What was I thinking?

The box lingered in the corner, untouched. Its factory tape still in tact. The large cardboard cube became invisible over time, as all things do when left alone. I passed it numerous times a day without giving it a thought. Yet at the same time, its very existence hung over my head.

I had wrestled with the idea for months. At first it prickled, then it pestered, then visions formed on how I could bring it to reality. Until one day I just did it. I walked into the sewing machine shop and bought myself a new serger.

I had survived seven years without the specialty sewing machine that breezes through knit fabrics, rendering t-shirts, sweatsuits, leggings, shorts, pajamas and even swimsuits in a flash. Its mastery over ribbed cuffs and necklines brought professional finishes to all these garments. For years I clothed myself and my children in custom outfits for mere pennies and large helping of personal satisfaction.

Matching family outfits so we could find one another at Disney World

That trusty machine soldiered on for years, then lay dormant when those little children went off to college and moved on to real jobs. But I brought it back into service to finish the edges of the cloth napkins for my son Carl’s wedding reception. It was on the 240th napkin that it ground to a halt – about a dozen napkins short. The repair shop delivered the harsh news, it had met its demise. My years of sewing had completely worn out the parts inside. Fortunately, the final guest count did not exceed 240.

Rich offered to buy me a new machine on the spot, but I declined. After being idled for so many years, I was uncertain I would make use of it. And so I laid the idea to rest. Or did I?

Perhaps it was my annual Grammy Jammie sewing spree that unearthed the thought again. The possibility that older grandchildren might soon opt out of slipper jammies and prefer something lighter drifted into my thoughts. And even Grammy Jammies could benefit from the bound seams the serger produces. As I picked out knit dresses for my 5 and 6 year old granddaughters for Christmas, cousins who refuse to wear anything but dresses, the niggling truth lingered. I could make these. So easily, with a serger.

Visions of resurrecting my old sewing life danced before my eyes. Just think of all the cute outfits I could make for them! And then the other voice intervened. What about my writing? Would this usurp the hours I had formerly designated for writing? Is this a delay tactic, to put off getting back to writing my book? I tried to silence the mental arguments.

So the box loitered. I couldn’t open it before Christmas, as I knew it would unleash a mountain of tasks. Choose new patterns, figure out sizes, buy fabric, cut out garment pieces. Worse yet would be the learning curve. Sergers are notoriously finicky machines and I had a brand new model to master. I had no intention of spoiling my family holidays with a new obsession.

Weeks went by. Then, in the depth of our latest cold snap I took the plunge. Tearing the tape off the box, I extracted the thick manual, then shut it again. Just flipping through the pages of instructions in three languages sent my eyes rolling back in my head. But I went ahead and bought fabric anyway, and cut out a little girl dress. Then I watched the instructional DVD. Taking a deep breath I returned to the box, lifted out the squeaky styrofoam, lugged the heavy machine to my workspace, and stared it down. Perhaps this wasn’t such a great idea after all. I would wait until morning to do battle when I was fresh.

To my great joy, the serger came already threaded. That alleviated one huge hurdle right away. Until I jammed the fabric in the machine and had to rethread the gnarliest of the four threads. But my confidence soared when I was able to return the stitches to finely tuned regularity. I continued to practice throughout the morning, tweaking tension, adjusting the differential, eyeballing the seam allowance and honing my technique.

Eventually the moment of truth arrived. It was time to sew for real. Sergers are not at all forgiving when it comes to mistakes, so my heart thumped and my throat tightened as I fed the dress pieces under the presser foot and pushed down on the pedal. One seam led to another. I successfully married the ribbing with the neckline and attached sleeves and skirt. The familiar loud thumping of the machine (as opposed to the sweet hum of a regular sewing machine) brought it all back. My fingers remembered what to do, and my eyes guided the fabric. And in short order I had a completed dress.

Maybe it wasn’t such a hairbrained idea after all.

It’s Been a While

“Would you like to bike to Lakes Park with me?” Rich asked.

On the surface it was a simple question. It’s a nice park about six miles from our AirBnB in Ft. Myers. The route is totally flat, with bike trail all the way. The afternoon was sunny and warm, inviting for an outdoor activity.

For eight years we bike toured at least once a year, usually for up to a month at a time, covering around 1,000 miles. Hopping on our bikes together was ingrained in our retirement lifestyle. When we weren’t touring, we were still out there training or just staying in shape. We took it for granted.

But yesterday’s question was not simple. It carried a depth of meaning that was not lost on me. Since Rich’s open-heart surgery over a year ago, he has been fighting his way back to health and persistently pushing to increase his endurance. He no longer takes anything for granted. Nor do I.

I couldn’t remember the last time we biked together. I looked it up in my sports tracking app. The answer – August 31, 2020. That was just over a month before his heart took him down on the trail. Back when there were signs that we missed, when workouts were harder for him but we had no idea why. When we blamed it on getting older. Yet he persevered, and we went on a nice ride in Grand Marais. I didn’t know it would be our last for so long.

Throughout his recovery, Rich insisted he had to fight his own battles. Overcome his demons on his own. He doggedly went out trail running and passed the spot where he went down, his recovering heart pounding as hard as it could as the haunting memory swept over him. He got back on his bike when the weather warmed, walking the hills when he didn’t have the stamina to pedal up them. “Slow and steady” was his mantra. Each time I offered to go with him, I got the same response. “I have to conquer this on my own.” Admittedly, sometimes I set out for my own ride on the same route a little later, just to reassure myself he was still upright, on his way home.

Rich was told that the mental game would be just as hard as the physical side of his recovery. Not knowing how much his body has left to give and the extent of his long-term prospects for active sports has been hard.

Facing all this has clouded my horizon as well. Rich’s uncertainties leave me feeling adrift. What does all this mean for our future? Our mutual love of outdoor active pursuits hangs in limbo. It used to be a no-brainer to dream up vacations that revolved around cross-country skiing, canoeing, kayaking, cycling and hiking. How much of that remains within our reach? It’s understandable that Rich’s interest may wane with his abilities. The gulf between our abilities has plunged us into uncharted territory.

And the big question still looms: Will we ever be able to resume bike touring? I still long for those days in the saddle, grappling with weather conditions, the incredible views from the seats of our bikes, the wonderful people we meet along the way, and the sense of empowerment from traveling under own own steam. I can’t accept that it’s the end just yet. Only time will tell.

Rich’s question really marked a milestone. For the first time, he was willing to share his ride. Which really meant sharing his new reality. Riding with him would allow me to personally witness his capabilities.

Cycling down the driveway, I settled into place behind him, allowing him to set the pace and curbing my urge to forge ahead – an issue even in normal times. The sense of familiarity and normalcy was overwhelming, yet I recognized it as a gift. I was also impressed. Rich kept up a good pace, better than I anticipated. Clearly his efforts were paying off.

When Google misled us on the distance to the park, and the round-trip turned out to be closer to 16 miles than 12, I could see Rich tiring on the way home. He doggedly pushed his pedals to complete the ride, and still carried his bike up the 16 steps to our 2nd floor abode. But not without a cost. I witnessed the weakness imposed by his heart. A good lesson, grounding me.

But the ride held more significance. It was a measure of just how far he’s come. More and more often, I hear Rich utter “I never could have done that a few months ago.” Which I take as a good omen for the future. For our future. He’s fighting a good fight and winning. I’m already looking forward to our next bike ride. This time I don’t expect it to be such a long while.

Back by Popular Demand

“Did you make Grammy Jammies this year?” 

Ben in the first Jammies 2010

The frequency of the question came as a surprise.  Apparently my annual sewing spree has spawned a following. It’s nice to know that a simple, homespun and creative work of love can capture an audience. Amidst the stress and anxiety surrounding our Covid-laden lives, it’s heartwarming to be able to contribute some whimsy to the world.

The answer is “Of course!”

What started with a single pair of slipper jammies 11 years ago has blossomed into seven pairs of Grammie Jammies and six Grammie Jammies for special friends this year. Thinking that a newborn was a bit young to have adopted a favorite friend yet, I added a matching stuffed animal to the assembly for him.

With each passing year, the kids get older, the Jammies bigger and I hold my breath as I check with the oldest ones to see if they are still “in.” Now topping out at 11 and 9, I realize this ritual may be nearing the end of its lifespan for them. But this year they came up with their own creative solution. “Can we have them without feet?”

“Yes! I can certainly do that!” and the tradition lives on.

I admit that I let this venture consume my fall. Once the Jammies are all cut and ready to sew, my obsessive side comes out. I develop tunnel vision, waking only to ponder how many Jammies I can complete by the end of the day. I feed material through the machine, clip threads, insert zippers, zigzag seams, top stitch, stretch ribbing, wind the bobbin and start new spools of thread all the day long. Admittedly, I still do my share of ripping out stitches and do-overs as well. Practice doesn’t always make perfect.

To date, I’ve made 51 pairs of Grammy Jammies, out of 16 different patterns of fleece. Expanding into friend Jammies four years ago adds another 20 miniature Jammies. Taking the numbers game even farther, here’s what it took to produce this year’s Grammy Jammies:

  • 13 zippers
  • 9 yards of fleece fabric
  • 5/8 yard ribbing fabric
  • Gripper foot fabric
  • 1 snap
  • 3 large spools of thread
  • 3 old Kwik Sew patterns, sizes newborn to kids XL
  • 1 44 year old sewing machine

By now the kids all know what comes in fabric bags, and I’m always as excited as they are when the latest creations are unveiled. And the best part is snuggling in together, surrounded by soft fleece clad bodies and a whole lot of love. Just like what went into the Jammies.

I can only hope that they will be back by popular demand again next year!

Where has it gone?

Shrieks of laughter emanate from Rich’s office. High pitched voices interrupt one another vying for attention. I hear splashing, squealing, complaining and taunting. The sounds of children playing. Our children. Long, long ago. A smile travels across my face.

Rich is finally tackling the long avoided task of converting all our old family video tapes to digital format. Just finding the equipment to do it was a challenge. He searched hard before finding an outdated working VCR player on eBay, and installed a conversion software kit on his PC. He then hauled in the huge box of tapes that has been hibernating in our garage. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

This conversion requires playing each tape, one by one. The drama is displayed in a small square on his computer screen complete with sound, while the software creates a digital file. Miniature Karens, Carls and Eriks parade across the screen – playing, blowing out birthday candles, building forts in the woods at the cabin, throwing sand out of the sandbox, and singing. The stuff that makes up a young family’s life.

We didn’t own a video camera for years. Instead, we’d rent a massive camcorder from the video store and let it roll all weekend long just capturing ordinary life with kids. The bad as well as the good, the tantrums along with the tender moments. Sometimes there were guest appearances. “Oh look whose here now!” Rich yells from his office, and I go in to see my parents or his – looking young and lively, poignant as they have long since passed. Or our beloved long-term day care provider, the kids’ cousins, our Czech daughter. It’s a treasure-trove of memories.

Day after day these scenes play as Rich works his way through the box. The cheery voices get older and younger again as he grabs tapes in random order. But that’s not all that strikes me.

Rich usually did the filming with an animated running commentary throughout the action. I’d appear on camera with the kids, or as a voice in the background. And occasionally I’d take over to capture Rich with the kids. Our voices sound younger too. And there is an element of playfulness, of engagement with the kids, of a lively family life. One I’d forgotten existed.

We’ve been on our own for years now, having launched our three grown children and adopting the good life as retirees. We’ve become accustomed to our well ordered life, with plenty of time to indulge our own passions, often out and about individually all day long and reconnecting over dinner.

And then came Covid, topped by Rich’s heart condition. Life narrowed. Social contact shriveled. Travel ceased.

As Covid drones on and Rich slowly recovers, I have begun to feel that the joy of life has been sucked out of me. That hunkering down and withdrawing from the world has dampened my lust for life. That I may even be getting accustomed to the small circle we have drawn around our sphere of activity. The quiet nights at home, drawn into the lives of British or Australian TV series.

Spending time with my kids and grandkids only seems to reinforce this feeling. Their vibrant family lives feel in such contrast to my own. I do my best to soak up the giggles and the snuggles. To relish playing games, building with Legos, concocting Paw Patrol rescues and reading aloud. To find time to connect one-on-one with my kids and let their resourcefulness inspire me.

Hearing Rich and me on those tapes brings it all back. We too were fun-loving parents at one time. We played with our kids, engaged with them on their level and had great adventures together. I am heartened by this evidence. And I hear its message reinforced with each tape that plays through Rich’s computer, sending its voices out to find me.

(For email subscribers, click here to view the video)

I can’t help but wonder where the playfulness has gone? When did we get so serious? Is this what happens when you grow old? My spirit rebels, knowing it doesn’t have to be this way. I will fight back.

Surrounded by Love

It seemed a simple request. Our whole family planned to gather in the Twin Cities for the wedding of a dear family friend. Pulling from Milwaukee, Seattle and Duluth as well as the Cities, it has become increasingly rare that we can assemble our numbers in one place. So it was the perfect opportunity to get a family photo for our Christmas card. Too many times I leave thinking, “Oh shoot! We forgot to get a family picture!” I wasn’t going to let that happen again.

My daughter, Karen, whose bedrooms would fill hosting most of us, had it covered. “Mom, leave it to me. I have a friend who does fabulous family photography. I’ll arrange it all with her.”

“I don’t want fancy. Not in our wedding clothes, I want to do this beforehand, just informal, outside.”

“You got it,” Karen said.

Karen sent out clothing photos ahead of time. “Here’s a palate of colors to work with,” she told family members. She followed with “I don’t want this to be stressful for anyone, so if you don’t have quite the these colors – bring something close and we’ll roll with it.”

We all assembled in French Park at noon, and looked remarkably color coordinated without appearing to have done so. As we trooped down the path and crossed the bridge over a small creek, I looked back to see the stream of family members happily ambling along. My heart swelled, just seeing my family stretch into the distance. Nobody was chafing at having to dress up. Kids were being kids. Grown-ups loosely herded them along.

Katherine, the photographer, met us in the picnic area by the lake. Straight away she began engaging the kids, at the same time scouting good locations to shoot in the brilliant noonday sun. We had asked for a variety of family groupings, and she mustered the troops to mix and match the pairings and keep things going.

Instead of being a tedious exercise in gaining cooperation, of teasing out smiles, of cajoling kids to come sit still, we were in constant motion. We giggled and teased. We tickled and chased. We squeezed, climbed trees, held kids upside down and played together. Laughter reigned.

It felt SOOOO good!

All the while, Katherine captured the moments. Lots of them. The traditional and the silly. The poignant and the unexpected. The cute and the lovely. Not surprisingly, the kids stole the show, but I still got my Christmas card photo – if only I can decide which one to use!

It turned out to be the highlight of my weekend, despite all the other moments spent together. And I have all the photos to bring back the joy of that sunny Saturday gathering.

You needn’t take my word for it. You be the judge.

Thank you Kate Dawn Photography, for surrounding me with love!

For more of her work, visit her Facebook page.

She’s still my Mom

It was 10 years ago today, but I remember the moment vividly. It was a crisp summer morning, with blue sky and fluffy clouds drifting over the back yard of our church where we were attending an outdoor service. Rich’s phone vibrated in his pocket. It stopped, then came to life again, so he surreptitiously glanced at the screen. “It’s your mom’s caregiver.” She never called Rich, but my phone was silenced. Our eyes met.

Slipping inside, I dialed her number.  Sue was one of our precious caregivers.  The small dedicated group of women who took Mom into their hearts and adopted her as family.  Who saw that she was dressed exquisitely each morning, and lovingly quaffed her silver-gray hair.  Who enabled Mom to stay in her own home as Alzheimer’s ravaged her memory and 91 years weakened her body.  I’ve forgotten Sue’s words, but the message was clear.  Mom was leaving us. 

We didn’t make it in time.  We hadn’t even reached the edge of the Twin Cities when the next call came from Duluth to tell us she was gone.  As we drove, I made tearful calls to each of the kids to tell them Grandma had died.  Although we had lost her years earlier to dementia, this moment added the burden of finality.

Ten years later I continue to sift through the memories.  Those from my childhood play like an old video in my mind, scenes on a screen that I watch as a smile creeps across my face. High school stirs images of Mom’s unwavering support and high expectations.  College evokes the sense of growing wings, of taking Mom’s life lessons and using them to make my own way in the world.

But it is the adult connections that remain the most vivid.  The years when she was a vibrant senior, independent and actively engaged in life.  When we could plan outings together, share common perspectives, even travel to England together.  If I’m honest, it’s probably when she was in my current stage of life.  She was long past raising her four children, and still had miles to go before it would be our turn to be caretakers for her.  When I think of Mom, I don’t picture her as a lithe young mother, nor as a dependent octogenarian.  I recall her grace, style and spirit as she navigated the world on her own terms in her golden years.

It is a startling realization as I reflect on my own station in life.  Am I making the most of these years?  Is this how my children will remember me, with my own silver-gray hair?  For certain I have inherited that trait from Mom.  I can only hope I carry on more than that.

I still think of Mom each time I pass her house.  I still seek her approval when making decisions.  Still yearn for her presence and knowing smile in the big moments of my life.  I can’t help myself when I wonder what Mom would think, what words of advice she might offer.  Ten years later, she’s still my Mom.

Re-emerging is Hard to Do

My Covid cocoon had become a comfortable, familiar place. While chafing at my restrictions, I also learned to embrace my quieter existence.

I felt safe in my bubble, secure in the control I had acquired over my life. My time was my own to indulge in hours of writing, confident that my plans would not be interrupted. The outside world was held at bay, unable to intrude. While some writers felt crushed by the pandemic, my retirement status allowed me the freedom to forge onward working on my book.

The outdoors was my playground. My running shoes, bike, trail shoes, skis and snowshoes my constant – and virus-free – companions. The opportunities to share those activities with friends, to see others outside, let in a little normalcy that helped balance the isolation.

Family became my only source of close personal contact. The decision to extend our circle to our children and grandchildren was not without its risks, but held overwhelming benefits. Those visits fed my heart and nurtured my need for social interaction.

In the course a year I had adapted to my revised lifestyle. Then suddenly everything changed. Again.

Getting the vaccine was only a baby step. Although I was protected, it was still early in the process, and many people around me – including Rich – were still awaiting vaccination. Those early days didn’t feel much different. Still social distancing, wearing masks and seeing others only outdoors.

Our first fully-vaccinated outing was returning to church. Spread out in every other pew, masked, with small numbers in our little church it felt safe. No coffee fellowship downstairs afterwards, but it was enough to see our friends and fellow church members and worship together in person.

Having friends over for dinner has long been a favorite social activity. We decided we would be comfortable with having one fully vaccinated couple over for dinner at a time. The first evening, sitting down to wine and appetizers at the kitchen island followed by gathering around the dinner table felt like a gift. So did the hugs we felt we could now afford.

The day the governor lifted all the major restrictions came as a shock. I was used to the slow pace of recovery, the gradual loosening of constraints. The idea of flipping a switch and returning full speed felt like too much too soon. In fact, it put a damper on our willingness to venture forth into normalcy. If we were still unwilling to eat in socially distanced restaurant space, we certainly weren’t about to sit in the close proximity of full capacity.

And yet, we developed chinks in our armor. Trying to work out the logistics of a road trip to Seattle to visit our son Erik and his wife Katie in their new home, the specter of air travel began dancing in my head. Justifying arguments followed. “We’re going to have to start sometime.” I pleaded my case, leaving Rich to ponder the idea. “I’ll only go if I can sit up front, have extra leg room and priority boarding,” Rich said. We bought tickets. And flew.

I feel like everything is a test. In the absence of government mandates, I am left to define my own rules. Is it okay to go into the grocery store without a mask? I haven’t yet. Should I get a massage? I did and it worked wonders on both my mind and body. Might I return to the pool at the Y? Maybe, but I have enough summer alternatives for now.

Behaviors I once took for granted now cause me to hesitate. My favorite table in the coffee shop has returned, and beckons each time I stop in for take-out latte. After months of self-protection, it’s hard to know when to relax and where to hold the line.

I’m inclined to cling to some of the life simplifying aspects of the Covid era. My makeup sits untouched in its pouch in the bathroom drawer. Who needs makeup behind a mask? now becomes Who needs makeup? Why would I run to Target to stock up on household supplies when they will deliver to my door for free? I appreciate the time saving travel-free option of attending meetings on Zoom, and wonder how many of those need to resume in person.

There is no returning to normal. Not the old normal, anyway. The new is bound to be a hybrid, hopefully mixing the best of our Covid innovations with good old in-person, face-to-face life. Re-emerging step by step. As best I can.

Just Say Yes

Emotions don’t have to be logical.

“I miss our kids. And our grandkids.” It had been weighing on me all day. I just had to say it out loud.

“You just saw them. We were in Milwaukee a few weeks ago, then we went to the Cities. You’ve had lots of time with family.” Rich tried to reason with me.

“That’s not the point. I miss them NOW.”

The isolation of COVID, the forced inactivity of post-surgery recovery and life had gotten me down. I went to bed thinking Rich didn’t get it. He didn’t understand my feelings. He was made of different stuff, didn’t need family like I did.

I tossed and turned, and in the early morning hours Rich snuggled up and said, “I think you should get up and go to Karen’s.”

“No. That would never work.” I already had my day mapped out. Writing assignments to finish. Clothes to wash. Church. A bike ride. Karen and family were probably busy.

“Call her,” he insisted. I dragged myself out of bed, brushed my teeth. Texted with no response. Washed my face, looked in my closet for something to wear. Took a deep breath and called.

“That would be great, Mom! We have no big plans for the day. When can you be here?” Karen’s voice was all I needed.

I’m not very good at being spontaneous. At changing course on a dime. But that morning I was out the door in record time, and rolled into Karen’s driveway by 10am.

Michael ran into my arms as soon as I came in the door. Isabel and Mya took me on tours of their Minecraft houses. Ben lurked somewhere, it was enough that he was close by. They had already made my day. That’s just what I came for.

As promised, the day was loose and unstructured. Having left all my to-do’s at home, I was happy to go with the flow. It was a day for just being. Being together. Being with family.

Dabbling in paint, crayons and markers
A family walk
A mother/daughter bike ride
Playtime
Yummy brownies
Reading bedtime stories

I was home by 10am the following morning. Refreshed, fulfilled, happy. My heart overflowing with the hugs and the time spent together. My to-do list still awaited, no worse off for delaying a day. Rich did get it. I’m so glad he pushed me to go. And that I just said yes.

The Owl Guy

That hospital is becoming too familiar. Since that fateful day last October when Rich took his ambulance ride from the woods to the emergency room at Essentia, we have gotten to know the landscape very well. The cardiac ward seems to be his second home, between multiple surgeries, procedures, doctor visits and rehab workouts. Throughout it all, I have come to learn what it means to be a model patient.

Molly with Rich in ICU

This is the man who rarely remembered names or faces. But from his bedside I could see the pains he took to check name badges and call each assistant, nurse and doctor by name. They responded in kind, treating him as a person not a patient. He cared about their lives as much as they did about his. I could see how it transformed personalities and care.

“Thank you” was constantly on his lips. Every poke, jab, test or adjustment elicited the same response. He was in good hands, these people were there to help him on the road to recovery and he let them know how much he appreciated it. It seemed to come as a surprise to many of his helpers, unused to being thanked for doing unpleasant things. I enjoyed watching the look of wonder come over their faces.

There were many dark days in that hospital. Days when Rich wondered what his future looked like, if he had one at all. But one thing could light up his face. Owls. His owls. All it took was a casual inquiry – “What do you do?” Where once that would have unlocked his identity as a techie and web guru, now it means photography and birds. Last year he traced down a great horned owl nest nearby, and photographed the owlet triplets from conception to independence. With the pandemic gripping the world, his blog attracted thousands of followers. Everyone, it seemed, was eager to watch the daily development of those furry friends – a joy amid hardship.

Do You Hoot book

The best of those photos found their way into a children’s book, Do You Hoot!, which chronicles the owlets’ young lives. Copies sold like hot cakes, and Rich made it available free online to anyone who wants to download it. His passion lies in sharing his owlets, particularly with children, not making money off them.

So that innocent question spawned stories, as many as time allowed. Sometimes it led to photos on his tablet or a card with the link to his photography blog and book downloads. Rich became known as The Owl Guy. Soon his reputation preceded him. New staff coming on duty would come in and say “I hear you’re the one watching the baby owls.” And that smile would travel across Rich’s face again. It was a ray of light in the midst of uncertainty.

Today we re-entered those walls again. For yet another procedure. Rich had been doing great – even back skiing and starting to ride his bike again. And then he wasn’t. His heart reverted to irregular beats, A-fib as we learned to call it. He was in it 100% of the time, and his heart was having trouble keeping up. It robbed him of energy, put an end to his workouts, and planted grim thoughts where hope had been growing.

But modern medicine is wonderful, and there are still answers. Rich went in for an “Atrial Ablation” this morning so they could zap all the erroneous signals in his heart, to return it to a normal rhythm. As I waited with him, numerous staff members came and went. Inserting IVs. Checking his blood pressure. Asking questions. Requesting signatures. Turning off his implanted defibrillator. And one by one they’d look at him, recognition dawning in their eyes. “Say, aren’t you The Owl Guy?” And it would start all over again – the smile, the stories, and of course the thank yous.

The same owl parents have found a new nest this year, and Rich was out during the winter hunting it down. Perhaps they knew his energy was waning, because their new home is much closer to our house. Easily accessible to a birder with limited energy. Rich has already begun photographing this brood’s young lives. He’s pretty sure there are three of them again, barely visible underneath Mama Owl. And God willing, he will document their development as well. Because he’s The Owl Guy.

Papa Owl
Mama and owlets

A River Worthy of Snowshoes

The trick with snowshoes is to find a place to walk where you actually need them. When Erik and I first arrived at the Sucker River, we wondered if we were wearing unnecessary encumbrances.

The new fallen snow lay sparkling on the river’s ice bed, billowing over underlying formations and giving way to openings where the water flowed rapidly downstream. Overhead, tall pines framed the deep blue sky and the wilderness beckoned. But although we had the river to ourselves that day, we were hardly the first ones there. A well-beaten path headed upstream, trampled by snowshoes, boots, fat tire bikes and skis.

Erik and Finley on Sucker River

The good news was that the trail showed us where it was safe to walk. I had no qualms about skirting the watery openings, stopping to peer at the ice bubbles that formed around the edges. Dozens had done this before.

Sucker River open water
Sucker River icy bubbles

Even on the ice, I could hear the water below, burbling. The sounds accompanied our walk and I stopped frequently to admire nature’s artwork.

We clambered up waterfalls, and as they got progressively steeper I was thankful for the ice teeth on my snowshoes. They were just as useful on the way back down.

Before long, we lost our fellow hikers and the trail narrowed to one set of ski tracks and fat tire treads. When those petered out, only animal tracks crisscrossed the river. Dare we follow them? We made our way to the river’s edge to continue, happy to have our snowshoes.

Molly on Sucker River
Erik and Finley upstream on Sucker River

Sunlight warming our backs, pristine snow and deep silence rewarded us for venturing far upstream. When the river flattened out, the snow depth thinned. We hoped to reach 3 miles inland, but stopped a little short when the ice visibly changed and appeared to be slushy up ahead.

The return trip delivered new views on the banks, different snow and ice sculptures on the river, and deep breaths of crisp clean air. An escape through a corridor accessible by foot only in the winter. And worthy of snowshoes.

Snow art on Sucker River
Erik and Molly snowshoeing Sucker River