Going to the Mountains

Part One

It’s a Saturday in late December of 2013. My father is spending the last few hours of his life in bed, finally conceding to the cancer he’s fought for over five years.

I nervously cook breakfast for folks that have begun to gather in the living room. Jungle eggs, as my family calls them, are a dish for big, joyful gatherings. This is not that, and I can’t be sure why I’m filling the house with food smells on a day the old man can’t eat, but I also don’t stop. Food is comfort.

Dad shares a few bittersweet laughs with friends on his little flip phone. The time between calls grows. Eventually the ringing stops.

A warm midday sun shines into the bedroom. We close the blinds a little so Dad can see the tv. He’s been thrilled since “Outside Television” became available and he can live his aspirations through the adventures of others.

The first thing cancer took from my dad was running. The pain, from disease and treatment alike, made jogging uncomfortable and speed impossible. Speed was everything.

Next to go was climbing, and any thoughts of summiting the Cascade peaks he loved so dearly.

My dad would find cycling, though, and fall in love… Working part time in a local shop and even biking across the country (mostly solo, after a blowout with his companions somewhere along the Northern Tier).

On this sunny Saturday in late December, “Outside Television” is broadcasting dramatic flyovers of jagged, snowy peaks. None of us really follow the programs. We just know the backdrop is offering Dad some ease. Mountains are comfort.

It is time for him to go. I shut the blinds.

Just three of us now and the muted television. Gliding, aerial alpine scenes from somewhere, as if transmitted live by bird. My father closes his eyes and squeezes my hand tightly. A faded Kodachrome print. I’m two years old, sitting on Dad’s lap while he grips the swing set chain with one arm and me with the other.

I speak quietly to the room, hoping he catches my words rising on the air.

“Go to the mountains, Dad.”

Part Two

It’s a gray afternoon in February, a little over a month later. The forecast calls for snow, but that seems increasingly unlikely. It never snows in Tacoma.

My father’s celebration of life is drawing to a close. There has been some discussion about how much booze should be available. After all, alcohol was the source of so much pain to those in Dad’s orbit. My brother and I brought a bunch anyway, because beer is comfort.

I step nervously to the podium, photos from the old man’s adventures projected behind, and begin to read from a folded piece of notebook paper. The speech-writing process was fraught with anxiety, but I did find a quote to hold the thing together. So, I close with these words from Muir:

“Going to the mountains is going home.”

Back at our house, music from Dad’s playlist blaring loudly, snow begins to fall. We step into the dark, catch flakes with our tongues, and point to the sky. We build snowmen and give them beer box hats.

And we know who blew this snow down from the mountains.

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