Life and death on a river that isn't always there.
The Kosoo River in Western Montana was not a river many know of because it doesn’t exist. Until it does. It isn’t listed on any maps. It isn’t real. Until it is, which happens every other year or so, and then it becomes very real and very dangerous. Jason Pete knew of it. And he made sure his two daughters knew about it. He loved it and they loved it, too. When I married his youngest daughter, Rose, he tried to get me to love it as well.
To see the river you have to wait for the rains to come hard for a week or so, maybe ten days, and then the river springs up out of nowhere, and the excess water flows down Hollister Lane which, after a mile or so, becomes Kosoo Road, which leads a straight path through the Pines to the old quarry behind The Pete ranch. This is where the river goes over the edge of the quarry and freefalls onto huge, black, jagged rocks at the basin. Some said it was like Niagara Falls only not as famous. No one has ever gone over the falls of Kosoo River in a barrel. If someone ever tried it, it would be certain death.
Jason Pete called it what the Lakotas called it: [i]The River Not There[/i]. He said it was a form of magic. On his death bed twenty-three-years ago he told us how he wanted his ashes put into the river. My wife and her older sister and I carried out his request two years later with the first big rain of that year. We went by canoe, me paddling in the stern, Rose with her father’s ashes held in a Folger’s Coffee can between her knees as we glided along smooth and quick. Twelve years later Rose and I did the same thing for Rose’s older sister. We stopped where their father always stopped, which was a place marked by the skeleton of a burned down house. It was here where the water picked up speed. It is here where I stop again now, Rose’s ashes in a wood box beside me.
I was sad when Jason died. We had grown close over the years and I had begun calling him “Dad.” But I never loved the Kosoo River as he did. To me it was a mud-brown flowing mass of water carrying dead trees and the stench of dead animals down Kosoo Road past his ranch.
And here I am again, though this time I do not stop at the burned down house. I am going to the end this time. I open the box and drop my darling Rose’s ashes into the brown water as I head toward the quarry. And I pick up speed and I can hear the roar of the water now, and everything feels so different, looks so different, sounds so different.
And like Magic, paddling the canoe down the river, I finally understand what dad meant.