We’ve been in our house enough years that we decided it was time to update the kitchen. After clearing accumulated stuff off a counter top, she pointed at this maroon drawstring bag inconspicuously tucked behind other stuff and asked, “What is that?”
I replied, “That’s Flicka.” When we got her cremated remains it came in a canister inside a bag with an embroidered saying about meeting again on the Rainbow Bridge.
To tell the truth, at the time we said goodbye to our beloved Labrador retriever, Flicka, four years and a month ago, my intention had always been to scatter her ashes. I just didn’t have the heart to do it. It was hard enough to say goodbye to her, and I wasn’t ready to dispose of her ashes.
A couple weeks ago, the day came.
Our Lab of the last four years, Kiri, and I loaded up, along with Flicka’s canister, and went towards Anaconda and then turned up the Mill Creek highway, the short cut to the Big Hole from Anaconda.
About three-quarters of the way up the mountain road I stopped at a pullout. There’s a little creek at the edge of the road and many times over the years I’ve stopped there with several different Labs to cross the creek and walk up the valley in search of ruffed grouse. It’s a special spot. On a hillside knoll a big spring puts out a constant flow of water, with abundant watercress growing in the shallow water. On an unseasonably mild Sunday in early December 2014, Flicka and I went on a grouse hunt up the valley. At the end of our 4-hour walk I managed to hit a grouse that Flicka put up and quickly retrieved. That turned out to be Flicka’s last grouse hunt.
I opened the canister and found Flicka’s ashes. I put about a third of the contents in the stream. I’ll confess I also peed into the stream, so our combined essence could comingle on the trip downstream where the little creek would merge with Mill Creek on its way to its confluence with the Clark Fork River, on to the Columbia and the Pacific Ocean. Around 100 miles downstream, Flicka’s essence will join Rock Creek, where we had many outings in search of trout and grouse.
The next stop was on the other side of the Divide at a little creek, a tributary to the Big Hole River. It’s downstream from a secluded spot that was sluice-mined over a century ago, and as nature started healing the mining scars, it created grouse habitat. It’s another grouse covert at which four Labs have accompanied me in search of grouse.
Our final stop was the Big Hole River where Flicka was at my side hundreds of times during many fishing seasons. Flicka’s remaining ashes went in the river, on its way to the Missouri, Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico. Along the way a few of her molecules might go by some prairie hills in North Dakota where we had many fun pheasant hunts, including the first time I got a limit of three pheasants with just three shots fired.
Kiri, of course, was running around, splashing in the river and having fun, pretty much oblivious to this final outing for Flicka. I could have told her about Flicka and the outings we had. Kiri wouldn’t much care. She has a secure place in our lives and that’s sufficient for her.
Back home, I found a little dust left, so I scattered it on the lawn, completing our bittersweet journey.
I don’t know that Christian theology says anything about reuniting with pets on some “Rainbow Bridge,” though many people are adamant that if we don’t, they aren’t going. If there is a Rainbow Bridge, there are now four Labrador retrievers waiting. It remains to be seen whether Kiri will join them or if I will be there to welcome her.
Our daughter suggests that in the Jewish tradition, we live on in the memories of those we leave behind. In that sense, our pets might have a better chance for an afterlife than we do.