionally though, a Kona wind will blow in from the opposite direction of the trades which will transform the winter’s chill and grey into a sultry radiance. There is a shimmering quality to this wind and the mood it conveys. The earth and sky take on a brassy metallic sheen and otherworldly appeal. Time slows as if to give everyone and everything the opportunity to realize this precious gift. At these rare moments one can justly feel they are living upon one of God’s favored creations and feel a divine presence, as if life, indeed the earth’s very spirit, were standing still… savoring a truly sacred moment.

At least once a year these Kona winds blow so fiercely as to topple age-old trees. A howling and sighing can be heard as the gusts rage and seethe through swaths of forest and crags of lava. The land and sky come to be alive and spiritually connected. The melding of the earthly and heavenly expressions gives rise to a singular voice that is vehement yet strangely melancholy. The vernacular of the wind lamenting the past and warning of the future in an ancient tongue few are old enough in their souls to remember. Those that are… listen intently.

 Kohala is a district that exists as much an embodiment of man’s ideals as it does a physical location. A magnificent and timeless place whose moods are dictated and sanctity heralded by the whim of a zephyr. Kohala is a transcendent realm where a sacred shimmering wind speaks in whispers of sanctuary and in cries of purgatory. A wind that could perhaps be considered…the very breath of God.

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The Trees (excerpt from The Shimmering Wind)

Graveyard_1They passed the sleepy towns of Hawi and Kapa’au . After several miles they dipped down into a gully and parked next to where a lovely little stream rolled over mossy boulders underneath the canopy of old growth trees. The air was cool yet still under the great trees. The sound of birds and insects modestly filled the air with their musings of life. The variance from the sunlit plains which had been mostly stripped bare of any large trees to the lush undergrowth and towering arbors of the gully was striking.

These huge trees were spared from the axe because the land in which they grew was uneven and unfit for growing sugar and thus, making a profit. The trees lives were spared because some man deemed them not deserving of death under the illusion of progress. The trees in the gullies lived and thrived and grew to great heights and widths with the gift of human absolution. The trees branched out in any direction which fate and circumstance naturally allowed them to. They lived to see all the changes that the callous men bestowed on the land. The trees lived to see the rusted hulks of man’s once great machines lie in ruins. They lived to see the folly of men who determined who deserved to die and who deserved to live. Men who determined if there was a profit to be made and cared not what the ultimate cost of their endeavors would be. Men so driven and ruthless they molded the earth as they saw it in their minds. Men who felt the earth was theirs to plunder, not theirs to cherish. Men who now slumbered peacefully in that same earth… at the roots of trees that had lived to see it all unfold. Men who now slept the deep sleep of death a hundred years after their vainglorious days had passed.