Ranger Eric told me that if I turned left at the ridge line, I would find numerous memorials built by family members of those whose ashes had been scattered over the ridge. The first one I encountered belonged to a woman who, I was startled to realize, had died at age 31, three years younger than I am today. I walked farther along the ridge and found wooden plaques, stone cairns, a spray painted boot...the belongings of those who have passed on, placed here by those who remain, in an attempt to make sense of their departure.
I sat at the edge of the sheer drop, the memorials at my back. I felt oddly at home. For the first time in my life, I felt at home as a citizen of this earth. At home in my smallness before the hugeness of the world.
I imagine their relatives had placed these memorials here because they felt this was where their loved ones belonged. I've wandered a lot in my life. I can't say that I've been searching for a "home" because a home cannot be defined by a place. But, in the back of my mind, I've been subtly searching for a sense of "placeness."
Whenever I visited my relatives in China, I was known as the American. Yet growing up in Arizona in the 1990s, I was constantly asked where I was from. If I replied, "Here," it was followed by, "But where are you really from?" I've never had a place that I could name, "That's where I'm from. That is the place that has shaped who I am." Perhaps one day I will wake up and find myself long enough in a place that I will claim it as my own. I will be surprised that my children have grown up there.
For now I sit quietly and watch the way that shadows and light dance across an expansive valley. If I were from this area, I would want my ashes scattered here. Let my ashes spread to the far corners of the John Day Valley until it becomes dust immemorial and retains no part of who I used to be. Build me a stone cairn that receives the last caress of warmth as the sun dips below the mountains on the opposite bank.