Acronym Run

I’ve been away from the office for five days. Like many of us, my work world is ripe with acronyms for many of our work conversations. I must be going through some acronym withdrawal as I started thinking of some as I ran yesterday. I thought I’d share a few.

LSD – Long Slow Distance. This term was coined by famed New Zealand track coach Arthur Lydiard. He was a former Olympic Marathoner who gained more fame in coaching and writing. He steered his distance runners to build their base mileage by running long slow miles and save their speed for shorter workouts and competitions. I think I ingested some LSD as my run today was over the hills and dales of the Lake Michigan sand dunes. Those miles were definitely LSD miles. Of course in my advancing years pretty much all of my miles are slow. Even the shorter runs (SSD?).

TSS – Toddler Sand Shovels. Otherwise known as my shoes. I wore gaiters which prevented some of the sand from gaining entry into my shoes, but still had to stop seven or eight times to dump sand out of my shoes and socks.

OTF – Only Two Faceplants. I only bit the dust twice in during my run today, so I’m calling that a win. Or maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough.

LRSGM – Longest Run Since Grandma’s Marathon. I’ve been fighting off a running injury for the past two and a half months. I took some time off, worked on some physical therapy and only recently began to increase my mileage. I ran 17 miles today, or 7.5 miles further than any  run since Grandma’s Marathon on June 18.

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Map of North Ottawa Dunes trails.

BMB – Butt Muscle Better. My injury was to my piriformis muscle. The ruckus in my rumpus impaired my running in that my runs would get more painful the more miles I ran. Using my butt-head, I still ran two derriere deficient marathons before taking a break. Happily my rear was in a better gear today and seemed to almost feel better the farther I traveled. Not quite as broken as a couple of months ago.

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This is what my rear felt like a couple of months ago.

SZ – Safety Zone. I’m glad I didn’t get shot in the five miles I ran before reaching this part of the trail.

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Warning signs.

MUL – Mouse Under Leaves. This fellow ran across the trail in front of me. He then hid his head under I leaf so I wouldn’t see him. Brilliant! (Unlike to quality of the photo.)

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RHD – Red Hawk Down. This bird swooped down in front of me. He must have been looking for some MUL.

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Red Tailed Hawk

TRN – Trail Running Nirvana. The sand dunes that run for several hundred miles along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Since they were formed 4,000 years ago they are mostly covered with mature forests. This worked out well for me as my run was about 99% shade covered on a warm day.  The paths run along dune ridge tops and in the valleys between the dunes. The curves and vertical changes make it seem like a roller coaster in many places.

ACS – Acronym Craving Satisfied. Now I can get back to vacation for the next five days.

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Fortunes of Traverse Bay

I suffered an injury to my piriformis muscle a couple of weeks ago and had to give up my daily running streak on Tuesday to let my body rest.

I took four days off (zero running) and procured a professional message this week. I rediscovered the benefits of anti-inflamatories for sore muscles. Started to feel better. I thought I night attempt to ease back into running on the fifth day.

Unfortunately I was actually registered to run the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City, MI on Saturday, the fifth day since I stopped my streak. Prior to my injury I had committed to running with my wife’s niece (Anne Santa Maria) for her first marathon. Probably not the best way to ease back into running. I thought I could at least begin the race and see what would happen. Here is the pre-race picture:

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I felt okay at start and ran with Anne and one of her running club friends, Stephie, for the first eight miles. They were maintaining a great pace for those eight miles. Unfortunately my butt shark bit me at eight miles. I was slowed to a painful walk. I let them know they would do fine as they were running well and told them I was dropping back. Had I seen a sag wagon, I would have dropped out at this point of the race. I took some ibuprofen and walked for a mile. My rump relented a bit, so I was able to resume running at a much slower pace. I overheard a runner behind me commenting on the top half marathon runners racing toward the finish line (our race was an out & back 13 miles, the half marathon runners only had the “back”.) The runner behind me told her friend “Wow! That woman is really ripped. Me, I’m just torn”. I could really identify with her sentiment. I started telling myself that pain is just wimp leaving the body. I hoped I would have an ample supply of the latter for this race. Offsetting the physical pain was the beauty of the course. The race goes out Mission Peninsula which separates the two lobes of Traverse Bay. For just about the entire race you have the beauty of Lake Michigan waters keeping you company.

About this time another marathon runner caught up to me. I could see he was ailing a bit too with a couple of knee bands. I realized it was none other than Marathon Don. Don Kern is the race director of the Grand Rapids Marathon and a few other races. He has completed the 50 state circuit 3x and the seven continents 5x. He held the Guinness Book of World Records for fastest completion of marathons on the seven continents (since bested by another runner). He turned 60 the day before this race and planned on celebrating by running his 300th marathon or longer race at the Bayshore Marathon. I’ve run both his Grand Rapids Marathon (2009) and his Ground Hog Day Marathon (2016). I read his book “And the Adventure Continues” this year. It’s a fun read that I highly recommend.

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Don is well-known in many places, but especially in his home state. He continually received shout-outs of birthday wishes and congratulations on his 300th marathon all along the course. We ran together for a couple of miles until I felt my pace picking up a bit and pulled ahead of him.

Shortly after the half-way turnaround I saw Don was just a bit behind me. I slowed enough for him to catch up and decided I’d run at his pace for a while. It turned out we would run just about the entire second half of the race together. We shared a few running stories and I was able to enjoy the music selection playing from his cell phone. The temperatures rose to what would normally be pretty uncomfortable, but a consistent cloud cover and a strengthening wind off of the water helped keep it tolerable. Don and I stopped briefly at the “official beer stop” of the marathon at mile 23.8. Not sure it was really official, but I toasted his 300th marathon accomplishment with a few sips of beer. Well almost beer as it was only Bud Light. It it obvious that Don loves running. What was also apparent to me was the care that he shows for other runners. Every time we passed a runner that was moving on fumes of despair, Don recognized the signs and offered words of encouragement and motivation to them. There was one woman walking who looked to be close to tears late in the race and Don seemed to say just the right words to her. Before I closed in on the finish line she came running past me with an air of determination. It was great to see.

Even with my sore rear end, I was able to match Don’s pace by employing a very fast power walk or a slow run. Right around mile 25, Don said “it’s party time!” and pulled a gear out of somewhere and I couldn’t match his surge. He had an entourage of supporters waiting at the finish line to celebrate with him. I came in a couple of minutes behind his finish.

I caught up to Don after the finish and got this picture with him. I thought a better sign would have been 398 combined marathon finishes, but then again, it was his day and he has most of them.

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More importantly Anne had persevered through her first marathon in fine form. She of course said she’d wouldn’t do another one. A friend of Anne’s (Liz) and her friend’s mother (Judy) had run the half marathon and were celebrating our finishes with us. I leaned over to the mother and said “Give it a few days. She’ll be talking about the next one.” I was wrong. It only took about three hours. Here is the after picture.

IMG_20160528_132332390The race had a 6 hour cut-off time. I came in at 5:58 which is the slowest road marathon I have ever completed (I have run a couple of slower trail marathons). This is my 98th race of marathon distance or longer completed. While a lousy finishing time, I am actually pretty happy to have the good fortune of a finish considering that I was ready to drop at 8 miles. I’m glad I had enough wimp in me to overcome the pain. Now I think I’ll take some more days off from running.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No I Won’t Quit! Not!

I regretfully move my running streak into retired status as I failed to run for the 1,246th consecutive day yesterday. I made it 1,245 consecutive days, averaging over 5.5 miles per day. My total streak covered 6,962 miles.

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I’ve been fighting off a piriformis injury (a pain in the butt) and tried strategies of cutting way back on my daily mileage, stretching, rolling and visiting a sports medicine clinic to no avail. While attempting to confirm my stubbornness or insanity, I kept expecting my new regimen (keep repeating the same failed experiment and expect different results) would improve things, but with each run I found increased nerve pain. The pain would intensify with distance. I have some races on my calendar that I hope to run this year, so I thought I could try something novel. I’ll take some rest days and see what happens. Haven’t done that for a while.

The past almost three and a half years have been quite the adventure and I believe the daily running actually helped keep me healthy and recover from my escapades. During this run I’ve hit a few fun milestones. I finished more than 41 marathon or longer races over the 41 months of the streak. This included my 50th state marathon and completing a 100 mile race. More memorable than the races are the challenges of running every day like running while sick, being short of time, traveling, or running the day after a long race. I’ve also run through some other injuries, but none took me down. I’ve run outside in -39f wind chills in Minnesota and in 105f heat at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I even ran through dormant volcanic craters on the island of Maui. I’ve gotten lost and found my way. I’ve fallen and got back up.

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Running through the volcanic craters on Haleakala, Maui, HI in January 2015.

Run along the Tonto Trail Inside the Grand Canyon

Run along the Tonto Trail Inside the Grand Canyon, May 2015

I say retired because I fully intend to pick up my streaking again once my body gives me permission. This streak was actually my 11th attempt at streak running. My previous ten streaks lasted between 2 (after returning from Hawaii to the MN winter) and 130 days. Now I have a new high mark to aim for in my next attempt. Until yesterday I kept telling myself “No I won’t quit!” Hopefully backing off will allow me to take up the stubborn mantle again not too far down the road.

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Chippewa 50k

I’ve lacked motivation to run long training runs recently. Granted I’ve fought off some minor injuries over the past six months, but am planning to keep up my distance running as long as my legs don’t fall off. To do so I know I can’t just run races. I actually have to train a bit too. Since my last marathon six weeks ago, my longest run was just over 13 miles. Not necessarily high quality miles either. I’ve averaged roughly a marathon or longer race per month for the last 43 months, but part of that was from chasing my 50 state marathon goal (completed in January 2015) and actually doing decent training miles. For some reason I keep getting older and slower as the years slip past. I don’t know why I thought I’d keep getting younger and faster, but the laws of time and cell death rule.

This week in a weak moment of brilliance I thought the best way to get in some long training miles would be to sign up for a race. I have marathons on my calendar for both May and June. A few days ago I signed up for a race. Not a marathon, but a 50k. Nothing like running 31 miles to train for some 26 mile races. If my legs recently felt dead after 13 mile runs, I’m sure they’d feel great for 31.

To shorten the drive to the start at the Chippewa Moraine Interpretative Center near New Auburn, WI, I drove as far as Eau Claire, WI on Friday night. A friend lives in the Twin Cities, but teaches at UW – Eau Claire. (He and a few other professors share a small apartment for times they want to avoid the 90 minute commute home to the Twin Cities.) Thus I had the vacant crash pad in which to sleep before a short drive to the race early on Saturday.

On my drive east I listened to a tribute anthology of Prince music on the radio. While I drove east along the hilly and curvy highway approaching Menomonie, WI, I noticed the full moon rising and surfing the hills of the horizon. Due to particles in the atmosphere it loomed large and orange. As the road dropped into valleys, the moon would disappear. Then rise in tandem to the next elevation lift of the interstate. At one point the road flattened and the moon was poised to the right of the road ahead. In an instant I saw a parallel shooting star along the left side of the road. Coincidentally a minute later my mind focused on the immediate lyrics playing to Prince’s song “Call My Name”.

“I’ve never seen the moon look so lovely
As the night I saw it with you”

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Orange Full Moon.

The music and celestial entertainment made for a nice drive.

Ice Age Trail

Ice Age Trail

After an early drive on Saturday morning I got to the interpretive Center, which sits high on a hill that was created from the sand, gravel and rocks deposited by melting glaciers. The Ice Age Trail meanders through much of Wisconsin and this location serves as one access point to that trail. The race runs an out and back section along this trail.

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Runners milling about the visitor center.

After my pre-race preparation, greetings with a few friends, and a couple of pictures we were off and running. Since I wasn’t intending to push my pace, but merely wanting to finish, I lined up near the rear of the herd of runners. My strategy for ultra races (longer than marathon distance) is generally to walk the steep uphills and run the flat and downhill sections. The rolling terrain includes 4600 feet of elevation change (according to my GPS watch, not necessarily accurate) over the 50 kilometers, so I would have ample walking breaks.

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Jordan in full trail battle gear.

I started running with my friend Jordan in the early miles. Jordan is graduating from the University of St. Thomas in a month and although young, has already completed eight or nine 100 miles races. He traveled with me last August to the Black Hills where I ran my only 100 mile race to date. Just a few weeks ago he attempted to run three 100 mile races over three consecutive weekends. He completed over 200 miles in those attempts. This 50k would just be a “fun” run for him.

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Janet stopping for a picture.

Before the first mile was up we caught up to my friend Janet. I would end up running most of the race with Janet. About a mile and three-quarters into the race my incessant yapping got the best of me and I tripped over a root and went down fairly hard. Skinned my knee, but was otherwise okay. Jordan had been just behind me and employed the strategy of “pass the weak, hurdle the dead.” He stayed ahead of me for the rest of the race and beat me to the finish by twenty minutes or so. At the next aid station I realized I was carrying a few sticks from the course with me from my fall.

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Sticks in my watch.

The weather and trail conditions were the best I’ve seen in the four years of running this race. It was in the low 40’s at the start and rose into the mid 60’s by the finish. As the day warmed, clouds moved in to blunt the heat. Winds were mostly gentle with a few higher gusts. Aside from a few muddy spots, the trails were perfectly dry. Leaf detritus from last autumn only covered some of the rocks and roots. As I ran past my friend and erstwhile race director Jeff, I gave him a hard time about not drying out those last few muddy spots on the course for us.

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Race director Jeff keeping tabs on the runners.

This race course travels through beautiful country. Over hill and dale, it traverses ridge lines and pot hole lakes. The early spring foliage is sparse so the views are unimpeded. Aside from a few gnats late in the race, the insects are not defending their territory yet. Several small bridges of varying structural integrity assist runners across damp spots along the way.

I decided to try to set a good pace for Janet for as long as I could and mostly stayed just ahead of her for the first half of the race. After the half-way turnaround, it became obvious that Janet was setting the pace for me. Either that or she kept trying to drop me and I wouldn’t give up.

At the last aid station with three miles to go, I needed to have the bladder of my hydration pack refilled with water. Janet took the opportunity to leave me in her dust. She beat me to the finish by three or four minutes. My intentions to pace her for the race thus turned into her pacing me, or rather schooling me on how to run tenaciously to the finish. Darn! Chicked again in a race!

I pulled into the finish at 7:56 on the clock, or about twenty minutes slower than I was last year on this course when I was much younger (where is the sarcasm font when you need it) and in better shape. I was able to recover and caught up with Janet and Jordan. I hung out with friends for a bit after the race before starting the drive home.

Probably not the best training strategy for future race preparation, but at least I got a long run completed. One day I will not be able to continue running and racing. Until then I’m going to seize the available opportunities. One foot in front of the other. Repeat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For Red and Blue

We used to get released from school an hour early every Tuesday from Bryant Junior High. This wasn’t a big deal for most classes, as each class was merely shortened by about ten minutes to fit the shorter day. It did create a problem for gym class as there wasn’t enough time for preparation, participation and showering in the short period. Instead the class would repair to a sort of student lounge for a “study hall”. A few students actually studied, but most of us just hung around, listened to the radio, read, played games or just talked. The gym teacher Mr. Cross was a former football player (and served as football coach). His imposing figure may have contributed to our good behavior during this period. I recall being on the periphery of a conversation in which someone compared Michael Jackson of the Jackson Five to one of my class mates. If my addled memory is correct, my classmate took some umbrage to this comparison.

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Several months later I attended the school talent contest in the school auditorium. The students displayed their talents (or lack of talent) as they performed each act. For the last act, my classmate from gym class came on stage and proceeded to play a half-dozen band instruments and then pulled out an electric guitar. He nailed every one of those instruments, especially the guitar. Off to the side of the stage stood the school band teacher. He had a slight, but very wise smile on his face. He recognized the gift that was Prince Rodgers Nelson. Prince did win the contest.

After high school I never saw Prince again, except on the big or small screen. About a decade after graduation, I did bump into his brother Duane in a Seven-Eleven store in the old neighborhood and had a brief chat. I lament never making it to one of his performances in the years that followed. I always assumed I would randomly bump into him one day around the Twin Cities. To much of the world, Prince owned the color purple. Had I met up with him, I would have regaled him with a couple of different colors. I think I could have raised a smile from him by singing a verse from the Minneapolis Central High School fight song. (Of course upon hearing my singing voice he probably would have called security.) After today I’ll never get the chance to find out.

For Red and Blue, we’ll sing anew
Our song of loyalty
And follow you, dear Red and Blue
With faith to victory.

RIP Prince

 

 

 

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Guts and Glory

After waking in the dark hours of Saturday morning and stopping to pick up my friend Mike, I made my way to the Zumbro State Wildlife Management Area in southeastern Minnesota. The Zumbro Endurance 100 / 50 / 17 mile trail races were taking place over Friday and Saturday. My plans were to hang out with friends, cheer on runners and take a few photos around the event. (I post the pictures to a share-site so the runners can download them if desired. Zumbro Pictures – 2016) The day lived up to and exceeded my expectations. I came away energized and inspired by the efforts and hard work by the race volunteers and runners.

This is the start of the 17 mile race at just after 9:00 on Saturday morning.DSC_0349.JPG

The longer distances began long before our 7 am arrival on Saturday. The 100 mile race began at 8 am on Friday and the 50 mile race began at 12 midnight Friday night. The 17 mile (the fun run) would begin at 9 am. The course consists of a 17 mile loop through the Karst topography leftover from the actions of ancient ice ages. This includes many sculpted bluffs standing guard over the mostly bucolic Zumbro River. This lovely setting is great to look at, but also has frequent elevation changes and rugged paths which provide opportunity for mischief and fatigue to your body. The 50 mile race completes three loops of the course and the 100 mile race completes the circuit six times. Not to be out done by the challenges of terrain, the weather can also wreak havoc in early April.

Here is a 100 mile racer and his pacer forging ahead on Saturday.DSC_0630.JPGFriday’s runners enjoyed bursts of sunshine, gusty winds and occasional snow squalls. For the runners running through the overnight hours, the temperatures dropped into the teens. The aid stations couldn’t keep the liquids unfrozen for the runners. Saturday dawned cold with somewhat lighter winds. As the paths warmed to the kisses of many feet, slippery mud emerged in numerous places. As with many trail races, scores of runners had to drop out of the races due to cold, exhaustion or injury. Amazingly most starters completed their chosen distances.

Here are a few of the hundred mile racers getting close to finishing a loop.

I asked my friend Maria who had been working an aid station with her husband for a day and a half, whether it was harder to do sleep deprived aid station work, or to run a hundred miles. She said the aid station was definitely harder. Maria was one of over 100 volunteers donating their hours (otherwise used for sleep) and hard work to make the race a success. Kudos to every one of them.

I spent much time at the start / finish area, but trekked out along the course on a couple of forays to get some action shots of the racers. On the second of these sojourns I experienced what really brings out the best in people. My buddy Mike and I started climbing up what is known as “Ant Hill”, one of the steepest parts of the course.

While downhill running can help runners speed up, that is not necessarily true for Ant Hill as these photos attest.

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We joked with the runners attempting to run down the rugged footing of rocks, dirt and mud where one misstep could break and ankle or worse. “Don’t look at the camera, look where your feet are landing!” You could usually tell which runners were the seventeen milers doing their one lap or the weary fifty or one hundred milers slogging through the late laps.

About half way up the hill, several runners told us there was a runner at the top of the hill who needed help. When we reached the top, one of the hundred mile runners was hunched over in obvious pain. He had pulled a groin muscle and was having great difficulty in moving on normal terrain, much less the steep decent ahead of him on the trail. We asked if he wanted to drop out or have us go for help and he declined. He was about 94 miles into his first 100 mile race and was determined to finish it. If he could make it down “Ant Hill” on this his sixth and final loop, he felt he could limp his way for the last five miles to the finish. Much of that last five miles would be along the flatter terrain near the river. I agreed and we set off. He didn’t need both of us, so my buddy continued along the course and I agreed to catch up to him later. I learned my new friend was John. Another runner had found a large stick which the injured John was using as a walking stick. We agreed that I would walk just ahead of him so he could put a hand on my backpack in case he started to fall. Attempting to minimize the pain, he tried to keep his left leg straight, but sometimes the slope of the path made that difficult. If a rock slipped out from under him or he hit some slippery mud, he felt it in the wrong way. He’d have to pause to catch his breath. Moving slowly, John started getting chilled, and I had two outer layers on, so I gave him my jacket to stay warm. DSC_0760.JPGWe went very slowly down the incline one step at a time. It took us nearly an hour to get down the worse part of the hill, which was probably a bit over a third of a mile. To put this in perspective, John is thirty years younger than me and a very talented runner. He works at a local running store and normally runs very fast. In the early 17 mile laps, he ran with the runner who eventually took second place in the 100 mile race. (one lap was only two-hour and forty-four minutes). At this point and aid station volunteer joined us where the steepness abated a bit. She had been sent back by other runners ahead of us. She was confident should would be able to get him the rest of the way down the hill and within reach of the last aid station. She suggested I find another stick so John could have two walking sticks. I did so before leaving John in her competent care.

I then turned around and headed back up the hill to catch up with my buddy. It took me three miles of guessing which way he went to catch him, but at least I got my daily streak run completed for the day. I found Mike at the last aid station near where I had moved my car. Before we left that aid station to head back to the finish, I saw John moving along towards us on the flat road approaching the aid station using his two walking sticks, so I was relieved to see he was still going. By the race course it was only a bit over three miles left to the finish, but the roads were not so direct. Mike and I then drove ten miles on the back roads around the wildlife area to get to the finish line. At the finish line we cheered finishers, listened to the epic runner stories of battles won and lost. There is nothing like the experience as seeing the look in a runner’s face upon crossing that finish line. It is a collage of relief, weariness and emotion. An hour after arriving, I saw John making his way across the campground where the race ended. Though battered and in pain, he had made it to the finish line. While I was only a small part of his one hundred mile journey, I was humbled by his thanks to me for simply helping him out for a third of a mile. I was truly inspired by his determination. I told him “You’ve heard the saying, ‘No guts, no glory!’ Today you showed tremendous guts and got the well deserved glory of a 100 mile finish. Great job!”

I continue to be amazed by what the human spirit can achieve.

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Waves

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There is a season for all things. I lost my mother on Sunday. She was 93 years old. The picture above was taken on her honeymoon in August of 1951 in Duluth, MN. She was the last of her generation within our family in many ways. My father and his four siblings and my mother’s four siblings all passed before her. She and my father had a combined eight children. One of her sons died four years ago, but seven of us are still here. Many of us along with several grandchildren were able to spend some of her last hours with her over the weekend. She will be greatly missed.

After leaving the nearby nursing home late on Sunday, I drove over to Como Zoo for some time alone. I stood outside the wolf pen, hoping so see the two resident wolves behind the fencing. I’m sure they saw me, but I did not see them among the murky shadows. A car slowly approached me across the parking lot. I expected a security guard to question my presence. Instead a gentleman rolled down the window and said, “Oh, it’s you”. Then I recognized him as someone who had been standing in the lobby of the nursing home as they brought my mother’s remains out for the last time in her walk of honor. He offered his condolences to me. The man had been visiting his mother at the nursing home and had two teddy bears that he was carrying out to wash for his mother. Her health was declining and she would be moving floors and into the Alzheimer’s unit the next day. When she was a bit more robust they would drive over to the Zoo in his car with the teddy bears, roll down the windows and commune with the wolves. The teddy bears were on the front seat with him where his Mom used to sit. He said she wasn’t mobile enough to make the short drive over to the zoo anymore. The gentleman told me the wolves know you by your smell and can recognize you from up to two miles away. He said if they got used to you and trusted you, they eventually came out to see you in the dark. He said the wolves knew him, his mother and the teddy bears by their smell. He told me the names and history of the Como wolves. Denali was the darker wolf and Shy-Anne was the white wolf. The Shy-Anne name because she was shy. After a lovely conversation, I turned to head over to my car to head home. There was Shy-Anne sitting and watching us. I took that as a good medicine sign to help me find some peace.

Waves

Grief is a tempestuous sea.

Rogue waves conspire,

But we paddle on.

 

Bad news may seem a tsunami.

Yet gentle breezes of peace interlude.

We simply need to recognize them.

 

Sometimes the business of death

overtakes the business of grieving.

But the waves are never far away.

 

She loved and was loved.

The beat fades away,

But the love gently laps the shore.

 

 

 

 

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