Little Squirrel

My niece, Lilly, spent the better part of an hour collecting these acorns and then an equal amount of time hiding them in her shirt, too possessive to share even a glimpse. Eventually, she relinquished her loot to me for a photo project and then tore off to play in the park we were in, forgetting all about them. That’s how adults are too, right? The value of an object decreases with familiarity. A new, shiner object or opportunity will always present itself, and we’ll drop what’s in our hands to run after it.

The value of my family will never depreciate, and nothing will ever replace them. So, I’m a squirrel when I visit Minnesota – collecting as many moments with them as possible and carrying the memories back to Washington to provide nourishment in the long months in between visits. Like the time I woke up to find that my niece had snuck into my room and was curled up like a kitten next to my head. God, that melts my heart.

We should all be little squirrels.

little squirrel

Going Home

Minnesota has a lot of things I don’t miss – mosquitos, deer ticks and the ubiquitous threat of Lyme disease, the oppressive humidity. 90 degree temperatures. However, I can overlook those things because there are more reasons to be fond of the state. I’ll be thinking of them as I fly out of Seattle and into Minneapolis tomorrow.

Little people

1. Being called Auntie Jojo. Nothing beats waking up on your sister’s couch to two snickering little people, whispering and daring each other to poke you as though you’re a sleeping animal. You offer a fake snore to rouse their curiosity, and suddenly there’s a knee in your gut and a tiny face in yours begging for attention. “Get UP, Auntie Jojo!” DSCN3907-1 2. Thunderstorms. Unless you’ve lived in the Midwest, you can’t imagine the sky before a storm – heaving turquoise, warped grey clouds, and the air hanging heavy with anticipation. As a child, you can barely breathe. A crash of thunder on the heels of the first lightning strike provokes a blast of wind from the southwest. Your favorite cottonwood doubles over upon impact.  Hail clobbers the windows, forcing you inside. You hide. Pray in a corner of the basement that it’s not a tornado. But afterwards – that’s when the magic happens. Gold spills hot across the horizon and the breeze skims the waters of Lake Minnewaska, offering an apology for her brief, but violent, harangue.  All is forgiven. DSCN3946-1 3. Taking photos with my youngest brother. We’ve torn up rural routes all across Pope County in search of subject matter, escaped swarms of blood-thirsty mosquitos and evaded Lyme disease. He even let me photograph his wedding! I edited out no less than 50 mosquitos in the photo below…


Of course, there are so many other things I love about going home – breakfast with my dad at the Gingerbread Café, where you can still have a meal and coffee for under $10. My grandma’s stories about how she met grandpa. My mom’s cookies.

Pretending that I’m still a kid and the whole world is still before me.


Ryan Gaddy. I first remember spotting him in the hallway after Mr. Forte’s math class in the 9th grade. He was walking with someone and half smiling as he listened. With stronger shoulders than the average freshman, and the beautiful, dark features I preferred, I instantly wanted to have at least 4 of his children. And this was before I heard the Kansas accent! High school being what it was though, and with my face erupting around a shiny new set of braces, it was hopeless.

In our sophomore year, I believe, his last name changed to Haden – which meant our alphabetical locker assignments placed us right next to each other for the last three years of school. I struggled through my social awkwardness to strike up painful conversations during the 30 seconds we saw each other between classes. Alas, my nervous, incoherent talking did not win his heart.

After graduation, I didn’t see him again. I heard he’d been in a bad accident shortly after, but I had moved out of state and never really knew what happened. Then, a few years ago we happened to reconnect online. He actually wanted to talk, so 13 years after graduation I found myself on the phone for the first time with my 9th grade crush.

Far separated from the trauma of high school and stripped of the old awkwardness, we actually enjoyed some nice conversations. Without divulging any personal information, I’ll just say he was really working on putting his life back together back in Kansas after a difficult time, but there were a lot of obstacles. Here and there I’d offer him some words of encouragement, and I really hoped for the best for him.

Then the news came this morning that Ryan had passed away, the day before his 34th birthday. As of right now, I’m not sure of the cause of death. Regardless, at 34 it’s a loss of life of which I can’t make sense. Coupled with the images from the recent earthquake/tsunami devastation in Japan, it’s a bit much for the soul.

There’s a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson that I often look at that simply says, “Take care of each other.” Each human life is valuable beyond measure, yet so vulnerable and easily lost. If you think of someone, call them. Send them an email. A text. Reach out. I’ve felt for a long time that when someone’s name pops into my head, that it’s God’s way of reminding me to contact them. Reaching out to Ryan a few years ago didn’t change today’s events, but it did give me a second chance to get to know someone. And for that, I’m grateful.

Rest in Peace, Ryan.