I had big plans, but life has a way of happening. And so, I have been back with family in Montana again.
My uncle, a larger-than-life Western rancher and outfitter, died last week. Born in 1928, when life on the range was pretty rough, he lived a long and colorful life. He was my father's only sibling, and I grew up next door to his family--which meant a mile down the road. If you have ever wondered how the protagonists of tall tales or epic hero cycles could be inspired, then you've never known someone like my uncle. This was man whose sneezes could be heard a half mile distant, a man who slept as he burned down half his house, who could drive up any mountain, and ride his horse through any stream. He seemed fearless and his risk-taking led to so many totaled cars, motorcycles, trucks, 4-wheelers and cars that not even Lloyds of London wanted to insure him. Once when my Dad was preparing to make an emergency crash landing in a Piper Cub airplane that was choking up and losing air and altitude, my uncle climbed out the plane's door, opened the hood and hacked ice off the carburetors with a screwdriver while hanging from an overhead wing. Its a bit hard to imagine those two resting in peace. . .
My cousin made this spray for the casket, and when I saw it, it was so perfect It brought tears to my eyes. Because the other side of my uncle was a nature-loving cowboy, an extremely social man who always had a witty retort or a well-worded dinner blessing.
I do get a bit antsy waiting for things to happen when I don't have any projects, so my sister and I drove up in the mountains to collect greenery. Here we are at the Judith Game Range (with a mitten/camera prop in the foreground).
We found about 5 different kinds of evergreens (mostly from the stumps of trees that other people had cut) some grasses and berries and even a nest and made a giant wreath for my brother's grave. (Except it's not a grave, just a spot next my Dad's grave where we sprinkled some ashes.) This was all wired to a big circle of old, heavy barbed wire so it won't blow away.
And since this is in a community cemetery on land donated by the adjacent landowners, there are no rules about what we can put there. It felt good to do this. I know this is sort of a strange idea, but the reclaiming of rituals of mourning from commercialization might be one of the most powerful things the do-it-yourself movement can do.
My uncle had a multitude of injuries and Parkinson's disease, which made walking difficult, yet he insisted on getting out and doing things as long as possible. About a year ago, he backed his 4-wheeler off a bridge (that he and my dad built) fell in the river and had to be pulled out. He was cold and rattled, the 4-wheeler was further bent and he lost his glasses, but he had survived--again ! I thought that might be the real end of his driving days, but when I was out last spring I saw that he was still speeding down to get the mail.
I'm going to miss him, but I'm not going to forget that spirit.