The Healing Power of Ceremony

October and November are important months for our small family. We honor the passage dates of each of our four parents and our son, Brian. All five of their lives were well-lived. Our four parents lived to honorably old ages. Brian died at 33 as the result of a line of duty accident as a paramedic captain. We take time to mark each of these passages in some way.

Part of our kitchen counter this fall was dedicated to remembering our ancestors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is Brian’s passage that we annually honor by taking an entire day to immerse ourselves in nature. Our choice of where to go and what to do is often spontaneous. This year our choice was prescient. We decided to spend our day walking the sandy beach created by the sediment being washed down from the Olympic Mountain National Park’s Elwha River into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Mouth of the Elwha River, WA before (left) and after (right) dam removal. The sediments are rich in nutrients. Photo from Olympic National Park website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outside of the Puget Sound region, the Elwha River is hardly known, but it is famous for being the site of the world’s largest dam removal project. For a hundred years two dams stopped the Elwha from flowing freely from the finger glacier on the east side of the Olympic National Park into the sea. The dams were used for electricity production. These dams, of course, prevented salmon from migrating from the sea back up to the pristine headwaters in the national park. However, by the early 21st century the amount of electricity produced was minimal and stakeholders from the Lower Elwha Tribe to politicians to environmentalists and businessmen began long and involved conversations about removing the two dams.

The removal of the dams took two years of careful engineering and deconstruction. Photo from Olympic National Park website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2012 the project was launched and by 2014 the dams were removed. Some thought it would take years to see if the original salmon stock would migrate upriver. It began happening within two months! The river is being extensively studied by scientists. They are using research methods from snorkel surveys to radio telemetry to sonar imagery to seining to discover which salmon runs are being restored, how fertile the sediments are at the river mouth, and how other species are being affected. Much data remains to be collected, but already the results are stunning for many species, not just salmon.

Fisheries biologists sample the Elwha for salmon. Photo from Olympic National Park website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so, we took our grief at losing Brian to the great river and its new and ever-changing delta. We walked. We talked. We stopped to self-design a ceremony of remembrance by creating a circle of  beach treasures and scattering some of his ashes around the edge. The stories flowed easily and freely. Brian was such a presence. The stories of both his heroics and his deep devotion to family just pour forth when his name is mentioned.

Brian in his beloved jeep. Photo by Cousin Molly Hilgenberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In ways we could not anticipate or even totally articulate, we felt restored and renewed by our meandering walk and spontaneous ceremony. The ecosystem around us was being slowly restored and renewed, as are we. The Elwha and its great salmon runs is resilient, as are we. Brian would have it no other way.

Ann gazing at the Straits of Juan de Fuca attended by her little corgi. Photo by Christina Baldwin

 

Ceremonial circle of beach items and some of Brian’s ashes

25 replies
  1. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    Thank you Ann for sharing your heartfelt walk by the Elwha. When in nature — that is, when FEELING and not merely thinking “about” nature — we receive the clear energy of divine manifestation unfiltered by human mentation. Nature can easily take us where tools like meditation can also lead. Thank you for sharing yours and Chrstna’s “open-eye meditation.” My guess is that you are famliar with Amercan Rivers, the nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring the health of our rivers. Muffy and I are long-time supporters of American Rivers. They have been working closely with governmental and other groups on water quality and dam removal in the Pacific NW for 20 years.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thank you, Glenn. I am familiar with American Rivers, another fine organization working to keep the water lifeblood of our planet alive and healthy.

      Reply
  2. Jeanne Petrick
    Jeanne Petrick says:

    Thanks, Ann, for sharing this profound ceremony story yours and Christina’s Life is about all that you brought up, isn’t it – remembrance, loss, hope, healing, appreciation, nature and circle to mark it. Your message brought silence to my soul and brought up the ever present need to go and pay a visit to the land and water with appreciation and nourishment. I am sure Brian would’ve wanted to be with you in person sharing that spot, and I am sure he was with you there in spirit. Beautiful family altar!

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thank you, Dot. Yes, the salmon are our iconic species in the northwest. If a river carries salmon, it is a healthy river and so is the ecosystem around it.

      Reply
  3. Anne Stine
    Anne Stine says:

    a bow of appreciation and connecting heart to heart, dear friend. I know Brian’s legacy lives on in so many ways… thinking of you during this season of remembrance.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Both of us were lucky. He came half way around the world to enhance so many of our lives. And I will always miss his physical presence.

      Reply
  4. Diane Tilstra
    Diane Tilstra says:

    I am sitting in sacred space tonight after reading about your beautiful ceremony. I’m really drawn to ceremony these days. I’m working with a wonderful young man to design an art installation at Wright Park Conservatory around the beautiful Roosevelt Tree to commemorate all those lost to Covid 19. It is a memorial to compassion, love and healing. He is hanging a lighted Chrysalis and we will install light jars around the base of the tree. We are inviting the public to do the same and hang stars in their windows too. I know that this giant maple tree planted in the 1930’s during a visit by Roosevelt will be a monument to healing our community from the unrest, fear and sorrow. Thank you for teaching me about the land and ceremony. I send you my deep gratitude.

    Reply
  5. Laura Collins
    Laura Collins says:

    Thank you for sharing with us. I only knew Brian from reading Deep Water Passage, and from hearing you mention him at other times. He was, and is, a bright spirit. Hugs to you my friend.

    Reply
  6. Cynthia Trowbridge
    Cynthia Trowbridge says:

    We backpacked that area with our children 30 years ago when they were 4 and 6. It was much different this October when David and I revisited the free flowing river. A perfect choice for a ceremony to honor your beloved son and his unceasing presence in your lives.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thank you, Cynthia. Yes, it has been a magical area always for those of us who love nature. And now we are able to know its great power of resilience and recovery.

      Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      In the witnessing is part of the healing. Keeping the stories of loved ones alive insures that their memories remain part of our history. Bless you, Ann

      Reply

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