Year One: And so it goes…

Four months into my first year as a widow I made a decision that I would take a trip once that year ended. It would not be intended as a vacation or sightseeing trip but rather as a kind of retreat–a time to look back and look ahead. This is the journal of that trip:

  • May 15, I set out–the sky is blue and the sun is out — both signs that seem to bode well for the adventure I am beginning. I set my GPS although I know the way–I am curious to see if the GPS will take a different route–and it does. The trip itself is about two hours but I miss a detour in Sturgeon Bay (at the south end of the peninsula) and spend an extra half-hour circling up and down side roads trying to find my way. Where under normal circumstances I might feel frustrated I realize that what I am feeling is a little giddy–this marks this as an adventure, one I will no doubt need to find my way through on multiple occasions. I pass freshly plowed fields and because incredibly the temperature here has risen to the low seventies I open my windows and the moon roof of the car and breathe in the farm smells–ALL of them!
  • The GPS takes me a good way up the center of the Door County peninsula instead of along the shores of Green Bay–more farms and then woods speckled with the white petals of trillium and occasionally the gold of a marsh marigold. Eventually I wind my way to the shore on the bay side and follow the road through the villages of Ephraim, Sister Bay, Ellison Bay and on to my destination at the very tip of the “thumb”–Gills Rock.
  • The cottage I’ve rented is well marked and rests just where the main road turns east toward Lake Michigan and the other side of the peninsula. It is mid-afternoon as I open the cottage (key in a clay flowerpot on the porch steps!) and unpack the car and settle in. The main room looks out onto the rock-strewn beach and the bay. Two white pelicans with their orange beaks are cruising by as gulls shriek at them from the shore.
  • Found out I did not have enough “bars” for the phone to work but the internet did so that gave me a connection to the outside world. Sunset was glorious (and late–after 8pm) and that was followed by a beautiful crescent moon that spotlighted the water. I had arrived for my “ision quest” and went to sleep a little excited and anxious about what the week might bring.
  • Highlights:
  1. Took a ferry over to Washington Island–a community of about 700 registered voters but LOTS of places were for sale. In a way it was a sad commentary on the ongoing effects of the recession. Drover to the Sievers Fiber School where they hold workshops in fiber arts through the “season.” Had a lovely conversation with some of the people there; then went to the Stavkirke–a replica of a medieval Norwegian church style that focuses on the use of vertical posts. It was a quiet peaceful respite with a “prayer path” through the meadow and woods surrounding it. I spent some time there thinking back over this last year–how fast it has gone; how impossible to believe that L is gone–then drove back to the docks for lunch at a Danish Bakery Cafe before catching the ferry back.
  2. Back “home” I spent a couple of hours working then decided to clean out the winter waste from the large flower bed in the front yard–certainly not something I was asked to do but it felt so good to do this physical work and uncover the beginnings of the plants that in another month will fill the space.
  3. Next day cool and cloudy and drove to the “other side” to hike in a state park along Lake Michigan. I was the only person there–as was often the case where I went.  Was finally driven away by the swarms of May flies that hatch during this time–they don’t bite but they are a nuisance and there are thousands of them. Went to have cherry pancake b’fast at a favorite place L and I used to go and there I was able to get cell phone service only to have a message from my dermatologist to call in–long story short it took until 7pm for us to connect as I waited by the cottage phone for his call. A spot on my leg is cancer and he explained a treatment involving a chemo cream that will hopefully prevent the need for surgery. And so there were bumps in the road of my idyllic “quest” as real life intruded.
  4. On Sat. I did the community “rummage” sale in Sister Bay–this is a pone-day sale with a map to the houses and what happens as you go from sale to sale is that you “discover” parts of the area you would not normally see-neighborhoods and back roads. From there I drove down the shore through all the little towns (including Fish Creek and Egg Harbor south of Ephraim) to a gallery in a barn that was hosting a “Shepherd’s Market”–a gathering of weavers and spinners and llama farmers…such beautiful yarn. Signed up for a papermaking workshop for Sunday.
  5. Sunday was another amazing day–attended services at the Unitarian church and during the service a woman read aloud “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss–she had chosen it because of the graduation season but it really spoke to me as I recalled how L would ask me what I planned to do after he died. He was so insistent that I must spread my wings and go places and do things and leave myself open to adventures. After the service I told the reader how much the story had touched me and she gave me her copy of the book. The papermaking workshop was another delightful time–the process was fascinating, the instructor patient and kind; the others in the class easy to be with. Each event of the day put a smile on my face.
  6. Monday I was awakened by thunder at 5 am and after the storm passed as I stood at the window with my coffee I saw some commercial fisherman preparing to go out for the morning–I took a long walk (the May flies seemed to have been scared off by the rain) and when I returned mid-morning saw the fishing boat return as well and watched the men unload their catch.
  7. Because the rain continued off and on through the day I went to some of the galleries that L and I had always enjoyed–he so appreciated the talents of others and marveled at their creativity. I had brought along the makings for some journals that I make for patients at the hospital here in Milwaukee but need some paper to finish them–stopped at a framing and art supply place and while they did not have the paper they gave me two garbage bags filled with the cuttings from their mats after framing. I spent the rest of the afternoon creating new journal covers and thinking how very kind people are if you open the door for them.
  • Tuesday I decided that even though I had planned to stay until Wed. I was ready to go home–the only reason to stay was that I had scheduled it that way but I realized that I was ready to be done with schedules (except of course for deadlines for writing) and I packed up the car and headed south. I stopped for a final meal (brunch) at a Swedish restaurant that we enjoyed often with friends we were traveling with–lots of good memories and then drove home where the lilac were in full bloom — a sure message from L to me — and the temps were in the low 80’s.  I felt lighter and less encumbered by all the “should’s” society teaches for those grieving. I had left those behind early on in the week and hopefully they will not follow me back. I was ready to move on into another year knowing there will be sad times, times when I am furious at the hand L and I were dealt. But then I will remember that we had 42 years–years that are filled to the brim with memories and laughter and crises averted and crises met with grace and dignity. And I will go on…

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