Copper Harbor Lullaby

RedTrail
Intersection of Dancing Bear and Red Trails

My bike’s brakes, sounding like an out-of-tune violin, announced my arrival long before I bounced into sight. With tires bumping along Copper Harbor’s Dancing Bear Trail, I clambered over rocks and roots, up and down hills in a relentless waltz, melding trees to sky and fallen leaves with mud in a muted autumn symphony.

A few seconds later, my husband Keith came into view, waiting where Dancing Bear merged into Red Trail. He nodded toward a sign, warning riders of a mother bear with cubs, just ahead on the trail. We smiled–no words necessary–and turned around to climb back up Dancing Bear.

PointTrail
Point Trail

Shifting into the granny gear, my bike and I crawled up a hill, no longer waltzing but performing a slow ballet without any grace. Keith vanished around a bend in the trail, riding with strength and balance. He hopped over roots and spun up rocky outcroppings, remaining calm despite the obstacles—his riding a reflection of his personality.

And even though sweat dripped in my eyes and I wished my bike had an even lower gear, I noticed the sun lingering in the cloudless sky, promising a few more hours of daylight. My favorite trail waited a short pedal away.

“Point Trail?” I asked Keith after I’d caught up with him “I think we have ti—.”

Keith was off again, no convincing needed. Because in a place like Copper Harbor, there’s always time for another trail. The village might not have cellular service or espresso but it has more of what matters—trails snaking into deep woods, along with an even deeper sense of tranquility.

FortWilkins
Lake Fanny Hooe, Fort Wilkins, and Lake Superior

We dashed along Point Trail’s rocky spine, rolling through woods and hesitating here and there to enjoy views of Lake Superior, Fort Wilkins State Park, and Lake Fanny Hooe. Toward the end of the trail, sunlight, filtering through trees, brushed golden fingertips across a long boardwalk.

Later, after dinner, as the afternoon sashayed into evening, leaving the forest bathed in shadows and the horizon washed in fuchsia, we walked from our campground a short distance to the Gas Lite, the only convenience store in town, for a soda. An early moon hung in the sky, while waves from Lake Superior murmured, whispering a contented tune, a Copper Harbor lullaby.

keewenaw bike
High Rock Point during our first mountain bike trip to Copper Harbor, almost 20 years ago

 

 

A Sierra Day: Recognizing Life’s Adventures

Written about 13 years ago, the following essay was inspired by my niece Sierra, who turns 17 today. Even as a three-year-old, she possessed an innate ability to view the world as full of possibilities, not limitations, just one of the qualities that makes her an exceptional person. Kindness, loyalty, and a clever wit also dominate that long list. Her thoughtfulness shines on everyone around her, reflecting a selfless nature and the gift that she is to all who love her.

Happy Birthday, Sierra!

~

What’s it Called?

(Written during the spring of 2004.)

“Is today your birthday?” my three-year-old niece Sierra asks. She presses against my legs and looks up at me with a hopeful smile.

“Yes,” I say, peering down into her blue eyes, a blue that’s hard to define, like the sky filtered through a gray cloud.

“What’s it called?” She confuses me with the redundancy of her question. I frown, not sure what to say, and during my hesitation, she adds, “Mine’s called Barbie Birthday.”

“The name of your birthday is Barbie Birthday?” I ask.

“Yes.” She pauses and stares at me expectantly.

Shaelyn, Sierra’s older sister, catches on quickly to the game. “Let’s call it the Flower Birthday,” she says, gesturing to the pink tulips that sit on top of the dining room table, which is painted with orange flowers.

I nod and Sierra smiles. Finally, my birthday has a name, a theme. “Or how about Tulip Birthday? Or Birds of Prey Birthday?” I ask, the latter suggestion in honor of the wildlife refuge we had visited earlier in the day. Sierra thinks this over and seems pleased with the ideas.

She likes events and even objects to have a theme. Maybe it comes from having a creative mother, who often discusses decorating schemes or an imaginative grandmother, with whom she spends a great deal of time.

Regardless of where she gets this trait, I like it. I want my days to have themes: Cycling on a Summer Day or Watching a Bald Eagle Afternoon. It makes ordinary events somehow new and exciting. Running to the post office is no longer an errand, but rather A Short Drive to Check the Mail. It’s like a chapter in a novel, anything can happen.

I need Sierra to live with me. I want to hear that simple question, “What’s it called?” more often. It makes me appreciate each moment, where seen through her eyes it becomes a journey in need of a title.

Next time Sierra asks me, “What’s it called?” I’ll be ready with my answer. I’ll look into those blue-gray eyes and say, “It’s a Sierra Day.” Although she might not completely understand, I think she’ll appreciate my response.

Simply put, a Sierra Day is one brimming with wonder, with originality, of finding magic in the ordinary, and knowing with certainty that life’s adventures deserve to be named.

Memories Built For Two: Bicycling with Steve Nelson

The letter waited more than thirty years to be found. Hidden in a shoebox, nestled in the middle of a pile of correspondence, it appeared just when I needed to find it, confirming a memory I’d begun to doubt.

Events had jumbled in the fog that occasionally shrouds my history, and I’d found myself wondering if I’d transposed people and places. The phantom recollection had haunted me, convincing me that I’d willed it into existence, finding comfort in a false memory’s sun-filled days.

But a winter afternoon spent rummaging through ancient cards and letters pushed all doubts away. The proof sat in a typed, two-page letter I’d written to my sister Kelly on August 23, 1982.

“Steve and I rented a bicycle built for two,” the letter read and went on to describe a long weekend that Steve Nelson spent with my family in Sun Valley, Idaho, right around his 16th birthday on August 18th.

The letter recounted a weekend outdoors in which we biked, walked, jogged, shopped, ate (frequently and in large quantities), and saw the movie Tron. A flat tire put an end to the biking, so we rented a paddleboat, allowing our motion-filled days to continue.

There was nothing artful about the writing, which, quite embarrassingly, even included a flatulence joke. The letter lacked substance and description, and none of our conversations were captured in any detail. Yet, I’m sure our chatter was incessant. We laughed and argued, equally annoyed and pleased with each other.

It spoke of a weekend, buried beneath insipid teenage writing, of intense companionship. No one else was mentioned; our friendship was the focus.

“Steven looked great,” I wrote at the end. “He even acquired a tan.”

I put the letter down and dug farther into the box of memories during that chilly afternoon. A few cards from grandparents, aunts, and uncles were set aside to keep. The rest were discarded, the teenage angst in some of the letters so palpable it practically seeped onto the table.

But I kept returning to my weekend with Steve. Had something more than coincidence led me to the box, just a few months before the anniversary of his death?

Fate? Perhaps.

The hand of God? Maybe.

I’m always looking for such signs, something that will show me grace, the presence of God in our everyday lives. And I’m prone to believe in spiritual signals. If nothing else, finding that letter brought Steve back to me, along with a contemplation on the nature of friendship and aging.

Seasons compress as I grow older. A lunch visit more than 25 years ago feels like a handful of months; a phone conversation two years previous seems like yesterday. Misled by time and pushed apart by distance, people scatter and forget, taking for granted that there will be another opportunity for renewal.

But there are some relationships, particularly the ones forged long ago and sharing in a certain recognition and intimacy, in which those factors do not seem to matter. Their tensile strength is beyond measure.

And so I’ve learned that the people we love never truly leave us, whether they are absent because of physical geography or the geography of death. Our relationships alter to allow for that change, but they are near us, always, permanent residents in our hearts and minds. Steve’s vibrancy, idiosyncratic ways, survive in all who loved him.

Paddling last summer on the Pine River, I imagined Steve kayaking behind me, my single boat transformed into a tandem. He chattered in my mind, his paddle resting on the lip of the kayak as he spoke. Then all was quiet, and I pictured us together watching a turtle slip off a log into the river’s current.

He laughed, rubbing his hands together, a mannerism from our childhood, and we argued about politics or a book or something inconsequential before moving on to where we’d eat after the paddle. And then we reminisced about a summer weekend spent in Sun Valley during 1982, and a shoebox of memories that led me back to him.

His presence resonated around me, so real, I turned around in my boat, expecting to see him. The space was empty, but for a clutch of black-and-white dragonflies, chalk-fronted corporals, drawn to the heat reflected off my boat, just as I’m drawn to an invisible presence, who continues to radiate his originality and love to all who knew him.

Grace Notes: A Letter of Gratitude

On October 10, 2016, thirteen helium balloons—carrying hand-written birthday greetings across their colorful surfaces—were released into a clear, Idaho sky. pinkball

Breezes tugged them across the pasture, where Indy, an elderly quarter horse, nodded his white head and swatted his tail, as if wanting to hurry them along, understanding their significance. They drifted, stretching across a wide horizon, their strings shimmying with the wind. Climbing higher, the balloons joined with clouds etched in pink and red, reflecting the setting sun.

The thirteen of us, family and friends, sang the Birthday Song, our voices at first faint but eventually gathering strength. Then we all stood there in silence, watching the floating greeting cards until they disappeared from sight

And even though the intended recipient, my sister Kelly, was no longer with us, having left us only two days prior, I felt her presence, as I’m sure everyone did. Perhaps she was the feathery breeze brushing across our cheeks, the burst of wind chimes singing out into the dusky night, or the shadows darting around Indy.

Our simple gesture of remembrance had altered an evening ripe with anguish and sorrow into a night full of grace. And it was an eight-year-old girl, Lexie, who we had to thank for the transformative gift, a reflection of the love that my sister had generated throughout her life.

Lexie had wanted to give Kelly a birthday present, telling her mother Mandy that she knew exactly how to deliver it, and Mandy made it possible, gathering all the supplies. Because of their initiative, it was easy to imagine the balloons, as they grew smaller, mere pinpricks against the vast sky, leaving this earth for a heavenly embrace.

It was one of many moments of grace over the past several years, during Kelly’s long battle with cancer, in which generosity and selflessness fused together to defeat pain and fear, allowing us to transcend our grief and recognize how extraordinary and giving people can be.

heartThese grace notes lived within Kelly and continue to envelop my family, filling our hearts with gratitude even as we mourn. And so this letter of thankfulness begins with a little girl, who understood that birthday celebrations never need to end, and continues with an almost endless list of people* who helped my sister carry her burden, trying to slip it off her shoulders, if only for a few seconds at a time…

Family

~ My nieces Shaelyn, Sierra, and Sheridan, whose maturity belies their years, filled Kelly with unwavering pride. They never faltered in their support and care for their mother, and their strength and character reflected off the people around them, making us all braver because of them.

~My mother Sherry and stepfather Pete wove a circle of love around Kelly and unconditionally supported her from traveling to Bethesda, MD to driving to doctor’s appointments to simply holding her hand.

~My husband Keith offered endless optimism and humor—even when his heart was aching—without which our lives would have been much darker and bleaker places.

~Visits, calls, and cards from aunts, uncles, and cousins proved that the love of family stretches across any distance. Aunt Janean and cousins Ashley, Kendell, Jon, and Bella met Kelly and Sheridan at Washington swim meets. Uncle Jim, Aunt Kathy, Uncle John, and cousins Ian and Brad joined us at a Corvallis swim meet for a long weekend of sharing family memories. Uncle Alan sent books and cards, and Cousin Liz and family visited Kelly from Arizona, renewing their relationship and strengthening their love for each other. All of this meant so much to Kelly, and she often reflected on how grateful she was to be part of the Fanning-Walsh families.

St. Luke’s MSTI

~Jonathon, Tonya, Karen, and all the nurses and staff at MSTI never stopped fighting, despite the prognosis, and generated a sense of hope and courage through truthful optimism. Their compassion and kindness touched Kelly and my family and will continue to affect us for many years to come, perhaps forever, as I’m sure many families who have dealt with cancer can say. And, Patty, whose willingness to listen, always be available for guidance and comfort, has meant much more than I’m sure she realizes.

Friends from across the years and world

~Encouragement, love, and prayers arrived almost daily from friends across the world in the form of cards, online messages/texts, voice mails, visits, and flowers, often accompanied with a much-needed dose of humor. The names of these friends, from schools, organizations, and work, have run across my mind often over the past several years in a soothing litany: Sam, Beverly, Melody, Marilyn, Ben, Cristina, Bob, Xavier, Ann, Lanette, Rachel, Kristine, Pete, Gina, Lori, Tony, Kathy, Bruce, Carol, Peggy, Don, Hilary, Lucy, Susie, Rachael, Arlene, Willard… there are too many to name and some of whose actions were only known by Kelly. But please know that everything you did from lighting candles and donating to Aquathons to hospital visits brightened Kelly’s journey during a very dark time and has had a lasting effect, engraved on the hearts of all who witnessed your deeds.

~And, of course, as in everyone’s lives, there are friends who never quite fit into that category, who are more than that… Shane, Kelly’s dear companion over the past few years and lifelong friend, became a partner in care, traveling to doctor’s appointments across the United States and making himself available at all times (and continues to do so). And Twyla, more sister than friend, lifted Kelly with her humor and love.

Parma

~The support of the Parma community defies words. I’m at a loss to express how much this town and the people in it meant to Kelly. Cards arrived weekly from PEO sisters, and friends like Val, Jay, Kathy, Dana, Kristy, and many others frequently made themselves available to help or for a kind word. The teachers and staff of the Parma School District—Shelly, Toby, Madelyn, Monique, Patricia, Cory, Mick… everyone—wrapped my nieces in a supportive embrace and held them up during a difficult time. And Pastor Mark of Sterry Church spent hours and hours with Kelly, discussing Christ’s message and guiding her on a spiritual path of hope and renewal.

Neighbors

~From weeding and snowplowing to providing dinners and taking care of animals or simply providing a hug, Kelly’s neighbors—the Timmons, Jeffers, Parkers, Pascales, Mcleans, and Morrels—selflessly gave of their time. Mandy Pascale and her family offered tireless help, support, and friendship with Mandy recently completing three quilts that Kelly never had the chance to finish.

Kappa Kappa Gamma

~Thank you, Karena, for a friendship that transcends the meaning of that word and for teaching me that there is always time for the people we love, despite distance and schedules. And Nola, for walking next to Kelly (and me) over the past forty years from swim team to cross country and track to the University of Idaho, as well as all my Kappa sisters for your letters, messages, and visits over the past several years, along with the glorious anniversary weekend last April, which meant so much to Kelly and will be etched in my memory forever.

Swim Teams

~Boise YMCA Swim Team parents and swimmers became cheerleaders, not only for my nieces but also for Kelly. This outstanding organization provided much more than just an outlet for exercise and competition but grew into a much-loved activity and diversion, especially Coach Linda Conger, who texted Kelly daily with jokes and supplied us all with some of the best tamales in the Boise Valley.

~The reintroduction of a swim team in Parma began as Kelly’s dream and will hopefully continue in the years to come as part of her legacy. All the swim team parents and swimmers were loving and supportive, but Coach Andres, in particular, became a dear friend, always in contact, whether visiting Kelly in the hospital or joining us for Thanksgiving and other family celebrations.

4-H

~Like the Boise Y Swim Team, 4-H took on a larger meaning through the leaders and members’ support for Kelly and her daughters, particularly Mandy and Myrn, whose phone calls and cards continue today.

heartsAll these people and their love flowed through Kelly and continue to bolster us up as we navigate through our grief, extending peace like a river (to borrow from Isiah 66:12). The kindness Kelly received and gave during her life will have a chain reaction, touching everyone who witnessed it, linking us together in an endless loop and making us more aware of other people in need. Which, in the end, would have been exactly what Kelly would have wanted.

Her life was, in a sense, one of service—nursing—tending to people in the broadest meaning of that word. She believed our purpose on earth was to help other people, and if that was the lesson she left, then I know she would have been proud.

And, as Lexie proved, Kelly continues to inspire, setting an example of bravery and optimism that pushes us all upward, beyond the edge of the horizon where magical balloons proclaim their love for a person whose birthday celebration will never end.

 

 

 

 

 

*If I’ve forgotten someone, please forgive me but know that everything you did was remembered and greatly appreciated by Kelly.

Hitchhiking Across the Galaxy: Memories of Steve Nelson

In the beginning, Steve was just a boy at the bus stop, befriending me during my first week at a new school district, but after only a short time, his companionship wove its way into the fabric of my life, a colorful thread binding us together. My adventures with Steve grew into an integral part of my youth, vital memories that I carry everywhere, and without them, I think a part of my childhood would unravel altogether, vanishing forever.

He approached me, almost forty years ago, while I was sitting at the curb, waiting for the school bus. A total book nerd, I hid behind a paperback copy of Gone with the Wind, and hoped, yet also dreaded, that someone might talk to me and pull me out of my shyness.

Steve had no such reservations. He launched into a discussion of the movie with opinions about Clark Gable or Vivien Leigh or a combination of both. I quickly learned that Steve had lots of opinions. Some I agreed with–some simply annoyed me–but I always appreciated our conversations. And now, looking back after all these years, I wish I could remember the particulars of our rambling talks, lost forever in the shadows of my memory.

But I do remember an immediate recognition, a feeling that Steve and I shared something beyond our ages and hometown. Perhaps it was an appreciation for the whimsical or an expansive imagination or maybe even a mutual fragility.

Regardless, our friendship transformed from bus-stop conversations to after-school visits to long days spent together during summer vacations. And it’s those latter memories that come to me the most, the specifics somewhat lost to time, but as much a part of me as the feeling of Idaho’s sun baking my arms or grass pricking at my bare feet.

The schedule was simple: swim team for me followed by mornings with Steve, playing Monopoly or “Cheat” Sorry, our own version of the game in which players were allowed to move their game-piece extra spaces if their opponent didn’t notice.

When we tired of board games, we explored the cliffs overlooking the Boise River behind my house or played croquet, adding an occasional “Cheat Sorry” move by nudging the ball along with our feet. We even went through a short, disastrous phase of learning how to bake soufflés and a much more disastrous attempt at brewing our own herbal teas, all efforts equally dreadful.

And with every day, every new activity, Steve brought his own unique brand of enthusiasm and curiosity, firmly cemented in kindness and patience.

HitchhikersGuideNever more so than we initiated a book club of sorts, just the two of us, reading science fiction like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. We consumed the novel; or rather it consumed us, until all we could talk about was our desire to hitchhike across the universe with Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent. Our imaginings became so vivid, so real, that I could actually see us exploring galaxies with our two fictional heroes.

But my galaxy-traveling friend, the boy from the bus stop, is gone now, murdered almost a week ago. Even as I write these words, my own fingers tapping on the keys, I can’t believe it’s possible. It has to be a macabre fiction, created by a cruel mind, but the evil was real.

I won’t go into the specifics of his death—the details have been covered on various Boise-area media outlets—but I will say that the men responsible must be punished to the full extent of the law.

At the end, my dear friend exhibited a courageous clarity, in evidence even when we were young, by identifying his assailants, which led the police to several arrests and hopefully saved countless others from brutality.

They might have taken away my childhood companion, a man whose huge heart and kindness reached many, but his presence will always reside within me through endless memories. In my mind, I see him befriending a lonely 11-year-old at the bus stop and making that girl laugh with his original comments. But most of all I see him with his thumb out, hitchhiking his way around the galaxy, buzzing past stars, and conquering new planets, fully immersed in the joy of exploration.