Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Roots

My Dad died last week and I've been sort of overwhelmed with the shock, grieving and details that come with a life event like this. I wasn't planning to blog about it. It's not my style to share that kind of personal event with the public. And I didn't think that the loss of my Dad fit into my discussions about nature and my feelings about it. But when my husband and I were driving back home from the airport, I suddenly realized that my Dad had always been at the heart of my relationship with nature. I don't know how I had missed it for all these years, but while writing his obituary and looking over old family photos, it was staring me in the face.

My dad taught me to love animals. He loved animals and he always had pet dogs and cats. His dad had hunting dogs, but in my family we had pets that were never well trained and ran the house. We had cats that walked on the counters and dogs that slept on the bed and wouldn't sit or stay. Dad told me stories about a dog (I think it was a Jack Russell Terrier) that he had as a kid in Marin County, CA. He said that the dog learned to ride the bus and that it would get on by itself and take rides around town. The bus driver knew the dog and would stop and let it on for a ride. I don't know where the dog was going, and now I can't ask. But the story made me laugh.
My Dad and his Dad and one of their pet dogs

He had another dog, Mandy, who got lost in a snowstorm and managed to survive on her own in the foothills around Salt Lake for several months before finally turning up, exhausted and thin, somewhere around Beck Street, quite a long way from Dad's home. He loved that dog and had worried so much about her, and often marveled about her intelligence and determination that led her back to him.

Dad taught me to enjoy spending time in the outdoors. He loved to ski and when I was about 12 he enrolled me and my brother in ski lessons. The lessons didn't take so well for me, but both my brothers are good skiers and enjoyed family ski weekends together. My favorite ski memories are of our trips to Brighton. I liked the slow and winding trails that led me through the trees, where I could see snow piled on branches and shadows on the snow.
Dad skiing

Most of my childhood camping experiences were with my Dad. We would usually go to the Uintas to get away from the summer heat. I remember camping at Spirit Lake, which my Mom tells me was also a favorite campsite of his dad, my Grandfather. We took our old army tent that had belonged to his dad. The tent weighed a ton. It was made of canvas and had a wooden pole with umbrella-like supports in the center. Our parents had to find a flat camp site, then dug a trench around the tent to channel rain water away from the tent. It seems like it always rained, and we always woke up with soggy sleeping bags, despite best efforts to the contrary. On one memorable trip, we camped in a wild area closer to Vernal. It was not in an improved campsite, so we had to dig a latrine and our friend taught us the "Latrine Song" as we dug. We brought our dog, Oddo, on that trip and that's how we found the moose and its calf, browsing in the creek near our camp.

When I was in middle school, Dad took me on my only backpacking trip, also into the Uintas. I have no idea now where we went. We were only out for a few days, but I was so proud being able to carry my own gear. We didn't know much about lightweight stuff, and I'm pretty sure my pack didn't even have a frame. My big, bulky sleeping bag and foam pad were tied on the bottom of the pack with a rope! We carried frozen cornish game hens to roast over a campfire. I remember that we saw moose and beaver on that trip.

The names of animals and plants didn't really come up when I was exploring nature with my Dad. He would point out hawks and eagles, but otherwise the specifics weren't that important. Instead, he took us to places. We swam in the Great Salt Lake, off the shores of Antelope Island where my hair dried hard with the salt. I cried when the salt got into my eyes and scratches on my legs. We hiked to Lake Catherine in the mountains behind Brighton and admired the wildflowers along the way. I was sure we were going to be lost when he used a topo map to follow the Pony Express routes, and to find Topaz Mountain in Central Utah. But we got there and hiked and looked for bits of clear topaz. We camped at Lake Powell in the South and Bear Lake in the North. We drove to Yellowstone and the Tetons in Montana and saw Elk and Bears and Bison. In Wyoming we saw Antelope and Jack Rabbits. He took us to the World's Fair in Spokane and down the coast of Oregon, where we saw Seals and ate smoked salmon. In California, we found giant pinecones and visited tide pools. He took us to the Anaheim amusement parks and then down to Tijuana.

Dad and Family Picnicking at Bear Lake

I didn't realize it until just now while I was writing, but my Dad probably sent me on my path to being a photographer. He gave me my first real camera as a high school graduation present. He liked to take photos and even set up a dark room in his basement. We developed photos there together under the red lights. He encouraged me to think about shadows and patterns and helped me see interesting shots. One of his favorite photos was one that a friend took, of a parrot that was sitting on top of its cage. The lines of the old cage were elegant and curved and the parrot looked particularly proud of itself for being on the outside.

Seagulls in a row at Liberty Park, taken when I was in high school and developed in the basement darkroom
Mostly Dad was a fisherman. He taught me and my brothers how to bait a hook with a worm or salmon eggs, to attach lead weights and our bobbers, to cast the line, and to sit patiently and let the fish bite. We were never as patient as he wanted us to be, and fishing often ended in whining and chaos, like when my brother caught his own ear with the hook when he cast out. I didn't like to kill the fish, so I'd pass them to my brother who would knock them out and clean them. Dad tried to convince me that if I was going to catch them, I had to do the whole thing, but I figured that's what little brothers were for. We fished from row boats on lakes and from the shore near our campsites. No camping trip was complete without trout for dinner. And our freezer at home always had little foil bundles of fish from a bountiful catch. One of my proudest moments as a little kid was when we visited Dad's uncle's fish farm in Kamas and I caught the biggest fish! I don't fish now and have forgotten almost everything he taught me, but the idea of just sitting patiently and enjoying the moment did stick.

What Dad really loved, though, was to fly fish. I only got to try that a few times with him. He really preferred to do that by himself, where he could stand in the water in his waders and cast in peace and quite. He loved the Provo and Weber rivers and would often go there at the end of a work day in the middle of summer. I don't even know where his favorite spots were, because I think he'd just pull his car off to the side of the road and run across the street to a place that looked good. I wish I had any photos of him fishing, but I don't. I'll just have to hold onto my created image in my mind.
No photos of Dad fishing, but it was in his heritage for sure. This is his Great Grandfather and friend with their catch.
I think just how much I will miss my Dad is going to continue to creep up on me and compound with time. You never know how much you'll miss someone until they're gone. Thank you, Dad, for giving me the world.
Me and my Dad, about 1963

4 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, John. Writing it helped me a lot.

      Delete
  2. Hi Katherine, I so enjoyed reading this. What a wonderful tribute to your Dad. You had some great adventures together! I loved the story abut the Jack Russell!
    Hope to see you again soon.
    Janet (Athens)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Janet. I appreciate your kind words. Somehow writing helped me remember things that were lost in the back of my mind.

      Delete