by Carmen H Gray
How do you have a conversation with your father when he isn’t quite himself? I’ve been learning to navigate this recently. Tonight I called him to check in on the state of things. He informed me that his sitter had been ensuring that he eats and drinks. He also gave high praise to the people working at the hospital, telling me that they were kind and helpful, but not too helpful because they had to push you do things for yourself as much as you could. He told me about his foibles and again brought up the name of one nurse named Rosa, whom he particularly favored because she was “perhaps even bossier than your mother”.
“What are your big plans for the night?”, I asked him.
“Well, they’ll give me medicine soon that’ll knock me flat,” he answered.
“What will you do in the meantime? Have you attended any classes today?”, I inquired.
“Nope, I just stay in bed most of the day and think about things,” he answered.
I then remembered that I had in my possession several novels by one of his favorite childhood author’s, Ernest Thompson Seton. He’d given me these books 3 years ago and I remembered him telling me he thought my students may enjoy them, but I never did take them to my classroom.
I am glad I didn’t, because I decided maybe it would be a good idea to read to him. So I found the novel, Wild Animals I Have Known in my upstairs library. The first story in the novel is about Old Lobo, a very clever and powerful wolf who evades the exasperated humans. It was written in 1898 and the setting is in Northern New Mexico. My father has always been a nature lover. I stopped every couple of paragraphs to reflect on the story with him and he knew all the characters and the highlights of what we were reading-he told me he’d memorized all of Seton’s stories. I enjoyed reading to him and after about 30 minutes or so, decided it was time to stop and save the next chapter for our next phone conversation. He told me he really liked hearing the story and that it made his evening even better. Before I got off the phone I told him about a dream I’d had two nights ago. I was at the home of his parents. I walked around all of the rooms and though I did not see them, I felt their presence in their home. I walked him through each of the rooms with my words and he recalled those places in his own mind.
After we got off the phone, I remembered a poem a friend had posted recently, The Peace of the Wild Things. And it gave me pause because it is exactly why my father has always held an affinity for nature. I look forward to more adventures with Old Lobo, for he has more days to live yet.
The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.