31 Days of A Sense of Place :: Day 21 ~ Grounded

A sense of place(2)Welcome to Day 21 of 31 Days of A Sense of Place.


My dad was an avid hiker, backpacker, and writer. He participated in local trail organisations and volunteered on trail crews for more than 25 years before he died. In 1997, the year he turned 63, he thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. He back-packed in New  Zealand, in the Alps, in the U.K., on the Long Trail, in the Rockies, but what he loved best were the Blue Ridge Mountains near his home.

Dad on AT, 1997
Dad on AT, 1997


When he died in Feb. 2010, he asked to be cremated, his ashes spread on the AT, preferably in Virginia, though Maine (where I had lived for years) wasn’t out of the question. We talked about various places but he wasn’t picky, except that he didn’t want to be right next to the interstate.


His “mid-week trail crew” in Virginia planted a tree in his memory a few months after he died, in the city he lived in for most of the last 30 years of his life.

Midweek Trail Crew with Dad's tree, in memory


The next summer, my sisters, uncle, cousins, and friends held a little ceremony as we spread some of his ashes around a headstone in the family plot on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Dad hadn’t requested a headstone but others in the family wanted one,  and I don’t think he would mind; he loved that small town on the Eastern Shore, and the house he lived in for most of his life until college, and where his parents lived until their deaths, and where his sister and her husband and my cousins lived for more than 20 years after that, a sprawling, comfortable, old-fashioned, non-renovated house that he (and we) continued to visit as adults. My sisters and I spent most of our Thanksgivings there growing up, and quite a few summers, winning stuffed animals at the fair, swimming in a neighbour’s pool on hot July days, spending our allowance buying candy and trinkets at the 5&10, chasing each other up and down the uneven sidewalks of the small town.

One of my favourite games with Dad when I was growing up was based on his embodied knowledge of his hometown’s contours. When we were out riding on roads within about 15 miles of town, I would tell him, “Turn here,” and then “turn there,” trying to get us hopelessly lost, twisting us around, confusing our sense of direction; but he always, and easily, found our way home. He knew the place, and he loved it, and having his name engraved, and some of his flesh and bone scattered there, seems fitting.


It wasn’t until the summer of 2012, almost 2-1/2 years after he died, that I carried most of Dad’s ashes to the forested land he loved, which his booted feet had trod on hundreds or thousands of days, many of those days recorded in his hiking journals: snowy days, cold days, early spring days, warm autumn days, days when he saw hawks and deer, the day he was hiking alone, broke his leg, and had to haul himself 2 miles out.


I chose a spot in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, a place we had both enjoyed hiking. This 200,000-acre patch of land was his “home” hiking ground, one he hiked frequently and worked to improve by doing trail work. I was looking for the Grayson Highlands State Park vicinity but got a bit lost (could have used Dad’s mapping skills); I found a spot I liked, off Nick’s Creek Road.

areaneardadsashesAToffNicksCreekRoadinMtRogersNatlRecArea6June2013 moreareaneardadsashesAToffNicksCreekRoadinMtRogersNatlRecArea6June2013 moretrailneardadsashesAToffNicksCreekRoadinMtRogersNatlRecArea6June2013 trailneardadsashesAToffNicksCreekRoadinMtRogersNatlRecArea6June2013 someofdadsashesaroundbaseoftreeonAToffNicksCreekRoadinMtRogersNatlRecArea6June2013 dadsashesunderrhodoonAToffNicksCreekRoadinMtRogersNatlRecAreab6June2013As I shook the ashes around rhododendrons and trees, I felt comforted knowing his flesh and bones would be resting in the terrain, the territory, the place he loved so deeply. They have, and will, become ever more part of the place as they nourish the soil and then the plants with the minerals and elements of our shared life on earth.


I like knowing that his memory is alive in a newly planted tree in a city where he spent close to half his life; on the trail he hiked alone and with friends, in its trees, shrubs, fungi, soil; in his hometown, in the family cemetery plot easily visited by those he’s left behind, alongside his parents, sisters, and a favourite aunt-in-law. Of course, we carry his memory in our genes, our gestures, our hearts, and our thoughts, so in a way he is a transient with us, along for our journeys; and it’s also nice to think of him situated, settled in some of his favourite places.


Thanks for checking in. Be sure to see what the other 31 Dayers are writing about.


a sense of place(1)This project is a bit like Wallace Stevens’ poem Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Blackbird, in that I’m writing about a sense of place from vantage points that may not obviously connect with each other. I’m not going to attempt to tie them together. In the end, these 31 days of looking at a sense of place may overlap, contradict, form a whole, or collapse like a flan in a cupboard, as Eddie Izzard would say. That remains to be seen. Thanks for stopping by.






4 Comments on “31 Days of A Sense of Place :: Day 21 ~ Grounded

  1. Pingback: 31 Days of A Sense of Place :: Introduction | A Moveable Garden

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