I have been a river guide for over 26 years. In that time, my father had often expressed a longing to join me on the river, and we discussed it more than a few times. However, he was not in good health, getting on in years, and it never seemed like the best idea.
He had lived for about 10 years on the central Oregon coast, and one of his great loves was to ride the jet boats up the Rogue River from Gold Beach, up to the beginning of the Wild and Scenic section to have lunch at Paradise Lodge before return trip. He never got tired of that river, or the trip up it, the scenery and the river. It spoke to something in him, I think, something that in his gruff, WW II – era manliness he may never have had the words for. But even in the ensuing years, in all the places he lived, he would talk about that trip with love and no small bit of yearning.
In the last four years of his life, his health deteriorated dramatically, to the point that walking down the hall to meals was an extreme effort. It became clear that he was never again going to go anywhere into the wilds, and certainly never going to ride any sort of craft on a river. This was one of the hardest things for him to accept, and it was a great challenge to him.
I was the person primarily responsible for his care during that time, and each time I left town for a few days for a river trip, his longing was palpable; it was hard for him to hear anything about my experiences, and after a while I think we silently agreed to simply not talk about it. It was hard sometimes for me to watch him struggle with the loss.
When he died, we honored his request to scatter his ashes on a ridge above Lake Tahoe, where he had lived the last and best years of his life, the ridge where we had left the ashes of his wife who had died four years before. But thoughts of the Rogue kept coming to me; I had a trip coming up. After some hard soul-searching, I reserved a small portion of his ashes, and took them with me to the river he loved. All those first four days on the river those ashes rode with me down the river, were by my side as I slept on the beaches at night. Finally, passing Blossom Bar, we were on the portion of the river that he knew and loved so much. I pulled them out of my dry bag, opened the container, and put them in the river, saying “you finally got to run a river with me, Pop. You know the way from here”. The ashes formed a small, dense cloud in the water, and then without dissipating, caught in the current and disappeared downstream, together.
I think he did, indeed, know the way from there.