The last time I went camping was with Rufus. I have a beautiful carved wooden box that holds what’s physically left of him. I have always planned on spreading his ashes in places we both loved . . . when I was ready. This weekend I put a handful of Rufus into a glass jar and took him camping in Humboldt County, one of our favorite places.
Humboldt County is 200 miles north of San Francisco and is part of the Coastal Mountain Range. This rural county has more coastline than any county in California. It has the largest old growth Redwood forest on the earth. The rugged, ancient and majestic personality of this place always tends to right size my position in the universe and at the same time makes me feel more connected.
It was a beautiful weekend filled with good friends, swimming/floating in the Eel River, starry nights and communing with nature. Unfortunately, Northern California has been hit hard this year by forest fires. While there were no fires near the campgrounds, the wind shifted on the second to the last day and brought smoke from one of the fires. It was a reminder that connection means that we also feel the pain and destruction around us—some of which we are culpable, some of which we can only bear witness.
On my last morning I planned to bring Rufus’s ashes to the river. Although the drought has dwindled the Eel River, it still has some of the most clear and beautiful water you will ever see. At 6:30 a.m. I woke to one of nature’s most obnoxious alarm clocks—the irreverent Stellar Jay. If you’ve ever heard these birds, you know they are the bossy neighbors who don’t own an “inside voice.” There was no snooze button so I pulled myself out of my cozy cocoon, got dressed, and headed to the river with Rufus.
Day was just beginning. The air was cool, the smoke had cleared, and sunlight had started her first salutation. I trudged down the path to the river with some amount of dread. What was I thinking? I should have left Rufus at home in his box. I found a spot where the river tumbled over rocks with that paradoxical sound of stillness. I sat on a large rock in the middle of the river and waited for something to happen—tears, memories, insight—but nothing happened.
Here’s the thing about waiting—you never know when—but it often becomes something else. Something shifted and I thought of my Rufus poem, “This Little Light.” Surprisingly, I found it on my phone and read it to the river, the Redwoods, the rocks, the morning—all matter of snot and tears bubbled up from within me. When I was finished, I was ready to share Rufus with this magical place.
I pulled out the jar and poured Rufus into my hand. I had the notion that I should take a picture so with one hand I held my IPhone and the other I released Rufus’s ashes into the river. Unbeknownst to me, my camera was set for burst (a series of consecutive shots). When I looked at the photos my heart leapt—I could not have staged this if I tried. The photos revealed what my heart knew—my hand had been holding the light. No words . . . only gratitude and love.
Ashes and Light
August 17, 2015
The hazy air mutes the verdant palette
Tiny grey particles float in mass formation
Smoky remnants of life
Forever changed by flames
Cruel dancing spirits that consume
Life eaten before we are finished loving
My hand holds all that remains
Ashy grit of bone, flesh and fur
How can I hold him?
How can I let him go?
The bubbling water knows
Pitter-patter of invisible paws
Belligerent shout of Stellar Jay
Sweet bird song of Varied Thrush
Wind whispers of Redwood bough
The river waits for no one yet waits for me
I open my hand
Beautiful, blazing, heartbreaking, and clear
Daily Bites and Blessings
Welcome to "Daily Bites and Blessings." Pull up a chair. I’ve set a place for you at the table. These edibles are sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet and often they are both. This is a come as you are party. I invite you to bring your compassion, courage, and curiosity as we dine together on life's bounty. May our time together give us more light and more love.