It’s only about a ten minute walk to the spot. It wouldn’t even qualify as a “hike”—it’s that easy.
We park the SUV’s at what we’ve come to call “Four Trees”: about half way up the main logging road, at the place where four scraggly pines are struggling to grow. This is the beginning of a long abandoned, heavily overgrown road that peters out as it heads south, into the woods.
This route takes us past the area under a tree on the left where three of the specimens we have were found. About ten strides beyond, on the right, towers what we have come to call “Lion Rock”. In a strategically uphill location, this flat-topped, granite edifice looks like something out of The Lion King. (And there is plenty of evidence of the living, breathing, far-from cartoonish kind that could easily have been enjoying this particular rock.)
Although I’ve been to the spot before, I feel called—no, compelled—to revisit this place. Almost like a strong magnet, I can feel it pulling me closer.
So we head east, making our way downhill toward the place where the ground levels off. The weather is relatively warm, with a clear, bright sky overhead. But as we step out of the trees and into the clearing, I feel a subtle shift: there is a weight to the air, and the light takes on a grey caste. It has the feel of a vacuum—void of some essential element. I find myself wondering if the other searchers with me feel it also.
As I slowly rotate in a 360 degree circle, I feel a sinking across my shoulders—as if I were wearing a vest that was filling with heavy sand. And in the center of my chest I sense the door of my heart opening up, and behind that door, my heart is fairly glowing with the intensity of its’ work: to become so exquisitely and intuitively attuned to Steve that I would just know whether this was the place he died. After living with him for so many years and the deep sense of connection we developed, it just seems that I will know.
I see impressive firs and pines, a bed of needles on the forest floor. Manzanitas hem us in on one side, while a few graceful maples are scattered among the evergreens.
At the center of this clearing lies a patch of ground that looks different from the rest. It appears that some animals have been making a concerted effort to dig up an area about the size of a bed.
The first “digger” was “Zig”, Montana Chris’s very smart HRD dog, (Since that alert three or four HRD dogs have separately alerted to the dirt Zig was so focused on, both on site and in off-site blind testing.) And when Jim returned to this space this past winter, the forest floor was covered with debris from the recent storms—everywhere but this spot, which was mounded with fresh dirt piled up by the most recent animal(s) to dig here.
Following the animal’s lead, my friend Mike and I have dug and sifted through that dirt, assuming we might find some of Steve’s bones there. None. So why have the HRD dogs been alerting to this soil? We are told that there must have been a lot of bodily fluids that seeped into that ground (enough that now—nine months later—our latest HRD dog alerts also).
The experts we have consulted imply that these clues are pointing to the most likely scenario: that Steve got wet up to his chest after having to travel down much of the drainage sitting in the water and scooting and sliding along on his backside because he couldn’t use his left upper body.
By the time he finally emerged (if our estimates are correct), it was evening, the temperature about 40 or 50 degrees. Wet, hypothermic, injured, beyond exhausted, it appears that he stumbled this far, to the very same clearing I’m standing in.
Jim has pointed out the cool draft coming up from the valley below and suggested Steve may have tried to rest and find some shelter by leaning up against a rounded rock that would still have held some warmth from the day, and most definitely could have blocked that unwelcome cool air moving up from below
Without thinking, I find myself sitting there, leaning against that warm rock with my legs stretched out in front of me. I think the theories are right. But even more than that—there’s just something “altered” about the air. That part of my heart that has been seeking him out resonates with awareness, leading me to conclude that this very well may be the place where my battered, determined, courageous, absolutely depleted husband took his final breaths.
So what did he see in those last moments? If it wasn’t pitch black yet, he would have seen a beautiful young maple, with a rounded shape and vibrant green leaves straight in front of him, right at head height. Even with feeling as miserable as he had to be, I know that he would have noticed and savored her simple, young beauty, so full of promise.
And if he was too weak to sustain a seated position, then he would have laid down. So now, the magnet is pulling me over, seducing me into lying down on this ground. (I know the sweet friends who have accompanied me may be disturbed to see me do this, but they have been so generously respectful of what I need to do with my grief, that I know they won’t try to stop me.)
I lay on that dug-up patch of hard ground which supported his body, where so much of Steve had seeped into that night. For a moment I close my eyes and imagine dissolving into a billion molecules, slipping down into the soil with him. There would be something so right about that… But instead, I open my eyes and look up. In case he was still moving in and out of consciousness when he was lying here, I need to see what he was seeing…to know what image of this achingly beautiful, reckless earth was his last.
I can almost feel, more than see, the circle of trees that surround this spot. Gentle, silent witnesses containing us, containing this moment. I find myself feeling jealous at the thought that they were able to be there with him when I could not. That they would know the end of the story that I can only imagine.
But when I focus straight above me, the sky opens up. He must have seen a stunning array of stars in the heavens on that clear night. The brilliant light of God poking through a million tiny holes in the black cloth that is the night sky.
Thank you, God, for choosing this view for my Steve: one that would surely bring him comfort as he felt his spirit leave his weary body, knowing he would soon soar up to meet you there, in all of that beauty and brilliance. Home at last.
Thank you for staying alongside him to the end and always loving him—even more than I ever could.