Last weekend when we were heading across the North Dakota, Montana borderline. Looking out the windows as the landscape turned from badlands to plains, we admired the green grass and marveled at how the big Yellowstone and Missouri rivers were pushing their banks to the limits at every turn. It’s that season. The snow melt from the mountains and the rains reminding us that there are very few ways to tame the water when it needs to rage. It’s out of the river’s control really. So many outside forces at play…
The night before we packed up our pickup camper with my guitars and boots, bedding and snacks, lawn chairs and coolers, you worked until dark tearing down an old garage at a neighbor’s place.
With heavy equipment and your muscles, you wanted to leave a clean slate in that yard before we dropped or daughters at their grandparents’ place and you drove with me to sit in the audience while I played songs for a mountain town, who, just days before, was on the edge of disaster as their creek flooded and took houses and streets with it.
But you wouldn’t have known it that weekend on the main streets of this small mountain town. The restaurants were full, the shops were stocked and the doors to the bars and venues were swung open so that you could hear musicians like me strumming guitars and singing songs about hope and loss and family and these untamable rivers and love, of course.
I drank tequila after the shows and you talked about ranching with anyone who asked because your hat and the way you lean so self-assured with one shoulder against the wall in the back gave you away.
Dear Husband, you were there with me so I suppose I don’t have to tell you all this, but I guess I want to remember the way you’ve always let me know that my dream is your dream too. And so you carry my guitar and you sell my albums in the back and you grab the things I forgot, the cord and the picks and the lists and you tell me good job even if maybe it wasn’t my best job.
Husband, we haven’t been away together, just the two of us, in a while. The kids and the ranch and the chores and the work fill our days and nights like the melting snow from the mountains floods the river and so we think we have no choice but to keep rushing, keep pushing, keep flowing harder to keep on our feet, to keep between the banks.
The last time we slept next to this unruly creek at the edge of this mountain town we were in your dad’s old Ford pickup with a broken AC and a 1970’s pop-up camper in the box and I had never really been in the mountains so you were taking me there.
We were just kids then and I remember hoping that it could be like this forever, you in the driver’s seat, me singing along to the radio and helping us find our way. 20 years later, on the very same route, you turned our pickup off the interstate and told me you missed me and I cried. I cried because I knew it. I missed you too, in the kind of way that you’re right there but I can’t get to you. I cried because didn’t we know better?
That weekend I sang a love song I wrote before the kids came, when we were younger and building a life, not knowing then that the tools will always be out on the kitchen table, we just need to remember to pick them up. And I don’t have many love songs, I’m not sure why. I’ve been in love with you much longer than I haven’t in this life. On that stage, I realized that’s probably why. Sometimes we admire the big oak we’ve grown, but don’t thank the strong branches for the leaves and the shade and for hanging on to help weather the storms.
So Husband, we may be that great big river right now, running and rushing and picking things up along the way, but along the banks of that creek that weekend I made a quiet promise to myself not to wait for disaster. And I promise you I’m not waiting any longer for the sun to dry off of the mountaintops and force us to slow down. Can we promise to be a different kind of river? Let’s find a flat meadow and spread out and slow down and be grateful anytime we can, but maybe most importantly when we think we can’t.
Dear Husband, I have plenty more love songs to write.