Yesterday was a fabulous day for me—my fifty-fifth birthday. Double fives. My husband took me to the beach, where we spent at least 30 minutes playing with a little sea lion who was splashing about five feet out in the water. She seemed as charmed by us as we were by her.
But birthdays have not been the same for me for the past two years. Two years ago on my birthday, my father lay in his deathbed as Scott and I, out of cellphone range and oblivious to his condition, explored Red Rock Canyon in Nevada. Two years ago today, he died. He was 89 years old, and in so many ways, he was my hero.
Because of my father, I became the nature lover, nature worshipper—I am today. Sounds funny to say that, because my father was a Christian minister for more than sixty years. A devoted Christian, although not one of those “you must be born again” types. He was respectful of my decidedly non-Christian, shamanistic belief system—and I was respectful of his beliefs.
How did my Christian father turn me into someone who sees God/dess in the trees, the desert, the mountains, the sea? I think the best way to answer that question is with an excerpt from my book, Observations of an Earth Mage, an excerpt that became my eulogy honoring my father when he died.
Epilogue: a Eulogy for My Father:
When I was a child, my family did not travel to exotic lands or travel by air or ship when we vacationed. Rather for several weeks every summer, my parents would haul us all over the country in a dusty green Ford station wagon, loaded down with four kids, sleeping bags, a tent, various tarps, an axe, a canvas army surplus hammock that smelled like our basement, and a box of widgets and grommets whose function was known only to my father.
We traveled east, to Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks. We splashed in the Atlantic Ocean at Rehobeth Beach and explored earth’s hidden wonders at Caverns of Luray and Mammoth Cave.
We traveled north, to the upper peninsula of Michigan, where we picked up agates on Lake Superior and, once, watched a gray wolf strut purposefully across the road in the middle of an ancient pine forest.
We traveled west, where we stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon and looked down, and at the base of the Great White Throne in Zion National Park and looked up, at some of nature’s most magnificent wonders. We watched herds of elk graze peacefully in the Rockies, and a grizzly bear discover a used disposable diaper is not something good to eat in a picnic ground at Yellowstone.
My dad planned these incredible adventures without the aid of Google, Mapquest, or a GPS system. Only when I became an adult myself did I realize what a complicated and ambitious undertaking planning these trips must have been for him. Yet he did it year after year, decade after decade, because he wanted his children to see the world and experience all the glories Mother Nature has to offer.Dad was blessed not only with a sense of wanderlust, the urge to roam, but also a sense of wonderlust, that driving urge that makes a person constantly ask, “I wonder what’s over there/down that road/under that rock/around the bend?” And this urge, this wonderlust, was his biggest gift to me.
I moved across the country last year*, far away from family and friends in the Midwest. When I missed my dad, I would head outdoors to a place of exquisite beauty and wonder, and think about the grand adventures he took us on each summer. I’d recall my family singing hiking songs like We’re on the Upward Trail and The Happy Wanderer in six-part disharmony, and I would break out in song, a solo voice where once there were many. Yet even while I would sing alone, I would hear my dad’s booming bass and my mom’s sweet soprano singing along, as well as the voices of my siblings. The songs live on.
I learned of my father’s death while I was in Nevada doing research for this book. My husband drove me out to Red Rock Canyon the following morning. While this was not one of the places my family visited when I was growing up, it is a place of exquisite, stark desert beauty. Dad would have loved Red Rock. In the wee morning hours the day after his death, I walked, alone, into the desert, among the creosote and Joshua trees, and said goodbye to my dad. I thanked him for instilling in me my deep reverence for nature, my appreciation for bears and hawks and wolves, and also for bumblebees and earthworms and beetles, creatures that are perhaps less glamorous but yet are no less precious to the Creator. I thanked him for gifting me with wanderlust, and wonderlust, and the realization that a night spent sleeping under the stars high atop a mountain is a sacred experience. My dad was an amazing preacher, but his best lessons didn’t come from the pulpit. They came from those fabulous trips in our dusty old Ford station wagon.
* * *
I wish my dad could have been with Scott and me at the beach yesterday, playing with that beautiful little sea lion. I wish he could see my, happily married at last to my soul mate; how responsible and handsome my son Steven has become as a young man about to start a family of his own; how beautiful and smart and talented his granddaughter Robin has become. I wish my dad were here, beside me.
Dad, not a day goes by where I am not grateful to you for instilling in me the value system I honor today. I miss you.
*three years ago, now.