One night he scooped me from bed and shushed me and bundled me in my footies onto the back deck where fireflies were lighting our wall of trees from the top of our hill to the bottom.

He taught me to find the seven sisters in the stars. They turn away if you stare. They only look back when you look away.

He taught me to see deer the same way at night, against the trees at the bottom of our hill. You see one and look away a little and suddenly you see a dozen.

He taught me the times of the year and why the days get shorter and longer and warmer and colder, and how my birthday, the autumn equinox, is exactly in the middle.

He taught me to find north on a clear night or a cloudy day. He taught me the compass when Ms O’Donough gave everyone a dollar compass at girl scouts. We call her Mrs Oh-I-Don’t-Know and she just slumps a little and laughs. When I showed my dad he asked if I wanted to learn the compass and I said yes, so he taught me map north and magnetic north with his Suunto compass, and how you find where you are if you’re lost, and set a bearing home and follow it.

He taught me where to strike if a big stranger grabbed me from behind, and how to get loose.

He watched me make my first-ever batch of sugar cookies. I took them to Scouts and everyone thought my mother made them. He showed me how to feel whether a pan is hot using the back of your hand and not your fingertips. Same way you check the wires at the ranch where I take horseback. If they’re electrified your hand could clamp down around them. After that I made him watch me bake from the doorway and not talk unless I went wrong. That was our deal.

He taught me to make deals and keep them. Most people don’t keep deals. Don’t ghost them, try smaller deals. Don’t slink away and hide it when someone hurts you. Give them a way to make it up to you.

He taught me about sharp things and hot things and dangerous things. He taught me his nakiri knife and his drill. He taught me about electricity and he used the hose out back to teach me the difference between voltage and current. It’s the current that kills.

He taught me how you to catch a wasp in the house and release it outside with a paper cup and a playing card, because a half-killed wasp would sting your dog when she nosed it. He showed me how yellow-jackets nest in the ground and leave at the first cold snap of autumn, and how a bag of ice can seal them inside like Sleeping Beauty until your yard-party is over.

He showed me where the deer sleep.

In fourth grade we sometimes got close to bedtime and still had two pages of math left. On those bad nights he let me turn three cartwheels each time I got a hard problem right. He said he had his own kind of cartwheels when he was working on something hard. He said you learn better when you’re having fun and worse when you’re afraid. My mother would hate that if she knew, and say he had that backwards. He said you can train yourself with treats the way you train your dog, and he told me how they taught Shamu the killer whale his tricks. He said you can teach yourself to love better, wider and deeper, if you remember that love is the trick not the treat.

He taught me how a song ventures out for something to bring home, and comes home that night and settles in, resting, getting ready to do it all again.

He showed me how the best is where the words break down into sounds:
   Don’t walk away…
   Hey, hey, hey, hey…

He showed me a song for a boy whose father and mother had split, to cheer him up:
   Nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah, nah nah nah, good night…

Whole stadiums would sing that chorus over and over and over. They didn’t need the story. They could feel it.

Always care, he said. There will always be a thousand reasons not to care. Care anyway.

He said your parents need you more than you need them. You don’t think so now but you’ll see. You are their afterlife, the life after theirs, their last future.

The cowgirl in the last Toy Story, where she gets lost under the bed, then left at the far end of some parking lot, and sings that song where nobody can hear her, When She Loved Me, in a box by the Goodwill bin, and keeps smiling for one more chance. That’s my father, as I look back. I thought he was asleep by the time we got to that part. I looked over and his eyes were closed. He wasn’t getting much sleep those last months. His eyes were wet though, his eyelashes. I saw the colors of Toy Story gleaming there.