Well, the blog has ground to a temporary halt this summer. Summer is usually the time that we get out and do things, and try to find stuff that is worthy of writing about. Unfortunately, lately that quest became seemingly very unimportant in the scheme of life. When something like this happens in your life, it really throws your perception of what really is a biggee, and what isn't.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in the spring. It seemed like bad news after bad news followed. I'll never forget the look on her face when she received the call that there was nothing that the doctors could do and that treatments would be ended. It felt like all of the air was sucked out of the room. Mom's spirit was totally deflated after the call, and she stared off into space. She had recently been having the time of her life, playing music and travelling with Lloyd, and they had so many future fun adventures planned. It all seemed overwhelmingly unfair. Fortunately we live close by and were able to spend lots of time with her those last months. Mom grew weaker and weaker, and near the end of July, with Lloyd faithfully at her side, her battle was over. Words will never adequately describe the hole that is left in our lives. We were left totally numb. It felt like the months after breaking my neck, a low point is reached beyond which more bad news means nothing, you've reached your limit. Needless to say, things that used to be a big deal no longer are. All of the normal fun things seem unimportant, and therefore unappealing. Hence I have very little cool and fun stuff to write about. We have done very little camping, no flying since June, not even any fishing yet. I know from past experience that this will pass, and my friends and family have been so great at helping us to get back to (the new) normal. Mom will be sorely missed, but we must remember that there was a lot more to her life than the last few months of sickness. She had many years of health and happiness, a lot of exciting adventures, and was loved by so many people. We must say goodbye for now, but we know that it is only for now.
Mom's passing reminded me of a story I wrote after my father passed away six years ago, I hope he built his cabin in paradise.
Then Again On The Other Side
The scenery was spectacular on the mountain trail. Winding through the tall spruce trees on that early summer morn, she could smell the sweet fragrance of the high-mountain air, with a hint of pine needle, sage and fragrant flowers. The trail climbed slowly as it meandered through the trees, the gentle gurgling of the brook that it loosely followed off somewhere to the left, occasionally revealing itself through the underbrush. In a clearing she paused and knelt down where the stream and trail met, and after a refreshing drink of crystal-clear frigid water, Hazel admired the sunshine illuminating the mountain valley she found herself in. There was a raven loudly cawing to announce his presence in a bold voice, and squirrels making it known that they had noticed her with their chatter. She reached for her walking stick to help her stand on her frail legs. She recalled seeing the walking stick just this morning, patiently waiting in the corner of her apartment, painstakingly engraved so many years ago. The walking seemed to limber up the old joints, and her limp was nearly gone now, she had the notion that maybe she should’ve tried exercising more in the last twenty years.
A little farther ahead and the trail began to get steeper. There were roots and rocks to step over, but she seemed to be able to negotiate them fine, even adding a little bounce to her step every now and then. She was beaming a smile from ear to ear, wondering why she hadn’t done this in years, and could feel herself was getting stronger with every step.
Edgar and Hazel were married in 1936, and right away made camping, fishing and hunting a huge part of their lives. They loved the Rocky Mountain scenery, and spent summers travelling and camping up and down logging roads in search of new lakes and streams, regularly hiking several miles for an overnight lakeside tenting adventure, complete with bears, wolves, elk, deer, and of course the all-important trout. It seemed that they knew every square inch of the Eastern slopes of the Rockies, and it always felt like coming home when the lakes and ponds finally melted enough in the springtime to allow them back to their beloved lifestyle. They were never very affluent, and couldn’t care less as they bumped along dusty logging roads in their old camper van, loaded with fishing gear, knitting, books, food, tent, sleeping bags, and of course the odd refreshment to set in a cool mountain stream. They never had children due to medical issues, but their lives were full of love and they felt totally complete together.
On one of their summer excursions in 1966 the fairy-tale lifestyle all changed. While hiking from the old camper up a trail to their favourite lake, Edgar stumbled on a root and fell. He hit the trail on his hands and knees, flinging his backpack over his head, and spreading its contents across the ground.
Hazel rushed to his aide, “Are you OK?” she asked, concerned by the terrible fall he took.
“I feel faint,” he replied, “And I hurt my arm, but nothing serious, probably just the shock of taking such a hard fall.”
They sat for a few minutes to rest, then gathered up the contents of the backpack, but as Edgar tried to lift it he found he was too weak. He couldn’t believe how heavy it seemed, and tried again, this time shouldering the pack. Edgar stood still with the pack, and looked at Hazel with concern, “I don’t think I can go on, maybe we’d better head down to the camper for now.”
“It’s OK” she replied, hiding her concern, “We’ll take our time.”
They hiked slowly back, stopping frequently for rests, making it back to the camper before dark. Edgar felt so bad for ruining the hike, and while Hazel made supper he searched the nearby bushes for a perfect tree to make a walking stick for her. Emerging from the bush with the perfect piece of diamond willow, he beamed triumphantly back at Hazel. After supper he felt tired, and went to bed early, only to awake in the morning more weak than the night before, and couldn’t get out of bed.
“I feel blown out, I’m afraid something more may be wrong, I think we’d better go for help,” Edgar whispered, trying not to raise alarm.
Hazel was terrified, “Let’s go now,” she ordered, throwing their belongings into the van and jumping into the driver’s seat. ‘Edgar must be real sick to cancel a trip to our favourite lake,’ she thought as she drove as quickly as she could to the nearest hospital emergency some two hours away. There they diagnosed Edgar as suffering a heart attack. This was the start of his battle with chronic heart disease.
They never did make it back to the lake. As Edgar deteriorated over the next ten years, Hazel stayed by his side, enjoying long conversations about the fun trips they had, their favourite places, and fish they caught. Edgar often spoke about how much he missed their camping trips, and how sorry he was about ruining their fun by getting sick. It was during these times that Edgar worked on her walking stick, meticulously carving the bark off of the diamond willow, completing many intricate carvings of trout, mountains and lakes, then inscribing it with their names and signing it “With All My Love … Edgar”.
Edgar smiled as he said “If I get to choose my heaven, it’ll be just like our lake, teeming with trout, our dog Koda will be there, and I’ll have a fire roaring in the cabin by the time you get there!”
They laughed as Hazel added “And have a glass of wine poured!”
In 1977 Edgar finally passed on in an extended care facility. As he left this plane, the most peaceful happy smile came across his face, and he lovingly gazed at Hazel as she held his hand.
Years later the walking stick sat propped in the corner of her small one bedroom suite at the old folk’s home, Hazel often read his signature on it and could almost see him carving away in his hospital gown as they talked about the adventures they enjoyed.
Hazel was fully enjoying her hike, and seemed to be getting stronger with every step. She was carrying the walking stick most of the time now, not needing the help it offered. Oh, if Edgar could only see her now, she would finally make it back to the place they loved so much.
Up ahead the trail curved to the left around the base of a mountain, and the trees opened to reveal their lake. It was long and narrow, a clear blue glacier-fed beauty surrounded by pine and spruce trees. The farther reaches of the lake were obscured by a magical mist down low along the water, but she could clearly see the mountains that formed a perfect bowl around it. The path carried on straight ahead to a small plank pier with a wooden bench on it, and she decided to sit and admire the scenery. She thought she could smell pine burning in a campfire, and memories of times spent camping with Edgar flooded her mind. As she sat admiring the lake and scenery, the mist slowly began to lift revealing more of the lake.
Off in the distance near the south shore, Hazel could barely make out the outline of a canoe sitting motionless on the glassy water, its loan occupant skillfully making long graceful false casts with a fly rod before placing the fly beneath a large overhanging spruce tree. She could see the aggressive splash as the fly was slammed from beneath the surface by a large trout. The canoeist fought skillfully, first retrieving then releasing line, until the fish finally succumbed to his fate. Hazel could tell it was a marvellous fish, possibly a record in these parts, yet the fisherman gently turned the hook with his fingers and released it to fight another day. Then with a quick wash of his hands in the lake he wound up his line, hooked the fly onto the cork handle of his rod and propped it up in the back of the canoe. She enjoyed the show, recalling how she and Edgar enjoyed fishing so long ago.
The canoeist picked up his paddle and gently stroked his way in the direction of the dock, expertly paddling the “J-Stroke” on the same side of the boat all the way. As he neared the dock, she noticed the canoe was an expensive cedar one, possibly hand crafted. The fisherman appeared to be about thirty years old and wore a tan coloured fishing hat, complete with sheepskin glued in a band around to hold hundreds of flies, arranged neatly as to wet or dry, colour and size. His vest was covered with pockets to hold even more flies, clippers, scales and numerous other fly fisherman must-haves.
As he silently glided up to the dock using the paddle as a rudder, he called to Hazel, “Would you mind holding on to the canoe while I get out?”
“I’ll try,” she replied, wondering why the heck he’d expect an old lady like herself to be able to help much, but she grabbed the side of the canoe anyhow, and being polite asked, “How did you hear about this place?”
“A friend and I found it, I sure love it here, the fishing is incredible!” he exclaimed.
“Where do you camp?” Hazel asked.
The young man warmly spoke, “I stay in the cabin up the shore,” he gestured off behind her.
Sure enough she turned around and the mist had lifted enough to reveal a cosy log cabin, complete with porch and chairs facing the lake, and wisps of blue smoke from the chimney.
“I’m waiting for a guest, but you’re welcome to hang out at the cabin for a while,” he smiled as he pulled the canoe onto shore.
“I just might do that,” Hazel smiled, grabbing her walking stick from the bench, “I’m in no hurry to get back.”
They walked down the windy dirt trail that loosely followed the shoreline, being careful not to trip on exposed roots and rocks. The fisherman remained close by her side, ever attentive in case of a slip or tripping on a root.
“That’s quite a walking stick,” he mentioned at one point, “It must be a real treasure.”
“It sure is, my husband cut it down on our last camping trip together and carved it while in hospital,” she replied while solemnly smiling at the stick, “One of the few things left from those wonderful days.’
They reached the cabin and the fisherman held her elbow as she climbed the three stairs onto the porch. He gestured to one of the chairs, and helped her take a seat, “Would you like some tea?”
“That would be lovely, thanks.”
“Earl Grey?” he asked.
“Yes, my favourite!” she replied.
Hazel admired the view of the mountains, with their peaks capped by a white shroud, and the clear blue lake with its glassy surface occasionally pierced by a rising trout. She thought of times spent at this lake, and wondered if it was really this beautiful back then. If only Edgar could see it now! The fisherman returned from the cabin with the tea, and handed Hazel her cup before taking his seat with his cup.
“So how long have you been coming here?” she enquired.
“Quite some time, I try to spend as much time as I can here, this is paradise to me,” he replied.
“It was to us too,” she said, “My husband and I tried to come here every summer, until he got sick” she added.
The fisherman nodded and pondered for a moment while taking a sip, “So what makes you hike all the way up here now?”
“I wanted to make it one more time before I’m gone, I guess for sentimental reasons” she explained.
“Do you remember leaving on this journey this morning?” he quietly asked.
Hazel looked off to the side with a puzzled look, took a sip of coffee and thought hard. “I recall walking with my walker down the hallway towards the lunch room, and then …”
“All clear!” somebody yelled, just as an electric jolt coursed through her body, snapping her body rigid and sending a searing pain through her chest.
She was laying on the floor, looking up at the ceiling, people from the home crowded around with canes, wheelchairs and walkers. There were two paramedics hunched over her feverishly working to revive her with breathing equipment and a defibrillator.
Hazel could feel the arthritis in her joints, the pain crept into her knees and hips. She recalled how much she hurt lately, how her eyesight and hearing were fading, and about the trail, and longed for the mountains and the lake from her dream a few moments ago.
“We’re losing her!” a paramedic hollered, “All clear!” as he readied the defibrillator again.
Hazel didn’t want to fight any longer, she was tired, she wanted no more pain. “No!” she tried to yell, “Let me go! Don’t revive me, I don’t want to stay here!” But all that came out was a faint muffle as they placed the pads on her.
Just then Hazel noticed something; the familiar mist from the lake in her dream began to form on the ceiling above the paramedics, and soon a hole formed in the mist. In the hole she was looking up at the railing on the cabin, and standing behind it was the fisherman with her walking stick in hand, calmly observing the commotion. He slowly leaned the walking stick in the corner of the railing and rested his elbows on the rail to watch the action. As she looked intently into the eyes of the fisherman, a dramatic realisation came to her, and her eyes widened as his face came into focus … the fisherman was Edgar!
Edgar smiled back at her as he leaned on the rail looking down at her, and a complete sense of contentment engulfed her like a fleece blanket. The pain all faded away, even as the defibrillator fired ineffectually once more. A calm smile lit her face as Edgar reached his strong hand out to her. Hazel grabbed his hand in hers, and was aware that that it wasn’t her frail old arm reaching out, but a young strong one.
Edgar pulled her over the rail in one powerful motion, and as Hazel landed on her feet on the porch she caught a glimpse of herself in the cabin window. She was no longer the frail little old lady from a few minutes ago; she was now young and beautiful, as was Edgar. The two of them turned and leaned over the rail watching the last ditch efforts at her revival, and the paramedics finally placed a sheet over the tired old body, just as the mist closed the portal.
Edgar hugged Hazel for a long time, and then stood back admiring her, “There’s somebody waiting to see you.”
Edgar let out a familiar whistle, and immediately they were charged by a large yellow Labrador, their old dog Koda, in her prime, complete with tennis ball and ready to play!
Hazel could see the two chairs on the porch were replaced by a swing built for two, and the table beside held two glasses of their favourite red wine. They sat down side by side, sipping, throwing the ball for Koda. While taking in the breathtaking scenery Edgar gently pushed their swing with his leg, and as he handed her the walking stick, said "I see you brought back a souvenir this time."
"It sure is a keepsake," she replied while examining the stick.
After a few peaceful moments, Edgar smiled and put his arm around Hazel.
“Welcome home” he said with a smile.
Hazel replied, “It’s great to be home … that was a long one!”
Back at the old folks home the last of the cleanup was being finished in Hazel’s room, getting it ready for the next resident. One of the workers asked another, “Where is that old walking stick she had, it isn’t here.”
“I don’t know, maybe somebody got it already, it sure was a treasure, wouldn’t mind it myself.” came the reply.