Day 2 at Ring Lake Ranch:
I woke up early, looked at the clock, and decided I had time for a second sleep.
A couple hours later the ringing of the triangle signaling fifteen minutes until breakfast woke me. I woke with a nauseating headache. Thank God, I had a massage planned for later in the day. The knots in my shoulders were wreaking havoc.
I washed my face, took a ton of Excedrin, and made my way down to eat. I had a bit of dread rising over the prospect of making small talk around the table. But, it was actually lovely. The conversation actually helped ease my headache and lifted my spirits for the day.
I was going back and forth about what to do this morning. On one hand, climbing back into bed sounded lovely. On the other hand both the hike and the ride sounded good. I decided on the hike.
Yesterday, Leah had talked about the hike’s she had in mind for the week. Today was the hike to the Boulder Pile. She described it as “easy” and “mellow paced.” That was appealing. But what really caught my attention was how she talked about looking forward to that trail each year as she noticed the newly fallen trees. She would take note of them and pay homage to a life’s end. And she would likewise revel in the joy of spotting the newest trees sprouting up out of the earth. Something about that tugged at my soul.
This morning I received a message from back home that Fran was transitioning into hospice care today and that they didn’t think she’d live long. I adore Fran. She radiates gratitude, lightbeams of sunshine that can’t help but warm your day. Every time I visit her I feel blessed by her positivity. She shares about her own life and days with a gentleness and thankfulness. She asks about your life, remembering the details and delighting in your life’s joy.
Not too long ago she had a fall. Her brain has been quietly bleeding since then. It has been slowly robbing us of her. She began to fade in and out of this world and the next. Time looping in and around itself. When I would visit she might be clear as a bell and up to date on all the latest happenings. Or, she might talk as if she was a younger version of herself. Perhaps my age, talking about the nice visit she just had with a fellow church members who waltzed into her room. That lovely visitor she had, well, she hasn’t been out of her bed or wheelchair in many years.
The worst though are the times when her head hangs low and she is too weary and tired to wake. I visit with her, read scripture, and pray no matter which world she is occupying that given day. Sometimes, she shifts between them within the span of a short visit.
I came back from youth camp early this year after getting a call from her daughter. Her daughters were heartbroken at the realization that their mother was entering the last days of her life. The days have stretched out into weeks. I think this is Fran being gracious and giving her daughters time they need to let go. That’s something she would totally do. Bless her beautiful heart.
I asked her if she was scared. She said, “No, I am not scared. I have had a good life, full of blessings. But sometimes I hear them talking in the hallway. I don’t like that. Tell me how your children are?”
I told her I would be keeping her in my prayers, praying for peace and for comfort. When I asked her what her prayers for herself were, or if there was anything I could add to my prayers for her, she said, “I pray I will accept every moment from here out, with grace.”
I cried and told her I was overwhelmed by the stunning beauty of her soul. I told her she had made quite an imprint on my own, that I was thankful for the gift of her, and that I loved her. She cried a tear too and echoed my words.
I could feel my heart expanding out of my body.
I have memorialized so many remarkable women in my time with this church. It hardly seems fair. We must have a double portion of fierce women.
And so, to the Boulder Pile I went.
There were three other hikers besides Leah. I hung in the back and was largely in my own head. Just being quiet, breathing, sighing, and moving along. Yes, a lot of sighing. With sighs too deep for words.
The walk to the pile was indeed easy and mellow.
I did take note that while the order of our line of hikers frequently changed, I stayed in the back. Not my usual place in the order of things. Typically out front is where you will find me. Taking charge. Leading the way. Blazing a path.
Not today. And it felt as comfortable as if it were normal.
Climbing the boulders was fun. Spotted some scat. Took photos to share with the boys. Because what young boy doesn’t love pictures of poop? Felt like a kid balancing from boulder to boulder.
We continued up towards the ridge on our loop back. On that loop we spied several freshly fallen trees. I stopped at the first one and said a prayer as the rest of the group chattered away a little ahead of me. “Wrap Fran in your Love, God. Carry her peacefully home to you.”
A little while further we passed another. A beautifully thick trunk, jaggedly snapped at about the height of a person. The rest of the tree lying there. Slowly it will become part of the earth. For now, you can still smell the life of the tree. It is lingering in the air. The inner wood is still bright.
The group was stopped, sharing sweets from Leah’s stash. I felt a magnetic pull to the tree. I carefully made my way up the loose earth incline to her, placed my hands on her bark, and breathed deeply. “Thank you, God, for the astounding beauty of her.”
Picked an atomic fireball out of Leah’s pack and laughed at the absurdly bad jokes Bonnie was telling. “You know there was tennis in the Bible? Cause it said Moses served in Pharoah’s court.”
On the walk back the air became eerily still. And then the rain started to gently fall. And it felt like the grief I was carrying was washed away.
The afternoon was all about rest. I had the most amazing massage. Every knot un-knotted. My whole body sighing with blessed release. The chapel was like a little warm slice of heaven I this chilly valley. Just before the massage there was an intense storm, lightening and hail. Hail!
After the massage I took a long nap. Excellent, deep sleep. When I woke, I heard something like thunder but not thunder. I sat up and went to the window. Three horses galloped by my window. I stepped onto the porch in time to see the rest of the herd of horses run by. Down the hill, toward the stables, then up towards fossil ridge. It was a frenzy. I have never seen anything like it in all my life.
I think it is what wild abandon looks like.