Several weeks ago some of life's realities caught up with us. My parents reached a remarkable milestone - 65 years of marriage! With eight kids, no less. Then, just two weeks later, Dad passed away. These events led us to three trips between our home in Colorado to southern Montana, where my folks live.
Each trip was a bit of an adventure due to unusually wet and stormy weather. For example, as we headed north on the first trip for the anniversary gathering, we'd planned to camp northeast of Laramie, Wyoming, at a place we hadn't previously explored. We didn't even get
very far north of Denver, and had to shelter under a highway overpass (along with a dozen or so other travelers) due to such a severe downpour that visibility was nearly nil. We watched the drainage next to the highway where we were sheltering go from empty to a fast-flowing stream about 4 feet wide in less than half an hour. As we traveled further north and west, we saw evidence that we'd missed a relatively heavy hailstorm, but the rain never let up, and we had to keep changing our plans for our overnight stay, finally ending up in a truck lot in a tiny town in the middle of Wyoming.
The next morning was bright and clear - for a little while - and after breakfast, we briefly explored a nearby road, finding this handsome pair of local citizens basking in the sun. Then, on north to enjoy the anniversary and the company of my large, extended family. Regrettably, our return trip was so rainy that I didn't even bother to try for any photos.
After being home only a couple days, we heard about Dad's collapse, and were really torn about whether to make another trip since the prognosis didn't look good. Would we be useful or just in the way? (I have several very capable sisters who live near my parents.) Part of our indecision translated into a trip into our local mountains because my husband knows my need to be away from people when I'm disturbed or worried or sad; he feels the same way. The next day, while we were still undecided about returning to Montana, friends invited us to go to Salida, where they have a favorite place to lunch by the Arkansas River. As we were on our way home, one of my sisters let my husband know that it would be appreciated if we'd return to Montana while Dad was still in the hospital. That day, we started packing our handy teardrop for the trip. Again, the weather was "interesting." It rained from Cheyenne, Wyoming, to the Montana border (I know, why was it only rainy in Wyoming?).
We spent most of the next few days at the hospital with various family members until it was determined that Dad would not be able to recover. The staff at the dialysis center was extremely sad to hear about his decline; they'd seen Dad three times a week for the previous several years. The ICU staff at the hospital was so excellent and caring; we can't say enough good things about them. Dad's ICU day nurse commented on how close our family is, and how we were all so calm about the entire progression through to the inevitable decision. I love my family so much for setting such a good example with a difficult situation. I have a hard time expressing myself about serious matters and I tend to avoid photos of people, so I don't have pictures of kids and grandkids being there for Mom and Dad, or of us telling stories of funny things we remembered, or of singing and playing some of Dad's favorite music, or of hugs and tears. The thing I will miss most is Dad playing his guitar at every opportunity. He never learned to read music, but could play the guitar, banjo, mandolin, concertina, and was willing to try out other instruments with varying levels of confidence. He was always up for jam sessions with my siblings, various grandkids, and friends.
After Dad passed away, we had to return to Colorado again until the memorial, which was scheduled for a couple weeks later. And again, the weather was rainy all through Wyoming. Again, my husband and I headed for the wild places on our way home. One wonderful plus to doing so was that we got to see our personal 'superfecta' of wildlife on the way. For us, that's getting to see at least one pronghorn, deer, elk, and either moose or bighorn sheep while on a trip. However, I only got photos of a 'trifecta' since the pronghorns were too far away. While
the elk and moose looked pretty sleek, the mule deer were still shedding, and appeared really unkempt. They were all certainly well-fed due to the rains, though. A description of our drive through Shell Canyon and on to Ten Sleep will have to wait for a later post.
Between our second and third trips north, the small town where Mom and most of my sisters live was hit by a severe (ping-pong ball sized) hailstorm. Mom's kitchen window was broken out and there was damage all over. A nephew had to move out of his apartment because virtually every window in the place was broken. Besides that, the city storm drains had backed up, so Mom and one of my sisters had basement flooding. So there were a number of tasks to care for - first was to dry out Mom's basement so my brothers would have a place to sleep while there (which my sister and nephews cared for admirably!); other needs were to replace the kitchen window, and to clean up Dad's garden. But it was nice for all eight of us to be together at the same time.
The day we left to return home was sunny and clear, but by the time we got into the southern half of Wyoming, the clouds were coming in again. This massive storm produced a lightning show that lasted for hours - from shortly before sunset until after midnight. We were too far away to even hear the thunder, but I counted about five lightnings per second at one point. Next morning, we woke up to fog, which followed us all the way to Cheyenne. Then, as soon as we crossed back in to Colorado, the weather cleared - go figure.
I have to say my love of camping and being in wild places is definitely tied to early childhood memories of an old green Plymouth station wagon and drives up logging roads in western Montana with Mom and Dad. And camping trips that I'm sure Mom was a frazzled wreck after. I also remember the awful sleeping bags that probably came from an army surplus store and likely dated back to the Korean war. Those bags were the coldest things I've ever slept in, even in summer! I think Mom would bring a quilt to either put over us, or under us to try to keep us warmer during the night. I do know that my current sleeping arrangement is far warmer and less rocky.
I'm forever grateful to my parents for the love of wild places that they gave us, and for helping us to appreciate beauty wherever it can be found - whether in a lowly insect (bees and butterflies on water puddles, and even the spider that made her home above our kitchen sink for most of a summer) or a magnificent mountain sunset; in the simple enjoyment of an old waltz tune or in making art in various forms; for teaching us to be content with what we have even when it is little; and for raising a family that knows we can count on each other when there's a need. They gave all of us kids a legacy to appreciate and be proud of.