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The Woods
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My mother and father wanted their ashes scattered along a creek that runs into Lake Tahoe where they often hiked and had a house. But after they died, I held their ashes in my closet unable to think about the final step. I reminded my brother of their wishes about the creek, a place he knew and had been to with them. But he avoided our responsibility saying that their ashes could be scattered anywhere. Without my knowing it, he’d scattered some of our mother’s near where he lived and hadn’t told me.

But I’d been at the dining room table when my father explained the details of their wills. They wanted to be scattered in a specific place along General Creek. My guilt would grow from time to time and I’d try to interest my husband in a trip to Tahoe but he sided with my brother.

Two years ago, I couldn’t bear the two boxes in my closet any longer. My dear friend Sandy agreed to a trip to do the deed. I picked a weekend after Labor Day when the weather is often perfect and the summer crowds are gone. I found a little lodge not far from where my parents had had a house. Tahoe can be perfect at the right moment, and we hit that perfect moment. The first night we ate dinner at a nearby restaurant that sits right on the water. A clink of glasses, quiet laughter, the sunset tinting the lake.

The next day we drove to the state park where the creek runs. In my backpack I had two plastic bags with mom and dad inside. We began a hike through the woods on a wide path under towering Lodge Pole pines. Our destination was where the trail crossed the creek a few miles in. Although the park wasn’t crowded, we did need to find a hidden place as the whole ashes thing is illegal. A few families passed us, a few hikers came by but at the bridge we found a path down to the water. We stopped to test a few scoops to see what would happen. The ashes are bones and they turned the water opaque white. We decided we needed to walk further away from the trail to be safe. At a graceful bend in the creek, we found a beach and Sandy made designs with the ashes. Their names. I took the remainder and sprinkled them into the water. The creek ran quickly there and the ashes floated away in the direction of the Lake. We stayed until the water ran clear. In the coming winter with rain and snows, their names would dissolve into icy waters to meet the Lake as well.

I did what they asked despite a family history too tangled to straighten out. It was the right thing to do nonetheless.


I love your line “We stayed until the water ran clear.” I’m glad you kept your promise to your parents. I must say you last line that includes “a family history too tangled to straighten out” is intriguing. Maybe that is why your brother wouldn’t do what your parents wanted??? Sandy is a good friend.

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