Years ago while in college my son took part in a research project with a professor who was studying a certain warbler. The food the warbler eats had been identified and there was a place in the mountains near Cataloochee that had that food. The place at that time was a privately owned parcel of land that was reverting to the national park as a gift from a private source. The place is called Purchase Knob.
My son took me there while he was involved in the study. We drove up a winding road and through a gate that he had to unlock. The air was cool with that filtered light that comes from the sun easing it’s way through fog that is being vaporized in the heat. There were Christmas trees that had been planted and up by the house which is now used as a research station the yard that had been planted looked like it had been roughly plowed.
“Wild boar.” he explained to me. Apparently the attempt to landscape with bulbs and flowers had tempted the wild boar in to feast on the exotic morsels of vegetation. They had rooted and dug until the domestication of this “yard” on a mountain top was thwarted. Irony is that the wild boar were imported too originally.
We hiked up a road that wandered through fir trees that would probably not be harvested for Christmas. The trees already reached high above our head. You could hear birds calling to each other. Their conversations were beautiful but not translatable to me. My son had studied the bird songs so he could identify the one bird species he was supposed to be counting.
A weekend ago my husband and I attended a wedding at this place, now part of the national park. There is a cabin there. I remembered taking a photo of it when I was there with my son. We walked a grassy trail to the cabin where little white tents waited for those attending the wedding. Right after we arrived and found a seat the sky broke open and the rain came. It rained for an hour. The thunder boomed and we cowered under the tents. Some stood holding the edge of the tents to keep the water from collapsing them. The bride arrived slightly dampened as the rain abated. The photographer looked like he needed to be wrung out.
A number of young people, now in their early 30’s were there. All had known my son and most for a number of years. I had baked cookies and provided snowsuits on winter snow days for some of them, baked potatoes and stewed chili while they played paintball on the mountainside above our house. We had gone to court together when they blew up the port-o-john. And now here we were celebrating a milestone of yet another kind. One is expecting his first child, one had his new born son with him. I got to hold the baby at the reception. One is finishing his medical residency.
During the ceremony they named those who were not there-those who were departed. My son’s name was read.
Later at the reception a photo was taken of this group of young people who had know each other collectively for over 22 years. I watched their faces. There was a framed photo of the port-o-john they had blown up years ago. Signatures of those who were involved scrawled over the photo as autographs. I searched in vain for my son’s name.
The bride pulled me aside. “I have to tell you,” she said, “your son brought me to the cabin years ago while he was working on the bird study. He had seen the cabin and told me that he thought it was connected to my family. It turned out he was right. Had it not been for him I would not have known about the place.”
The wedding took place 10 days after the 3rd anniversary of our son’s death. Perhaps she chose July partly for that reason. I could not thank her just then for sharing the information she did concerning the cabin, for mentioning my son.
I know they have connections with him that I do not have, memories that I do not share with them that are unique to their relationship with him. It helps to know that he lives on in their memory too.
I am always left wanting more.
We are always left wanting more when the sweetness begins to fade.