This morning, a Sunday that is also Father’s Day, my dogs and I did what we do most Sunday mornings: we went for a walk in the valley. Our walk was followed by another typical weekend activity, taking household garbage to the nearby transfer station.
Much about the morning sparked memories of my father, who passed away in 2009. I wasn’t looking for those cues; the day started as just another Sunday. Yet various things I did or observed this morning – dramatic clouds circling the valley; taking photos; hanging with my dogs; running that particular errand after our walk – prompted fond memories for my father, the perfect way for me to remember and celebrate him on this Father’s Day.
Perhaps my father’s greatest enduring gift to me: a love of animals, especially dogs. He loved dogs and they loved him. Dad taught me how to care for them, be gentle with them, train them with treats and positive reinforcement, and include them in everyday activities. They were part of the family when I grew up, and that legacy continues in my own life.
That’s the fancy term for the local dump.
This morning, I loaded a bag of garbage into my car so that after our walk in the valley, the boys and I could make a dump run.
In my county, residents can take their garbage to the local transfer station, three miles away, for free. From there it gets hauled to a landfill thirty miles away. Roughly once a week I take my small bag of garbage to the dump. (Sadly, these days, I also take what used to qualify as recycling, e.g. plastic pop bottles, cardboard and glass.) If I were to wait any longer between visits, storing the garbage in my garage, I’d be inviting mice and other rodents to investigate. Mice already find their way into my garage. When I first moved to Idaho, I stored some appliances in the garage of the home I rented for six months while waiting for my house to be built. Mice made nests in my stove, under the burners, using insulation they pulled from the unfinished garage walls. Their nests remained undiscovered until the stove was moved into my new home and I cleaned it. The stench of insulation saturated with mouse pee and poop was awful. Oh, how my father laughed at that story when I called to tell him.
This morning, watching me collect trash from various bins around the house to add to the plastic bag from under the sink was a cue to the boys to get extra excited: We’re going for a walk AND a dump run!
Dump run. Those two words spark fond memories. When I was a child, taking trash to the dump was a common weekend activity. Dad would load it into the back of our station wagon, and some or all of us kids would tag along. We were allowed to help toss the trash from the back of the station wagon onto the enormous pile of garbage at the dump. We’d squeal about the stink and the seagulls flying overhead, screeching at each other and diving for anything edible. Soon, though, as more homes were built nearby, this location became a “transfer station” and the huge open pile of garbage went away. Instead, trash was tossed into the tops of trucks to be hauled elsewhere. (The other location, many miles away, buried the garbage.) Children were no longer allowed out of the cars, for fear they’d fall off the platform into the open trucks, and the chore of “going to the dump” became decidedly less fun. As my brothers found other more exciting things to do, I still always enjoyed hanging with my father and often I was his only companion on dump runs. I loved that one-on-one time, talking about anything and everything.
As usual during this morning’s walk I took a bunch of photos. If I pay attention and look closely (skills my father taught me), this one-mile stretch of road we frequently walk from one end to the other and back is always changing.
Plants grow and die; birds arrive or migrate through; cattle come and go on the adjoining pastures; snow melt flows down from the mountains, across the pastures and into the ditches alongside the road; the sky is clear, cloudy, misty, foggy or some combination thereof; the wind makes waves in the pasture grasses; the light changes depending on cloud cover; snow comes and goes; the boys jump, run, sniff, wade, drink and play, entertaining me (and the cattle). It’s never boring.
This morning, though, it hit me as I took yet another photo that my love of photography comes from my father. He loved playing with photography, although usually the focus of his cameras – still or movie – was his family or airplanes. When I was in grade school I asked for a camera of my own. I was given a used Kodak Brownie camera. That really sparked my interest in taking photos, which continued into junior and high school in the early ‘70s when I got a Kodak Instamatic with flashcubes (four flashes per cube) and my parents acquired a Polaroid camera which I was allowed to use sporadically (the special film was expensive). My most frequent subjects with the Instamatic were our dog and cat. A lot of my allowance went toward purchasing film and flashcubes, although I think my parents paid for development since all rolls of film – regardless of who shot them – went together to the drug store for developing. I was always crushed when a photo didn’t turn out as I hoped. I wanted to improve.
I don’t remember my father taking many landscape or nature photos, so that focus is perhaps unique to me, but he and I certainly shared a love of the natural world. He nurtured my early curiosity about nature along with my childhood interest in photography.
Definition: a rounded, projecting head of a cumulus cloud, which portends a thunderstorm.
When I woke up this morning, the valley was shrouded in fog. It had rained overnight so I wasn’t surprised. After waiting an hour for the fog to start lifting, the boys and I set out for our Sunday morning walk.
When we started walking, the fog still hovered in places but I noticed “windows” through the fog and the clouds above that allowed me to see the tall pine trees lining distant ridges, making a unique vista. I started taking photos of the clouds.
A little later, as more fog dissipated, I saw that just beyond those ridges to the east were towering cumulus clouds, what my father always called thunderheads.
Ever since my father’s death, I’ve considered thunderheads our connection, or way of staying in touch. It’s one of many reasons I love living in Idaho where thunderheads are common.
That special connotation goes way back, starting with a particularly nerve-wracking flight in a rented Cessna 185. When I was twenty-one years old, my father, brother Tim and I flew back to Kansas for a family reunion. It was a lot of time spent in a small, cramped space with a loud engine droning. On the way home to Seattle, we stopped in Boise to refuel and check weather for the final leg of our trip. It didn’t look good; there were enormous thunderheads to the northwest, the direction we wanted to go. We waited; the thunderheads didn’t budge. Our airplane was equipped with oxygen, so we tried to fly over the storm (I think that airplane as configured could fly up to 20,000 feet but don’t quote me). During the long climb to gain sufficient altitude the ride was horribly bumpy, especially for me, in the back. I fought to not throw up. When we turned back for Boise, realizing we couldn’t climb over the clouds, I felt huge relief. After more time at the airport, we decided to try flying under the weather, following a freeway through a mountain pass in NE Oregon. We succeeded, but I was white-knuckling it the entire time, afraid we’d fly into the side of a mountain. I really thought I might die that day.
Never all that excited about flying in small, private airplanes anyway, it was a long while before I wanted to fly again. I didn’t blame my father; I knew he was one of the best pilots in the world (a Boeing test pilot) so I trusted his skill implicitly and never feared flying with him. I just wasn’t eager to experience such rough, stomach-heaving flying again. Dad felt awful that I’d had that experience, and it became a running joke between us thereafter.
So much so, that, many years later, when my father was about 80 and lay unresponsive in a hospital bed, intubated because his lungs had stopped working for some mysterious reason, the memory of that frightening flight out of Boise came back to me. I was driving to the hospital to spend time with him when I noticed sunlight peeking around some terrific thunderheads, a fairly unusual sight in western Washington. I walked into Dad’s darkened room where he lay with his thin, frail-looking hands secured to the bed rails so that if he came out of his drug-induced coma he wouldn’t try to pull the ventilator tube out of his throat. There was a window behind his bed, but the blinds kept out the daylight. We had been told by the doctors that patients like him, in induced comas, were unaware of their surroundings. That didn’t dissuade me from talking to my father when I visited.
On this visit, inspired by those thunderheads and the memory they sparked, I walked into the room, held my father’s hand as I stood beside his bed, and looking at him, said, “Hey Dad. I wish you could look out your window right now. There are some enormous thunderheads out there. They remind me of that flight you and Tim and I made out of Boise on our way home from Kansas. Do you remember that?”
To my astonishment, he nodded. He nodded! He didn’t squeeze my hand, but he nodded!! He heard me, and he remembered. I knew in that instant that he would eventually return to me, and he did.
So yeah. Thunderheads are a thing for me. Seeing them this morning? Extra wonderful, like receiving one of my father’s snug hugs on Father’s Day.
Happy Father’s Day.
Love you. Miss you. Thank you.