Tom and I have been taking road trips together since 1971: fifty years in and we still love them. We went on another road trip from September 1 to October 2, 2021. This trip could be fairly summarized as: nine family members, three great lakes, two pleasant peninsulas, fourteen states, and 4,500 miles. Also, Tom and I went on six hikes where no one shared our trail; we saw old growth trees including giant, healthy eastern hemlocks and hundred foot birches, and we learned to love the bluffs of the upper Mississippi and the river itself. Our trip was balm to our societal-disintegrated and pandemic-battered minds, souls, and bodies. We mostly took short 3 to 5 mile hikes, punctuated with longer hikes (11+ miles at Sleeping Bear). Still, I was happy to see that my hiker’s leg muscles came back.
I have other photos (see below) and stories: happy times visiting brothers and sisters-in-law and nieces and great-nieces; plus eating those delicious camp meals again–hummus, chips, carrots, local sausage, and Amy’s chili. Once we got to the Upper Peninsula, we left the poison ivy behind and found ferns, flowers, and fungus galore. On part of the journey, Tom and I traveled along the Great River Road along the Mississippi River. We had never heard of this road and, now, we have another part of the country to love. A young bald eagle soared near us as we stood on the bluffs above the Mississippi River at the Effigy Mounds National Monument.
Other Parts of the Journey Tom and I–fully vaccinated since March–both contracted the Delta variant, probably somewhere in the Upper Peninsula. Also, three of our loved ones died. This trip, even with its aftermath of illness, death, and mourning was fabulous. My major struggle lately has been trying to write the words about the ones who have gone away.
Randi Tom and I camped in Pike’s Peak State Park in Clayton County, Iowa for three nights. Yes, this Pike’s Peak was also named for Zebulon Pike who explored the upper Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains in the early 1800s. The park was an unexpectedly lovely oasis and one of the highlights of our trip. On the first afternoon at Pike’s Peak, we pitched our tent and headed out for a walk. We headed to a lookout point high above the Mississippi. We took a hike to see (and to feel) the Bear Mound (a ceremonial burial site constructed by indigenous people of an earlier time) and to take a look at the Bridal Veil Falls. All of it: the forest and the sun and the clear air and the whiff of fall caught us up into a perfect afternoon. Chinkapin oaks and hickories and butternuts had already been dropping their acorns and nuts. Hearty and vigorous squirrels crashed through fallen leaves with, it seemed, some delight. I had a strong vision of Randi (our daughter Sarah and son-in-law Mike’s dog) and how she would love this forest. Randi, a beagle/basset, likes nothing more than smelling squirrels, barking much louder than her weight class. I didn’t say chasing squirrels: Randi just loves smelling the squirrely trails; she doesn’t need the squirrels themselves. I thought of Randi at least twice on that walk and mentioned to Tom how Randi would love this high forest near the great river. The next day an early morning text came from Sarah. Randi, who had been suffering with late stage kidney disease had died. Through tears, I told Sarah about the prior day’s thoughts about Randi in the forest. The sun and air had been special–as it can be in a cathedral forest. Sarah and I agreed; maybe before Randi left this particular reality, we think maybe she stopped by to share our perfect afternoon. What do I know? I am an old woman crying in a Panera as I write this. One thing I am pretty sure of is that all dogs go to heaven.*
Will I didn’t know Will Bagley very well, but I did love and do love him. Will married my lifelong friend, Laura in 2003.** A few years after that, I was going to be conducting professional development workshops for adult English as a second language (ESL) teachers somewhere in the west–maybe Montana. I can’t remember. What I do remember is that I had a stopover in Salt Lake City where Laura and Will lived. They said they would pick me up at the airport and drive me down to Zion National Park. I was exhausted from my workshops and I slept part of the way. We reached Springdale in the dark of the night and I woke in the morning surrounded by my old friend Laura, my new friend Will, and my red rock refuge for the first time in twenty years. We three walked and talked and I bought a pair of socks at the Zion Lodge gift shop. I haven’t been able to throw away these worn-out holey socks because they remind me of friendship, love, and refuge.
Paraphrasing Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web: It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Will was both.
Tom and I got back to Arlington on October 2. In Arlington we tested positive for Covid-19, which was no surprise. In the latter half of September, I had felt like I had the flu with a little cough and aches and chills. At first, it was a little difficult to tell what I had because we were tent camping and a few aches and chills go with the territory. Tom followed with similar symptoms. A couple of day after we got home, we got the call that my brother Dan had died of Alzheimer’s disease.
Dan I have a lifetime of memories of Dan: from early years in Detroit and Milford to the middle years in Ann Arbor, Dodge City, Kansas and Lemoyne, Pennslyvania to the later years on our Deep Creek family reunion weekends. For all his brilliance–and he shone brightly with style and grace and rock and roll songs or poetry ever on his lips–it is Dan’s kindness I remember most. Circa 1970, when Dan and his wife Jeanne lived in Ypsilanti they watched over the baby sister–me–eight miles away in Ann Arbor. They hosted my 21st birthday party in their small apartment. A few years later, Dan and Jeanne’s home in Dodge City was my beacon as I crisscrossed the country between Michigan and the Intermountain West. I could go on, but I I don’t know if I can trust my own words to do justice to this good brother. A couple of months ago, on this blog, I dedicated Dylan Thomas’ Fern Hill to Dan. While not exactly a prince of our apple town, he was the fair-haired and bold youth with the golden ’36 Ford with the corvette engine. Enough. Let Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey say the words.
*Maybe you caught it: I wasn’t quite able to write all of Randi’s verbs in past tense. Not yet.
**Laura is not exactly a “lifelong” but since our teaching fellow days beginning in 1973; close enough.