Sunset is coming on fast here along the river. While ol’ Sol hasn’t quite slipped from sight in the west, the fiery orb is now below the tops of the big trees on the island across from the cottage, so what I see are beams of bright light radiating through the green leaves. Since the sky is clear in that direction, I don’t expect much of a light show—just a gradual dimming after the sun itself disappears below the horizon.
The turkey vultures which roost nightly in the island’s sycamores have been winging in for perhaps the last half hour. They arrive in small groups—two or three, at most a half-dozen. On nights like this, with no wind to frolic around in, they usually just sail overhead, making a cursory pass or two, before zipping into the canopy of leaves and finding a perch.
I’ve not been home most of the day. Soon after breakfast, I headed out to take care of several errands. For lunch, I visited with Susan and Hugh, friends who are residents at the retirement-care facility in the county west of here, where my late best friend, Frank, lived until his death this spring.
Susan and Hugh were both immensely fond of Frank, and Frank counted them among his dearest “neighbors.” I got acquainted with them during my visits. And I soon thought of them as friends, too. But I hadn’t been back out to visit with them since my old pal passed away—though I kept meaning to do so and even had a note to myself to get in touch and set up a date for a get-together.
In truth, however, there was a part of me that dreaded any returning—not that I dreaded to see the people, but dreaded reentering the place where I would be reminded of my friend’s absence by the emptiness. It was this cowardly hesitation that allowed me to put off, for way too long, making the time and journey.
I’ve apologized for my behavior. It was inexcusable. I hope Susan and Hugh understand and forgive me…and know I won’t let it happen again.
We did have a wonderful visit. A good meal. Lots of laughter. Reminiscing, and exchanging Frank stories. Covering everything from local history to the newspaper business to where we thought technology will be a decade from now. We talked nonstop for nearly three hours. If we’d have been sitting at a restaurant’s table, management might have stepped in and given us the boot; as it was, the only thing that swayed us from continuing until dinner was the afternoon bingo game that needed the space.
About the time our trio began to break up our talk-session, one of the local men from the community—who often brings a pup or two around from the animal shelter—stopped by the table. I knew him, as well, from my visits with Frank. Besides his dog-accompanied visiting, he’s a fellow fly fisherman and stream smallmouth aficionado. He and I spent another half hour chatting in the parking lot—looking at maps of local rivers and creeks, and checking out the tackle he carried in the back of his pickup.
I did eventually manage to get in my own pickup and start home—refreshed and buoyed by the time spent among friends. In fact, I was feeling so good that I took the long way back to the cottage, following one rural backroad after another, zig-zagging through little country towns I hadn’t been in for months.
At a small cemetery where Frank and I often parked when fishing a creek that’s accessible just up the road, I paused under a stand of ancient pines to pour a cup of coffee from the little thermos I’d filled after breakfast. Sitting on the tailgate, I took my time, enjoying the scented air and the sound of birds in the willow thickets along the stream.
Isn’t it interesting how so often in life, a thing we dread—or fear—turns out to be a blessing in disguise? I’d hesitated to return to the place where my dear old friend and I said our earthly goodbyes—hesitated because I didn’t want to experience the reminder of loss or to feel the emptiness.
Yet what I found was that I needed to be reminded of the friends still there—that I needed to share the joys of the friend we all knew and loved…and did, indeed, miss. Moreover, the expected emptiness wasn’t there because Frank was right there with us, carried in our memories and hearts.
So that’s it from the riverbank for today. Just a small report—while it’s still fresh, as I watch the sun take its leave of the western sky, as shadows lengthen, while the buzzards and I get settled into the soft embrace of another summer twilight.