The Road Home

Tuesday afternoon, Richard and I left for our monthly trip to Denver. On the agenda: An appointment with the neurosurgeons to check on how he’s recovering from his most recent brain surgery, an appointment with his oncologist to talk about what’s next in his treatment, and a half-day with my parents to see how things are going there. Fun, fun, fun.

Still, the drive was gorgeous as usual, with views of high peaks and tawny autumn-colored grasslands in open mountain parks (like South Park in the photo above with moody storm clouds over the peaks in the background), plus the last flashes of orange and gold in the aspens as with those on the shoulder of Mount Bierstadt in the photo below, and the cottonwood trees along the streams just beginning to turn vivid yellow. Beautiful landscape notwithstanding, navigating the highway over the mountains and then navigating the traffic across the entire width of the Denver Metropolitan Area wears me out.

The highlight of our time in Denver: We’re in the exam room with Richard’s oncologist, and she asks how he is feeling. In answer, Richard reaches into his briefcase and takes out his   juggling balls, which he brought specifically to make good on his promise to her that he would be able to juggle while standing on one foot by now, just under two months after his latest brain surgery. He gets the three balls going in the air, and then slowly raises one leg, still juggling. A huge smile crosses her face, and then she breaks out laughing. What a beautiful sound! I didn’t have my camera with me–didn’t think to bring it to the hospital–or I’d post a photo. Any day when you can make your oncologist laugh is a really good day.

The neurosurgery appointment went well too–they’ve offically released him. His incision is healing well, his eyesight is improving (they didn’t ask for the juggling demo through) and his brain seems to be recovering too. He repeated the juggling demonstration later for our favorite social worker when we stopped to visit her, and seeing her laugh was also a delight. Then we ran into one of the neurosurgery residents from his last surgery, and she of the serious demeanor got the sweetest smile on her face on recognizing Richard (who she saw last struggling to come out from the anesthesia, disoriented by the loss of a chunk of his brain, and bewildered by the double vision). What a gift!

The down side of the time in Denver: My mom’s physical condition is deteriorating rapidly–a year ago, she could still hike a mile or two; now she can barely walk from their apartment to the front door of the retirement community. My once-perennially happy and cheerful mother now suffers from serious anxiety and claustrophobia. She’s still got spunk though: “I’m not going to let this take me over,” she said. My dad’s amazingly patient with her, but he can’t do everything, and with severely limited vision, he literally can’t see everything, either. Right now, they’ve got visiting nurses checking on them every other day, which is a very good thing. What’s next, I simply cannot imagine.

Today, I had promised to guest-teach a biology class at University of Colorado-Denver. I was exhausted when I got up this morning, and the class was intense. But it gave me a great gift: Watching the lights go on in people’s minds when I talk about my mission to reconnect humans with nature, and to leave the parts of this Earth that I touch in better shape than I found them. It’s a treat to talk to students about what biology teaches us about life, and how science and art can work together–drawing on both mind and heart–to make a positive difference. Thank you, Professor Joanne Odden of University of Colorado-Denver, for using my writing in your classes, and for inviting me to visit–I left that class exhilirated by the students’ positive responses, and that energy carried me into the long drive home.


On which, Richard drove part of the way, his first significant time behind the wheel since his last surgery. That not only gave me a bit of a break; it allowed me to indulge my inner artist and shoot photos of the landscape as he drove. I think of those shots as haiku: a detail that captures the essence of a moment in time and place.


We’re home now, and I’m writing this from my favorite spot on the couch. It feels very, very good to be here: safe, cozy, nurturing, inspiring, restorative. Just what home should be, and I’m grateful for the road that brought us here.