Missing you, Dad

I have been absent from this blog for a while as I have been going through the hardest time of my life. My family and I lost my father just after the New Year. I haven’t been able to find the words to describe the sadness, so I put off writing about it thinking that maybe it would get easier to write about in time.  It hasn’t. In fact, sometimes my brain has barely processed that he has passed away. Things happen during the day and I think, Oh … I need to tell Dad about that and then I remember he is gone.

I am grateful that—along with my brothers and mom—I was able to spend five weeks with my dad at my parents’ home in Washington before he passed away. As difficult as it was, I cherished that time. There were some good moments when we were able to talk about politics and history and some of my dad’s other favorite subjects. However, most of that time he was not very coherent—or at least it was hard to tell if he comprehended what I was saying to him. That didn’t stop me from telling him how much I loved him, or how thankful I was for his loving support, all that he had provided for our family and what a positive influence he had on me.

I still tell him those things today, hoping that somehow he can hear me.

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My family around the year 1985.

My father wanted to be buried in his home state of Wisconsin, so my family traveled back there for the funeral. During our week there, we spent time visiting many places that were significant to us including our childhood homes, places where our relatives had lived and other favorite sites.

One of my earliest memories as a child was walking with my dad and our dog on the wooded paths and railroad trestle at the Fox River Sanctuary in my hometown. It is interesting that out of the countless memories we make throughout our lives, there are some that contain moments that we later realize are incredibly influential to who we become. Those early nature walks in that special place were of that type.

So on one blustery morning during our time in Wisconsin for the funeral, Doug and I went for a run at the sanctuary and crossed the trestle. It had long been abandoned by the railroad, but other than that it looked exactly how I remembered it. I felt happy to be in the same place where I had once stood as a four-year-old. Back then, my dad would have been around the age I am now, and I wondered what he had been thinking about and dreaming of in those days. Moreover, what had been going on in my young mind? No doubt I soaked up the colors of the leaves and the scents of blooms along the river. Maybe I noticed the sounds of birds. Holding my dad’s hand as we strolled along the railroad tracks, the seeds of my future nature-loving existence were being planted. As I jogged over the trestle in January, I whispered a thank you to him for taking me there long ago.

Running along the trestle at the Fox River Sanctuary where I used to walk with my dad.
Running along the trestle at the Fox River Sanctuary where I used to walk with my dad.

Those trestle walks were just the beginning of the adventures my dad would take me and my family on. He loved spending time with us and it was a rare weekend growing up when we weren’t visiting a historic site, taking in a local festival or fair, or going on a camping trip. Later, our family bought a small RV and took multi-week summer vacations to national parks and historic sites (and amusement parks too–he loved roller coasters).  My dad had a passion for sharing our nation’s natural and cultural heritage with us. Those trips left a lasting imprint on me and made me who I am today. They also influenced my career.

My family enjoyed visiting the many lakes found in Wisconsin, including Green Lake.
My family enjoyed visiting the many lakes in Wisconsin, including Green Lake.
My family tent camping in the Wisconsin Northwoods.
My family (minus my younger brother who is taking the photo) tent camping in the Wisconsin Northwoods.
My dad loved trains and loved sharing their history with us. Here he is on a train museum trip with my brother.

Last week I was preparing an education program in the park system where I now work as a full-time interpretive naturalist. The trails were icy so I was scoping out a route that would be safe for participants to travel on. Even though I had been to the park countless times, every visit seemed to hold something new to discover. On this trip, the frozen lake was covered by a layer of meltwater that reflected the cobalt blue sky. As I took in the breathtaking landscape, I whispered a thank you to my dad for those early experiences that led me to a job I love. Just about every day, I get to help others make meaningful connections to nature and history, just like my dad did for me.

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Hiking at Devils Lake, Wisconsin, was one of my favorite childhood adventures. Little did my dad know then, I would learn to rock climb there years later.

When I was about five years old, my mom and dad bought land, had a house built, and moved the family out to the country so that we could roam the fields and forests instead of the city sidewalks. There my brothers and I happily played on dirt piles, chased grasshoppers, camped in the backyard and picked vegetables in the garden.

Staking out the new homestead with my dad.
Staking out the new homestead with my dad.
My brothers and I (and cat) camping in the backyard.
My brothers and I (and Kitty Jean) camping in the new backyard.
Exploring the backyard on our new skis that Mom and Dad bought us.
Our backyard felt huge when we explored in on our new skis.

Several years ago, I found a book of nature quotes on my dad’s bookshelf that had been published years before my brothers and I were born. In it, my dad had circled a quote by famed naturalist Richard Jeffries. It summed up so well the gifts that my father had had given me over the years.

“If you wish your children to think deep thoughts, to know the holiest emotions, take them to the woods and hills, and give them the freedom of the meadows, the hills purify those who walk upon them.”

Dad, I miss you dearly. I will always think of you when I am in the mountains, meadows and forests. You will travel with me always.

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My dad always sought out new and exciting experiences for weekend family trips–including a wade in Wisconsin’s Hartman Creek.

A Litany of Remembrance

In the rising of the sun and in its going down,
we remember them.
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,
we remember them.
In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring,
we remember them.
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer,
we remember them.
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn,
we remember them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends,
we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength,
we remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart,
we remember them.
When we have joys we yearn to share,
we remember them.
So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us,
as we remember them.

-Poem by Rabbi Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer

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My dad enjoying the great outdoors with his dogs as a youngster.
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