Yesterday there was a memorial paddle down the north fork of the Skykomish River for Sam Grafton. The day was shades of gray, snowing, sleeting, winds high in the trees. And I was home by the fire, unaware. But I saw the photos and videos. And on that gray river were clusters of bright kayaks, like spring flowers.

As the kayaks and rafts started to float away, people lining the bridge, lining the river, threw in flowers.

Today I had to drive to the city. As I followed the twists and turns of the highway, I found myself searching the river.

All those flowers alone out there in the wind and snow and rain. Caught in little eddies, pushed ashore to rest on rocks, flying free downriver on the current.

Over the past week many have brought flowers to their house. Beautiful bouquets. And I felt anger, that they would have to watch those flowers die.

So today I watched the rushing water as I drove. I wanted to find a flower, a petal, something I could steal back from the river.

Save it.

Bring it home.

Keep it safe forever.

But the flowers are gone.

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For Sam

There are times when you know that something will become a snapshot in your memory. A moment of profound clarity that will forever be with you.

When you first hear the news that her son, that baby, that toddler, that gawky teenager, that wonderful, grounded young man, has been taken.

When you walk in the house and see her and feel that moment of relief because she’s there, in the circle of women. Those women, who have all been in many circles with her over the years.

You see how the women grieve. Always touching, tears flowing freely, hands held, hair stroked back. The one who presses a mug of soup into her hand. They sit close, so close the circle is closed.

The men grieve just as deeply. But they hover in the periphery, helpless. This is something they can’t fix. So they wait, and watch their women for the moment there is something they can do. A table to put up for all the food. A fire to be started outside. To step in and hold someone when needed. To talk in low voices out on the porch, to look up at the mountains so no one will see their tears.

Except for the middle child. Now the oldest child. He comes to the circle of women and is enfolded. The youngest, still the youngest, moves through the fringe, seeks solitude, and then they, too, come to the circle.

That moment when she’s talking, and then goes still, her gaze inward. What does she see? That moment when she first felt him move, first knew those cells were her child? His first smile? The last moment she spoke to him, not knowing it was the last?

That moment when they are talking about the need to go to the funeral home to see him. This woman, this strong earth mother, who has rescued strangers from the river, who knows what to expect. And she says, ‘the river was kind to him’.

The river took him for its own, but in the end was kind in its taking.

And now he goes where none of us can yet follow, into river and wind and mountains.

Last night the tiny town lit candles so he could find his way home.

We step forward into a life we never expected, finding a path we don’t want to follow. But we form circles. We hug. We touch. We sob so deep it becomes the moan of the wind. And we never forget.

We just grieve and grieve and grieve into our rivers.


A Rolling Stone

In the late 1980s my father and I hiked to the old Sunset mine. There, we found this large rock full of iron pyrite. You know, fool’s gold. The rock looked painted in gold, the pyrite was so thick. Dad and I took turns carrying the heavy thing back down the trail. At home, it became a door stop for the cabin, and dad loved telling people it was real gold but ‘he didn’t need the money’.

So of course it was stolen.

This past week I was talking to a police officer friend about restoration work that will be happening at Sunset mine, which led into telling him about that rock and how somebody stole it back in the early 1990s, obviously thinking they were going to get rich.

He started laughing and said ‘I know where that rock is!’

A local person who has been in and out of jail many, many times, has frequently told people that he’s rich because he has a big rock full of gold. He ‘found’ it years ago. The officer has heard him say this many times.

Yesterday, the officer friend was on a call that involved another person who is well-known to the police. That guy mentioned that his friend recently gave him a rock full of gold.

I told my friend that if he sees that rock he’s to confiscate it. Doubt he could do that, but wouldn’t it be great if the rock came home? I assume it’s the same one, because how many big rocks thickly coated with fool’s gold can be floating around our little neck of the woods? Well, actually, probably quite a few now that I think about it. But still. If that rock ever does come home I’ll take a photo of it and post it here.

Meanwhile, I kind of like the idea that the rock just keeps rolling on, moving from story to story.

Somewhere, dad is laughing.