Monday, August 29, 2011

Cracks in my Memory

File this under the corruption of memory. Memoir.

The whole time I was at AROHO I was trying to remember when I had visited my sister who worked at Ghost Ranch on college staff sometime in the early 1980s. I narrowed my memory down to Christmas. I know that much because we snowshoed back into Box Canyon and on Christmas Eve I hopped into the back of a pickup truck for a ride to Christ in the Desert ( I seem to remember the chapel being lit only by candles. After the service there was a reception where we ate homemade bread made by the brothers—and rang in Christmas Day as it was well after midnight when we left the monastery.

I had those memories, but had lost track of others. I also held onto a singular memory of being introduced to a nice young man newly married and his wife. My sister said he was going to be a turkey farmer. Later after returning home she wrote me to say that the young man had been killed, from a fall, during a hike on a mesa at Ghost Ranch.

Going back to Ghost Ranch I remembered all of this. So when I got a chance to talk to an old-time staffer (not an old-timer, about my age!) I asked about the young man. Ed told me his name was Dave and had grown up on the ranch as his parents had worked there. He said if I wanted to I could visit Stone Bear Memorial, a place set up to remember Dave.

I followed Ed’s map and wandered close to a mesa wall with a large debris field from where rocks had calved and fallen. I could see why they call it Stone Bear Memorial. A bear carved out of grey granite with dark swirls from an unidentified conglomerate graced the top of a rock with a plaque on it dedicated to Dave.

I didn’t really need to do this. I didn’t need closure since I’d never known the man. Yet having met him once, I’d never forgotten him. I was saddened at the awful news of his death, a life and marriage abruptly cut short; a tragedy. This memory has cast a shadow over me to where it influenced my marriage, how like a cloud sweeping over a vast landscape darkens momentarily a hillside, before a second later, returning to lightness and sunshine. I think starting out my married life knowing this might be temporary or inexplicably taken from me, I don’t know, made the marriage more precious.

Funny also how the words precious and precarious are so much alike on paper.

Anyway, the point I wanted to make with this blog was that I was shocked as I stood before the Stone Bear Memorial. This time not so much by his untimely death, but that he’d died in 1987. Somehow I thought it had been way earlier. My memory must be playing tricks on me again because I thought that December visit had been like maybe ’83 or ’84. Memory—it’s as unstable as the edge of the mesa from which Dave fell. We think we’ve got a grasp on it and then the rocks slide out from under us.

I left a stone at Stone Bear Memorial, in memory of Dave.

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