MaggIe, the river is free
Yesterday afternoon, I planted some okra seeds in the vegetable garden. The temperature was near perfect and my river beckoned me to it. The North Oconee isn’t mine, of course, but the part that runs through our backyard does feel like mine. And it’s the river MaggIe and I used to paddle on. Not a big paddle, anything we would plan out in advance. For us, it was the equivalent of taking a walk; we’d paddle upstream and then mostly float back . MaggIE lived across the street from us, and the river makes a big horseshoe right past our house and then runs behind Maggie’s house. We used to say we would secede from the rest of the world when things got bad in the world. We’d hunt deer and fish, and I would go off on my bike and barter with the other survivalists beyond out wall.
I pushed the kayak down into the river. The water was a perfect depth for paddling and I navigated through the shoals. My mission was to check and see if the river was clear of the trees just upstream that had been completely blocking the river for months and months. It was. The river was free and so I paddled further up into the secret world of the North Oconee River where Maggie and I would go on paddles after work in early evening. We’d chat and be quiet. Maybe we’d see a beaver pop its head out. We’d look at the plants and she’d point out birds.
Maggie died of colon cancer six years ago, and I still miss her. I thought of her on the trip a lot and how she’d loved so much what I was doing. It was six Mays ago when her cancer became really aggressive and killed her in early June. The last normal talk we had was out on her deck and I told her all about my first Athens Savannah Double Century ride. She told me all about her week at the beach, her last trip.
Yesterday on the river, I saw two crows chase an owl out of its perch and sprint in front of me to the trees on the other bank. And I thought of the owl that I saw the night Maggie died. The hospice nurse told Gary, Dottie, and Theresa that maggie might stay in this in-between state between life and death until dawn, so I thought I’d go across to my house and rest some. First though I sat on Maggie’s steps to look at the stars for a bit. It had been a very intense evening. An owl flew from a tree close by across the sky, and I said, MaggIE, go off with that owl into the next world. I walked across the street and the phone rang almost immediately. Gary told me to get back over there. MaggIE had died.
It was a coincidence, I guess, but I like to think that Maggie did fly off with that owl, that her spirit is out with the birds soaring about and resting on tree branches observing the natural world that gave her such comfort.