The Nooksack “tashlich”

by tamarjacobson

Yesterday afternoon, Nelle and I drove alongside the Nooksack river toward Mount Baker. It was the Jewish New Year eve, a reflective time for me, and one whose rituals and significance were not well known to my husband's family. I was pleased to be spending a few days with Nelle, my step-mother-in-law, while life partner had gone away fly fishing with his father and brother. We like to take walks and talk – gab away – about, oh so many things – all of them real, meaningful, deeper than the usual superficial type chats that so many people seem to prefer. We get down through the meat to the very bone of things. Mostly I love being with Nelle because I feel validated, supported and accepted by her, and because of one thing and another, this was the very best of times for me to be spending my New Year with her. 

It also being a month before a milestone birthday for Nelle, I had asked to take her out for a special luncheon. That way we could celebrate Rosh Hashanah and her pre-birthday at the same time. Nelle being the avid hiker she is, chose a trip to Mount Baker. She wanted to show me a spot where she knew I could walk and experience the magnificent mountains up close, without my burdensome fear of heights getting in my way. She had been there some years before and hiked much more challenging trails at the time. On the way, Nelle had planned that we stop for a late lunch at Milano's, a small, but popular Italian restaurant in the tiny town of Glacier. She remembered once having a very tasty butternut squash ravioli during her last visit after hiking with her daughter. We chose a table in the small outdoor patio and perused our menus, finally choosing a tomato, eggplant, mozzarella and basil salad, as well as linguine with clams, shrimp and squid, and wild mushroom risotto. 

As we waited for the food to appear, Nelle talked a bit about the place we were heading toward, and then proceeded to describe what we would do on the way home. I heard her murmuring something about throwing into a river pieces of bread attached to past hopes and fears that we wanted to toss away. I stared at her as I began to comprehend what she was saying. For, it dawned on me that Nelle was talking about the Tashlich ritual of Rosh Hashanah. I burst into a gleeful laughter. "Oh my goodness!" I exclaimed. "You are talking about Tashlich!" She nodded up and down seeming to enjoy my excitement. "You looked it up on the Internet!" I continued. Nelle nodded affirmingly. I clapped my hands in delight, and tears came to my eyes. My gratitude knew no bounds. She had taken the time and trouble to find out something about my holiday. We slipped a couple of pieces of bread into our purses and pockets, and after a delicious meal headed out and up to Artist Point meadow five thousand feet high surrounded by Mount Baker and Mount Shukskan. The vistas and fresh mountain air took my breath away, and for the next hour or so we walked among the heather and wild mountain flowers, stopping occasionally for me to dip my hands into small tarns, or greeting walkers along the way. All the while I was marveling out loud or in my mind, at the awesome mountains flanked by blue-white glaciers. As we walked Nelle remarked something like, "It gives us some perspective. We are so small in the grander scheme of things."

As the late afternoon turned cooler we set out to drive alongside the Nooksack river on our way home. Nelle had not forgotten our date with pieces of bread and flowing waters. She was looking for the turn-off so that we might come up closer to the river bank. I looked down the ravines at the tumbling, rumbling waters, all the while delightedly murmuring to myself, "A Nooksack tashlich. A Nooksack tashlich." It sounded like a mantra – the best possible blessing for seeing in a joyously, sweet and fruitful New Year. We drove and drove, but somehow were not able to come close enough to the river's edge. The road was still just too high up. So, a little disappointedly, we decided to turn around and head home as it would soon become dark. It was getting late. 

Nelle drove a little looking for an area to turn the car around when suddenly she shouted, "A salmon!" She stopped and we ran out to look down at a stream that was running up aways from the river. There, we saw a huge salmon flopping and flailing among the river rocks. Nelle quickly explained to me that it was a female salmon heading upstream to spawn, who would probably die soon after that – her birth work done. "How amazing!" I cried. For at Rosh Hashanah the head of a fish brings us such good luck. Mesmerized I continued to look on at the enormous salmon struggling in the small body of trickling water. We drove on a little further, and finally as Nelle started to turn the car around I shouted out, "Stop! I've seen the perfect tashlich spot!" 

Out we jumped a second time, and directly, not too far below us was the other side of the stream, which flowed towards the salmon, we had just seen moments before. We hastily gathered our pieces of bread, curled up small chunks, and began throwing them in the water each time one of us calling out a farewell to past behaviors and feelings we wished to discard in order to start the New Year clear and fresh. "Farewell to my longing-to-belong!" I called out as I threw in the first piece. Nelle called out one or two of her own, and we both wished for healing for those we love. My heart was full to overflowing, as we watched the small pieces of bread flow gently down the stream toward the dying, spawning salmon.

We drove the long journey home almost in silence. I felt quite full of peace and gratitude. When we arrived home, I lit a couple of candles that Nelle pulled out for me, and toasted to the New Year with a small glass of wine, as we sat down to a simple repast of grilled salmon, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes from her garden, and a small remaining piece of the cappuccino-coffee cake we were unable to complete at Milano's earlier that afternoon.

I think that I will never forget the Nooksack Tashlich – not only cherished memories, and awesome vistas, flailing, spawning salmon, and wild mountain heather – but mainly because Nelle had made an effort to find out just a bit more about where I came from, and helped me connect my past worlds to the me of now.