In Wyoming, Paddling Upstream
The speedboat that brought our lunch departed. As our guides began the kayaking demonstration, the scattered clouds came together with sound effects and electricity. If we launched the kayaks, we would become a dozen floating lightning rods. We chose the rafts, loading ourselves aboard with extreme intimacy. We chuffed slowly into the curtain of rain, towing our kayaks behind.
Then it hailed. One of the doctors sheltered me under his jacket, and I found that danger dissolves hostility. We became friends. When we disembarked, my leg cramped and he lifted me to shore. Not wishing to say "I'm sorry" with every new problem, I smiled instead. He crowned me "Queen of the Nile."
The sun came out in time for us to put up our tents in daylight. I was the only camper without a tentmate, so the others helped me. Again. Surely they were tiring of me.
Watching our guide, Yoli, prepare dinner made me recall the aroma of coffee perking over a wood fire. I lost my sense of smell with the onset of PD (Parkinson's disease), but my olfactory memory is acute.
Yoli performed culinary magic each night with supplies she had stowed on the raft. I named her "Kali" after the goddess with many arms.
Nate, our college-student guide, searched for "micro-trash" after each meal. Walking with head down, he picked up the smallest crumbs. "Any food will bring bears. If they get used to hanging around people, the bears have to be destroyed." He said we would take all our refuse out of camp when we left. Only later did I grasp that statement's full meaning.
That first night, we began the best routine of the trip. We opened our folding chairs around the campfire, and our conversations ranged from pragmatic to philosophical, from lewd to lofty. The towering Tetons had a calming effect -- on our voices and our argumentative rhetoric.
Late that night my grandson's friend sat with me at the campfire as we stirred the embers and tallied our losses. John was grieving his mother's recent death. We shared memories of my grandson, Will Hancock, who died the year before in the crash of an Oklahoma State University basketball-personnel plane. John and his wife then named their infant son Will, and in his own eloquent eulogy, John told me why.
It was impossible to sit by the ageless Tetons without making silent but cosmic connections and being grateful for this unspoiled place. My disease, incurable and progressive, demands that I treasure every moment as a gift. Wondering when the darkness will come makes me pay attention to the light.
Thus, John and I watched, in silent and heart-stopping wonder, as the crescent moon, accented by a brilliant evening star, appeared between the Teton peaks.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company