Having just driven with my husband, sister-in-law and youngest son about 1,400 miles give or take a bathroom break, in 3.5 days, I realize I’ve experienced such a trip. Why else dodge an ice storm on one end and snow storm on another while balancing the slowly-dying embers of a virus to drive relentlessly onward so engrossed in the autobiography of Steve Martin on tape that we run out of gas in Western Kansas? Yet because it was a spirit trip, we found ourselves on roads hours after they were cleared, and meeting an
Besides being related to us, Woody, whose real name is Forrest, is a forest ranger in Fort Collins, CO. with decades of service, daring and making others bend with laughter. A man so full of life, and wildly-entertaining verbal gymnastics, it was little surprise to find him sitting in his office in a huge red and gold stuffed crown (of the “It’s not butter, it’s Parkay” variety), telling everyone, “This is because I’m a royal pain in the ass.”
Just regrowing his hair after a particularly nasty chaos-theory-through-chemo regiment that almost put Woody beyond the chaos of our everyday lives, not to mention his own life, he was thrilled to see us. Our short time together was punctuated by long stories of energy politics, camping trips gone awry, mind-blowing pesto pizza, and especially the company of Woody and his wife Janet’s four schipperkees.
The dogs – Rainbo, Teddy, Frostbite, and the ever-mysterious Guy Noir – look like a mix between refrigerator magnet black dogs and miniature Tasmanian devils. They probably have the intelligence of dolphins on their good days, and the speed of low-to-the-ground cougars as they race (“here comes the Indy 500”) through the house, pausing to do tricks (like patty-cake), sit on our laps (at least one of them), or pace-race around the kitchen table with a toy in their mouths. My kids tend to think of the dogs, who they’ve visited for years, as relatives. “Cousins?” I asked my son. “Not really,” he said, “more like second cousins.”These dogs, Woody’s wacky and enduring ways of bringing all of us more light and laughter, his wife’s wondrous caregiving (Woody once wrote of her that she was due for a second halo upgrade), and the parade of hats that keep coming, are carrying him through. Like most cancers, and especially unusual and later-stage cancers, the time ahead is mostly unpredictable. And so are spirit trips: journeys you don’t plan to take, but in the taking, you find your spirit has opened just enough more to perceive the life that’s always been here.
While Woody might be rarity in the cancer world, he’s old hat at spirit trips: He’s the one who managed to show up – seemingly out of nowhere – to surprise us at weddings, funerals, family reunions even if it meant long and wildly-spun travels from remote forest stations near 14,000-foot mountains. He’s been making spirit trips his whole life, and with our little roadtrip, we got to accompany him on his for a few days.