What Lies Here Will Remain
Via Purgatory, a Butterfly Leaves Wisdom
On August 31st, 2020 I started a five day adventure in the Weminuche Wilderness. What lies below is a part in my journey:
I started out in search of ordinary things
How much of a tree bends in the wind?
I started telling the story without knowing the end
I used to be darker, then I got lighter, then I got dark again
And something too big to be seen was passing over and over me
It seemed like a routine case at first
With the death of the shadow came a lightness of verse
But the darkest of nights, in truth, still dazzles
And I work myself until I’m frazzled
I ended up in search of ordinary things
Like how can a wave possibly be?
I started running, and the concrete turned to sand
I started running, and things didn’t pan out as planned
In case things go poorly and I not return
Remember the good things I’ve done
- Bill Callahan, Jim Cain
Day 1, 5 AM — Journal Entry
I’m wide awake in my room at the Durango Hampton Inn after a bizarre and vivid two-part dream. Laying in bed I’m writing it down while the images are still fresh.
I find myself sitting alone in a small room of hotel-style buffet chairs set in three rows of 15. I get the sense this is a funeral, or wake, but I don’t know for who? There is no casket, just empty space in the front of the room. People begin to ceremonially usher in. First, folks I do not know fill in the second row. Next, a pudgy boy shuffles in that reminds me of my stature and aloofness at age 10. He is unidentifiable, sits on a side-bench beside the front row, and stares into a device in his hands. Then, my recent partner and her daughter come in and sit next to him. Both look slightly older since I’ve last seen them. Finally, a man in his late 50’s walks in and sits next to them. I connect that the two are married and the boy is their child. Taken aback I make a comment in disgust. My ex takes a moment to reach across, touch my arm, and tell me it’s okay. The seats fill up, but we are waiting on my brother to arrive before we can start. I get upset he’s late and let everyone know.
The dream fast forwards and the ceremony is over. As people spill out of the room my ex hands me a gift saying it is for my birthday. It’s a small white pillow with red stitching of ‘May’ and a sequence of letters and numbers below that escapes me now, ‘_ _ _ _ _ _ _ — K.’ An inside joke we both laugh about. I ask about her marriage and she replies, “Aaron, we would never work out because you do not have a boss or manager.”
I am now in a kayak paddling away from a city into a bayou to visit an old friend. He has invited me to come see his house remodel now that his grandkids are all grown up. Approaching from the south I come up to a house on a small island encircled by a wooden platform, like a reverse moat, suspended over the water. Outside of the circle are various, worn down structures floating in the swamp: a dock to the east, a playground northeast, six tall dead pine trees to the north, three treehouses northwest, and a guest house west.
I dock and walk around to meet my friend at the pines. During approach I take closer inspection of the house and playground to confirm the place is in disarray. I get both saddened and upset with him, but keep it to myself. He seems delusional, but happy I came to visit. As he starts working on cutting down one of the trees while I walk counter-clockwise on the platform to get some space and cool off. The treehouses are about to fall into the water and the guest house is shuttered. The exterior of the main house reminds me of where my father’s grandparents, and eventually, Aunt Dottie lived. Specifically, it reminds me of the last intimate experience I had with the Treptow home: A numbing and traumatic Saturday in 2013 when I had to help make it somewhat livable again for Aunt Dottie. My brother was late to help out that morning.
A previous, real-life roommate, Chase, arrives and the three of us meet on the platform between the house and garage. Chase immediately mentions the house’s roof desperately needs repair. I finally let out my frustration and quip to my friend, “I don’t think you’ll ever fix this!” The old man stares out along the bayou and replies, “I’m just waiting for the ‘Big One’ to come and crash it all down. You can tell right before it hits when the air gets so still and dry.”
I try to sleep after journaling, but my mind and body never commit to the idea. Dreamwork is new to me and I feel woefully uninitiated. So, I focus on sitting with the emotions of my dreams; withholding interpretation. Between that effort and anticipation to start the journey I rise out of bed by 6:45 AM. Being in a chain hotel in 2020 feels weird. I check out and start my drive north towards the Purgatory Flats trailhead.
I have not slept well since my early morning via Austin, but the excitement of driving into the mountains fuels me. In my years of backpacking there is always energy in this moment. Durango cradles a majestic part of the Rockies I have not witnessed. My family visited here once when I was 10 years old: A blip memory during a road trip across the West when we took the Durango-Silverton train on a day trip. I stared at a Game Gear.
By 7:50 AM I reach the trailhead and am disillusioned by the amount of parked cars. Between the lot and street overflow I count a couple of rows of 15. Is this not going to be the solo adventure I am seeking? An older man with Utah plates arrived just prior. He sits on his tailgate adjusting his river waders while I focus on my pack. Ungreeted, he heads towards the trailhead a minute before I’m ready to follow suit. I never see him again.
The modern namesake of the trail envelopes me. I have never been here, yet, I have been here for years. As I descend into the flats I focus on symbolically entering the woods as a sacred moment: Between the aspens holding their leaves for another week I greet a few birds, squirrels, and chipmunks. Some take a moment to say, “Hello, you are welcome here.”
My Treptow Death Dates:
March 15, 2000: Patricia Treptow
June 23, 2000: Helmuth Treptow
January 1, 2002: Virginia Treptow
January 15, 2002: Charles Treptow
October 14, 2014: Carolyn Treptow
December 6, 2014: Dorothy Treptow
I have grieved, and delayed, in the process of writing this story when I focus on this Polaroid. It’s a beautiful, joyful moment of my Treptow elders, but there is a lot of heartache I hold onto with all their death. Over a decade passed between a rapid loss of Aunt Pat, Muley, Virgie, and my father, before Aunt Carolyn and Dottie. An already frazzled Treptow family bond dissolved after the succession of funerals culminating with my dad’s death. It was hard on everyone left to find meaning and purpose. We seemingly didn’t have a boss, or manager, to navigate.
A senior in high school, I just turned 18 when Aunt Pat died suddenly of a brain aneurism. The oldest, she died young at 61. I wish had more than memories of holiday visits in Hallettsville with this woman. But, even as a child, you just know when someone is a matriarch. Patricia exuded that role. I have one additional memory of visiting her in San Antonio: Listening to her discussing her work in education and being in awe of her ability to be authentic and open.
I did not attend her funeral.
A few months later my grandfather died at 91. Being the youngest grandchild my memories of ‘Muley’ Treptow are limited. Two strokes in and confined to a wheelchair, he was into growing pecan trees, keeping pigeons, and sitting in front of the TV snipping at Astros pitchers who ‘couldn’t throw corn to chickens!’ Between bar stories of him stretching a leg comically high above the beer cooler, my father mentioning he had to sleep on the floor growing up, and my grandmother working extra hours to make ends meet, I refrain to share more. I sense there is a lot of grief untold through his actions. I am both saddened and relieved these stories are lost.
I vaguely remember attending his funeral.
Virginia ‘Virgie’ Ziegler-Treptow was a soul-connected human. I deeply desire to know more about her story. There are reasons my elders came back home for holiday visits when I was a child, regardless of the untold trauma. I sensed her matriarchal footprint on the family and felt her connected joy through my childhood. She was loved to an extent I never fully experienced. In my adolescent years she was mostly confined to bed.
Aunt Dottie would commute long hours between Houston and Hallettsville to help take care of both her and Muley. She eventually left her job as an art teacher at Houston ISD in 1999 to live with them full time. On the morning of New Years Day 2002 my brother visited the Treptow house to find Virgie dead. It’s not his fault, he wasn’t late.
I will never forget attending her funeral. It was the last time I saw my father alive. I was to fly back to Boston the next morning to start the spring semester. Leaving the ceremony, while mourning the loss of his mother, we hugged, and said, “I love you.”
Day 1, 7:30 PM — Journal Entry
After the initial excitement and energy I started to lose steam on the trail around noon. Crossing over the Durango-Silverton train tracks at 11:30 I thought about my childhood and how much life has passed since I was last here. I’m grateful the train isn’t running this year. It adds an additional 18 miles roundtrip to reach the Chicago Basin out of Purgatory, denying hikers the lazy train approach at the Needle Creek trailhead. Thankfully, I only passed a handful of human souls today. By 2 PM my morning fears of not being alone pivoted into the realization I will be isolated with just my thoughts the next five days.
My feet started to drag, crashing my toes into rocks, slightly stumbling, and cursing out loud. I found myself getting both frustrated with my abilities and the trail. Low sleep finally caught up along with the reality no one was around to help if I hurt myself. I decided to cut the day short at 3 PM and settled on the last campsite along the Animas, a quarter mile before the Needle Creek trailhead. Taking off your full pack after the initial hike in is usually a joyous occasion with friends. I found the moment crushingly lonely and self-critical today: Why the hell am I out here by myself? What the fuck have I been doing with my life since dad died? How many more times do I repeat heartbreak before I figure things out?
Working through these thoughts I setup camp. I’m out here to heal, I reminded myself. In ways and in space I never offered the opportunity before. Nature will reveal itself if I say, “Hello, you are welcome here.” I decided to try to meditate in my hammock beside the river. Gripped with grief for all my family’s loss I started crying. “I miss you so much, dad,” I trembled out loud as I wrapped the sides of the hammock over me like a cocoon. The wind had picked up and I sensed a rain storm approaching into the valley from the Purgatory trail. In the corner of my left eye I saw movement on the ground. It was a butterfly taking rest for a moment, occasionally bobbing up and down, so I focused on it. Out of desperation, and company, I asked if it can help — if it had any wisdom for me. And in that moment I received three messages:
- Be the love you wish to receive
- Be thyself
- Clean up your shit
I sat transfixed on my new friend. I focused on pouring out gratitude. I didn’t feel alone anymore. Then, after about five minutes, I realized it was not a butterfly at all. I was talking to a leaf.
— Aaron Charles Treptow