Archive for May, 2021


I haven’t spent a lot of time in Montana. A trip in July of ’90 to help my brother Rick start the cabin. By motorcycle in August of ’92 to prove to myself that I could.

And in ’94,
It was August again. Sunday. We all met at the cabin at Tom Miner’s Basin, halfway between Livingston and Gardner, to fulfill my Mom’s wishes to have her ashes scattered in a mountain meadow near Yellowstone.

Jules and I drove from LA, and Rick and Kathy and 5 of their 6 kids drove from KC. They carried her ashes, which had been sitting in their living room in a small and surprisingly lightweight box wrapped in brown paper since she died in March.
This is an annual trip for Rick and his family, but Jules and I have only been twice – either hectic schedules or the uncertainty of no work preventing the investment in time or money, depending on the year. Our gatherings are usually celebrations since we don’t see each other that often and this was no exception, although the added purpose of the trip was hovering above our heads.
Now don’t get me wrong – we were not moping around the tall grasses of Paradise Valley. Mom’s death had not been a surprise – she’d been ill for a while and was getting by, but not really getting better. More than that, though, she was really ready to leave the planet (her words) and we all had to rejoice with her that she had finally gotten her way. I have no doubt in my mind that she is much happier now than she had been for years before she left us. But still, there’s this feeling of seriousness – of purpose and of duty (she was our MOM for heaven’s sake) in knowing that sooner or later during our stay we would all have to say some real and final good-byes.
She wanted her ashes spread in a meadow in the foothills near the Yellowstone River. If you knew air was too outdoorsy for her! She wasn’t really a “let’s go for a hike” kind of girl. She had been to Montana on a religious retreat years before and for her this was a sacred place. We all felt pretty good to be helping her complete the journey she had started when she was born in Shelbyville, Indiana in 1922.
So on Tuesday we piled into the 4×4’s (it’s a 4-wheelin’ kind of place, Montana) and headed up the road. The meadow was on private property and we got reluctant permission to enter after some heartfelt negotiations. The significance of this would became apparent later.
The day was sunny, and as we drove into the mountains the air was comfortably cool for August.

Our hike from the cars to the meadow took about 20 minutes. We walked single file through the narrow trails in the woods and then spread out as the meadows opened up. The spot she’d chosen was ringed by trees, and we decided to perform our small ceremony at the edge of the woods. There she could see the meadow but still rest in the shade, protected, after we left, from the elements.
You know, I’ve seen scenes in films a bunch of times where someone scatters someone’s remains (into the sea, over a cliff, out of an airplane…), but I had never done it before; never even touched human ashes. And as we all gathered to do this thing, I realized that there is nothing that prepares us for the act of releasing the last tangible part of someone you love.
I think it was Rick who opened the box. We each gently took a handful of the gritty grey sand and moved apart, whispering to her our own thoughts and wishes. The breeze caught our murmurs and the dust as we spread our fingers wide, and she fell on the leaves and ground cover beneath our feet. It always seems ;ight, like flour, in the movies, but actually it’s heavy, and it falls more than it’s blown.

We kept to a small area, maybe 30′ square, at a point where a log crossed the trail and the sunlight splotched through the leaves overhead onto the fallen trees and seedlings on the floor of the clearing. From here she could see her meadow, and take in the passing of animals that traffic the woods along this path.

Eye contact revealed tears, and we all had a very hard time of it, especially the kids. Mom had lived with Rick and his family in their house for ten years, and the kids had never known a time when she was not around.

And then the box was empty.
This was a final farewell, and we realized that this would not be a place we could conveniently visit (like a grave at a cemetery), to talk, to share, to ask advice and say we miss you. This was quite possibly the last time any of us would be here again given the difficulty of getting in, and the distance from our homes. And if we could return, the meadow was a big place and she would really be nowhere in particular in it.
We decided she should have a marker – a symbol of the significance of this spot that would mark her last place on this earth, apparent to only the most sensitive and attuned spirits who might happen to pass through this place.
A rock, a stick, and the last wisps of her dust are her simple monument.
The rest of the day was quiet. As night settled we built a fire in front of the cabin, and counted shooting stars and satellites in the sky that canopies the valley. The fire crackled, and Rick’s neighbor, Ken, brought his dog Katrina around before they went off to sleep in a teepee he’d put up nearby beside the Yellowstone River.

That night she delivered 8 pups, and our dog Barkley was the little runt among them.

I place a lot of significance in the fact that Barkley was born the night we had left Mom’s ashes in the meadow.

Maybe I look too hard to find meaning in things to help me make sense of this life.
But you know – Mom would think I’m absolutely right.

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