The question, then, was where to scatter them. I thought about my home, in the Yukon Territory: There was a beautiful wild river that ran right through town, and I could visit it any time I wanted. But my mom had only been there twice, and it was a place where I had built a life apart from her—somehow that didn’t feel right to me. There was a man-made, murky canal that ran through the neighborhood where I’d grown up, back in Ottawa—but then, both of us had long since moved on from our lives there together.
I considered a hiking trail near Phoenix, where my mom and stepdad had spent their recent winters. She loved the Southwest desert landscapes, the alien cactuses, the hot, dry sun. She had discovered and embraced hiking in Arizona during the same years that I had been finding my footing in the Yukon wilderness. But I didn’t know much about the trail’s legal status, and I worried that someday I’d come back to visit and find towering condos or a gated golf community built over top of it. I knew I wanted someplace wild, or at least wild enough, something that couldn’t or wouldn’t be fenced off or paved over. A body of moving water. An alpine meadow. A cliff edge.
That got me thinking about national parks. They’re unique in their permanence. They have a sense of stability, a promise to endure, shared by few other places in America today, wild or urban. Nothing is ever completely certain, of course—my mom’s stroke had taught me that. But if I scattered her ashes in a national park, I figured I would have the best odds of being able to keep coming back to visit her for the rest of my life.
For a while I leaned toward the Grand Canyon, which she’d seen and loved. In the end I picked Canyonlands for me, not for her—she’d never been to Utah, although she’d wanted to go, and we had talked about road-tripping there together some year during my annual Arizona visit. It was a place I knew I’d be happy to come back to again and again.