Saturday, 6 April 2013

"F" is for Father (and a poem about flying with family in Idaho)

My family loves to fly. Dad was a WWII and Korean War bomber pilot, later a test pilot and then a private pilot until well into his 80s. Mom got her instrument rating in 1973, right after they bought their first plane: a six-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza A36.

One of their two sons is a private charter pilot and still flies. The other son loved dune buggies and, for me, it was horses. Home was Southern California; work was to get out and go. They flew everywhere and traveled with little Honda 50s in the back. When there was nowhere else to go, they'd land on a dirt runway pitch a pop-up Coleman tent and ride the little motorcycles into the nearest town to grab a burger or a bowl of soup.

Sometime in 1976, my father discovered the Bitterroot Wilderness of Idaho
--something like one million acres of designated wilderness--and a series of U.S. Forestry Service-maintained runways truly in the middle of nowhere. Eventually, the family settled on Moose Creek (though there are lots of other wonderful places as well) and that was where we went.

Some families have lake cabins or mountain homes or places in the desert or at the seashore. We didn't. We had the beauty of Idaho, the bountiful rivers and lakes (most years) but sometimes couldn't fly in because of the fires, when the USFS would close the runways to all but fire-fighting use.

Over the years, Dad and Mom celebrated their anniversary at Moose Creek, camping all alone for a week, nearly every late September. Mom made cherry pies in the camp oven Daddy had bought her and he unearthed a cast iron griddle he kept buried in the hills (there was a treasure map to find it every year) and made hashed brown potatoes and bacon for breakfast.

In the summertime, we all, grand-kids, the odd great-grand-child and even my Alaskan Malamute, Wookie, who clambered on board quite cheerfully, sat herself in the second row with me and had a great old time, never noticing (apparently) that we were flying on our wingtip up a winding mountain cabin, a sparkling blue river a few thousand feet below. We hiked, we fished, we sat, we slept. We ate. And did it all over again. Especially the eating part.

Those times are over. One too many pacemaker replacements and Dad's pilot's licence went. Mom started having memory problems and wouldn't (and shouldn't) fly alone. It was time to pack it in. We made a few more trips with my brother, Ron, ferrying us all in and out.

The next-to-last trip was 2005--for my parents' 58th wedding anniversary and it was fabulous, memory-filled and the stuff that overwrites everything else. I even took my British fiance to meet the folks and whinge about sleeping on the ground with his feet hanging out of my parents' original 1970s pop tent while they lived like kings in the new Northface withstand-anything model.

The last trip was September 2007. Their 60th anniversary. And we almost made it to Moose Creek. Almost. Unfortunately, it was a fire year and, though we tried, visibility was compromised and we couldn't land. We turned and flew back south toward Boise and set up camp near Cascade Lake--sitting around the campfire pretending it was Moose Creek but knowing that it wasn't. And that there probably wouldn't be another trip to 'Moose'.

There wasn't. But 30 years in the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho? It's a lot to be thankful for.

I wrote this poem about my dad a few weeks ago as an exercise in a Sharon Bakar class in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The memories are so strong it might have been last month that we sat around the fire at Cascade Lake, not at Moose Creek. Dad and Mom are well, the plane has been sold but Ron still flies and takes my dad up for a go whenever he can. Daddy, this one's for you...

                             Bitterroot Mountains

He’s old, facing ninety head-on, deep lines
framed by the latest in high-tech camping hats,
polar fleece doubled up against the
Coumadin cold of now-thin blood. He sits,
hands pocketed,  reading embers.

It’s the last trip. It has that feel, lastness,
together we will crown their sixty years,
but Idaho consecrates this anniversary
with fire.  Smoke obscures the canyon—
instruments or not—and we fly back.

Almost Moose Creek, not quite there but nearly
there, hunkered down around this lesser fire,
its orange-red cincture catching each cinder,
sending sooty signals into the endless heavens
above that special place in the Bitterroot
we have family-worshipped for so long.

His heart is going, her mind has gone--
not that we Know it yet, unequivocally, but
he has guessed and keeps her safe from us,
draws circles around their memories with his
own smoky screen of love sixty decades wide
and a lifetime long. 

Mom washes dishes as she always does
and Debbie dries. One plastic tub with creek water
hand carried, another to rinse and maybe
they’ll be dry by breakfast-time
to do it all over again, Saunders-style.

The girls roast marshmallows and giggle,
Derek and Ron count endless stars in a blueblack sky
and name constellations as if they could best the best
(or perhaps it is to let him win just one more time)

‘That’s not Omega,’ laughs my father
rousing himself to point skyward and last-inning
take the game he knows oh so well
 “it’s Cassiopea; see the ‘W’ shape, right there?”
grunts and turns back to his fire.

Across the ring our eyes meet as they do
once every fifteen years or so and I abdicate
my speaker’s role to wait for a different ending.
“Christ, he doesn’t say much,’’ I think, and exhale
blatant longing. “But when did he ever?   

He clears his throat, leans back, waits…
‘Wonder what the poor folks are doin’ tonight?’
A chuckle, a wink, a nod affirm that his life
is rich, descendants all around, the fire crackling,
unspoken love and memories rising
in the unknowable Bitterroot night.

                                    (c) 2013 Cynthia Reed


  1. Beautifully it :) Thanks for sharing, Cynthia.

    1. Thank you, Joanne, much appreciated. So much of my family's history is there. I am trying to capture it now for my parents' great-grandchildren especially.

  2. Oh, Cynthia, how rich I feel knowing you. And how rich your history is. What a beautiful poem. I especially loved this verse:

    Almost Moose Creek, not quite there but nearly
    there, hunkered down around this lesser fire,
    its orange-red cincture catching each cinder,
    sending sooty signals into the endless heavens
    above that special place in the Bitterroot
    we have family-worshipped for so long.

    I'm subscribing to your blog tonight.

    1. Thank you, Susan, and this is such a rich experience, the sharing of families and activities. I feel the same way about your posts. Lovely stuff to open on the page between us. xx

  3. Hi Cynthia, I love the poem and especially these lines

    "draws circles around their memories with his
    own smoky screen of love sixty decades wide
    and a lifetime long."

    When I read it, I felt the love that is ingrained in the words. Wonderful.

    1. Thanks so much, Sonobe! I just read "Keeping The Peace" myself. It's lovely to see each others lives and families this way. I am grateful for the post and comment.

  4. Delightful post and a lovely poem, Cynthia. And I remember when you lived here and would travel to the Bitteroots--I can now admit I was often jealous--such a beautiful area!

    1. Thanks so much, Conda, and especially for the Candor! (lol) And I was so envious that you had grown up in Sun Valley! Funny, isn't it? I miss Idaho a lot, I truly do. I think it's coming back to me in bits through my writing and memories. And Kitty's Idaho Magazine of course! xx

  5. Dear Cynthia, I feel like I know you newly again and have been moved to tears by your poem and your Blog. I felt like I was journeying with you into the Bitterroots and have a complete sense of the connection to Earth and your family roots. It reminds me of camping trips, not unlike this one, when I lived in Washington State and going to Yakima to camp underneath the stars, next to the Yakima river. Thank you for taking ME on this journey. Freda x

    1. Awws, Freda, deep gratitude for your comments. I thought you might recognise the setting--the area if not the specific place. I appreciate you taking the time to read and explore this blog. It's been a really interesting experience to write (and try to keep up with on a daily basis!). xx