Father’s Day began with an interesting encounter.
After I rejoined my children, we left Belfast and started up the coast of County Antrim. Through a steady mix of sun and halting rain we saw emerald fields dotted with supremely relaxed cows. Herds of sheep were bedecked with neon streaks of pink and Kelly green.
We stepped lively across the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. (For tourist purposes it had been described as “heart stopping,” but we found it genteel.)
Later we careened down a steep, narrow road to take a peek at the world’s smallest church. (Now that was a heart-stopping ride.)
We stood in awe before a road lined with silver oak trees whose branches reached across and clutched one another in a vista out of Pan’s Labyrinth.
And at mid-day, as rain began to spatter like tears against its hexagonal basalt columns, we gingerly stepped to the edge of the Giant’s Causeway and let go of most of Jim’s ashes.
It was a brisk fifteen-minute walk from being dropped off near the Causeway to the main site.
Our guide had told us some of the lore behind the formation of these thousands of columns of varying heights. Some, my son Noah pointed out, were pentagonal, not hexagonal. He explained why certain forms would, scientifically speaking, have more inherent stability. But I also enjoyed the Irish mythology of Finn McCool, a giant said to have had second thoughts about a planned imbroglio with Scottish giants he was to have met across a bridge of these columns spanning the sea, to the Island of Staffa.
One enormous set of columns, set into a cliff, makes up the “Organ Pipes.” Others jut out in gradations to the green ocean. Some, washed with water, look like stepping-stones into the sea.
Standing on the shoulders of these giants could not leave one cold.
Where exactly should we do this? I knew only that this vast place, which Noah had picked out as our destination, was the right place to be on that day and that Jim would have been pleased with our adventure–even (perhaps especially) the comical parts with which my day had been launched.
I looked about for some kind of path to take us to just the right spot.
I like to think I know a directional sign when I see it.
When we reached the water’s edge, one daughter stood behind and above me, by copper-tinted columns, and looked down. My sons and I had crept to the basalt steps where the earth met the sea.
My hands were shaking too much to open the mailing box that contained the ashes, so one of my sons did it for me, gingerly lifting the inner box from which I removed a bag and untwisted its gold tie.
I shook out most of the ashes, which burst into a billowing gray cloud as soon as they touched the water. Just as quickly, the cloud dissipated and was gone: opaque white-gray instantly gave way to clear deep teal.
My sons sat thoughtfully at the water’s edge while I retreated to where my daughter stood above us. A German gentleman approached me from the opposite side of the wide expanse and gestured towards my daughter, asking, “Is she alright?”
It was raining steadily by then, and I nodded as I steered her towards her brothers. My voice broke as I told the man–as if he could have known what had just transpired–“She’s OK. . . . It’s just that we miss her dad.”
He nodded at me as if he really did understand, and repeated to an older woman whom I assumed was his wife, “They miss her father.”
You would have loved this place.
It was strangely difficult to leave, though we had to climb back up the hill soon. I was struck by a sudden, irrational worry: would I remember this exact spot? Would my children be able to show their children this spot some day?
At that point I looked down, where my sons still sat at the sea’s edge. From my higher vantage point I realized we would always be able to find this exact spot, and was certain Jim approved of our choice.
From where my daughter and I stood and looked down to where ashes had turned to ocean, one rounded rock was positioned just behind another rock one of the same color and texture.
Looking down, I saw for the first time that the two immense rocks looked conjoined from a distance, so that a left-tilting heart marks this spot.