APRIL 17, 2014Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 11.10.14 AM viv  ironman 88 - Version 2

Mary called at dawn. I awakened to her Dad’s excited voice booming in the living room, his words rushed and tumbled together lest he lose the connection (as often happens) and be cut off from her at any moment.

“Mary!! I LOVE YOU! Where are you!”

Gordon’s tones were several decibels louder than usual, near shouting in his eager excitement to hear, at last, from our daughter who has just summited some of the world’s highest mountains in Nepal. These are high tension calls with the words of our eager questioning sentences traveling clear around the world. One could never know in the nerve fraught gaps of silence if she was still on the line.

Rejoicing in her call, I got on another phone and I told her, “You sound happy!”
Her voice resounded strong and resonant, she replied, “I’m good.”

Gordon and I both later remarked her voice was different, a deeper timber, exuding a new earned sureness, a newly burnished confidence. I was reminded of the words that came after her twin sister, Vivian, completed the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon when she was a young woman.

The Ironman, one of the first triathlons, was then considered one of the most grueling athletic challenges in the world. Vivian made the 3 mile ocean swim, 110 mile bike ride and 26 mile marathon run in 10 hours:43 minutes finishing 318 in a field of 2000 men and women.. not shabby. When asking her and other young women athletes,”Why have you made such an intense effort to do this?” The answer came, “Because you are never the same again.”

It seems there is something about having our wondrous physical bodies experience a full testing of their capacities that goes bone deep, supporting a grounded confidence that no one can take away. To be sure there are trade offs that need balance, but it is strong stuff.

Mary and Vivian’s brother, Cameron, recently met his goal, (though he certainly questioned the sanity of the whole thing half way through it!) by running an arduous 50 miles in an uphill cross country race to celebrate his 50th birthday. With his wacky sense of humor he dropped to his knees and crawled over the finish line then emerged standing again, albeit on somewhat shaky legs, and beaming his great Tom Sawyer grin as he shared hugs with his admiring sons and family.

All our children grew up in the reign of the Nike running shoes branding slogan, “If you don’t go, you won’t know.” that seemed to egg them on in their all ready inherent zest for experiencing life head on and in full measure. Now a grand daughter has done ultra marathons and climbed Kilimanjaro too, another excels in swimming, a third triumphs on mountain bikes.

But on this day, the fates had granted us a phone call we could actually complete from Nepal and Gordon and I eagerly hung on Mary’s every word. The very first thing Mary told us was about flying out of dangerous Lukla airport.

She described arriving at the airport sweaty from the long hike, essentially unwashed for days, boots covered with yak and donkey dust and dung from the frequent traffic jams with people and animals that share the same mountain paths with the tourists, though with very different agendas.
“You would have loved it Dad!” she giggled about the plane rides. “They pack you in, Just, “Get in and Get out!” The pilot revs up the engines full bore and the brakes are full on. Then he lets the brake off and you go shooting out of there like a sling shot or a catapult off an aircraft carrier. Way cool! And when they land, they hit the runway “Boom!” and a full brake screech to a stop. It was awesome!” Again her fun filled free flowing laughter cascades around the world to calm her anxious and doting aged parents.

Then with business like crispness, she ticked off the accomplishments, “ I climbed Everest base camp, and summited Kala Pathar, 18,000 some feet, and Island peak 20,300.”

She went on,”Climbing Island was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was a much harder route than anything the internet showed, much more ice wall climbing, gripping your toes, twisting your feet and legs for different angles to get into the ice with the crampons till your shins just ached. There were seven danger fraught rope changes to make.(She realized in talking to sherpas later that less than 50% of those attempting the Mt. Island climb complete it. Some climbers look at the treacherous blue ice glimmering around the deep crevices and stop right there.)

“When I came down I had to push off a glacie wall and rappel over a huge crevice of blue ice to land on the other side. I put my faith in my sherpa. He climbed Everest three times. He was great.” It was bitterly cold on the mountain (though she was used to cold but had lost ten pounds after two weeks at altitude.) “I was exhausted.”. she reported, and told us her summit picture shows her with a pale face and gritty expression. True grit, I would have to say.

But at the summit she scattered her sacred tobacco into the winds of that far off mountain peak. Mary has been mentored in the past by a tribal elder from a Native American tribe in Wisconsin and took his teachings with deep earnestness. She has been part of the native teams in harvesting the sacred wild rice, quietly gliding in the still lake shore waters using flails, as the Indians had done for millennia, to shatter the precious grains into the canoe. A rare privilege accorded a white woman.

On that far away magnificent razor edged mountain peak, she also offered our gifts to honor our son, her brother, into the rarified air; three snowy white feathers from our flock of doves here at White Feather ranch, and a small handful of flat prickly needles from incense cedar that grew here and became our candle lit Christmas tree in 2012, its fragrance filling our home for the Holy nights.

A sudden impulse came on that New Year’s day, to make the sweet smelling tree branches into bundles and dry them for purifying, cleansing smudges, which we wove around with some antique thread from my mother’s old sewing basket.

It was an odd preparation as we had no specific use for them at the time.Yet the heart seems to know things are coming before we come into ultimate knowing of the destiny events that await us.Two months later our son suddenly died and we put these cedar offerings into the fire here in California at the exact moment he was cremated far away in Norway, with Mary and Cameron there at the site as family guardians for the process. (more on blog)

We chatted some more with Mary. Just then her most immediate desire was for a shower, a real shower hopefully one with hot water. When I asked her if the great adventure had been all she hoped for.

“Oh, yes, and way more.” she replied.

“And the biggest thing?”

Her voice was resonant with sureness, closure, and fulfillment..

“ Peace with Gary….it is a big step…a fresh new stage…for both us…. Peace with Gary.”

And that, the honoring of her brother, was why she went.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s