Jamie Gilroy goest to pay his final respects to an old friend and finds himself frozen in time.
I received the news the other day that a close friend had passed suddenly. He was not much older than myself. He was a warrior and part of our “team” from long ago.
Admittedly I lost touch over the years though I found myself thinking of Fred often. For awhile he was the chief of police in his small town. An eagle feather hung from his cruiser rear view mirror. Occasionally I would hear that he had left Massachusetts and moved back to the Rez in North Dakota. He was Native American. My memories were of a generous man; kind, patient, and always willing to spend time with the children in hopes they would one day respect the earth and carry on the legacy of many generations before – that of protectors and stewards of the Land.
Yet he was a warrior and as such capable of taking care of himself in dangerous situations. Back in the day Fred, Mark, Jeff and myself thought of ourselves as a team of like-minded soldiers: a cross between the crew in the movie Point Break and the current Bin Laden dispensing Seal Team 6. We were tight, trusted one another, and ready for anything that went down. We would shoot endless rounds of 9mm and .223 on Fred’s land, then play cards and smoke butts late into the morning hours—laughing and guessing when the social upheaval shit would hit the fan.
Luckily for us nothing really ever did go down. We drifted apart and eventually followed our individual callings be it the search for love or money or freedom. But as with many things that seem to lose outward day-to-day connection we never lost that Heart bond, that place where you would always be intertwined in a spiritual way.
It was with this feeling of connection on a deeper level that I decided to pay my last respects to Fred. There was no funeral that I knew of, no ceremony celebrating his life. There was a brief mention of his passing in the local paper with few details. I didn’t even know what I would find there on his property. I took a chance that whatever happened would be right. So I cleared my calendar and suited up to ride my motorcycle the two hours west to Fred’s property.
The day began with a cobalt blue sky and was exceptionally warm for early March. The perfect day to go for a motorcycle ride and stretch the legs of my Triumph, clear my mind, and feel the wind against my soul. I mostly knew the way to Fred’s even though it had been many years since I travelled that road to his house.
Once off the main road I gassed up and looked at the map to get the last few directions that would lead me there. It’s odd how places hold memory, and as such can guide us to where we need to be. The road was like that on this day. I knew where I was going and was led right to the end of his driveway as if I had been there only days earlier.
Rural barely describes the land surrounding Fred’s place although a couple of new houses had sprung up since I had been there last it still had the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. His driveway was always a potholed and long winding dirt approach to his house and still was. The two signs warning strangers to stay away hung on a tree at the end of his driveway. NO TRESPASSING and KEEP OUT. I stopped and turned off the bike. I am here now I thought but do I continue? There was a momentary doubt of what I might find at the end of this road but what the fuck I thought, I’ve travelled all this way. Let’s finish it.
I hit the starter button and was aware of how loud my bike was compared to the silence of the land around me. I rode slowly avoiding the deep potholes and trying to keep the engine from getting too invasive. I pulled up just below the house and killed the motor. I pulled off my helmet. Silence again, then the soft sounds of the woods slowly revealed themselves. I felt my body go still and my shoulders relax from riding at speed. Now I am on the land. My eyes scanned the surroundings and my ears listened. I slowly walked up to the house.
Part of what initially kept me feeling slightly off balance was how everything looked the same as it did 20 years earlier. The house was small and with T-111 siding looked like a trailer planted in the woods. Fred’s truck was next to the house. The front porch light was on. There was a yellow Post It note on the storm door. I walked up to read it. The note said, “Be right back”. I peered into the house. It looked exactly as the last time I was there. A kind of woodsman chic. Indian blankets, deer skins, a coffee cup on the desk. A couch that looked slept on. Other assorted and mismatched furniture. It was as if I was transported back in time and Fred would suddenly answer the door with a strong hug and the offer of some coffee and a cigarette.
I stepped back feeling like a voyeur. I walked away from the house down towards where his camp used to be. Suddenly I looked up drawn by movement above me. A large Red Tailed hawk was directly overhead circling where I stood. I watched him watching me. A half dozen lazy loops above my head and he drifted off on a thermal and out of sight. Fred.
I could feel his presence. I feel you my friend. I see you now!
I walked some more, slowly taking in what was in that present moment and also feeling the memories of time spent on this beautiful land years ago.
After some time I walked back to the house and looked in one more time to make sure I didn’t see Fred alive inside. I then walked over to his truck. A jacket on the passenger seat. A pouch of American Spirit tobacco on the console. I looked in the bed of the truck covered by a camper shell. A sleeping bag and boxes. Fred was still here.
Then I noticed a campfire ring near the truck off the driveway. There were folding chairs and coffee cups on the ground. A bottle of open orange soda mostly full on a stump. The fire was long since cold but the place had seen people not too long ago sitting around this fire pit. I sat in what felt like Fred’s chair. I closed my eyes and immediately went deep into Dreaming. I could feel the strong energy of the earth here, of this natural world. I went deeper down and felt the man who lived here. The sadness and struggles he faced and yet the love he had and the generosity he shared. I felt the connection unbroken between the living and the departed, between Life and Death.
I stood up and reached into my pocket. A feather and a red heart were the gifts I brought that day. I held the glass heart towards the sun and the light reflected the rays in all directions. Go there my brother, go to that place. The place of Light. I leaned down to the fire pit and planted the feather and the heart into the ashes.
You will rise up again. Like the Phoenix. Soar my brother…
I walked back to the Triumph knowing how Fred left this Life. Suddenly without any chance to say goodbye. Goodbye to his things, his land, his family. Without saying goodbye even to himself.
There was a deep sense of mystery as I left his place and also a deep sense of knowing that the Life of a Warrior is like that; the time of departure is irrelevant. It’s the readiness to go when called without fear and without hesitation that counts.
My brother left like the warrior that he was. Good journey to you my friend!
I rode home fast that afternoon, racing the sun, racing against the reality of “one day”. One day this journey will end for all us here.
Godspeed my brother.
Photo: davidwiley / flickr