365 Days of Earrings

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Missing Ralph

Early this morning I stood below the great blue heron weather vane that adorns the storage shed we call our barn. I was ready for a paddle. My daughter Kathe had told me last night not to go without her. But I whispered and then spoke her name with no response. As I turned away I heard, "Wait, Mom, I'm coming with you."

"What earrings are you wearing today?"

"None, yet. But I'm going to wear the Jabebo herons. I'd love to see a heron today."

We dragged our kayaks across the yard, tandem carried them across the road, and slid them down the bank toward the river. Together, we paddled upstream toward the boulder-strewn riffle we call The Rapids. There above the riffle we spied a majestic bald eagle high in a pine.

"Oh, well," I thought. "No heron today." Eagles seem to supplant herons along the bank of the Clarion River. We are thrilled that eagles have made their return to this habitat; but today, I was hoping for a heron. Tall, silent, intent, blending in among the stones, the foliage, and the water. I feel kinship with the heron.

When we returned home, my good friend Ardyce heard me filling a drink cooler from her hose (still no running water at my house.) She came out to tell me that our neighbor Ralph died this morning at 4:30 AM after seige with dementia.

Ralph knew this river during the 1940's when it was black with industrial waste. He spent the summers of his childhood here at his uncle's truck farm. There were no eagles here then. As they made their return, Ralph watched them build their nests, tend their eggs, and feed their nestlings. Binoculars dangled from his neck as he rode his aged bicycle on eagle scouting expeditions up and down the river. Ralph was the eagle's ambassador, and our true friend.

As we sit on our deck, or around our campfire, we expect Ralph to wobble across the lawn on his vintage bike, repaired with love hundreds of times over the years. Ralph was our resident historian and folklorist; he worked for the Post Office for many years; for this stretch of river, he carried the news.

How we will miss Ralph. We've been missing him for more than a year, since illness began to sap his spirit. But he is part of the fabric of this place. I will never see a Bald Eagle without thinking of him.

One day soon I'll see a Great Blue Heron. A silent sentinel watching over Ralph's river.

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