My first glimpse of that stretch of sand was from the top of those stairs, now pictured on the front page of the newspaper. I knew I was standing on the edge of a welcome, needed free-fall into the unknown back then, but I never could have predicted the particular tidal ebbs and flows, the swells and turbulence, that would influence both that golden era in my life and the bluff from which I surveyed my new landscape.
Part of that bluff collapsed a couple of days ago, the giant sandstone chunks crushing long-time residents and killing a mother, a grandmother, and an aunt from the same family. A dear friend, who started her own new chapter in our neighborhood that same weekend I stood atop those stairs, knew the family. She said they were beautiful, giving humans, and when I lamented the impossibility of finding meaning in this kind of tragedy, she said, ‘All we can do to honor these precious lives is just hold all of our loved ones tight and say what we mean, when we mean it.’
Precious lives were also lost in El Paso and Dayton over the weekend, in a bloody 12 hour span sponsored by angry young white males. Making sense of the senseless has already taken the shape of blame, which comes across more as a reactionary advancement of a preconceived narrative than anything constructive.
I was a world away last week, finding kinship with a solitary tree that clung to a crag high above the river. Bereft of companion or concern, her roots were fed by summer thunderstorms and coming winter snows, her leaves bathed in life-cycling sunlight. She was in sight of others like her, embedded not only in their own introverted perches, but also in this kayak at the bottom of the Impassable Canyon. Which was indeed passable, albeit only via a whitewater conveyor belt, churning against the steep rock walls.
A bald eagle had soared upstream some lost-track number of mornings prior, minutes after I’d stepped off a prop plane and onto the dirt airstrip next to the river. A well-traveled, soulful voice advised that this bald eagle was a good omen for our journey through the largest swath of roadless land in the lower 48 states.
We’d seen an eagle every morning since that first sighting, followed by hours of joy, camaraderie, and peace. The omen was holding.
We need an eagle now, don’t we?
A few nights later we sat around a fire, trading songs on small guitars. He had the same traveling instrument I did, but we had more in common besides wires stretched across wood. He is me, twenty years ago, writing songs about loves lost and hopeful futures found, songs that were mine when I first discovered I could say something without having to actually say anything.
I told stories I hoped would help him. He listened. And we played.
We searched for a final song that would do honor to the folded linens of stars in the moonless sky. We plied through our fingered catalogues, until our voices echoed off the Impassable Canyon walls, a chorus about being free yet caught in the falling, the words of another precious life lost too soon, a reminder that none of us know which of these moments might be our last.
‘All we can do to honor these precious lives is just hold all of our loved ones tight and say what we mean, when we mean it.’
Bring on the eagle.