On May 31, 2003, my son died in a rock climbing accident in Yosemite National Park. He was twenty-five.
After Chris died, I created a manuscript about his life, which included many poems. Later, the manuscript was culled into a book without poems. In remembrance, for the 11th anniversary of Chris’s fall, I am sharing a few of the poems.
Love’s Angel expresses the sense of Chris’s freedom following death. Growing Up and Reverie cast light on his character and love of life. The final unnamed poem reflects on my experience of loss as a whole.
Chris is Love’s angel,
such wealth untold;
I feel his sparkling Presence—
stardust turned to gold.
Love is not earth’s servant—
rather rapture on the wing.
Love flames mortal hearts,
then soars to hear seraphs sing.
Angels flit among us
like shining shafts of light—
Some linger but a moment,
then spiral into flight.
to Love’s sweet home.
I’ll know you by the ash
you hail from heaven’s dome.
Chris grew up and up,
an unwieldy clatter of bones
ahead of himself.
He was the tallest kid in class.
While playmates tilted
to tease or taunt,
he tied knots in their shoes,
and learned to laugh at himself.
At six foot five the kid settled in—
a slick, swift, lanky
gem of a guy,
though they say he couldn’t dance!
When others cracked up,
he’d jazz it up,
bobbing above the crowd.
Goofy or graceful, it was all the same.
Chris rolled with the rhythm of life.
Chris danced the elfin jig
under a crescent moon.
He leaped to touch the arc
of a rainbowed afternoon.
Live your life, forget the strife,
Whirl and twirl; be free!
The wind is heckling clouds,
and the sun glitters glee.
Chris juggled feathers
strewn by wayward flocks.
He gazed on nature’s splendor,
whistling on the rocks.
Laugh and play your nimble days,
tread lightly on the earth.
Rain is clapping; trees are sapping—
My love is full of mirth.
Loss is loss of pleasure—
the pleasure of a tantalizing smile.
But what is loss compared to love,
when love is all the good worthwhile?
Through faith, miracles work
to rouse the tender twinge to wing.
Through loss I probe that deeper well
to tap the silent mystic spring.
When Chris was 14, he discovered rock climbing. His brave journey as a rock climber and my climb from despair after he died come to life in the book Freedom to Fall. To order a copy, click on the appropriate link above.
After arriving at my second home in Costa Rica, it takes little time to synchronize with the timbre and rhythm of a tropical land, responding to the lure of its charms. Everywhere I see openness, humility, and hardworking cheerfulness—the blessed life of campesinos and “pura vida.”
Recently, a fierce wind toppled an imposing tree against the roof of my open-sided rancho, used for relaxing in the heat of the day and fiestas. My neighbor, Fernando, came to my door, and in his thick, almost indecipherable dialect, commenced telling me about it. He offered to chop down the tree, taking care not to disturb the bathroom window of the rancho, and remove it from my property.
The next day Fernando showed up with a machete, chainsaw, and son-in-law. As they worked, I watched from the edge of the rancho. Once in a while Fernando would look over and smile, commenting on the wealth of animalitas crawling over the limbs—mainly ants and spiders.
Fernando was not going to let the tree go to waste. With his machete he cut sturdy limbs into sections for a fence. The smaller pieces he threw into a pile along with chain-sawed hunks of trunk to scatter in his field, where the cows would trample and grind them into fertilizer.
A few hours slipped by, with the task of carrying off the unwieldy wood heap remaining. I told them I was going to pay. “Muy bien,” they said, but neither had a clue as to the worth of their labor. I drew out 10,000 colones, about $20, and asked if it was enough. “I have no idea; ask Diego” Fernando said. When I asked Diego, he said, “Ask Fernando.” I drew out another 5,000 colones, peering questioningly at Fernando. Fernando yelled up to Diego, who was on the roof of the rancho removing debris from the gutter, “What do you think about 15,000 colones?” “I have no idea,” Diego responded. “Bueno,” I said, and handed Fernando the money. Clearly, being paid for helping a neighbor was as perplexing as it was pleasing. “Any time you need help for whatever reason, call me,” Diego said.
To live on rich, fertile land among farmers who are the salt of the earth, whose days, though much the same, are filled with simplicity and grace, is to inhabit a slice of paradise.
I frequently see Fernando tending his cows. He brings over fresh milk and cheese. We stroll up and down the dirt path, chatting amiably. I feel rewarded when I can break through the dense Spanish dialect and get to the heart of what he is saying. Mainly, I love his sparkle and joy for life. We were coming to the end of the long dry months from November through April. He was bemoaning the fact that it was just so very dry, and his cows were suffering from the lack of edible pasture. With a stomp of his foot as if warding off flies, he shook his head and looked skyward. “We have not received a drop of rain, ni una gota! Ah, Dios, in God’s time,” he reminded himself. “I’ll pray,” I offered.
Soon the rains came, great blinding sheets that flooded houses and streets. Then all was right with the world again—that perfect Costa Rican balance of sun-streaked mornings and afternoon cloudbursts, turning the land emerald green.
I love the pristine spirit of the Costa Rican farmer, whose life, so close to the equator, is attuned to twin cycles of day and night. I’ll take some of it back with me when I return to Colorado. I learn here that life carries on in much the same way as it has for eons, in spite of technology and sophistication. What is worthwhile about life is ageless. It’s the light that shines through our eyes in the simplest of experiences, the native gladness in being alive without greed or design, the willingness to trust—qualities captured in lands where the campesino still thrives. “Pura vida!”—pure life, as the saying goes in Costa Rica.