Our beloved Jerry Vandiver....Nashville singer songwriter and really good guy....had a particularly fabulous annual concert this year. He also invited Danny and Liz to join him for a couple of his songs.
The other morning I sat on my deck and watched the mist rising to meet the clear day, and my heart started pulling hard...to hold that mist down, to stall the start of the day, the end of the summer, this point in life. It was so so beautiful, and I know it's futile to try to hold onto something so beautiful and fleeting, but sometimes I can't help myself.
Summer is closing. Even though it seemed so endless and fresh 20 minutes ago (12 weeks actually) when the staff were arriving....old staff and new staff---to form the crew. Now...as they start to trickle away, I want to hold them here. Each one of them. Let me introduce them to you.
Already we miss that bubbly cheerful Amy with her contagious happiness. I could always hear Amy coming and going in the outfitting building- her chatter and laughter were not so subtle. Also, I often scheduled her on late shift for those crazy busy nights, because this girl can multi-task ....from the fishing machine to the permit snafus to the phones, to the computer, to the store---simultaneously with the same bright confidence. She's something.
Liz was hired in May--as our fill-in-for-any-position person. Lucky us, because she can do it all. She joined Amy in finding humor in everyday things. You cannot help but laugh a little at the things Liz finds funny. But honestly, you should have HEARD her play the violin with Jerry Vandiver. You cannot help but get choked up a little by the sound she gets out of that instrument, either. That's pretty special when a person can make you laugh and cry in the same day.
Allie has been here for 3 summers, and I'm starting to feel like we cannot live without her. She was a flawless food packer this year--but more than that, she quietly takes on the pulse of the staff-- and she makes sure that everyone is welcome in her adventures. My favorite moment with Allie this year is when we went blueberry picking in her jeep. Well, I was going blueberry picking, she was actually off-roading. We're still hoping she can come back for one more summer before she heads into the real world of architecture.
Allie brought her sister Anna, who we hired without even blinking. I should have known better than to expect an Allie-clone. I mean, they both are really high quality workers, and great people. But-while Allie sits at the dinner table and I have to strain to catch her very quiet funny comments--Anna sings show-tunes. And when the two of them planned the staff adventure list for the year--complete with a system of points and grids and "must dos"...Allie planned a cooperative effort for all to achieve, and Anna planned a competition. Because Anna wins, or she'll die trying. Or in the case of the triathlon, she might just drown trying. Style and form don't necessarily count. Winning counts. Anna wins.
Kyle was in the fishing boat for part of every evening all summer. Somebody asked him at one of our loud...everybody-talking-at-once..dinners--"What do you DO, what do you THINK ABOUT out there? And Kyle--who always has a really good answer, but won't give it to you unless you ask him--- concisely replied "The quiet is really nice sometimes." This guy has such common sense life intelligence, and he's so quietly kind to everyone...I just can't get over how lucky we are to have him.
Claire usually operates behind the scenes. The most common thing I heard her say this summer was "Sure, I can do that." I really appreciate the way that Claire unloads the details out of my head and into hers. It makes my load lighter, and we never run out of coffee. One thing Shelby says is that people who bake are put together. I tell you what, Claire can bake.
See sweet Lucy in the bottom of the boat, navigating? She is our camp scout, and she takes her Tuscarora perimeter patrol job very seriously. She also has a hold on Rachel's heart.The thing about Rachel--who is our year-round manager, is that she always does things well. Everything....from creating spiffy google website route pages, to repairing canoes, to cleaning corners, to training staff. All details. How lucky is that for us to have her at Tuscarora?
Kelly is our crew cook. First of all, let me tell you that having a good crew cook is an amazing thing. I just show up, with everybody else, and we line up for something really good, and hang out together. Meals are a great part of the day. I'll bet we all have our favorites, but ...whoa...her macaroni and queso, or her margarita pizza, and all the salads...to die for. We've had great food this summer, thanks to cute Kelly.Grant's quirkiness amuses us all. "Geez," he said the other night. "I don't think I was ever funny until this summer". After hours, you can usually find his head and snorkel somewhere in the bay---not to be mistaken for a headless loon. Sometimes he even fishes that way---with a little rod and hook he dangles right in front of his mask. Grant notices the little details that can save us from catastrophes later. He's a good one to have around.
For the first 11 weeks of this summer Shelby pursued an adventure-internship in Colorado. Isn't that the bittersweet part of being a parent? We WANT her to have her own dreams, her own places-her own adventures of a lifetime---even though that means we lose her. We're genuinely happy when she's happy. Still, my favorite part is that we get her back for August, and now she's a certified sawyer too.
Daniel is the outfitting manager. It suits him. As a mom, I worry that he's taking on too much responsibility and becoming too old too fast, and developing a little twitch next to his right eye. As an employer, I have to admit that he sure is great at his job. Sometimes before he goes to bed he still comes around and says "hug" just like he did when he was three. He's a competent man and a sweet boy all at the same time.
Macky is just a handsome little feller.
Joe is absolutely perfect for hospitality because he offers the same friendly helpfulness at the end of a long day that he did that first day of the summer. He's is an optimist...in the flesh....even after he just fails the gallon-challenge. He's just game for everything---and I hear he doesn't miss anything going on...ever. You can't help but like Joe.
There they are--our 2014 crew. Can you see why I love them? It has been an honor for me to be part of this group of young people, and watch how they became a family who takes care of each other---and who are honestly committed to doing the hard work to take good care of every one who visits Tuscarora. So, while I'm directing my heart to let go, I'm also really grateful for this slice of time and for the 2014 Tuscarora Crew.
Here’s our Mack.He
has the self-appointed job of hunting down all the shadows.He spent entire exhausting sunny days in the
outfitting yard when the dragon flies first hatched.Luckily the shadows also travel to the lake,
so he follows them right in and cools off.It’s all very serious and important so he cannot be distracted.
It’s funny what his antics will stir up in people.The futility of it all is irresistibly endearingPlus, for me who lost her best Denali a
couple of months ago---he simply lightens my load in all kinds of ways.
But then, his antics also make me reflect on the way I’m living.This time of year, there is so much
stuff.There are sump pumps and
bunkhouses, punctured canoes and a cute little black bear down the road who
hasn’t found his meandering way to us….yet.There are sprained ankles and ice cream shortages.The phone rings, the food truck pulls up,
and the wheel on the trailer needs to be tightened.All at the same time.It can be really fun, but it also can turn me
into the Mack of the video.It’s all
very serious and important, so I run around and cannot be distracted.
Sometimes, I really wish I could back up and see the whole video
of my life….before I make my choices about what is very serious and important.Every once in awhile, I stop running around for
a minute.It happened yesterday when I paddled
across a clear calm Missing Link to deliver Grant and Anna to the Tuscarora
portage for a gear-rescuing mission. It happens some evenings in my favorite
blueberry patch, where there is only one focus: find ‘em, and pick ‘em.
It’s only when pause that I remember that I might want to be deliberate about my time….I want to be right with the people around me, ,I want to be satisfied, I want to be
grateful, I want to finish what I start, I want to walk in a focused line.
As for Mack, the truth is that he often makes folks stop and
smile. That’s value right there.He
adores the guests, especially the littlest ones.His course is charted one day at a
time….sleep, eat, play, practice hunting by chasing shadows…greet people.
Wouldn’t it be great if life were always so
straightforward?Then again, maybe I
should just stop racing around and remember that it really is.
You know, it has been a huge honor and responsibility to have another being devote her whole life to our family. This weekend we had a chance to reflect on Denali's life. She was a great woods companion for Daniel.
She accompanied Shelby on all her workouts.
She kept Andy company.
She was tireless retriever.
And she was my faithful girl.
She was so devoted to figuring out what we wanted her to do, and then doing it.
This morning, she was mighty uncomfortable--but when I asked her to follow me into the vet's office, of course she did her best to comply. I whispered into her ear---I thanked her for watching out for us, for being such good company, for her absolute loyalty. I told her we loved her, and that she was a good dog, the best dog. And then I said goodbye.
She took a little chunk out of each of our hearts with her, that's for sure.
I went for a walk yesterday morning.It was about 40 degrees, so the fog was on
everything, but lifting in the sunrise.I don’t know how we got so lucky to have September weather the first
week in August, but it’s golden.
My heart and head were both swelling, with the details of
the day, and with the enormousness of life.Usually they don’t both hit at the same time.But on this particular morning they did.
photo by Rachel
And in the afternoon, a worn out young man trudged up the
outfitting steps. I knew he was coming back early, I had already spoken with a deputy. Because I’m a mom, I opened my arms to him, and ….probably because I am a mom, he stepped into
them and started to sob.I think I could feel the grieving brother's heart breaking right through
In another story--one of our Gunflint Trail neighbors who
has been picking blueberries around here all his life, went out a week ago, and hasn’t
come back. His truck, parked in his favorite picking spot, is still the only clue.
You know, usually, I’m all about figuring how to minimize
risk, avoid death at all costs.And
while that’s a really good point (and I’ll continue to make it….remember, I am
a mother to the core)…… that is not THE point.
Here I am on the periphery of all this grief, and it strikes
me that the main point has to do with the way we live.Those fine young men were in the boundary waters because they have always shared a profound love for this place. And when I’m 82, I hope I still have the spunk and independence to drive
my truck up to the BEST spot in the woods, and pick my own blueberries.
As a witness to this incredible sadness, I feel a strange combination of melancholy and reverence which isn’t
completely comfortable, but it does feel like my heart is running at full
I cannot control all of life and death. It's simpler than that. I can look around, I can be kind, I can feel grateful for where I live and who I am with, I can vow to savor it all for this lovely day.
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Last week the Kiecker family rented a canoe and headed out to Little Sag for the week. Traveling from our dock on Round to Little Sag is no small day-trip. But they assured me that they were up for it--their boys regularly backpack the Appalachian Trail, last year they averaged 10 miles a day. I knew Mom and Dad loved the challenge--they'd been on trips here in the past, and could put on the miles. I knew that their healthy boys were certainly capable of it, but was it going to be any fun? Did they really want to travel that far? How hard were these little kids going to be pushed on this "vacation?"
Well, I happened to be down at the dock with my camera when they were loading up, and I happened to witness the conversation. Todd was a really kind dad, patiently coaching his two boys as they entered the boat. And although he was excited, and raring to go (a little contagious for me...so just imagine how his sons felt!)....he sat there and explained where the Missing Link portage was, and what they were going to do next. And as they were paddling away, I could hear one of the boys asking "Do you want me to paddle on this side, Dad, or on the other side?"....and Todd replied---"You go ahead and paddle on whichever side is comfortable, and Mom and I will adjust." Nice. They had a great trip, they proudly made it back from Little Sag in a little over 7 hours, ---and I'm going to venture that along with the fun, the guys got a healthy dose of actual self esteem and sense of belonging by accomplishing the trek as a family team. Does it get any better than that?
Then...I got thinking about our family team....our family of four. The thing is---Andy and I met on Seagull Lake, in a tandem canoe. We were happy campers when we were first married....so we briefly wondered if we wanted to actually transition out of that two person canoe..and make room for any more. Did we really want to invite two curly blond heads on our canoe trips? And then....well, it seemed like POOF, suddenly we were a family of four. We made room in our lives for two more. We made permanent room in our hearts.. And, somewhere along the line...although we knew we were preparing them to grow up, and go into the world, I started assuming that we would ALWAYS be a family of four. We'd always find our way back to the dinner table where we like to linger and talk about the high points and low points....it was every day, it was years and years.
When they're this age...well, who expects it to ever be any different? Last weekend, Shelby graduated from highschool. She's set her standards high, we're really proud of who she's become. She's working in the outfitting yard this summer, then heading to college next fall. She's so ready to go, and we couldn't be more pleased. I always knew this day would come, but I never bothered to tell my heart about that. Of course, I wouldn't have it any other way...in my head. Yet, in my heart, she'll always be part of my ordinary days...and next fall, she'll be missing.
So, I felt a little wistful as I watched the nice Kiecker family paddle away together in their canoe. They're in the "this will last forever"stage. I just have to scrunch up my head around the fact that this transition we're in happens to every family eventually, it's just ordinary. Graduation is a celebration of course, but who expects the grief that comes with it? Can my heart really imagine the big gap? Inviting Shelby and Daniel into our canoe has turned out to be the most significant thing we'll ever do in this life.....the best decision for sure...both my head and my heart can agree on that one. And eventually, I supposed I'll convince my heart it's OK to let her go, and look forward to the times she's back at the table, telling us of her current adventures, paddling her own canoe.