I touched your star today. Not light seen off our deck back home. To the left a bit. East, shining on clear nights. Near moon. Clouds floating by. Glow steady since second night without you. Night after night, light there with me. Staring off into an unknown world. Brightness constant. Unwavering. Abiding. A planet, perhaps.
Remember last year here. At this trailhead. One thousand five hundred eighteen miles from home. Discovering memorial idea on bulletin board. One making sense to our life together. Sons grumbling agreement, “Just no recycled, milk-bottle bench with a plaque, Mom.”
Fill out form. Speak weekly with park ranger. Over phone. Via email. Each time forgetting to send money. Misplacing task in jumbled mind. Procrastinating. Until months later he says, “There are only stars left,”
“Perfect,” I say.
This year memorial mosaic greets me at same trailhead. Before entering the Sutherland. On Sabbath sojourn. Alone. Find you shining between strangers. Press fingertips against words spelling your name. Feel warm, glossy surface. Discover smooth terra-cotta edges. See stars falling in Milky Way heading for moon.
Leave you in good company. Walk well-worn path. Rushing spring stream forcing boots off. Wading through shocking coolness in day’s high heat. Toes gripping sand. Eyes following flow. Joined in water’s joy by children, dogs, and chuckling grandfathers. Told, “keep your boots off. You’ll just be taking them off again in a bit.”
Heed advice as yearly visitor here. Continue barefooted. Sand wedging up between toes, tickling feet, linking heart to earth. Walk like girl I once was. Befriending old oaks in Illinois forest. Singing with gurgling, muddy stream pulled toward great river. Losing self in jack in the pulpits, violets, fallen oak leaves, smells of loam and humus. Mud caking shoes. Burrs joining jacket. Landing in hair.
Today climb up and up in bare feet. Sand clinging to sweat and sunscreen. Until official trail ends with signed notice. Walk on. Emboldened. Curious. As foothills meld into mountain. Remember field of poppies worth visiting. Retreat. Wade through stream. Rolled pant legs meeting splashing water.
Scramble up another foothill. Wet, leaping legs collecting desert. Bare feet screaming in delight. Twirling at crest. Meeting saguaro at each turn. Land stretching out limbs in all directions.
Skip down. On right, take small path. Land in field of poppies. Yellow, mustard gold illuminating desert. Find another rocky, crusty path up. Climb knowing you are here. Not just on ceramic star. But here in this place we hiked every year. For twenty years. With my mother and cousins. As a couple. With our sons. First as babies on your back. Then as little ones dwarfed by towering cactuses reaching for our hands. Toward boys emerging from snow’s melting stream, soaking and hungry. Into grumbling teenagers plodding on path. Taking refuge in phones.
Flashes of halted hike on distant foothill years ago. Cell phone reception weaving in and out. Except for one spot on hill’s top. You, pressing phone to ear. Me, knowing. Walking family on to stream. Giving sons something to do. While you worked. Saving one man from taking his own life one thousand miles away. Memory silencing me. Except for stream within. Coursing with small bits of stress. Cortisol reminding me of that day’s fear.
Shudder. Turn back. Join strangers on their own journey. Cross stream allowing water to make room for me seven, eight times total. Until sit on bench. Across from your star. Watch people stop. Find names. Take photos. Approach as others leave. Just me and your star. Touch creamy smoothness again. Still warm like you once were. Feel surrounding surface. Grainy like sand underneath feet. Star near moon like home. People passing like clouds. You, steady in your burn. Movement implied. Toward moon. Toward me.
Return your gazing bright. Catch star in heart. Wonder about your floating atoms bubbling with embrace, fire, and eternity. Remember poet’s words,”…choose something like a star…”
Leave park. Carrying you in my heart. Your brightness glowing not out there in hemisphere. Within. Your star never once beyond my reach. At infinite distance. Even though my hand extends for yours daily. “You’ll always be in my heart,” you told us so many times. But it is us who must find you in our hearts “to stay our minds on and be staid.”
At my mother’s house, find our sons laughing together. Parked at dining room table with laptops and notebooks. Discover mom reading in family room. Greeting me by wondering what we should make for dinner. Trip on piled seminary books falling off chair in guest room. Spill water on current assignment. Sigh with air saved from desert visit. Close eyes for a moment. See me twirling again. Spreading sand everywhere. Meeting love at each turn. Life stretching out limbs in all directions. I touched your star today, my love. And found my face lit with more smiles than tears.
Mosaic in Catalina State Park, Oro Valley, Arizona.
Quote from the poem, Choose Something Like a Star by Robert Frost