Ashes to ashes, dust to shoe

About two years ago, the old man told me he wanted his ashes scattered in the mighty Klamath River of northern California, a place where he had enjoyed many a day as a young man fishing for the large, feisty rainbow trout known as steelhead. It was a good call on his part. I was concerned that he was gonna ask for his ashes to be spread over that patch of end zone in Candlestick where Dwight Clark made The Catch, which may have required serious stealth and bribery to get done.

So here I was on the Klamath River Highway, just north of Yreka, on an appropriately moody day loaded up with cloudy, chilly NorCal gloom. I was looking for a section of river that had some white water and a dash of testosterone going for it, and a few miles down the road, there was finally a break in the willows where a series of stepping stones granted access to an open section of swift water. Here, I thought, was as good a spot as any. “What do you think, Pop?” I said to the box containing his remains, which, at the time, didn’t seem like a particularly weird thing to do.

We got down to the bank, and I hopped onto a rock, and then to another and another, putting me about eight feet into the channel of this wide, loud river. OK. Time to do it. It seemed appropriate to say a few commemorative words … “Oh righteous river, my father has come to rest in your cold, clear waters,” and so forth; my best Chief Seattle-style rap. I reached into the box, pulled out a handful of the man who taught me how to change a tire, tossed him weakly into the air, and then watched with a combination of humor and horror as his dust settled directly on my tennis shoe.


“Sorry about that, Pops,” I said to the little pile of ash and bone chips now sitting atop my Nike. I reached in for another handful of the guy who used to give me really bad haircuts, and this time, made a more authoritative toss, hitting the river squarely. The Klamath did its job, sweeping the old man quickly downstream, heading for who knows where.

Finally, with his ashes hauled by the river and nothing left to say, it was time to go. And with my jump to the first rock back to shore, my slick tennis shoe hit a treacherous patch of moss, which triggered a zany piece of arm-whirling slapstick that ended up with me standing calf deep in the water. It wasn’t that big of a deal, just a cold annoyance and an excellent opportunity to cuss the Klamath, but it quickly brought to mind the image of a less lucky me—that of the dutiful son found drowned facedown in a foot of water with a bloody lump on his head where it had hit the rock, and an empty, ashy bag still firmly gripped in his blue, wet hand.