Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Imogene Pass

It was 27 years ago that I saw her see God. Twenty-four years since her mother Anna brought her ashes up here and spread them in this alpine meadow. It was now August and it had been 22 years since I'd been here to visit the bronze marker her mother had set at the foot of this boulder at 11,600 feet.

Before she died at age 21, Michelle took time to write down her wishes. She didn't want to be buried. Her daddy's horses needed the land to graze. She wanted to be cremated. She wanted to rise with her smoke back to her God. She didn't care what they did with her ashes, but she wrote, "A field of wildflowers near Ouray, Colorado is a wonderful memory for me."

I'd been here once, when I was younger. Now I was bringing Lauren and Jill to show them this place. We trekked up narrow mining roads that hugged mountain walls so tightly they'd make a mountain goat pucker. From the west, we approached the Imogene Pass, second highest in the state, on trails made more treacherous by fog and snow and hail.

We crested the pass and started down the north face of the mountain. Rain continued. So we'd have a rainy visit. That's okay. We drove down the mountain toward Michelle's meadow. "Drove" may be the wrong word. We slipped and slid down a muddy track of loose rock, and walked the Jeep wheel-by-wheel over outcroppings and past tall snow banks, all while using the lowest of the 4WD gears our rented Rubicon had to offer. We were a controlled avalanche.

As we entered the meadow, a thing happened. The rain stopped. The sky cleared. The sun showed its face. It felt like we'd been expected, like we were being welcomed.

I know, I know. High mountain weather can change rapidly and unexpectedly. I'm just telling you what happened.

The boulder and Michelle's marker sat 20 yards east of the trail. Jill and Lauren hung back, giving me some time alone to say hello. As I climbed the gentle slope toward the boulder, my hunter's eye caught it. A trail, barely noticeable. A broken stalk. A trampled leaf. A heel print. People have been here. Someone knows about this place. She's not been alone.

I found her marker, same place it had been 22 years ago. The bronze was clean. Not overgrown. Tended. My eyes went to her image, raised in bronze, looking back over her shoulder
and smiling. A simple epigraph read: "Just let me be remembered."

A wave washed through me as unexpectedly as a change in mountain weather. It wasn't grief. I don't know that it was necessarily loss. I don't know what it was, other than to say it was beyond all that. I sobbed.

When the wave passed, I wiped my face and turned to the girls. They were waiting together, mother and daughter, and I waved them up. They'd both heard me tell the stories about who this person was and what had happened. How I'd started to meditate and visualize healing light flowing toward Michelle, and the odd changes in consciousness that followed.

I'd been in Michelle's room with her a few days before she died. I stood witness as she awoke and became lucid, her eyes coming to focus intently on a point above and behind me. Her face opened to a smile and then blossomed to an expression of ecstasy. I turned to look where she was looking, but could not see what she was seeing. In the moment it occurred to me: 

This girl is seeing God. 

If not God, then an angel proclaiming, "Fear not, child." At the least, she was seeing a host of grandparents or ancestors or friends, with love, ready to welcome her home.

Jill and Lauren had heard these stories, so they had few questions now. We each took a station and sat for a while,
without talking. Deep in a mountain basin at 11,600 feet, the sounds around us were simple and few. The wind. A distant raven. Bees visiting the Indian paintbrush and larkspur and columbine.

When we did speak, a curious thing happened. The wind picked up, and whipped hard. We stopped talking and the wind died down. I know, I know. . . the unpredictability of high mountain weather. It happened three times.

The three of us stood and each went into the meadow to pick a handful of wildflowers to put on her marker. I looked at
Jill as she gathered and thought how she was the same age as Michelle would have been now.

Anna had asked me to look near Michelle's boulder for a block of wood with the letter "V" scratched into it. On one of their trips to the meadow, she and Harry had met two other travelers. Anna told them the story and showed them the bronze marker. The woman was enchanted by this, and said if she were to die, she would want her ashes spread here with Michelle's. They all traded addresses and went on their ways.

Not long after, the woman became sick. She passed away. As she wished, her husband brought her ashes to this meadow in the Imogene Basin and spread them to the north of Michelle's boulder. Without any marker for her, he retrieved a scrap of wooden plank from an abandoned mining camp nearby. He scratched a "V" in the wood for his wife's name: Vivian.

"If you have a knife when you go," Anna said, "maybe you could give it a couple extra scratches. . .  to make it last a little longer."

I found Vivian's block of wood. I took out my folding knife and commenced to chopping. I made that "V" as deep as I could with 10 minutes of hacking. I laid some Indian
paintbrush on either side, took a picture and sent it to Anna. I wrote, "If you're still in touch with Vivian's husband, can you send him this picture? I hope he can take some comfort in knowing that today, Vivian was being remembered."

It came time to leave this meadow and continue down the mountain. Jill and Lauren waited by the Jeep while I said goodbye for now. A hummingbird flitted from flower to flower. She hovered, seemed to regard me for a moment, and then darted away.

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