A sign from Barry on a family’s sentimental journey

July 2017
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.

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
15 comments on “A sign from Barry on a family’s sentimental journey
  1. Tim Moodie says:

    Once again, you’re spot on.

  2. Jane Hall says:

    Very touching.

  3. Greg & Linda Vilmo says:


    • Greg & Linda Vilmo says:

      I meant to say all that love just broke through your written words. What a marvelous adventure. Love to you NoNo! xoxo-greg

  4. Terri Shoberg says:

    After 2 glasses of wine and chips and hummus, tears are flowing freely as I face the 4th week of missing Al, knowing that4 short weeks ago I could still hug him and get a kiss. I really long for the time when I can be where you are. Thanks Nancy.

  5. Karolyn Lee says:

    Beautiful post….Barry is smiling …….you know just what to do.

  6. Jeanne says:

    I was right there with you Nancy. I also thought of the photos you posted to illustrate your story. You are tying up Barry’s life so beautifully. Our trip to Dana Point was another of those “burials” for Barry. I’m so happy to be your friend.

  7. My Dear Nancy_ I have typed that greeting a number of times, but my fingers don’t work very well any more. Have you ever given any thought to writing a book for someone. I need a lot of help/guidance. I have had a number of people ask me to write a book. Last week, my attorney told me to get busy and write.
    The writing that you have been journaling is how I would like my book on chess to read. Would you … might you consider working with me/calling me so that we can talk about the possibilities of collaborating on a book.

    I am 77 years old and we are still producing championship players. I young parents are afraid that I might depart and their children will by left “high and dry” so to speak.

    Our Foundation is designed to first bring in the underprivileged children.

    Russ Erickson, Founder
    Chess with Russ


  8. Nancy Paxson says:

    Sounds wonderful and special!

  9. You can do hard things, over and over if necessary. Every day. Keep on!

  10. Lisa Ventura Olson says:

    Nancy, you write from your heart & your heart is so wise. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Bette says:

    Never forget to look for those signs, dear friend

  12. Christine Bekiares says:

    Crossing over is a part of life. I must face it too with my spouse. What we are left with is sadness that brings back more good memories. You and he surely enjoyed a good life. What a blessing for you and your family. You are a wonderful inspiration to us all. Thank you Nancy.

  13. Liv Lane says:

    Ohh, I love that you’ve taught Charlotte to look for signs from her grandpa! It’s been almost six years, but my kids still notice little signs from their “Papa” and feel that he is watching over all of their special moments in life. Love to your family!

  14. claudine coughlin says:

    Nancy, Just finished reading “One Foot In Front of the Other”! Enjoyed hearing about your outing. Sounds like lots of memories and fun. Charlotte sure is a trooper and has to bring you so much joy! I am glad that your family seems to enjoy these outings and memories of their dad. Lots of Love to you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *