Isabel Bearman Bucher

© Copyright 2016 by Isabel Bearman Bucher 


Photo of a group of teachers near Sante Fe.

     It had been a hard year.  These fifth graders had tested and used every asset, every fuse, every alternate mental wellspring I had.  On the last day of school, at the evening graduation ceremony for all the fifth graders and their families, I took my turn at the lectern, only to be interrupted by an unexpected event - my entire class stood as one of the fathers came down the aisle and handed me a large thick brown envelope.  Inside was a check for $150, and a note  signed  by all my kids, saying,  “We know we were hard, but we worked for this.  We want you to buy something wonderful just for yourself.  Inside the envelope, signed by each child’s parents,  was an accounting of which jobs had been done to earn their contribution to my check. 

     I lowered my head,  and then, unable to stop,  rushed out into the middle of all of them and embraced each kid.  It was mayhem.  When the audience quit clapping, and I got control of myself, I approached the podium, and began again.

     “I promise all of you, my best kids in this school, that I will find every garden store on the way up to my cabin - the very one most of you visited because it was your reward for reading over 3,500 pages of library books - and I will plant and name a columbine for each and every one of you.”

      It was a wet evening in the high desert that late May.
      Two weeks later, I kept my promise, arriving at Anima, the tumbled down wooden cabin that lived up to the old cliche: if sompin’can go wrong, it will, toting four flats of the  beautiful, graceful Rocky Mountain Columbines.  Their cornflower blue and white heads nodded  cordially off thin, but tough stems. They echoed the sky that morning. 

      Of course the water pipes blew, the toilet overflowed, a critter had wintered over, and a tree was down over the driveway.  Days later after all was righted, I  toted those flats across the little wooden bridge and, stood beside the white wedding veil Lake Fork stream, and kept my promise.  Each child was planted in that rich, mountain loam, close enough to water, but far away enough not to be swept away by the yearly June snow melt from Wheeler Peak and its companions - highest in New Mexico, last hurrah of the Rocky Mountains. 
  Years drifted by without my permission.

      Three  summers ago was the first time in a very long while that I was able to go to Anima, and be there just for myself.  I’d seen my husband, Robert go where he needed to be. We’d walked a punishing road for years until Lewy body dementia took him to that better place.   When I stood  there on the back deck, I was met by an unbearable symphony of beauty - Rocky Mountain Columbine crowding the Lake Fork Stream were nodding their hello-welcome back heads  in the breeze, greeting me.   I made my way down, sat amongst them, not on them, finally taking handfuls of my white wedding vail stream to wash a teary, muddied face.  I spoke every kid’s name, stunned at how I could remember each, now including Robert’s.  Finally,  I rose and went into the cabin to make it mine again. 

      Over the weeks, I’d put down the mop, quit the vacuum, stop dusting or window washing,  often to just visit my kids - talking and singing to them.  One afternoon, the thunder boomed, the lightning crashed and the rain gushed off the metal roof.  The stream rose and tumbled brown in a frantic effort to rid itself of the extra tumult. When it passed, I went outside and saw all the kids bent down from it, and one columbine, head submerged, was enduring through that mighty stream rush, bravely, nodding this way and that, its stem near to breaking. 

     “It’s me, little one.  You’re like me,” I whispered, inching closer to the gush, reaching down.  “I’m so sorry for you.  You were so beautiful.  You’re  so beaten over.”

     That next day, when the sun wandered effortlessly down the steep mountain side, lighting the stream, I saw the columbines begin to stand once more, but the little one caught in such a torrent, was still bent.  By mid-afternoon, it had pulled itself up, not without injury, going to a somewhat better place.  I went to its aid, found a Y-stick, and propped it up.

     That was the beginning of my lessons from my kids - now my teachers - the columbines.   They taught me it takes time to stand again after a terrible storm, but stand they and I  must.  No choice.  No hysterics. No sorry-for- myself drama.

     Through the weeks, on my alone journey, I realized, I wasn't alone.  The kindness and love  of my daughters, my friends, their friends,  and sometimes perfect strangers became my V-stick to standing straighter.   Young bankers took my hand and were patient with my tutoring, Social Security people always told me how sorry they were for my loss,  and I felt they really did care.   Do care.  I learned that the world is full of wonderful people.

       Robert’s brain was taken, 40 minutes after his last breath.  Today, the dozens of slides harvested from it teach University of New Mexico medical classes daily because he had clear and perfect representations of both Lewy Body and Alzheimers.  His gift,  for me,  is my greatest joy, because I know he lives and teaches, going on in beauty, like our marriage, like my life now.  
 Last year, I was on a hike in a Santa Fe Wilderness with new friends.  All of us belong to the Albuquerque Senior Hiking Club.   Perched on a high mossy rock beside a waterfall,  eating a peach,  looked at my pals.  

     “If somebody took me to the most expensive restaurant in town,” I said, chuckling, “It wouldn’t even come close to this lunch, here, on this rock, with you guys,  with this peach dripping down my elbow!”

    “I know, one gal answered.  “I don’t know how or why, but every time I see a stream, or a waterfall, or the mountain,  it’s as if I’ve never seen it before.”  
      “When did we start living in the moment?” I asked.  “Everything new?  More precious?”

     “Wisdom of age,” another said quietly, “If we’re lucky, we see with new eyes?”

     We smiled at each other, knowing truly, as senior citizens,  how deeply we all shared these words.
     Stretched out, hands in back of my head, I faded back to my teachers, my kids, the columbines, knowing that each and every time, each and every year I have left on this earth, each and every trail, each and every bud, blossom, each and every day, night, sunrise, sunset, it will be as if I’ve never seen it before. 

     And, my little bent over columbine?  She went on - curved over the stream, nodding gracefully, propped a bit, always looking all ways.  In the end, I like to think she made seeds for new life.  Perhaps they were taken by the stream, and perhaps the wind cupped and scattered them onto the rich mountain earth - just like Robert’s gift.   I know that being who I am now is like that columbine - I make seeds and scatter them to the world because by enduring, walking on with determination, I inspire a younger world.

     “So it shall it is with me,” I often whisper  to her.  “Thank you, my teacher.  I got a V-stick too, to prop me up.  But, lately, I’m standing pretty straight up towards our beautiful sky.”

     Over the years, many of my 11 classes of fifth graders have  found me again through Facebook, emails, phone calls and now texts. They are all my columbines now.   In that summer of 2013, Isabel placed Robert’s ashes under the bench he’d built for her years back, naming it “Just for Two.”  He lives beside the Lake Fork.  This year, Wild Mountain Lockspur grow graceful and tall beside the bench - just as he was.

     Four days ago, I, and four of my friends summited 13,161 foot  Wheeler Peak.  One of us wanted to do this to celebrate her 70th birthday.  Our baby is 65, and I'm the eldest at 78.  Throughout the difficult ascent, young people stopped us constantly expressing awe, then encouragement.  That encouragement closed the circle and gave us the determination to make the top.  Like my little columbine - the circle is complete, and new blossoms unfold; like rich adventures in people's lives.  

     May we always help make circles complete. 


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