avatarMawde Olssen


“Launch the Box!”

The Great Ash Distribution

My mom, Norma, on the Columbia River. Collection of the author.

My mom had become a member of The Neptune Society (a prepaid cremation plan) one year after she moved in with us in 2014. It was thoughtful of her to do because it meant everything would be taken care of when she died. For eight years, the beautiful lacquered box from The Neptune Society sat on her chest of drawers. Inside that box were things like a checklist of what needed to be done when she died, thank-you notes, etc. I never opened that box until she died and was pleasantly surprised to find an “eco-urn.” These are urns for ashes that, when buried in wet soil or water, dissolve so that contents can drift on the currents or sink amongst the reeds.

My mom loved the Columbia River.

I had her ashes, as well as those of my sister, who died in April 2023, AND my cat, The Divine Miss Zsa Zsa.

I had been wondering what to do with them. I had planned on scattering them all separately.

But then I thought, Mom adored Zsa Zsa and considered her her cat. Why not scatter them together?

And THEN I thought, Mom and my sister had a contentious relationship. Why not scatter them together as a symbol of reconciliation?

I wrote my therapist to see if this plan was a respectful one. I wasn’t sure. She was all for it.

What a perfect time to see if there was an excellent spot to scatter Mom, my sister, and my cat. I told Steve if we found a spot, great, if not, we could try later on.

First, my mom’s now former caregiver and I had to very carefully pour them all into the eco-bag that came with the box. I think it was made of cornstarch. Then, a tiny drop of non-toxic glue keeps the lid on.

On a bright, sunny, warm day that some call the Second Summer here in the Pacific NW, we headed to the Gorge.

I was confident with the glorious weather and the Gorge being a favorite stretch for recreation, everywhere would be crowded with kite surfers, hikers, and folk just out for a wander. I didn’t think we’d find a relatively private spot on the Columbia River. I felt sure the scattering would have to wait.

Our first stop was the Columbia Gorge Museum, which was incredible. And also, NO ONE WAS THERE save the gal at the front desk. It was too lovely a day for most to stay inside a museum.

Steve outside the museum at “The Court of The Cedars,” which was carved by artist and woodsman Dudley Carter when he was 90.

While he was getting directions to Stevenson, I spied a trail that led down to a cove. When he came out, we both checked it out. There was a “pillbox” at the beginning. It was one of several used around the Bonneville Dam, as it was thought to be a prime target in the Second World War.

My photo through one of the openings of the pillbox. They were called “pillboxes” because they resembled pill containers in the past. The openings were for artillery, mortars, and machine guns.

When we reached the bottom, I looked around at this beautiful cove off the Columbia River.

The best part? NO ONE WAS THERE. Suddenly, I was filled with such a happy feeling. I hadn’t had many of those since my mom’s death. But this was downright joyful. Perfect for my mom, who loved the Columbia. Perfect for my cat, who loved my mom. Perfect for my sister, who loved my cat. (And my mom.) It was the most Perfect Place in Perfect Ville.

I asked Steve to get the box. While he returned to the car after making SURE this was what I wanted, I took in the scene. It checked every box. It was called Rock Cove and was connected to the river. It was private. It was quiet. It was lovely and calm.

Rock Cove. My photo. The Columbia River is on the other side of the train.

He stood ready with the box.

Steve and The Box.

“Launch The Box!” I commanded after saying some sort of improvised speech.

He threw it far out into the water. I had a vision of it sinking right away. It felt heavy enough.

The wind that makes the Columbia River popular with kite surfers began to push the box back toward shore. It was bobbing about and NOT SINKING. AT ALL.

“Quick! Get rocks — we gotta sink it!”

We commenced bombing the box with the numerous grey rocks along the shoreline.

I hit it five times. Still, it wouldn’t sink. (I’ll say that I hit it those five times while Steve didn’t hit it once. So, I am The Champion of Hitting Eco-urns. Sorry Sweetie.)

You can see the box bobbing about here.

Finally, it slipped under the water and was gone. We stood there awhile, marveling at how perfect everything was.

The ashes would be released in about four hours and drift on the currents or settle among the reeds at the bottom.

Very, VERY high (too high for an ID) overhead was a flock of birds with a white belly. The sun glinting off those white feathers made it look like diamonds were glittering in the sky, just for the occasion. They circled twice and vanished. A cormorant flew by. The breeze kissed the trees, and the small waves slapped the shoreline.

I am sure my mom was laughing at our follies. She had a fantastic sense of humor. She wanted something fun. And it was! Who would have thought scattering (or, in this case, sinking) loved ones’ ashes would be fun? But it was, and she would have loved that more than anything.

Me waving bye and happy journeys.

Thanks for stopping by!

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