On the morning of March 11, just three days before my Sense of Place lecture, I received a text from Pauline Terbasket, leader of the Okanagan Nation Alliance in British Columbia. It started out by saying she would not be able to make the event. I stopped reading and felt my chin drop to my chest in despair. Pauline is an eloquent, passionate First Nation leader, and she was going to blow people away with her thoughts about the Columbia River Treaty.
I took a deep breath, and calmly told myself all will come together. I picked up my phone and continued reading the rest of her text. She went on to explain that an unexpected death in the family had occurred, a young mother with three children. In her time of grief, she was gracious and thanked me for the invitation to “be part of an amazing journey of life by sharing perspectives that foster positive social change regarding our beautiful lands, beautiful people and sacred waters.”
My selfish lament disappeared. I immediately drove east and hiked to a little-known vision quest site, lit some sage, and prayed for Pauline and her family. I texted her a photo with a note of condolence. Her reply was simple. “Lim’limpt. All will be well.” In the Salish dialect of tribes in the transboundary region of B.C. and Washington state, Lim’limpt means thank you.
I have wanted to share this experience for some time now, and so it ties in well with this being my last column. Pauline’s grace and wisdom reminded me just how much I have to be thankful for, including the unexpected rewards of this grand experiment of attempting to string together words worthy of sharing.
I don’t know what inspired me to walk into the Hood River News office a few years ago and suggest this crazy idea for a column. All I know is that I am grateful to Kirby Neuman-Rea for taking a chance. It was supposed to be a fairly simple concept: select some of my favorite images and tell the story leading up to the decisive moment. In the beginning, it started of simple enough but as time passed, I noticed that issues in my personal life and social injustices in the world started to seep into the writing. What started out as storytelling about an image morphed into finding an image in support of a story
Willing to go personal, to reveal your soul and vulnerable tendencies, is not something I ever intended to do. But by doing so, I found myself deluged with unsolicited emails and online comments thanking me for putting into print things that a lot of people tend to sweep under the rug, especially elements of the human condition dealing with pain, trauma, loss, depression, and melancholy. If I have learned anything in the past few years of writing, it is that these emotions are all perfectly normal, and it’s important to welcome the dark moments, let them pass through, and come out stronger than before.
Pain — whether it be from losing a loved one to disease, or the trauma of unexpected loss of friendship, is not something that decomposes over time. It lingers. Like radioactive waste, it seeps into the groundwater of our soul and takes up residence. You can’t control what is afflicted upon us, but we can control our reactions. I have learned far more from perceived failures and rejections than I would if I merely existed in a perfect bubble without trauma.
These monthly meditations became a form of prayer. There was magic in seeing the words flow from my brain through my hand, commanding pencil to paper, not knowing what would come, hoping what would come would be worthy of sharing.
I am grateful to so many people I have met over the years that served as inspiration for some of these columns. Jagat Lama, a great Nepali humanitarian, and Sumitra Gurung, his young protégé and future leader of Kumari, affected me so deeply that it changed the direction of my life to be more service-oriented. Many tribal leaders, from the headwaters region of the Columbia to the source, touched me with their stories of loss and passionate determination to restore the health of the river and their communities.
I am equally grateful to those places in nature that not only served up ideas for columns but tended to my emotional wounds and sent me back to the lowlands a better person. The two most consistent places were the wilds of Mount Hood and the spirits residing in the summit plateau of Dog Mountain. It is nearly impossible to describe the surreal, rarified air of the summit of Hood at sunrise. And discovering meadows that defy description, watching a full moon in late July illuminate flowers creating a vision that I described in a previous column as being from a place outside of time. Dreaming of returning to these sacred places helps deal with the seasonal afflictions of a chloroformed life in the lowlands.
I am happiest when trekking where few have ever gone.
The art of thank you did not come easily to me. My role model for engaging with the public as an artist was my mother, who consistently used humor and self-deprecating remarks when someone would compliment her poetry and short stories. We often joked about someday being arrested by the imposter police for posing as artists since we were self-taught, no fine arts degree to give us credentials.
I would be remiss without thanking my former spouse, who consistently supported the spirit of my preferred lifestyle and encouraged me to write for many years.
But mostly it has been the readers, friends, and unexpected coffee shop moments of compliments that have filled my heart with gratitude.
There are regional and international projects I need to focus on but the Gorge will always be a basecamp and touchstone of highlights in my life.
This thing of learning to say thanks is a work in progress. Lim’limpt!