We left the river today to attend the funeral service for our friend Ralph. Ralph loved his hometown of Trafford, PA, but he loved this river more. When he retired, he and his wife Ella moved here.
Ralph used to say, "I'm working on a project. Ya know, if I finish all my projects, I'll die." He built his house and kept finishing parts of it with meticulous craftsmanship. Summer before last he made a beautiful cherry ceiling for his porch. He cut down his own red pines so that he could build his garage/workshop using their logs. He carved delicate songbirds all winter long, and he taught himself to carve bears and eagles and herons with a chainsaw. When his mind began to wander, his favorite tools were no longer safe. Last summer, it became clear that he had no more projects.
At his funeral, our friend and neighbor Bob gave the sermon, The Gospel of the Unseen. He spoke of how we all know stories about Ralph that contain truths that others would never know. I thought of the time Ralph teased me that he'd never seen a power boat surging upstream past his house until he saw me in my kayak. I thought of the hours we spent one summer--the first summer we saw an eagle on the river--riding our bikes along the river, eagle spotting and then chasing as it flew up or downstream.
When we got home, I took my kayak down to the river for a solitary paddle. As I climbed in, a cacaphony of crows erupted just upstream. I looked up as an eagle flew by. I followed its path downstream until I heard another flurry of chatter among agitated animals. As I sought the flash of white, the eagle emerged from the water and flapped up into a nearby tree. I held my boat steady against the current and chatted with the eagle for a while, asking about wet head feathers, the annoyance of crows, the glory of flight. I told it that Ralph had finished his last project. Then I paddled off, upstream, churning up the water as I passed Ralph's house.