Saturday, March 26, 2011


I went to sit by the Cross River last week. It was a gray day and the river is often the best reminder that there is spring sleeping underneath this winter. I hoped to glimpse the otters—they leave long smooth tracks of sliding from pool to pool, and I've always wanted to see that game in action. Andy and the kids caught a wolf drinking in the rapids the other day. Winter is very black and white, I like the evidence of new life there.
My Uncle Dan died, and I adored him. We even named Daniel after him. Oh, not a tragedy like the earthquake and the tsunamis, not even close. He would have turned 100 this year, his wife died a few years ago. It's just....he was a good guy, and a part of me hated to see my time with him end.
A couple years ago I visited him in Santa Barbara, not because it was a nice gesture to visit a lonely old man, but because he was interesting and funny and I couldn't get enough of him. We sat eating pistachios and talking about things. He was faithful with cocktail hour, even in the nursing home; he kept the liquor in the linen closet. “All things in moderation, and I mean….all things.” He was a smart and upbeat, yet he also shared his insight as a physician; “Susan, sometimes people live too damned long.” He couldn’t see so well, his hearing was fading. I’ve known old people before, but he’s the first guy who was like my peer in an old man’s body—I understood it in a different way. He was ready to die, to join his wife, his friends and siblings, one of whom was my grandpa, who we called Pop.
Uncle Dan was our link to my grandpa after Pop died, 20 years ago. A long time, but the other day by the river, grief washed over me, so fresh and surprising that for a minute I couldn’t catch my breath. I still miss him. I get it, I get the balance of things. The depth of the grief matches the depth of the joy —I was really lucky to have a part of him. I slid into family time memories, especially at Pop’s house, on Lake Genesee where people gathered. My grandpa was such a catalyst, everybody was related, friends were welcome, he and his next door neighbor Wes bantered like Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau in Grumpy Old Men…. I remember being a little girl, sitting with Pop on the plastic couches on his porch, during cocktail hour. If I took a break from the swimming cousins running from the back door to the lake, Pop would play gin rummy and depart old Welsh farmer wisdom, or childhood stories or multiplication tables. We kids were clearly worth his time. I can still hear his deep singsongy voice when he’d win: Deeedeedeedeedeedeedee………What’s the name of the game?

Both Pop and Uncle Dan had the storytelling gift. They taught us some serious lessons about hard work, about family, about playing blackjack, about judging Holsteins. Mostly they taught us that we were valuable. Always there was time for the kids.
I can even hear the wise things those guys might tell me about spending too much time missing them, when there's work to be done. Lately, Uncle Dan had been loosing a few marbles. I understand he’d begun to pour extra cocktails for his brothers Lyle (Pop) and Emery. It was his time.

And, it’s our time to welcome a new season. We're getting glimpses of sun and spring--a little more every day. We KNOW the ice will go out--an paddling season will be on us soon.
It's time to celebrate the promise of new life--with a thrilling photo of the youngest future Tuscarora staffer—Cass and Paul’s baby due next summer.

It's the season to fly kites on the lake.

And it's also cocktail hour somewhere in the universe---where Uncle Dan has joined his people gathered on the porch— having a little drink---talking smart—and playing gin rummy with Pop. Deeeedeeedeedeedee What’s the name of the game?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mush for A Cure

Yesterday Shelby and I helped out with Mush for a Cure--the annual sled dog run/breast cancer fund raiser on the Gunflint Trail.

Rumor had it that they surpassed $30000, which means in the last 5 years they now have been able to donate more than $100,000 to breast cancer research. Hats off to the Proms, the Blacks, and the Bakers--who manage to organize a whole community of volunteers-it's a great thing that they've done.

The event kicked off on Friday evening---and continued through the weekend. A masquerade ball, dinners, dances, carnival tent--it was a pink party initiated by Sue Prom and Mary Black. They sure know how to throw a one. (photo from 2010 Mush for the Cure website)

At 10am Saturday, the ski-jouring event began. One particular eclectic team included the kids' running coach, April, who skied behind Denali's best friend Thor. Denali doesn't really know how to have dog friends, but when Thor comes over, Denali plays like crazy. He's a good guy. But--a big black lab mutt is not exactly your average sled dog husky mix.

I talked to April before the run, and looked at their cobbled together harnesses and rope; April cheerfully had never raced with him before. So they let most other dog teams and experienced ski-jourers go first. And then came Thor, like a bat out of hell. Apparently Thor likes to be first, so he passed everybody and started after Mark Black on the official lead snowmobile. I understand Thor-horse almost beat him too.
It's a good thing she had her pink helmet on!

At noon, Shelby and I headed over to Gunflint Lake for the official start. 41 dog teams were assembled on the lake. It was a awesome!
For a "sour dough" start, mushers were gamely in sleeping bags when the horn blew. They had to get up, put on their boots, harness their teams, and head out. The sled dogs go crazy when they realize that it's time. Maybe you can get a feel for the noisy chaos---until the mushers let up the brake and let the guys run and pull. It's what they live for. Then there's simply the shhhhhhushhhh of the sleds. I love that. This part of the whole event, with all these people and dogs gathered to raise pledges for this cause---kind of choked me up,

It's an impressive thing to see. I'd say it was a really good way to spend a Saturday.