Have you ever been to a place that reminds you of someone you lost? You could be reminded by the way a place smells, or by the way the sky meets the horizon at the end of a hot summer day. Maybe they drifted away from you for whatever reason in the game we play called life. Or maybe it’s because they died.
My husband and I took a road trip with our fifth wheel back in May of 2022. We traveled throughout Utah for three weeks, visiting Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef. During this span of time, with sketchy internet and very little radio signal, I had time to reflect upon the last three years since my dad died without warning. He was just suddenly gone, leaving my mom, brother and I in a state of shock that lasted for much longer than we expected.
My dad loved the outdoors. It fed his spirit. Because he was a firefighter and paramedic for the city, he would have two or three days off at a time in between shifts. During these days off he would often be hunting, fly fishing, or even training for marathons but fly fishing was his biggest passion. Despite all of this time away embarking on adventures, he still provided a comfortable and even ideal middle class life for us. We really did have a blessed childhood, and I’m grateful for everything he and my mom provided for us. In fact, lately I’ve been wishing I could return to those days of freely running and playing outside all day before being called inside for dinner. By the way, I must have gotten my love of running from my dad.
Utah was stunning, sometimes bare and indifferent, and even a little unnerving with its miles of uninhabited earth. It almost felt like a strange planet in some areas. So, despite our love for this unearthly place south of our Washington State home, I was relieved to see the lush green of pine trees as we entered deep into Montana. On that night, we spontaneously camped in a place called Beaver Tail Hill State Park. Our campsite was right on the Clark Fork river and I realized that this was a river my dad loved to fish.
As I stood there observing the flowing river, I could see why he loved it so much. There’s something about the way the water skimmed over the rocks, the light as it illuminated the trees, the way the water wound its way around all of the obstacles in an effortless fashion and carved its own path. My dad was like the river. He was so adaptable. His life experiences etched themselves in him. As a fire fighter and later a paramedic, he went on calls that ranged from tragic to downright funny and those experiences were often shared around the dinner table as my brother and I were growing up. He was a pragmatic man, so somehow he found a way to live beautifully around those experiences no matter how heart breaking they were.
It doesn’t matter whether someone leaves this world and our lives slowly or whether they leave us suddenly, there will always be those moments when you’re blindsided with the deep and wistful longing that comes with grief. As I stood on the rocky shore I could see my dad so clearly in my mind’s eye standing in the water, with his fly rod artfully floating back and forth. Everywhere I looked I felt his presence surrounding me and I allowed the tears to fall. This beautiful place suddenly became my favorite part of the entire trip, and if you’ve ever hiked the Narrows in Zion, that’s saying a lot.
People will ask me “What were you thinking when you painted that?” I envisioned my dad fishing for eternity as he waits for his family to join him. I suspect that he’s set out a chair for all of us and is keeping the beer cold. This story is one example of why I paint. I want to capture a dream, a vision, and a deep connection. I want to help people see those visions and I hope they can also feel inspired to dream as well. Cheers Dad.