Hello, Wolf River. Wild and Scenic River. River of my name. River that winds through each page of my life.
My story with you runs deep. Deeper than the water in the Hole. (It's so deep and tannic there I've never touched bottom and I never will. Thought if I was brave enough I know I could. I've always know I could. But I can't.)
I remember floating handmade boats along your shore. I remember catching crayfish with fishing line and venison sausage, me in pigtails and bib overalls and bare feet. Me. A kid. You, where I came so may weekends. This place is our Cabin. Built by my Grandpa Les and my great-grandpa Emil. Next-door to my grandparents house (back then). Where we had Christmas and Thanksgiving and summer vacation and weekends and deer camp. The River. Family. This place.
I remember spin-fishing from the dock and learning to cast a bamboo rod in the yard at my grandparents house, a mere feet from the Cabin I visit today with my kids. I remember standing on the other side of your noisy rapids, my grandmother on this side in her blue mumu/nightgown, also barefoot, waving at me in the morning light. My folks owned a lot across the river where we'd camp and always our eyes were on the dock, waiting from Grandma to appear.
I remember falling into your icy water as a child, splashing headlong into the biting early-winter current. An innocent, curious leaning forward and SPLASH! Baptism. Hello, Wolf River. I remember my Dad's strong arms reaching down to pull me out, then walking across the snow to the house. I remember that he didn't laugh. He put his arm around my wet shoulder while I cried from the painful cold, so grateful that I was safe.
I remember countless inner-tube rides. From the bridge. Or the woods. Or just up river at the neighbor's dock. Hundreds of trips down these magical waters. Child. Pre-teen. Teen. Adult. I remember. Wolf. River. I will always remember.
I remember swimming in your shallows as a child and skinny dipping in your depths as an adolecent. I remember falling in love with the man I was to marry, and at the same time weeping at the knowledge that my grandmother was dying. Right here. Beside your water.
And then, that she was gone.
I remember Pete on one knee in the tall grasses along your banks. We were both in chest waders, fly fishing. We'd been watching a flock of mergansers navigate your rapids. I was so enthralled with them that I leaned too far forward, hiding behind a rock, and my waters filled with your startlingly cold water. No fear of death like 20 years previously, but the shock of the cold upon my skin once more. Two years later we married beneath the riverside hemlocks and changed our name to yours. There was a hummingbird that came to sip the nectar of our foraged lilacs deep in the woods that day. Maybe it was Grandma Lee, the hummingbird lover, come to watch the magic of our day. I think so.
It took us years to be ready to spread Grandma's ashes. More than a decade until my mom could finish her goodbyes. But when it was time I dug into her urn with my bare hands and brought up great hand-fulls of ash to carry to the water. Those ashes were not her, but yet somehow they were. I remember sprinkling Grandma Lee's ashes here in shallows and wading out into the deeper water. I watched my parents do the same. In the river that so represented her life, her joy, and her dreams we said goodbye. And later that day when Lupine and I played in the river we stepped on the grey silt that lay over the rocks beneath the water knowing that my daughter's feet were on the bones of my grandma. Literally. And figuratively. And being okay with that. Because we live. We love. We inspire. (And in the case of my Grandma and me, we knit and we sew.) And then we die. And it's normal. It's okay to die. And in truth, I liked seeing her ashes there in the Wolf River and feeling that silty water beneath my toes. Because she is part of the ground beneath my feet. And here she was, sifting on through the place she most loved.
This week, spent here at the Cabin, most of my time was spent with knitting in hand. Three projects in the works. Two on needles that came from the house just a few feet up river. My grandma's needles. I can still smell her sewing room when I picture it in my mind. And as I sat with my back to the fire – the stone fireplace that my grandpa built – I wondered – did she sit here, knitting on these same needles? We've perched on this slab of concrete, crafting a life, one stitch at a time.
Tonight we're back home. My kids are asleep. Each of them holds in their arms a blanket knit by my grandma as they sleep. And who knows? Maybe she knit some of it perched right there on that hearth. If not she knit it next door, looking out on the river, stitch after stich after stitch.
And tomorrow when we venture out into the cold they'll wear scarves and cowls knit by me, and mittens and hats knitted my my grandma. Because even now, after decades, she still keeps us warm.
And so we come here. Season after season, generation after generation. To the cabin build by my grandpa and my great-grandfather, alongside the river who's name we've taken as our own. We don't live here, but this is Home. In a grander way than any place we've ever lived. This. Is. Home.