I Will Be

A journey through the grief of miscarriage

I had the makings of a child in my womb for eight weeks and five days.

On the Friday before Thanksgiving, the pain and bleeding started, and I knew. I didn’t want to know, but there it was. It was the beginning of the end of a pregnancy I had longed for and rejoiced in. It was over before we even got to speak of it, and there was absolutely nothing I could do. Continue reading “I Will Be”

The purpose of suffering

Column 17 Published in the December 22/29 double issue of the Warroad Pioneer

The snow has finally arrived, covering up the bleak browns and grays of our mild, shortened winter and also masking some precariously thin ice. We’ll have a picture-perfect white Christmas, but now we need a whole lot of sub-zero temperatures to counter the insulation the snow offers.

It’s definitely a winter to stay on the marked trails, which, of course, is always a good idea on this unpredictable lake. This year, let’s all go a bit further to remind and enforce responsible winter fun. Tragedy is a reality none of us want to deal with.

The Angle’s snowmobile club, the Edge Riders, plan to compile and submit trail reports to the papers and radio stations this year, an overdue first. I’ll likely be doing the writing so I hereby commit to staying on topic. Or maybe I’ll include just a little on wildlife sightings or pretty vistas or … ok, ok, just the facts, ma’am.

We Edge Riders and Angleites mourn the passing of our “Grandma” Bonnie Vickaryous. She died here at her beloved Angle on Friday, December 11. It was sudden and so very sad.  She left behind a big family and one of the hardest working men at The Angle. Known throughout the land as a restauranteur and for her amazing cooking, Bonnie’s now going to have to watch from above as Dave eats a lot more plain hamburgers with raw onions at Jerry’s.  Treat him to another round of his usual cranberry juice and give him a tight shoulder squeeze when you see him next.

Bonnie was a pillar of support for the snowmobile club and the community at large. And as a woman who had once traveled the emotional road to hell and back, as most of us ladyfolk have or will do at some point in our lifetimes, she was strength personified. I’ve lived here only four years and can’t count the number of hugs she gifted me in that short time.

I’ve been watching the logging that Manitoba Hydro has been doing along our power line route. It runs all the way from the border cut to the fields north of Sprague. Thousands upon thousands of great white pines, Douglas fir, birch, popple are brought to the ground, laid out in grandiose piles and then run straight into a monstrous wood chipper. Seeing their mighty boughs lying in silent repose fills me with sadness time and again as I drive past. I notice the doomed trees that will be cut by the time I make my return trip and unwittingly impose my suffering-for-their-sake upon them.

But the trees don’t suffer. They don’t grieve the loss of others or their inevitable death. Neither do the countless small animal, bird and insect folk that undoubtedly went through the wood chipper as well. Nature knows no death. Energy can’t be destroyed. It can only change form.  From great waving branches to an unstitched patchwork quilt that blankets the ground beneath the new snow.

Sparks of growth will happen before we can even see the carnage again come spring.

Life is like that.

Loss is so undeniably hard, but loss is also like that. A changing of form. A renewal of faith in Come What May. Acceptance and forgiveness before a deed is even carried out.

A wise woman once told me that the purpose of suffering is to push us through to the other side, to teach us how to teach ourselves to overcome.

One of Bonnie’s many hugs came at the funeral of my own grandfather, Clair Knight, just over a year ago. She offered such tenderness and kind, genuine words. She knew what it was to suffer, and now as she is all-knowing in a different capacity, she gently holds her family and friends through every word, embrace and small worldly kindness that comes their way as they mourn and heal. Even in the tough-love, may they find her smiling upon them with grace as sweet as one of her caramel rolls.

She is one of our great white pines now. Sacred. Beloved. Infinite.

We’ll miss you, Bonnie. And we’ll see you in that great patchwork quilt that warms and comforts All That Is.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Peace and joy be with you.

Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know

Column 14 Published in the November 10 Warroad Pioneer

 

For as much as I’ve written to the contrary, the Angle can’t really be considered all that extreme anymore. We get mail three times a week. FedEx and UPS can deliver a dusty Amazon Fresh package directly to our doorsteps or docks. Electricity has been around since 1974, though it’s spendy and tends to go out when we’re hatching eggs in the incubator, have just sat down to a long-anticipated movie night or are in the middle of perfecting our lemon custard soufflé. (Just kidding. Nobody at The Angle bakes soufflés.)

Marine Band radio was replaced when regular phone service came in 1991, and today we have sketchy DSL internet and one decently reliable cell carrier. Notably, the gossip grapevine is only a tad slower now that we don’t have the loud crackle of a neighbor’s conversation in our living rooms.

Of course, I did not live here in those times, but I do remember visiting my grandparents and marveling at the novelty of it all. It felt special, quaint, exciting.

Moving here was not any huge sacrifice, nor was it a lofty transcendental quest. It simply felt right, or at least I wanted it something fierce. Wanting, as I have learned the hard way, does not always lead to wise decisions, however. And though I do subscribe to No Mistakes, or phrased positively Everything Works Out Perfectly, in hindsight I can see that there were easier, more sensible routes to my desire.

I am of the belief system that we’re here in this life to learn a select few lessons that we chose before we arrived, the exact ones necessary to move us along both the collective and our individual evolutionary path to the divine.

“Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know,” spiritual teacher, author, ordained nun and mother Pema Chodron said.

Not surprising to anyone who knows me, I am a slow and stubborn study in a lot ways.  There are life lessons I have had to repeat again and again and again, especially on matters of the heart. My in-process lessons in The Angle’s soft extremes seem so embarrassingly painful, and yet at the same time, I’m exhausted from taking them so damn seriously.

I’m craving a full-bellied laugh that cleans out my tear ducts in a wellspring from the depths of my tired soul.

Laughter is a release, after all, and letting go is so critically important. The anonymous saying, often wrongfully attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, has always spoken to my heart:  “In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

The Angle seems a rough life, but there is an underlying gentleness that pulls and kneads at our awakening souls. By default of our very whereabouts–the forested land, the mighty lake, the gravel roads bumpier than they’ve been in their 40-year history, according to one old-timer a week ago—by those threads, we have a cautious connection to the raucous cacophony of the outside world.

We can shut if off at will. And we can escape back into it at the touch of a button.

From my window, I watch a small woodpecker working vigilantly despite the rain and the wind. The deer have arrived for their daily meal of the garden’s leavings. The migratory birds are all gone now and traffic at the feeders is slow.

My little one and I cleaned out her sandbox and put all the outside toys away for the winter. There was a sentimental finality to that somehow. Letting things lie until the spring thaw – there’s another hard-learned lesson for many of us.

Letting go and letting things lie are far from the same, of course. One will beget that soulful laughter a long time hence, and the other, regret.

The Angle, as she does, has let go of another beloved. Hard-working resort owner and lovingly-stubborn resident Norm Undahl passed away on October 30. I wrote of his wife, Joan, only a few columns back and want to pass on heartfelt sympathies to such a strong lady. Norm and Joan were an anchor couple on Oak Island and I’m sure residents would agree, it just won’t be the same.

Death is a final teacher of sorts. If I haven’t wrapped up my lesson-book by then, I’m sure it’ll take out its red pen and show me the correct answers.

Our feathers don’t dictate our flock

 

For the last many weeks, I’ve watched the birds gather for their long migrations south. The northern flickers, Canadian geese, black birds, winter wrens and even trumpeter swans know without knowing to gather together in times of transition. It is born into them that isolation is unsafe and unnatural at these critical life junctures.

For the most part, in times of great change humans naturally follow this same flocking instinct as well, but there are those of us who buck that norm for whatever reason. Change often keeps company in our minds with grief or anger or mistrust, which can compound to send us spiraling into loneliness.

The Angle tends to gather all kinds; those seeking connection and those seeking separation. It is a place that almost encourages isolation, escape and a disquieted seeking of solace and respite in nature. I’ve watched the lifecycle of my own false sense of moral righteousness in living close to the land, getting back to the Earth.

But the longer I stay at The Angle, the more certain I become that it is the currents of the Earth in all their great mysteries that are pushing us back into connection with our people.

Greater Minnesota already knows about the three missing boaters who left Sunset Lodge on Oak Island, Lake of the Woods, late on Friday, October 3rd but didn’t make it to their cabin an island away. Their 16 foot Lund was found the following day capsized on the NE corner of Flag Island, about a nautical mile from Sunset Lodge. As of this writing, the body of Justin Haugtvedt, 22, was recovered and the two other men remain missing.

When tragedy happens, communities like The Angle rise up and band together. People spring into action to help however they can. Isolation is set aside and replaced by neighborliness with a sense of urgency that remote and extreme lifestyles like The Angle’s understand well.

But in this particular case, it has been a long and lonely week. Now, in the latter part of the search, there are a few volunteers in the ranks, but for the first many days, help from the locals had been refused by the agencies in charge. Seasoned guides, knowledgeable about the lake and its currents were asked to leave the area. Land owners near where the boat was found and where the men may have made it to shore were not enlisted to help search, despite knowing the land and shoreline and having access to all-terrain vehicles. News bulletins repeated the sentiment that “County Law enforcement is being assisted by several agencies and is not looking for civilian volunteers.”

If something should happen to my daughter or me, let this serve as a call for anyone who wants to help to be invited and welcomed. At the behest of the lost, all agencies involved must deal with the chaos that we civilians bring in exchange for our resources, manpower and depth of knowledge of this remote land and its unforgiving waterways. This is not said out of mistrust for any officials but rather a wholesome knowing that we would fight for life and we would hope anyone who could help would indeed be allowed to do so. South of here, the search for the missing Monticello man was aided by volunteers, and it was indeed a volunteer who found his body and helped bring closure to the family.

This is, of course, one Angleite’s perspective after speaking to a variety of folk around the area, and it seems like an achingly lonely conclusion to come to. I hope others have had a different experience. Gratitude is definitely owed to the hard-working officials who have been involved in the search to date, but the Angle works best when our people work together and being refused the chance to help feels so opposite of all that we stand for.

There is another way. Please consider donating at http://www.gofundme.com/lotwboys to help the families with all expenses incurred during this time of waiting. Our community heart goes out to the friends and families of these young men, Justin, Cody and Keith, as well as heartbroken Baudette, MN.

Despite the many who live here in solitude and quiet unspoken loneliness, there is an age-old Angle recipe for Being. Despite the propensity toward addiction, which I’ve written about in previous columns, and other domestic and emotional malaise that are a byproduct of loneliness, that recipe for Being centers on connection. Despite our odd collection of all ways and walks of life, this Angle community could and would come together with such compassion and force that it would surely make a difference in whatever event served to unite it.

We are like the birds, some of us busy wrens, some of us stoic flickers, some of us trumpeter swans. But unlike the birds, our feathers don’t dictate our flocks.

We may be separate in our minds, but there is a greater knowing here that we are indeed all One. Mother Earth wants only that her children should come back together, and she will make it so, with our cooperation or without. It is on us to heed the migration call and rise up through grief and loneliness, in grace and goodwill.

column-12-helicopter-air-search
A U.S. Border Patrol Air Unit conducts an air search at the Northwest Angle for the three missing Baudette men. (Both photos courtesy of Joe Laurin.)

Part of the Earth, Part of it All

Column 3: Published in the June 2 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

The mosquitos have hatched. The trees are in full bloom. The gardens are planted, well almost, and the Solstice will be here before we know it. As daylight continues to increase incrementally for now, Angle-ites and our visitors alike are taking advantage of the sunshine and the reportedly excellent walleye fishing so far this season.

I write this during a much-needed break from the beautiful weather. The rain pours, the robins forage and hopefully the docks float a little higher by nightfall. The lower water levels have already come up some 13 inches but we’re all anxious for more precipitation. It spurred me to look up the Lake of the Woods watershed area (another item on the list of things I never knew I would possibly care about before moving here). Turns out, we’re in the far northwest corner of the watershed, so when it rains on everyone east of us nearly all the way to Lake Superior, this year we thank you for enduring.

One Angle resident and at least two more part-timers graduated from WHS on May 22nd. My holy terror toddler’s big sister was in cap and gown, so we were seated in the front row right next to a convenient exit to the bathrooms. Believing I was quite prepared—I had snacks and a toy and a Grandma just a few rows away—I froze in indecision when she escaped me. If you were in attendance, you likely remember the blonde two-year old who stormed the stage area, dancing in her freedom and stopping front and center to clap as appropriate when a graduate’s name was called. It came near the end of the ceremony, thankfully, and though the amusement of the audience was apparent, I was too busy being mortified to see the cuteness. Looking back, I should have snapped a photo of the little escapee as she unknowingly entertained a stadium-full. If anyone has a good one, I’ll gratefully (and a tad revengefully) put it to good use 16 years from now when she’ll likely be crossing that stage herself.

In my limited view of the world, raising a child at the Angle has a lot of advantages. Not the least of which is that pre-schoolers are often included in the activities of the one-room school house. We’ve joined them for story time, outside playtime, holiday parties, and most recently an interactive field trip to Steinbach’s Mennonite Heritage Village. All are an exercise in patience and humility for me as a first time parent who takes everything much too seriously. But having the opportunity is still a blessing.

A silent ambulance came and left the Angle also on May 22nd. Despite the intense efforts of one of our best volunteer First Responders, a Canadian friend and neighbor departed this earth on a bright and sunny Friday morning.

I had met him but did not know him, and of course the news travels like wild fire in a small community such as this. I couldn’t help but wonder about the role this remote location plays in it all. Would a life have been saved in a suburban or metropolitan area under the same circumstances? Would a life be as lively if you didn’t take a risk by coming to a place like the Angle if that’s where your heart lies?

Wrapping heads and hearts around death seems a greater challenge when everything else is blooming and hatching. The Canadian goslings, in all their muskie bait glory, are hopefully sticking very close to both parents. We’ll start getting glimpses of new spotted fawns soon. Out morel hunting on Flag Island this time of year a few springs ago, I stumbled upon two sparkly new ones, still wet from birth. The mother crashed loudly through the brush a handful of yards away to distract and deter me, and I quickly took her hint.

Animal or human, there is danger and risk here, but the draw to this place can be profound, beyond what might seem prudent when you’re not in good health. And it is a magical place for our little ones. I hope I can keep that magic alive for her just a few moments longer than if we were living elsewhere. Nine or ten decades from now, perhaps she’ll take the same risk and choose to come Home to the Angle to be with the bird song, the soft sounds of wind through the poplars, and the same earth that warms her tiny toes this magical summer. I want to go back to that earth when I’m gone. Back to the wiggly centipedes that we captured and then quickly lost in the dirt. Back to the trees and the grasses and even the June bug turned grub worm that we examined and buried back up. I would be so lucky, so grateful, to become part of it all that way.

Our heartfelt condolences go out to the friends and family of David Glead. Rest in peace, fellow traveler.