Last week my family gathered at Gunflint Lodge on the Gunflint Trail in northern Minnesota. I felt this adventure for all in memory of Barry would be a good way to spend some of the money left from his funeral and some of his Social Security benefits.
Barry and I stayed at the lodge one winter years ago to ski. We had a good time until he fell on the icy road and hit his head really hard. After that fall, I spent hours skiing alone out in the wilderness and loved it. Barry sat in the cabin reading and taking saunas. At times during our FTD journey, I thought back to that fall and wondered if it could have been a cause of his illness. I know that this was just magical thinking, but for a time that thought gave me something to
blame for his horrible disease.
Now I was back at Gunflint Lodge with the family to spread some of Barry’s ashes at our favorite campsite on Rose Lake in the Boundary Waters. Barry and I had stayed at that site a few times before we had kids. The high site overlooks Rose Lake with a stream and water fall nearby. Being young and in love, we had a lot of fun at that campsite!
It is an easy day trip from the lodge to the campsite. But would it be easy with an almost three- year-old and a five-year- old who hates bugs? Also I was the only one who had ever carried a canoe over a portage. And that had been a long time ago.
We decided to take a trial run on the second day of our stay, canoeing along the shore of Gunflint Lake. Right away we realized that almost three-year- old Lilly could not do this trip. She wanted out of the canoe the minute she got in. Charlotte our five-year- old loved it. She had also earned her spot by doing a three-mile hike to Magnetic Rock without any fussing, until she fell on the trail. After a quick brush off, she was back leading the hike.
The next day seven of us set out for Rose Lake. It was a cloudy day but no rain. Brian, my daughter’s husband, kindly stayed home with Lilly. We were dropped off at Bearskin Lake which we crossed to get to the portage. Charlotte sat in the middle of my canoe, watching us zigzag across the Lake. The portage went well. It helps to have sons to carry the canoes. We then had to canoe a small section of Duncan Lake where we left our canoes at the portage and hiked to the campsite on the famous steps portage. This portage is not an easy one with a canoe on your back so we were lucky to just leave ours. We hiked to the Rose Lake shoreline, swam and had lunch. I told the kids about how a long time ago their dad with his dog at his side loved to fish right from the spot where we were sitting. It felt good to share these memories.
After lunch Charlotte led the way back up to the campsite. We had to cross a very old foot bridge to get there. Charlotte was afraid and announced, “That bridge is not safe.”
But I with help from Olivia, my son Pat’s girlfriend, we coaxed her across it. Right when she got to the other side, the sun came out. I said, “Look, Grandpa Barry is so proud of you for crossing the rickety bridge that he sent you a sign from heaven.” I wondered what she was thinking as she quietly looked up into the sky.
The campsite had changed a lot over the years and there were downed trees everywhere. But I knew this was the place. At the edge of the cliff, high above the lake, we talked about Barry and how much we all wished he were here with us. A huge sadness came back into my heart and I wished, for a moment, that we weren’t here. Nevertheless, I threw the ashes over the cliff and some blew back and hit us in the face. That made us all laugh.
It was time to go and give Brian a break from watching Lilly. Charlotte fell asleep in the middle of the canoe as we paddled across the first lake. She woke up in time to lead us across the portage. On the second lake, a loon popped up in the water right next to our canoe. Charlotte said, “Look, it’s a sign from Grandpa Barry. Let’s keep looking for signs from Grandpa.” Wow, she got it! I hope she keeps looking for signs because her memory of Barry is already fading. But I think that looking for beauty and signs in nature is the best gift he could ever give her. We got back to the lodge, rescued Brian and had a beer in honor of Barry. My sadness gave way to a feeling of gratitude for my amazing family. Barry would be so proud.
The next stop for Barry will be Wisconsin.