The trees are about to show us how lovely it can be to let things go. (Anonymous)
We couldn’t have known last June when we booked a fall escape to Jasper the sad event that would occur just a couple of weeks before our departure.
My husband’s best friend for more than 40 years, and mine for 27, suddenly passed away. Roman was 56. There was no chance to say goodbye, no opportunity to tell him how much his friendship had meant to us.
With COVID restrictions in place, we knew Roman’s family would not be allowed to have a social function after his prayer service so we got together a small group of friends for a weiner roast and toast to him. The next day, we were among the fewer than 30 people who attended the service, gazing up at a screen shot of Roman that depicted his face just before, as his brother said in his eulogy, “he unleashed his trademark laugh, which he shared easily and generously.”
As we headed for the mountains a few days later, it somehow made me feel a bit better to remember that Jasper was one of Roman’s favorite places too. On the drive, we sometimes talked about him, sometimes about other things. Sometimes, we rode in silence. A more-like-summer fall day, the sun lit up the poplar and aspens, their gold mingling among the dark green spruce, sweeping up the mountains in tweedy carpets.
We arrived in Jasper too early to check into our cabin, so we headed to Maligne Canyon, where hiking trails lead to a series of bridges that cross the 50 feet deep chasm, the water boiling down in spectacular waterfalls. Stand close enough and you can feel the spray on your face.
The quiet forest paths, springy with Christmas-smelling pine and spruce needles, provided a serene contrast to the thrill of the water carved gorges. There weren’t many people around, so we all had the space and quiet we needed to explore. Couples paused to take selfie photos. Children ran ahead of their parents, excited to arrive at the next viewpoint. Off to one side of the path, three Japanese women stood close together, one of them quietly crying. Her friends handed her tissues. She raised her sunglasses and wiped her eyes.
Quite a bit further down the path, the Maligne River calms down as it leaves the canyon behind, dancing over rocks, a ribbon of pale aqua looping through the forest. We took separate paths to find our favorite vantage points for photos, Lorne on the bridge, me wandering on either side of the river.
Shortly before dinner time, we arrived at Tekarra Lodge, a collection of cabins just outside of Jasper. I went for a walk to check out the property, listening to our neighbors making the most of this possibly last warm weekend. Women wandered by enjoying girlfriend weekends. Kids shrieked from the playground. A young couple introduced me to their Sheltie puppy, who woofed at me once, then hid behind a clump of grass. Back at the cabin, I joined Lorne on our sweet little verandah for a charcuterie plate and a bottle of red.
The next day was jacket weather, overcast skies and showers elbowing yesterday’s warmth out of the way. We had hoped to enjoy the iconic turquoise of Maligne Lake in the afternoon, but without the blue above, its water was grey, and a steady drizzle made it unpleasant for walking. Luckily, the trees on either side of the road on our return to the cabin were unaffected by the weather, their golden even more radiant against the leaden skies.
That night, we celebrated my birthday at Tekarra’s onsite restaurant with pre-dinner cocktails, beef short ribs, truffle mashed potatoes, and chocolate cake. It was much chillier than the previous evening, so Lorne lit the fireplace and we sat in silence, mesmerized by the dancing flames
The next morning, I went for a walk before we hit the road for home. The Adirondack chairs overlooking the river were empty, most people loading up their vehicles for the trip home. A gust of wind brought a sudden release of leaves onto the path ahead of me.
Letting go of our grief at losing our dear friend Roman will be a longer, more complex process. Sometimes, Lorne and I will be together on the journey. Other times, we’ll go our own ways. Sometimes, we might need to leave the path for a quiet cry. But this weekend away somehow bolstered our spirits, gently reminding us that gold and grey naturally co-exist on many pathways.