|Pere Marquette, March 2007|
Like many people, I’m glad that 2016 is over. The Presidential elections were terrible, but so were all the deaths of celebrities I’ve watched or listened to for much of my life. On a personal note, it was one year today that in an accident on the deck of a sailboat, I ruptured my quad tendon. I am able to walk, but still can’t run and don’t have the balance I once had. And then there were the personal losses that came in December. My grandmother died mid-month and on the 29th, I had two good friends to die. I met Lee shortly after moving to Michigan in 2004. His was tragic as he was much younger than me and leaves behind 4 kids, his oldest being the same age as my daughter. The other friend was in Myron, who was my parent’s age. I met him and his wife when I first moved to Utah in 1993. She died about four years ago and Myron had moved to California to be near his daughter. Both will be missed. Here are some reflections on Lee:
I never saw it coming. We were fishing upstream with spinning rods, floating in a canoe in the rather swift current of the Pere Marquette. Suddenly we were caught in the branches of a leaning tree. I quickly laid my rod on the thwarts and grabbed a paddle, but before I could react, the boat was pulled up almost 90 degrees with water pouring in. The next thing I knew, we were both swimming. It was late spring and the water was chilly. The ultralight spinning rod I'd been using slid off into the water as did everything else. We grabbed the rest of our gear as it bobbed downstream and dumped the water out of the canoe. I then went diving for my rod, but never saw it again. We finished our paddle. We'd caught a few trout and a head cold, but we laughed about our situation as we stopped at a Bob Evans for dinner on our way home. It was the first of my adventures with Lee. I will never think of the Pere Marquette River without thinking of him. Late in the next winter, with four inches of fresh snow on the ground, he and I would be wading into the icy water in search of steelhead. We didn't catch any, nobody was, but Lee still managed to catch a couple of trout. He always seemed to catch fish when on no else could.
|Thornapple River, Winter 2013|
Lee died early in the morning of December 29th. He had been defying death for the past decade as he suffered from an autoimmune diseases that caused brain tumors and brittle bones. He last few months were spent wearing a "turtle shell" as he had so many broken vertebrates in his back. He was also confined to a wheel chair. This was hard for a man who had played competitive hockey and loved being outdoors. I hadn't seen him since I moved from Michigan in the summer of 2014. That spring and summer we'd paddled together a couple of times, which was enjoyable as I'd seen him more in the hospital than on the river my last few years there. This was in one of his good periods, when he was able to get out regularly.
Although I was almost 20 years older than him, I looked up to Lee as an example of what it means to be a father. He loved his children and delighted in their achievements. He enjoyed sharing his knowledge of fishing with them or watching them play tennis. When his marriage ended, which broke his heart, Lee did everything he could to focus, not on his needs, but on his kid’s needs. Lee had a deep faith, which was displayed during and after his divorce. He exemplified a Christ-like life of grace and sacrifice, as he sought to be civil and to avoid blame while looking out for what was best for the children.
Since moving South, we occasionally exchanged text messages and emails. I knew he wasn't doing well. He’d been told in the fall that he’d be confined to a wheel chair and that he had to wear a turtle shell-like brace because his vertebrates were so week. I told him that I would be back in West Michigan in late January and promised to buy him a beer. He said he’d look forward to that. Sadly, I’ll be drinking that beer by myself.