When it was clear my father was dying, I asked him how he’d appear to me once he’d died. I explained to him how my deceased friend visited his wife as a blue heron, how Dixie’s mom came to her as a ladybug. He thought about it for a few seconds, his eyes closed, his head tipped back on the loveseat where by that time he was all but living, his swollen feet propped on an ottoman. “A warthog,” he said finally.
His death, just shy of a year ago, has without a doubt colored this cross-country road trip Dixie and I are taking. Not in a bad way. Not gloomy. But it’s turned my thoughts toward the big questions, the what-does-it-mean-to-live questions. What does it mean to die?
My father’s answer both amused and frustrated me. Amused because he seemed so amused himself at the thought of returning as a warthog. Frustrated because where was I ever going to see a warthog? It was no surprise, not really. It wasn’t until the last third of his life that he began showing much interest in his kids. Still, we did the best we could to make up for lost time. And I loved him, dearly—even if he was a warthog.
In light of the serious shortage of warthogs in my life, I turned to the water to find him. He loved the water. Loved to boat. Loved to swim. The last time I saw him I watched as the waves drew his ashes into the briny green of the Pacific. But the more I think on it, before I ever got a hold of his ashes, a large part of him, I assume, turned to steam. Right? Isn’t that the other part of cremation? Where the other 80% goes? To steam? And then presumably he turned into rain or dew or clouds or mist or fog. And from there he presumably showed up in rivers, lakes, bays, ponds, tap water, icebergs…
Right now we are camped at Lake George in upstate New York. It is the first of the lakes we are about to encounter. We’re headed for the Great Lakes, which I understand are massive. Rain is expected later today. Possibly a thundershower. Before that we were camped next to Wynhall Brook in Vermont. Two days of swimming in its beautiful, clear, rocky water, floating on my back, looking up at the trees and sky. Though called a brook, if you ask this California girl, it is more of a river, and swimming in it was like a baptism. I imagined my father holding me. Before that we were camped at a friend’s in Tenants Harbor, Maine. The tide there is close to twelve feet. At high tide, the cove is filled so full you can swim in it. By afternoon, all that’s left of that swimming hole is a big mud flat. Slow seep in. Slow seep out. Slow in. Slow out. Constant as the earth turning. It has to do with the coastline. Much more complicated than the Pacific! Where we were, the land juts out into spidery fingers, making for tons of coves and eddies—and islands! Tons of them.
I was so happy to reach the Atlantic! That was about a week ago. I dug my feet into that sandy beach in Salisbury, Massachusetts and let that water slosh around my ankles and breathed in that yummy breeze coming off the ocean. It was almost like being home in my beloved Santa Cruz. Only not quite. Santa Cruz is my home, and as Dorothy in the Wizard of Ozsuccinctly put it, There’s no place like home.
But there have been wonderful lakes and ponds and marshes and swamps. There’s been sitting under Maude’s awning watching rain drip off its scalloped edges, eating bagels at a rainy harbor with my sister and brother-in-law in Annapolis. “Will it ever stop?” my sister asked, referring the weeks of rain. There was the marshy Dixon Meadow where Mom and I bird watched in Flourtown, the snow in Albuquerque. And let’s not forget the ice we keep buying to keep our food fresh. So much water!
A friend once told me our planet is 90% salt water and 10% sweet water, the same ratio as in our bodies (the sweet water traveling our spinal column.) Add to this that evaporation turns salt water to sweet water. I mean, really? Water is complicated! Is it any wonder then that this is where I’d go looking for my father, a complicated man who over the years came and went out of my life? Seep in. Seep out. Seep in. Seep out. Add to this that the ocean’s tide is driven by the moon. Not only is everything on our amazing planet interconnected, so is everything in our solar system! So if my father is indeed in the water, as I believe he is, as I believe we probably all are in the end, he’s now dancing with the moon. That’s a nice thought.
Then again, at the base of the Superstition Mountains in Arizona a herd of javelinas trotted by. If you’ve never seen a javelina, let me just say that they are very warthoggish. Dad? I thought.
So over and out. And remember, live the love, it’s all we’ve got.
And let me just make this plug: my newest novel, Perfect Little Worlds, is now available from Bold Strokes Books.