Most of Dad’s ashes from his death two years ago went into the pre-bought cemetery plot in the city. What I kept are being scattered this Father’s Day, as I travel along the Big Hole River Valley in Montana. His birthplace state; a place he loved for its Big Sky and open spaces. A place to roam freely.
All his life Dad was tightly contained by a prescriptive notion of right/wrong and fears of the unknown. That part of him would feel comfortably safe in the boundaries of an urn of ashes that was gently laid into a gravesite. Protected, safe, memorialized and waiting to be joined by the wife he loved.
Yet, also in Dad was a creative and spontaneous nature that was seldom let out to play. It surfaced in family poems, unique handmade Christmas ornaments, and woodworking. Often it was restricted by the guidance of too many “shoulds” and life was mostly serious. I imagine he yearned to live more in the freedom of the current moment rather than in regrets about the past or anxiety about the future. He knew something about the value of living in the “now” from his childhood.
Family friends had a hay ranch in the Big Hole River Valley in southwest Montana where Dad spent some summers in his youth. This is my first visit to the area. It’s beautiful. Even on a cloudy day, the mountains, valley and river call you into the now.
Somewhere in the valley I passed through today, hired ranch hands taught my Dad how to ride a horse, feed the calves, slop the pigs, and get the eggs. They also encouraged him to simply enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. He was free to roam.
Dad learned how to fish in the Big Hole River which captured his imagination and brought him peace. You could hear the gratefulness in his voice when he talked about those experiences. My sister, as an adult, also fished in the Big Hole River although the connection to my Dad’s experience was only made recently. Today we travel together through this valley remembering Dad.
Dad’s creative nature and his appreciation of Montana’s beauty impacted me and how I live my life. I’m also often too serious, but still drawn to risking a life that flows rather than staying within “safe” boundaries. So, it is fitting that today I celebrate the generosity of that gift as Dad’s ashes are set free in the flowing of a river that winds through the Big Sky country that he loved. That meanders and rushes, rises and falls, flows over rocks and becomes still. A flow that is joyous, adventuresome and alive.
We stopped at many places along the river until the right one beckoned us. I scattered the ashes in the river. “Here you go, Dad. Flow free.” An unexpected gust of wind came up at that moment and I extended my arms to the sky, joyously calling “Hey, Dad. Hey, Dad!” It was one of those mystical moments that are a gift.
Thanks, Dad. I love you.