The River of Life
People come and go. Eagles come and go. Water is always moving. On Saturday we rafted part of the Squamish River,which is the largest home in the world for bald eagle populations. It wasn’t a wild fast paddle but a slow one, which went from Squamish to the brackish waters of the tidal area, where we also saw numerous seals coming up from the ocean to feed on salmon. It is journeys like this, where I don’t want to leave the place and could stay all day, despite the cold water chilling my feet, gently puddling around my gumboots. I thought of life, of people I loved, and knew I had to give Mom a call that night because we were due for a call–hadn’t talked significantly for about a month. Rivers remind me of life, of time. Call me a nostalgic person, and I don’t care. But when I see the beauty of the world I remember what has gone before me, the love I felt growing up, and there are few people I can share these memories with outside of my mother. We aren’t stuck in the past, and we are also excited about the present and still dream of things to do tomorrow. But sometimes I do get a little sentimental, and though she was busy that night, this morning we finally talked–for almost four hours. We solved a few mysteries. Find out below.
It’s been a strange year in a few ways. Late last year I posted how my dad’s first cousin Linda didn’t look like she’d make it. She didn’t. I learned early this year of her death. She fought her entire life against racism and for equality for all and taking care of our natural world. And she was a sweet second cousin to me–making it to our southern road trip back in 2012 and joining us at Jerry’s restaurant, which was like a running tradition in our family. This was how January 2018 came in for me. You know, when people die we know it could be us next time…and life doesn’t seem so fair sometimes. Like when my husband’s cousin died suddenly during the early morning of November 1 this year of a heart attack and left behind a young wife and three children. Sometimes people are expected to die. Sometimes not.
My mother and I talk about people we’ve known, places we’ve been. Some memories are a little foggy. Like I remember a place we camped once when we were kids, and I recall one of my brothers and I finding wild grapevines out in the forest and swinging on them, pretending to be Tarzan. Back then if we camped, we usually did tent-camping, but at this place it was a cabin and had actual cots. We’d never been there before or gone after it. We were happy about the cabin shelters because there was a great thunderstorm that night. Because I was so much younger, I never remembered the name of the place, but after talking about it this morning, Mom had me convinced it was near Shades State Park, and I didn’t really believe her because we went to Shades and Turkey Run often–but only hiking, never camping. But I looked around the area nearby, and there is actually a place called Clements Canoes Outdoor Center that rents primitive cabins that are kind of in the middle of the forest, not around other cabins, and I think that might be it. One mystery solved.
As we talked, she asked me once again to look on the internet or Facebook to find one of her best friends, Susan, from the Chicago area. I had tried researching before, but not for several months. Sure enough, it turns out that she died in April this year. We moved to the Chicago area when I was 13 and stayed there for nearly a decade. Mom and Dad had met some very good friends–but she called Susan her best friend. Eventually they lost touch, but around that time Susan’s husband died, and as it turned out then so did she a couple years later. I hated reading the obituary over the phone, but that mystery was solved too, and I felt sorry for Mom. She lost her parents at a fairly young age, she lost her husband, my dad, and each year we learn of more deaths from the people she knew back then. This year another of her friends from the Chicago area died too. Mom is still kicking it though. Susan was the mother of one of the members of the band Umphrey’s McGee–who one of my brothers also grew up with–who I will feature in my next song of the week soon. They were one of the bands, along with Jack Johnson, Pearl Jam, Bonnie Raitt and Jon Cleary, Maroon 5, Philip Glass, Zac Brown Band, moe., the Bad Plus, Blitzen Trapper, Mason Jennings, John Scofield, Piers Faccini, Switchfoot, Brett Dennen, Ky-Mani Marley, Sun Kil Moon, Ben Solee, Ra Ra Riot, Spoek Mathambo, Taj Mahal, Toad the Wet Sprocket, the Drive-By Truckers, Bobby Long, The String Cheese Incident, Ki: Theory, Moondoggies, Vusi Mahlesela, Disco Biscuits, O.A.R., Ziggy Marley, Los Lobos, Dawes, Abigail Washburn, Big Head Todd & The Monsters, Brandi Carlile and many more, who donated to the Patagonia Music Collective, which raises money for the environment. Umphrey’s McGee donated proceeds from “Hajimemashite” to Climate Cycle.
I listened to the song this morning after talking with Mom. I barely recognize Joel (founding member and keyboardist), as he was also young when I knew him, but I really like what he is doing and am always inspired when people like those in his band care about the planet. Hajimemashite is a greeting in Japanese but translates literally to “it’s a beginning.” A quip that also ties with “all things must pass.” Listening to the song made me think of Joel’s parents and the great friendship and love they had for our family, and how, even though they are both gone, there’s this beauty that lives on in the music their son makes. It reminded me of a moving river and the continuity of eagles and seals and salmon and all the other life that exists in that ecosystem and may continue to if we don’t ruin it.
Speaking of musicians, the first guy I ever dated was in high school, and his name was Tom. I found out quite by accident this year that he is dead. I don’t know when he died, but I guess after high school he must have gone into the army. Eventually he got married and had a son. I lost touch with him, for even though we didn’t date long, we remained great friends, but I also moved away from the Chicago area after high school. And I went on to kind of drift after college–ending up falling in love with California, the ocean, the mountains, and so on–it was never my style to stay in one place for too long, though I guess now I have found the place that is more me than any place before–the temperate rainforest of British Columbia–and having also found my soul mate and true love here, I guess it makes sense to not feel like a drifter anymore, though together my husband and I love to see new places. However, we know for sure now, having explored so many areas in the province, that there is no place like home. And as we learned over the weekend on the raft trip, the temperate rainforest of British Columbia has the largest biomass areas in the world. Yeah, give me that. Give me the biomass, and that’s my forever home.
Anyway, Tom was a guitarist in a band that I think I’ve forgotten the name of–another mystery to solve some day–and we met at our job, where a few long-lasting friends at my high school worked back then. Tom and I kind of hooked up at a party, and our dating consisted of me going to listen to his band play on the weekends. No movies. No dinners. But I liked it. We did this for a couple months before he just kind of drifted away and eventually dated another girl for about the same amount of time. I think we didn’t work out because we were like brother and sister to begin with. We talked and hung out all the time, and it was finally clear to me when I experienced my first heartbreak ever that I felt more strongly for him than he did me, but of course it was okay because we were young and stayed friends, and I also started dating others. But he was a kind and gentle soul, super skinny as we all were back then, with big blue eyes. His band played a lot of Led Zeppelin–they seemed to really like the song “Dazed and Confused” and some songs I’d never heard of before like James Gang’s “Funk 49”. I occasionally still hear that song on the radio, and always point it out to my husband as being a cool song that never seemed very mainstream. I think it actually came out on Rock Band or Guitar Hero at one point in time, and I’m like “Yes! I know this song,” while the rest of our friends had no clue about how cool it is, nor had ever heard it.
I’m rambling like the river. I think of my mother’s sweet southern voice and her love of remembering old things with me as we walk down memory lane or dream of seeing each other in the future. Time is not linear. There’s always the present moment, which like a drop of rain dissipates into a puddle and expands the water. There’s the past that never dies because it lives on in us. There’s the future that is part of today’s planning. The current just keeps moving. And sometimes we move with it; sometimes stand like sentinels at the bank, watching it.