Til the Last Ember
We were on the Rails-to-Trails from Pittsburgh to DC on the second stretch known as the C & O canal. The Canine Cancer Caucus event was upcoming and Hudson and Murphy and I had some blazing to do. Earlier in the day, a storm descended down on us, it was light and non-electrical, and I decided to press ahead though much to the consternation of the fuzzybutts.
The rain abated and we made it to the next campsite on the towpath. There is so much truth in the old saying that fire warms the traveler's soul but it did much more for us that night. Temperatures had dropped precipitously throughout the day and by the time we made camp, the three of us were shivering wet.
With the sun still unset and the boys snuggled up inside the tent, I gathered what dry wood and kindling I could. Over a thousand miles into the walk I was an old salt at starting fires in all sorts of conditions and it didn't take long before the flames flickered and my body warmed.
But with the rainstorm, it was slim pickings and I couldn't find enough dry tree branches and twigs for the fire to reach the maximum combustion point, the point at which all wood burns. So the warmth was brief and it seemed to die out as quickly as it started. But I was so cold that I couldn't leave its side.
The week after Malcolm was given rest was an unexpected surprise. I felt very little sadness and loss inside me and I remember saying to myself, "Luke, you're doing so good, man." I was preoccupied with planning his wake with some of the friends and neighbors that helped out in the last months of his life. And I spared no expense in forethought and detail as it was to be a grand celebration.
But unlike a traditional Irish wake, there was no keening at all. Just joy and laughter and story after story of a great soul. The 'Jumping Armadillo' was one of them. As the hypertrophic osteopathy worsened, it was harder and harder for Malcolm to move about but I would take him out in the evenings to sit in the grass and savor the outdoors that he had all of his life.
One evening, he and I heard some rustling in my father's juniper bushes. He couldn't get up and investigate so I did. As I pulled apart the blue-berried shrub a freaking armadillo leaped up at me, like four feet high, almost kissing my nose and I squealed like a school girl. That in turn, got Malcolm up and on his three legs and over to me. To defend me or eat the armadillo I'll never know.
As the wake wound down, we laughed and drank and toasted until dawn and then a darkness descended upon me, swiftly and mercilessly.
You see, I had loved Malcolm as a father loves his son and when he was gone, the great fire I felt for him, for life, was extinguished.
I didn't... I didn't know that people could suffer so deeply and for so long.
YBD's Notes 1: Next week begins Chapter 8: The Bottomland.
YBD's Notes 2: Thank you to all of our friends that were so kind and generous with their love and support in this chapter of our story.