Travels on the McKenzie River


McKenzie River

I’ve been away so it has been hard for me to write in any flowing congruous way. In fact, it’s just been flat-out difficult to write at all.

Many, many times over my trip through Oregon and Washington States I would find myself totally alone, my kids asleep in the car on some early morning and I would witness such beautiful things of nature.

McKenzie River

My fingertips itched and tingled to describe these things. And yet as I’ve said I cannot write if I am not alone and flying down the road is no time to lick the tip of your pen and start.

But, there were so many times on this trip though, I was not alone, somehow I would find myself the solitary witness to sudden heart-stuttering spectacular sights. I know God was soothing me.

I felt Him on this trip.  I felt some peace. Sometimes I would find moments to sit on that good quiet river at sunset and I was free to just be.

I felt myself ease into a quiet peace and saw reflections of me caught on the glassy surface in the setting sun my worries and dreams flowing by on the determined current, no effort required of me.

I saw the sun casting down on the river through the arms of an ocean of trees so thick I could not distinguish one from the next. I saw deer and elk feeding in the mists rising from the greenest pastures where horses and sheep grazed too.

I saw fish flickering by gently teasing with silver streaks of lightning flesh in pools of water and streams so clear it was as if we shared the same space and there was no barrier at all between us. I saw pine trees on the angry gray Washington coast and I saw as a silent witness the sunrise over the endless expanse of farmland over the Central Valley.

And in my children’s faces, I saw smiles and expressions play across their tanned and healthy skin in ways that they were unaware of. Some of these things struck me so completely that a lump would form in my throat and I would have to hide my stinging eyes behind sunglasses.

I have rarely had call or peace of mind and been settled enough in my skin to sit and observe the people I love unflinchingly. And on this trip, I gathered it selfishly to myself. I was aware that like everything else those moments would prove fleeting and someday they will become utterly transcendent and lit in the beauty of their simple passing.

I held those moments to my skin watching my son plunk rocks into the waters and Britty’s shapely back and curving walk as she made her way to the banks of the river.  She walked with her back to me not knowing that I watched her move. Free and easy both of my children moved unaware that things inside of me were shifting back into place and healing just in the profound peace of watching them.

I saw my 90-year-old grandfather who held me close and did not want to let go. I listened to him tell me about the loneliness of getting old and losing my grandma and heard how he still worries after his children. He vowed to see us all again next summer. I touched his thin arm and felt his fragile skin and saw how his body betrayed a sharp and living mind. I believe if his body will let him, he will be there next year.

I got to say goodbye to another man who was passing from this earth. I watched him blinking in his bewilderment over how his body had failed him so. And I listened to him tell my daughter, who he had genuinely enjoyed seeing over these past six summers, goodbye just days later.

We both stood in awe of the gentle mantle of acceptance draped radiating around his shoulders his bewilderment gone. He is gone now, he died on Saturday, and I am grateful Britty and I were able to see him and offer our goodbyes.

I spent time with my brother and sister who have until recently been somewhat distant from me. I felt that instant of belonging and yet that familiar sense of not exactly fitting in. Some memories from my childhood have grown hazy with disuse but in seeing these two they returned and grew sharp and alive again.

I saw my parents working to hold on to their charmed life on the banks of the river. Mom is so fragile now. She’s wheelchair bound and requires a lot of assistance. I did my best to stay right there in the moment of each day I walked through with them. And from a distance I viewed them watching me perhaps the same way I watched my own children.

There were a lot of secret looks they tried to pass to each other alone. I don’t think they realize how much I intercepted. It’s a trait of mine to burble and bubble over on the outside while inside I am always watching and listening. They were happy over our time together. I sensed a shifting and whirring of something good going on inside of them at seeing us all together.

I know that this is part of why I was called to come, to bring a golden end along with my brother and sister to the summer on the McKenzie. I spoke briefly with dad once. He said that things are changing. I am all too aware it is true. And I was okay to just flow along with it.

And finally, on a determined path, I set about to meet up with some parents and children of my support group on the Autism website. I met with one woman on my way out of California and we had a nice glass or two of tea and talked beside the pool while our children played. Later on my trip, two families came to where I was staying in Washington. Each drove hours to meet with me.

One family even stayed overnight in a motel, the only choice available in the town, to wait out a time to see me. And like with my recovery family when the door to the run-downish little old motel opened and I saw them all standing there it was with an audible click and pop I felt instant recognition.

We spent about 5 hours together. We talked and shared and laughed. I saw in no uncertain terms that Autism is in no way small. It is a true life changer and a difficult path. With these people, there was no need for false bravado. No need to couch my words and protect my heart. They understood the pain and love all balled up into one.

They understood my fierce guttural need to protect my son from prying dismissive eyes. They know all too well, I am sure, what it is to cry in the dark of night so no one will see. It is a hard job to do. There is no mistake that it is very hard you cannot drop your guard for a second.

Autistic children wander off, they get hurt and don’t call for help, and they are often left silent and defenseless in a world they do not understand. Being tired to your bones is constantly at war with all of that love inside.  When you meet people who understand, really understand, it heals more than words can say.

I also knew that with this group even knowing these hardships, these people were not diminishing their belief in what my son can accomplish. They shared solidarity, hope, and laughter. More importantly, they shared with me the years they had on me (with their 8 and 9-year-old boys) so much about how far I can expect to travel.

There is so much time and love will give to us! So much of it was transmitted entirely without words. And I saw that even with the very obvious difficulties apparent in the room filled with our three flapping, stimming, and never still racing kids, there is joy and there are tons of places we can expect progress to be made.

There is hope if I choose to believe. There is comfort and understanding if I choose to reach out. And through it all there is Nicholas, and he is not Autism. He is my son. Failing him is not an option.

Autism is a tornado whose wind and dust are just beginning to settle in my life but on the horizon I see hope.  I am beginning to take it on both in a calm sort of surrender and ferocity of a proactive strategy towards hope.

There is surrender in finding the understanding that nothing will cure my son no biomedical intervention or diet for us. But, with time and effort and a sensible therapy approach, great things can come to pass. And there is ferocity in the way I am reaching out to find children and families ahead of us on the path and in the ways, I lean and reach toward all the good things of hope.

And on my drive home, it all culminated together in me to form a tight hot ache of bitter and sweet in the times that I was alone to think my thoughts. Things are changing. Inevitably time is having its way. But, I am so grateful I allowed myself to go and to flow with the currents of change. There is a sadness in my heart that I understand will never truly go away.

It will become over time a familiar friend of mine. Autism is having the goal in sight and somehow just missing, hitting wide of the mark, but still, it shimmers tantalizingly close, just in sight. I will reach that goal by slow inching increments and some parts of it I simply might never hold.

I will watch other people and other boys do it with ease and that is just the way it is. And yet, already it has taken me to places I’d never otherwise have gotten to go.  It is a pain that has also brought great purpose to my life. And there is a sweet, wild, and unexpected sort of beauty there.

Time is having its way with my family too. The tides bring us in and out, back together and then sometimes apart again. It’s a normal flow to things and there is no use fighting with it. My brother and sister will always have a haunting and familiar connection to me though we may never be exactly close again.

Only time will play that out and show how it will be. It’s just on me to be willing to see where it all leads. It is also possible that my parents are spending their last summer in the charming little home and I might not see the banks of that beloved river again.

As the sun climbed over the farmlands of the Central Valley I was the only one there to witness its fiery rise. I risked a moment of closed eyes and watched the red shadows flicker across my closed lids.

For a few moments I traveled the map of my wanderings and played parts and visions out and it all wavered and faded in and out of relief focusing here and blurring there on the shadows of my lids.  My thoughts rambled like the dusty paths that run along beside the McKenzie banks.

I felt all that stuff collide in me but mostly I felt hope. I am unbelievably grateful for the journey I am on. I’m grateful for all the places I feel love. I am grateful I went and I am grateful I’ve come home.

Sometimes a person has to fully return to the places that they began to see how far it is that they’ve actually come. It has been important for me to see the things that have held, the things that have grown, the things that have changed, the things that have fallen away, and the things that have truly mattered after all.

I see that after all has been said and done, so far, I can live with the things that are left in my hands.  I appreciate the journey today.  Sometimes it requires me to step back or to remain in place.

It is possible to travel a great distance just by having the courage to simply stand still and reflect before it is time to move on again.  It was a really beautiful sunrise and when I opened my eyes it was still growing there riding just beside my shoulder.  And for a long time, it followed me as I made my way home.

  1. Avatar of Angelica Pastorelli
    Angelica Pastorelli says

    Another heartfelt article from my dear friend Cynthia!

  2. Avatar of Cynthia Emily Griggs- Niswonger

    Thanks Angie for giving me a place to put my stuff :~)

  3. Avatar of Matthew C. Kriner
    Matthew C. Kriner says

    Great article! I recently came across your piece and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading.

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