Sorrow is like snow.
Cold molecules that fall from the sky.
And flow into your soul. Then slowly melt and dissipate,
Only to return and chill you again. And again.
A cold front had migrated south,
Leaving the earth under a soft quilt of snow.
It was the edge of seasons,
Near the end of winter.
Around two on a Sunday afternoon.
The sun had warmed the land and the pavement was dry,
But it was still icy in the shadows and you had to keep an eye out.
I was on a two-lane road, a winding route mostly empty of travelers this time of year.
My mind was drifting when my phone buzzed. I pulled it from my pocket.
It was Jasmine. This time I decided to answer. Slowing down,
I began looking for a safe place to pull over.
I’d taken off about two weeks earlier.
Left Portland to get some air,
And give Jasmine
She was driving me crazy – and I her.
“Uh, hello?” I said.
“Dad, where are you? When are you coming home?”
Right to the point, as always. I like that about her. Take no prisoners.
I looked over at the map spread out on the passenger seat.
“Well, dear, I’m in eastern Oregon.”
“Where exactly in eastern Oregon?” In my mind I saw her roll her eyes.
“Just a minute.”
I turned onto a snowy road
That led down to a lake and stopped
By a gate that blocked a closed campground.
“Okay, at the moment, I’m driving around a lake north of Baker City,
East of the Wallowa Mountains. And I don’t know when I’m coming home.”
“I wish you’d let me know where you are. Why haven’t you answered my messages?”
“I’ve been on some back roads. Cell service is spotty out here.”
In truth, I just didn’t feel like talking to her. Or anyone.
I craved silence. Open spaces. Anonymity.
“Where you staying tonight?” she said.
I had the location circled
On the map.
“I’ve rented a cabin at
Brownlee Reservoir near Hells Canyon.
I’m headed there now. You’d love it out here, Jas.”
It was all true, except the last part. She would’ve hated it.
Jas is a creature of the city, born and bred.
In Montana years ago she said,
“I don’t get it.
What’s go great about the outdoors?
There’s bugs and bears and bees … and I’m not goin’ on your stupid hike!”
It dumbfounded me. “Whose daughter are you?” I inquired.
I remember her mother didn’t like my joke.
I couldn’t understand Jasmine.
But I’d long ago
Given up trying to open
Her eyes and make her realize
What incredible wonders are all around outside.
“Where’d you stay last night?” she asked.
For a moment, I couldn’t remember.
I’m not good at answering
Questions under the gun.
I made something up.
“And before that?”
“Bandon.” Another name plucked from the map.
“And the night before that I was at Fort Rock. Slept in the car.”
I knew Jasmine wouldn’t call me on it. She had no idea where these spots were.
“You know you shouldn’t be driving out there alone,” she said.
“I’m fine. This cabin I’m going to is supposed to be nice.”
“Could you find a more isolated place?”
“It's peaceful. Nobody around.
The snow on
The trees and lake. It’s beautiful.
Good place to get away from it all.”
“Get away? From what?”
You have nothing to get away from, Dad.
You have to accept that mom is gone. It’s been over a year.”
The familiar ache returned. How I miss her. Like a limb removed.
Her incomprehensible death had knocked me around the bend and made me resent
People who take life, and love, for granted. Like I did.
“Get away from what, dad?”
Jasmine kept on, cornering me.
I didn’t answer.
To be honest, what I was getting away from was myself.
I was tired of what I’d become. A lifeless loser, watching TV all day, wanting to be left alone.
“Dad, please come home.”
“I will, dear. Don’t worry.”
“You’re getting really forgetful.
You know that, right? Ever since mom … you’ve gone downhill.”
“I know, but I’m okay. Really. How are you?”
“Are you even listening to me?”
Her tone was an octave higher. It reminded me of her mother.
“Yes, Jasmine, I’m listening to you.”
“You’re getting worse, Dad.”
“No, I’m not.
I just don’t understand you, and it drives me crazy.”
“That’s right – you don’t understand me! I wish you would.”
I felt my ire rise but clenched my jaw and kept quiet. Jasmine is a worrier. It’s her nature.
She can’t help it and I know the feeling. I’m worried, too – about her. The choices she’s making. We’re flipsides of the same coin. It’s unfathomable to me how your own blood
Can be so much like you – and yet so different.
She wants me to stay close to home,
Instead of road-tripping around.
I fight her on it.
That and other things.
Like her job, which I think she should quit.
I know she could get a better one. We’re a lot alike when
We argue and I hate to admit, it often feels good to get into it with her.
“I want this to be your last road trip,” she said. “I’m taking the keys when you get back.”
“Well, I wouldn’t get your hopes up. Nope. I am fine and I am NOT giving up
Driving and I will go anywhere I goddamn please, understand?”
There was a long pause and then a sniff and I wondered
If she was crying. That didn’t stop me.
“Knock if off, Jasmine.
You are gonna have to TRUST me
And let ME be the judge of what I can and cannot do!
I’m telling you I am fine! Now quit worrying and get off my back.”
I heard her breathing in a broken pattern and I wanted to reach out and hug her.
And then, through the frosted car window, I saw some dark figures moving out on the lake.
Stark shapes on a brilliant white blanket of downy snow. I rolled down the window.
It was a herd of elk. About thirty it seemed,
Including several young ones
With their mothers.
They were huddled together,
Walking slowly across the frozen lake.
“You’re gonna get lost, you know,” Jasmine said.
“Die on some dead-end road out of gas or something. Mom was right. You’re reckless.”
Leading the herd was a bull with a candelabra of a rack that spread like the branches of an oak.
“Wow, you should see this,” I said.
The herd followed closely as the bull steadily moved forward,
Nose down as if smelling the water, or fish, beneath the ice.
I reached behind my seat and grabbed my binoculars.
One hand held the phone to my ear,
The other brought the binocs to my eyes.
I got out of the car and began walking through the snow toward the lake.
The air was crystalline and smelled of pine.
“See what?” she said. “What is it?”
I didn’t say anything.
Suddenly, the bull stopped,
Threw his head back, and looked at the rest of the herd.
In a snap came a sharp crack, like an ice tray. At first I thought – rifle shot.
But I saw no one anywhere. No elk had been hit. And then I saw the ice under the middle of the Herd buckle, and I saw a dark fissure open in the snow. One of the smallest elk slipped
And its forelegs went into the crevice. Its mother bent down to her young one
And the ice broke beneath her, and in a second the mama was
Into the breach, ice chunks around her,
Eyes frantic as she struggled to
Keep her head up.
Would you please say something?”
All I could muster was, “Oh my god, no.”
I looked up and down the bank but nobody was around.
Not a bird made a sound. The bull elk reversed course and started
Running back toward the elk that had fallen through, and as he got to the hole,
The ice under the herd split and the snow parted and each animal,
One by one, sunk into the dark. Gutteral sounds I’ve never heard
Reverberated across the lake. I took my binocs from my eyes
To see for real. I couldn’t comprehend what I saw.
An entire herd of elk was sinking
Into a snowy lake on a
Raising the binocs,
I tightened the focus.
“Dad, I need you to come back.
I’m moving. I found an apartment. I can’t live at home anymore.”
I could barely hear what she was saying. The elk all tried to swim but there was nowhere to go.
Hemmed in by the ice, up to their necks, they couldn’t get out.
“Can you please say something?”
“I can’t,” I said, and hung up.
I was speechless.
Thunderstruck by the sight of the
Lake swallowing the herd in front of me.
The bull was the last to succumb. He thrashed his regal,
Antlered head back and forth in the dark water, kicking his legs to stay above the surface.
A fog of hot air rose from his flaring nostrils. Then, he turned in my direction, and I felt he could See me. My knees buckled. I yelled, “Help! The elk are drowning!”
But my words dissolved in the air like bubbles.
In minutes, the whole herd was gone.
Young and old,
An extended family,
A tribal community, wiped out,
Leaving nothing but ripples and a memory that will someday fade away.
Moments later I got back in the car. On my phone I looked up Oregon Fish and Wildlife.
I called and left a brief account of what I’d witnessed – thirty some elk falling into a frozen lake and vanishing. Then I backed up onto the highway,
And drove on in the direction of the cabin.
At the first bend of the road,
In a shadow,
Some black ice
And slid into the oncoming lane, headed toward the lake.
My heart skipped, but I was able to turn into the skid and stay on the blacktop.
As I emerged back into the sun and picked up speed, I rolled down all the windows and let the indifferent molecules of life flow through. I shivered and felt a crack somewhere inside.
I thought, I need to remember this. Because this was something. A moment of clarity.
I looked at the lake, to the dark hollow where all the elk had disappeared.
The black hole was almost covered over by ice and snow.
It dawned on me that you never know
When life will no longer hold.
You sense it before
You see it.
Before I had gone a mile,
I slowed to the side of the road,
Checked the rearview, and made a u-turn.
By midnight I was at our door, hugging Jasmine,
Drowning in sorrow no more.
Or at least until the