To Kerri Rosenstein,
In June my wife and I visited the living exhibit for your dad in Missoula.
We accepted your invitation to carry his spirit from there to mend it into the wilderness somewhere along an unpredictable summer path. I carried one little reddish stone along Rock Creek, up to the Blackfeet, to Glacier, and down along the Clark Fork. I fished the Thompson and St. Regis. I carried it in my short's pocket to the Coeur d'Alene in Idaho.
I don't know for sure where this special stone is, and now feeling sheepish, but wonder if I should. Born in 1945, I am never certain where all my important possessions may be found. I'm not too young to forget. I'd like to believe that Howard would understand and would convey this to you, his daughter. I knew all along that the stone needed to find its place and apologize to him and you and your family. Yet I am confident that it lies somewhere in Montana, and feels at peace and knows the wonder.
"Come on. You must know where it is. I don't need the philosophy. I need to know." I can hear one of my daughter's insistence and the other more accepting. I'm not sure what you would say.
I'd become careless since this stone and I spent some time together and I'd become too comfortable with my feelings that it would end up in a beautiful place. I'd debate the merits of each brook, berry patch, or the rivulets that drown in momentary consideration.
I thought of this stone as soul, due to Kerri's apparent intention and " was glad that you'd be in so many places yet I wanted you in a special place despite being part of a large collection, the intention not to minimize. I felt the seasons and changing landscapes would give you new life each year, beginning with so many people like me making up their minds where to put each of you; but you were really one.
I only knew that I wanted you in some vital place where I would want to be, and since so many of us did not know Howard, but still sensed from Kerri's expression that he didn't want to be set in stone. I imagined that to be her wish, one that he would wish, too. Would he infuse the world or would he be infused for eternity?" I have no intention of answering, for it's her life, and my family has its own. Where shall we go when we go away?
By the end of any summer Montana day, I may have some wildflower seeds in my pocket, a piece of paper with a phone number of some fascinating person I've met, a rose stone, or maybe a blue one I've found along Fish Creek. I sometimes have a couple of stones in my ephemeral possession, new friends who could reminisce for eons if not separated in the next few days, or this evening. Being casual or forgetful, I've lost songs and poems, and many fish I should have caught.
Has the stone fallen into a crevice on the edge of a forest stream such as the Two Medicine where mink and I fished together? Has it flipped out and rolled down an embankment and into an otter's hole?
I have to rationalize for I could spend a lifetime or two or three trying to find it amongst the rocks of one of many streams or even along the shore of a Blackfeet lake like Mitten, Four Horns, or Hidden. If I'd left it at Hidden, wouldn't that be appropriate, staring up into the east side of Glacier and all that wildness that we hope will last forever? But maybe I left it along the Yellowstone one recent evening when the caddis blanketed the river eddy. Wouldn't a small red stone be happy there?
I'll tell you what I can. I may have lost it in one of the beautiful places where I changed my shorts and put on waders. I also admit to bathing in various Montana waters and it could be in the bottom of a lake or washed out of my pocket at Kootenai Falls where I spent an hour picking cherries and serviceberries. A pool in the lower Thompson River is a strong possibility. I had cleaned a whitefish, then took a bath in my shorts. If it's there, it will be a lucky stone. What stone wouldn't love to be where dippers come to explore the bottoms and turn stones like this a thousand times. A red stone would feel special with all the greens and blues.
Back in New Mexico, now I think I left it near the hot springs at Potosi, the high lonesome wet meadow above Pony where we saw the moose and calf amongst the yellow monkey flowers that blend with Forget-Me-Not's and mountain bluebells. I imagine or recall a shady slot amongst the flowers and the grasses where I think it would want to be. I tossed it gently into its new home, where it will freeze and thaw, and perhaps cause seeds to do the same. It will see the owl this winter and feel the voles pushing it aside.
I'd taken it from pocket so many times, wondering, "Is this the place where Howard would like to spend some time? Would he enjoy a spot under a streamside fern or looking up at yellow warblers from the banks of the Kootenai? And what was Kerri's idea in the first place, to disperse her love for her Dad through the countryside, his randomness of spirit that congealed at birth and dissipated at death? I wasn't clear nor did I need to be. No doubt each of us who chose to help has a reason to make something of what may have been intended. The stones could not be left behind.
While it took its own path and leaves me with an empty feeling, a challenge that I am trying to overcome, I think that certainty of place can never replace the spirit of a son or father. His spirit is not confining. It bleeds from the earth. Being pedantic, I feel the red stone joins the randomness that separates beauty from the unimagined.
In the Pueblo way, we bury the body but plant the seed. I am not Pueblo, but I believe it's true.

John Egbert
August 15, 2009
Albuquerque, New Mexico

I read from this letter at my talk at the Missoula Art Museum Artini event on August 20, 2009.