I was there for my brother-in-law’s memorial service. I wanted to be there for my sister. I wanted to see my other family members. I wanted to talk with Don’s friends and the people in the small community just east of Durango and the Animas River. The weather promised to be warm and dry, too dry really. It is too close to the dry weather they had for the Missionary Ridge fire of 2002. I could still see the scars from that fire, the trunks of burned trees turning the ridges into hedgehogs but not as cute. In ten years there is regrowth, but it will take a long time for tall trees to take the place of the blackened trunks. The fire did not take everything. Oh, there are closed businesses around the lake but that’s the economy that burned up all the money, not the fire, per se.
Selfishly I was glad to spend a little quiet time with my sister and enjoyed the ride from the airport into Durango to get a tired repaired. I found an egg salad sandwich at the convenience store since I could not imagine eating well enough to buy a sandwich at the airport hours earlier for my 6 a.m. flight. We walked to the public library with her two dogs who were happy to sniff the new smells as we passed by a school playground. We sat in shade with young mothers and their toddlers, the dogs hopeful for a rule-breaking bite, disappointed at my resolve to behave in front of my sister.
Perhaps Marilyn would not have thought the time quiet, I reflected. McCords talk, at least most of them do. It can be hard to find the quiet when you put two or more together. We laughed about the time when she wanted to change the tire on my husband’s car when he had a flat in a parking garage in San Francisco. For practice, she had said. He had been happy to let her do it. Now with bigger tires on a four-wheel drive, it seemed better to have an expert do it.
(c) Copyright 2011 Marcia McCord
“Don’s going to kill me!” Marilyn had cried once we piled out of the new Subaru that day.
“We’re alive!” I smiled happily and hugged her that day. John and I called it our “backwards and in high heels” trip to Marilyn’s house, high on a ridge at the edge of the San Juan Forest overlooking the little valley and its lake, a ridge that had almost but luckily had not burned in 2002.
We made it up to the house without problems. The dogs were happy to be home and wagged their way to the door. In the thin air of 8,000 feet in elevation, I was once again glad I had packed light, easier on this near-sea-level traveler.
Friends and relatives joined us throughout the afternoon and evening. We told stories. We sampled Don’s legendary wine collection, finding only one or two spoiled bottles. Don’s friends were hikers and skiers, friends for forty years or more. They had funny stories about each other, about Don, about nothing at all. One family of friends told their harrowing story of losing an axle to their camping trailer on their way. My brother and his wife and my niece arrived from New Jersey. Finally, Marilyn’s daughter, whose flight had been delayed, came in, followed by more of Don’s friends. We filled the house with talk and hugs and all the energy of sorrow and love and laughter. We sat around the table into the night.
The service was perfect. We all said so. There was a bagpiper. My brother read a wonderful passage about the wonder of wilderness, of listening to the sounds of water and of how man inevitably changes nature whether he means to or not. I read my blog entry To the Earth almost all the way through without crying. Marilyn scattered Don’s ashes mixed with flower petals, all taken by the wind towards the mountains in the north. It would be where Don would go, I thought, to the mountains with their little crowns of snow. It was his birthday, his scatter-day. The oboe player played the iconic melody from Ken Burns’ Civil War, then “Coming Home” from the New World Symphony. We hugged. We snacked. We dispersed. We retired to Marilyn’s house.
Late that night, the night of the New Moon, I was too hot again, too used to my cool climate near San Francisco. The altitude was evident in my breathing. Ginger lay at the foot of the bed. The night was quiet without even little night noises. The trees stood silent, pointing to the Milky Way. I tiptoed out to the deck outside my room, the room that had been shared by Marilyn and Don in the house they built from Don’s vision. I sat on the chair and looked to the stars who said nothing.
“Filthy Don,” they called him, for a hiking trip that resulted in the hikers being less-than-pristine at the end. Silent Don, I said to myself, hearing his voice in the night as loudly as if he were sitting next to me, for Don was always a quiet man. Somewhere, like the Judgement card in the Tarot, those ashes were rising up past the pointing trees to become the twinkling of stars overhead, not a lost soul like the river’s name. No, not lost. Found.