Monthly Archives: August 2013

Ashes: A Travelogue

When I told my sister once that I want my ashes scattered after I die–that I don’t want to be buried beneath a headstone in a cemetery I have no connection to, she said, “But how would I visit you?”

In June, I’d tell her, head south to North Carolina. Go to the island off the Intracoastal Waterway, where the water in the inlet is like a warm bath and the white egrets glow against the tall sea grasses. Where the hot sun is tempered by a cooling breeze and, if you look very carefully in the crushed shells above the tideline, you might find tiny, black shark’s teeth.

In August, I’d say, go to the opposite edge of the country, to the wild Olympic Peninsula, where the beach is so remote that you’ll experience the darkest of nights lit by the most brilliant moon you can imagine. Its reflection on the waves a never ending path for “what ifs.” Where “my” tree hangs by its roots as water erodes the ground beneath it, yet it persists season after season, storm after storm, year after year.

In October, I’d offer, return back towards home, but go just a bit further, to Athens, Ohio. On a Sunday afternoon, drive without plan through the country roads in the worn foothills of the Appalacian Mountains. Stop here and there and shuffle your feet through the vibrant carpets of russet, red, yellow, and brown leaves. Breathe in the crisp, clean air. Let the sun, glowing in the late afternoon, redden your closed eyelids, warm your face.

In January, I’d tell her, head back west. Ride the ski lift to the top of Denny Mountain and look back, midway, to the fog-filled valley behind, knowing that while you’re in the secret sunshine above, people below are going about their days under a ceiling of gray. Head down the long run, but stop before too long and look across to the far side of the valley. Marvel at how high you are, how much snow lies beneath your feet, listen for the raven’s call as it glides across the landscape. Hear how lonely, yet fulfilled he is.

In February, I’d say, follow the hidden sun east from Seattle to where it shines without shame on the Methow Valley. It’s a bit of a slog to ski up Thompson Road, but you’ll thank me later. Breathe in the scent of the fir trees’ sap as they bake in the sunlight. Admire the grandeur of the Ponderosa pines, their red bark radiant against the snow. At the top is another valley to gaze upon, this one a high desert valley. Look for the ravens, the eagles, the camp jays, the mocking birds. Wave at the other skiers as you stand and catch your breath.

Then start down—all the way to the valley floor—your mind empty of everything but the two tracks for your skies, the occasional need to eat or drink, and the reassurance that this world is still beautiful, is still wild, is still more solid and substantial than any of us are or will ever be.

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