The North Cascade mountains of Washington state are a testament to the juxtaposition of life and death. They normalize the presence of death, the surprise of death, and the essential nature of death.
Like many people who have lost a loved one “before their time”, I must constantly work to make peace with my son’s death at age 33. For me that takes the form of an inner convincing that Brian might not have lived as long as any of us would have liked, but he did live a full life.
Camping on the Suiattle River drainage and hiking into the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area every day during a week of late summer weather and five days alone, I found myself in wildly rugged terrain with roaring creeks, dense underbrush, and towering giants. These giants have names like western red cedar, western hemlock, and Douglas fir. They reach hundreds of feet high and are so massive that it can take 8-10 people with outstretched arms to encircle their trunks.
Day after day, step after step, I walked trails like Sulphur Creek or Downey Creek. These forests are cathedrals of dappled sunlight, musical creeks, and extraordinary silence. And they are full of life’s lessons.
A huge wind storm can randomly knock down one of these giants—seemingly in its prime. Gravity on these steep slopes is relentless and carries the tree to an uneasy resting place. New seedlings spring up to seek the light created by the new opening. The tree itself becomes a nurse log that decays and provides sustenance for the next generation.
Over and over and over again this lesson presented itself to me. Life and death live side by side. This is normal. Death is often a surprise—a sudden wind, a landslide. And without death there could not be new life.
Because I was hiking and camping alone, there were few words to distract me from my immersion into these truths. A carpet of young Douglas fir seedlings rising up next to a fallen giant, reminded me of the fine young men and women who have received the paramedic scholarship we established in Brian’s name in 2014.
My tears bubbled up as naturally as the creeks and springs the Cascades are named for. I don’t have words, really, for the stunning nature of healing I received last month on my pilgrimage to the forests of my homeland. I just know that I have a better “long view” perspective and Brian’s spirit rests more easily now in my heart.