Sunday morning, August 7, 2016.
My dad died one year ago today. A whole year has gone by.
I’m sitting in Yellowstone park. My family is all in various stages of rest in the tent. I got up to use the bathroom and then decided to sit by myself for a bit, here, half in/half out of the van. It’s chilly at the moment, but should warm soon into a comfortable day.
I have a little fossil with me. It’s a piece of orthoceras a little larger than a quarter. I saw it at Wall Drug while we were passing through South Dakota a few days ago and it made me laugh because my dad had a large sample of such a fossil that he picked up at a gem fair and he always referred to it as “Mennonites in Stone.” So that’s what I think of them as. I have a little Mennonite in Stone here in my lap. I’ll keep it with me in my pocket today.
Was dad ever in Yellowstone? I don’t remember. I think so, as a young man. It’s another thing on the list of many that I can’t ask him anymore.
That’s the lingering awful part of death. It sounds obvious that death is about finality and things ending, but you don’t realize how many things are over until it happens. Small things, mostly bits of information that you never thought to seek when there was a chance, just disappear and become mysteries.
I know my dad was in the Badlands where we are headed next. I know once upon a time he visited the Petrified Forest in Arizona, because he told me a story of his having found the most beautiful chip of stone there he had ever seen, and he buried it. He laughed when he told me, because he said he didn’t know why his instinct was to bury that little chip of pertrified wood, but considering how much of it is gone due to people taking such things home, I’m glad he did. I like to think it’s still there and has survived all these years of tourists. I like to think I may find it myself one day and bury it again.
Yesterday we stopped at the Petrified Tree in Yellowstone. We were all really tired after so many days of travel and exploring, and the kids were not interested gathering enough energy to make the climb, so Ian went alone. I was also tired and I’d seen it before, so I also waited in the car. But the Petrified Tree at Yellowstone makes me sad. There used to be two, and one of them was completely chipped away by tourists, and the remaining redwood—which survived for so many millions of years—was severely picked at before someone thought to fence it off.
Time and life are like that—progressing on whether you are ready or not. You can’t always stop the chipping away until there is nothing left. Sometimes, though, you can bury a small chip and protect that for a while.
I miss you dad.