Monday, February 23, 2009
My Dad at Pyramid Lake
I tried to creep up on whatever might be feeding on the dead deer I found two days ago, but ravens blew my cover before I was halfway through the woods: Roark! Roark! Roark! No birds were there by the time I arrived at the scene, but it was obvious from their tracks that many had been. And only birds, dropping down from the air and hopping on both feet to reach the carcass. No canine or feline or mustelid tracks led out onto the ice from the woods. I'm not going to post a photo of what the deer looked like. It's pretty scary to see what beaks can do.
I wish I had a photo of the little kid I saw walking out on the ice with a grown-up (probably his dad) on Saturday. The two were several hundred yards downstream from me, and the kid was a picture of absolute delight: running circles around his dad, skipping and dancing, his arms windmilling, literally jumping for joy. I felt a surge of happiness, then regret. I wish I'd had a dad I could have been that happy with.
When I was a kid, my dad was the kind of guy you'd run to hide from: a driven perfectionist with a violent temper and ready swats. All my life I kept as careful a distance from him as I could. Until just a few years ago, when he was in his late 80s, I in my late 50s. My mom had died and I felt kind of sorry for my dad, so I asked his much younger brother (my favorite uncle) to drive him out from Michigan.
Dawn at Pyramid Lake
It was late September and we went to Pyramid Lake in the Adirondacks, staying in a rustic lodge at a retreat center where I volunteer. The lake is surrounded by the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area, the shoreline completely wild, with forested islands and sheer rocky cliffs rising up from the water's edge. We had the place to ourselves. We hiked, we paddled, we found wild mushrooms we cooked in the center's kitchen. We marveled at the silence at night, woke to loons' calls in the morning. My dad recounted adventures from his youth: building a log cabin in the woods all by himself at 16, visiting his trap line on the long walk to school each morning. He grew absolutely relaxed and happy. And for the very first time in all my life, I had a good time with my dad.
Here's an image from that occasion: My dad and I were paddling across the lake. A hummingbird came and landed on my hand. He sat right there for several paddle strokes, I could see his ruby-red little bib, look into his bright black eye. Now, when hummingbirds migrate, they fly thousands of miles without resting. Why did this one come and rest on my hand? That tiny bird seemed a symbol of great blessing.
My dad never stopped talking about that trip. A year ago last September I went out to Michigan to care for him as he was dying. I was privileged to care for him in the ways I had cared for my Hospice patients, to bathe him and shave him, to ease his pain, to hold his hand as he drew his last breath, and to close his eyes when he died. Resentment and fear were replaced with overwhelming love. I wonder if that could have happened if we hadn't had our retreat at Pyramid Lake.