Friday, November 12, 2010

Coming out and Going Home

As Laurie, the kids and I walked into the Washburn household Grandpa Clem said, "Come outside, I want to show you something." It was a mid-summer evening, and the glorious and radiant orb of the sun had just settled itself behind the towering Blue Mountains to the west of the house. The shadowed side of the mountain was a deep purple-blue in color. Deeper, darker shades moved in the canyons and clefts. High overhead, above the mountaintops, were cloud patterns looking as if a master artist had taken his brush in hand and swiped it randomly across the sky, then added brief but magnificent undertones of rose-red and tangerine-orange. The backdrop was magnificent enough to take your breath away. When I walked into the back yard I saw that my father-in-law had set-up several lawn chairs in a semi-circle facing a stand of vine-like plants along the red brick wall at the back of the house. I looked at him and the arrangement of chairs and asked: "What's going on Grandpa?" "The wild primrose are about to bloom," he replied. I plopped down in one of the chairs, expecting the buds to start popping any moment. When we weren't looking, the kids dispersed to watch TV and Laurie went inside to help Grandma finish a project. "It looks like it is just you and me Grandpa," I said. "That's okay," he replied with a hint of excitement in his voice.

Grandpa Clem

This sort of thing was typical with "Grandpa Clem"; he is as passionate about the natural world as he is about his family. He loves flowers, rocks and discarded artifacts and will search them out while tending his cattle, bringing home specimens at every opportunity. Looking about his back yard I recognized several varieties of plants, piles of rocks and meteorites, busted wagon wheels, old bottles and such. These were items I knew he had transplanted from his properties on the nearby mountain, flatlands east of town and lowlands to the north; just off Peter's Hill. "This particular plant," he explained, "came from Dry Valley." That is where he winters his cows. Grandpa found this patch of Pachylophus Marginatus (Oenothera), aka white evening primrose, while riding his horse, Ginger, on a cow trail; halfway between a rim and a plateau, in a shaded spot beside a large boulder. I knew that if necessary Grandpa could find that same spot again in the dark of night, without a luminescent moon to guide him. He is that familiar with his range. Clem dug the small bush up with his work-hardened, calloused hands, and carefully brought it back to the cow-spattered pick-up truck, because he had, "Just the spot for it at the house."

As we sat there in the glow of a mid-summer night's dream, watching and waiting for the "blooming", Grandpa pointed out how the white evening primrose, when in bloom, has a few large flowers, three inches or more across, with pure-white diaphanous petals, fading to pink, and pink calyx-lobes. The buds are erect, hairy and pink, and the flowers spring from a cluster of long, downy root-leaves, narrowing to slender leaf-stalks, with hairs on the veins and on the toothed and jagged margins and almost no flower-stalk. The hairy calyx-tube is so long, sometimes as much as seven inches, that it looks like a stalk. The root is thick and woody, and the capsule is egg-shaped and ribbed, with no stem. "Alrighty then," I said, my narrow mind shutting down from information overload. "When is this thingy going to join the party?" I asked. "Soon," said Grandpa Clem expectantly.

To tell the truth, I don't have the patience of Job as does my father-in-law. I am more like the vulture depicted in that famous cartoon; the one that characterizes two gaunt and hunger-challenged vultures sitting in a twisted, lifeless cedar tree alongside a deserted strip of desert byway. The buzzards are resting there with the relentless sun beating down on their bald crowns and beaks, looking more than pitiful, when one of the hapless vultures turns to his more laid back acquaintance and says; "Patience my apple, I am going to kill something!" That is the point of space and time I was arriving at when Laurie and her mother brought out some of Grandma Washburn's famous homemade cherry pie with the incredibly flaky crust. On top was a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which was accompanied by an ice cold aluminum tumbler full of fresh milk. "That's what I'm talkin' about!" Laurie and Grandma joined the audience and, if I remember correctly, our three kids were enticed out as well. As we sat there feasting on the finer things in life, one of those blossoms slowly unfurled and graced us with its precious presence. Before we finished the pie ala mode, two more blossoms slowly unfurled and exposed themselves to our wondering eyes. Between the colorful glow of the setting sun, the warm embrace of the mountain and the genuinely enjoyable company, the pie and the evening primrose, this particular evening was one of the most precious memories gifted me by this thoughtful, considerate and compassionate man. A little sugar and spice and a whole lotta nice makes for great memories. The simple pleasures of life are, by far, the dearest and most cherished.

This week Grandpa Clem's mortal body failed him and an extraordinary spirit took flight into the realm of the heavens. I am sure my dear father-in-law is up there wandering around, gathering and surrounding himself with the simple and most wondrous pleasures of the sky world. Grandpa Clem would be the first to point out that he was not a perfect human being. In my experience, however, he was a man well loved and respected by his family, friends and surrounding communities. Clem was a man of substance, a man of honor and mostly a man of deep and abiding love that reached far beyond his immediate aura. I will greatly miss watching the evening primrose bloom with Grandpa Clem.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

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