Friday, January 15, 2016

Ruahine Summertime


    
"High Camp Sunrise"
Awake with the full moon 
I unzip my cocoon to look 
and gaze into the first breath
of today
the hushed silence around me
As if even the mountains quietly watch
the unfolding
The layered spectrum of creations prism
A single star twinkles above
as the prism contracts as a line and expands
Across the horizon
The middle of which glows a brilliant hue
Of fiery red and orange
as if the birth of life and possibility itself
And suddenly there is the glowing orb 
burst forth!
The new day is here...


27 December 2015..Camped on the main Ruahine range above Armstrong saddle...This seems a fitting place to be this evening closing out this year. A year of great change and awakenings in so many ways. Visiting my home in Wisconsin with Charlie, seeing Tara embrace a new role which challenged her, and us, in so many ways, the continued struggles of parenthood, and then being told while away I am no longer wanted in a job I have worked in for over 15 years. Sitting here now with a wee dram and knowing I have addressed that situation I can smile with the sunset. In reality, being 55 and jobless was a frightening and somewhat shattering prospect. A reality I know so many men and women face at this age. Feeling unwanted and useless, questioning what we have done and accomplished. Having our identities and self worth tied up so much in "what we do for a living", and "how much stuff we have". For the most part I have been able to not get caught up in that, but in spite of that the self doubt cannot help but creep in. No wonder the highest growing suicide rate is men in their 50's. Again, sitting here now with the warmth of the day and the mountains, not to mention the Glen Morangie flowing within I recognize part of the gift the Ruahine have given me. It seems apt that this part of them I have spent so much time in, have crossed literally fighting to stay upright, or hurried through the rain, snow, and mist to get to Top Maropea, that tonite all is calm and serene. As if the mountains and I reflect, and celebrate together..





 




 





 

 


 Top Maropea evening...29 December
The sun has finally passed over the valley to the west and quickly the air chills. The mountains waste no time in their extremes. I return to the hut and dig out a bit of warmer gear. Steam rolls off my breath. I want to be here with the final moments of this day and sunset. It may be awhile till I return. A lot of new challenges lie ahead. So I share this gentle time with the Ruahine. How many times have I watched the sun move over the valley below and far off peaks? The play of light on the distant peaks. The rounded fullness of Orupu, the sharpness of Waikamaka, and shadowy Remutupo. And to the west the bald peak of Puketaramea..the least imposing of all, yet for many reasons my favourite of all. I have learned to relish these moments as if they may my last. The mountains teach well. 
I have gathered much wood though I will leave it for another. I do not feel the need for a fire as I normally would. I feel part of this, connected to it. The fire burns within.




 30 December...camped again on the tops. Spent the day walking down to the Maropea without a pack. Far enough to finally come across the whio! The weather has held amazingly well and today was hot and still once again. I was going to camp on the river but my left hip is playing up and with an outing planned with John for next week I am giving that more importance. So I packed up and headed back to the tops. It is not often in this part of the ranges the wind holds so still and I consider it a bonus to be up here in my tent. I'm pleased to be here in these hills. Pleased that in years past and rushing from place to place that I questioned that. Pleased that the result is a more intimate relationship with certain places as the nuances and beauty reveal themselves. Pleased that it turned out to be that I was right where I should have been all the time...
 

































 5 Jan...mid morning Whanahuia tops of the Ruahine. "We are enjoying a lunch of bagels, salami, cheese and tomato just below the tupare (leatherwood) zone with the forest and steep drop to the river still below us. We are in no hurry and it feels good to sit in the sun and look across to the main range. We arrived on the tops late yesterday intending to camp but the high winds, intermittent rain, and cold made the empty Rangiwahia hut look very attractive. Who would have thought that on a January summer evening we would fire up the wood stove? As the temperature was 1 degree Celsius this we did. A southerly system has blown in and though the morning was still very cold the wind had died and the sky a cloudless deep blue. I left early and made my way up the Whanahuia, the richness and allure of the early morning sunlight on the tussock is always a treat. I waited for John near the high point of Mangahuia and then we ambled along together to here. We fall easily into our patterns and rhythms accrued over two plus decades roaming these hills. To break bread right here in this spot, in this moment, with such a friend has almost a spiritual and cleansing quality to it. I smile at the thought of the 4 days ahead."...




 The Oroua river...




 John in the morning waiting for the sun to hit from the east over the valley. It was bloody cold!

 


 Then in the afternoon on the river we were doing this!





 Our campsite....





6 Jan.. Camped on the Oroua river. "Last evening just before dark John and I went and sat by the river to enjoy a wee dram and hoping to see or at least hear the whio. We had gone upstream to the gorge for a swim but had seen no sign. Dusk and dawn are the best times, so even if fighting off a few sand flies, the Bushmills, the river, and the company made our "effort" well worthwhile. The hut sits in front of the Oroua river and on the true left of a side creek which meets the river there. We sat at this confluence watching and quietly chatting when suddenly around the corner of the side stream into the main river came cruising a whio! I adore the sight of these ancient indigenous birds. The shrill whistle of this one indicating he was a male and in fine condition. It fills me with delight to just observe their beauty, elegance, and unerring connection to the rivers and streams of these mountains. They are the heart and soul of the Ruahine. He swam down stream a bit, then flew back to right in front of us and climbed up on a log. He kept gazing up the creek which I hoped meant he had a female and brood of chicks as this is the season. In any case he didn't seem to find us to be a threat and after hanging out for a bit flew off back up the creek. A great way to end the day...I slept by the river in my tent and at 5:00 am was awoke again by the male and then heard the female as well. I couldn't see any chicks as it was far too dark and they didn't stay long. It felt like a winters morning and when I went up to the hut for coffee the temperature on my barometer was -2 Celsius! Summertime eh...yet mid morning when the sun finally was over head it grew hot. So we packed up and headed down river. In no hurry to be anywhere we found the best pools to swim in, the best spots to boil up the billy, and searching for the best place to pitch up a camp. We chose here, a place where the river grows quiet with a pool on one end and a cozy river flat along the other. With enough old driftwood for a fire. And just like that the day has passed and the sun has now setover the valley. The evening chill returns and we are back sitting by the river with another wee dram. Waiting once again for the whio...




 7 Jan....Whanahuia tops. "I left the river late this morning on my own. Took my time and stopped frequently on the relentless climb to both rest and simply enjoy the quiet ambiance and essence of the living breathing forest. I can judge my gains not just through my steady steps and sweat but by leaving the stately tall Tawhairauriki below and moving up into the Kaikawaka and gnarled hearty Tawhairaunui and finally into the Tupare and tussock. The story of the forest. I made way up and along the tops to a sheltered basin by a tarn and boiled up the billy and waited for John. Though the wind was up my protected spot allowed me to enjoy the Suns warmth and in time a little white speck appeared in the distance making its way along the tops. It was an enjoyable moment to just watch my friend on his way to join me...





 8 Jan. 2016. "Our final night up on the Whanahuia. I have been fortunate enough to have spent 9 nights in these mountains over the last few weeks. Roaming last week on my own was fine, but this week with John felt very special, very satisfying. Like the culmination of our 20 years in these hills. We have practiced Whakawhanaungatanga, or the Maori concept of coming together and working to a common cause, (as I understand it in this moment), and not even consciously have practiced it but rather emerged into it through our experiences and friendship here in the mountains. Another Gift from the Ruahine. And so we watch the final sunset on the Whanahuia, perhaps the finest of all the Ruahine ranges to do so as we gaze to the west...


Culmination
The final morning arrives
the last mountain
only to be climbed down
to the car
to the shingle then concrete highway
where we become 
something perhaps a bit less
than what I feel here
But for these days up here
we have lived
amongst the the tupare and golden tussock
with the cloud, wind, and sun
We have lived in the forest
high up with the gnarled and fantastic
tawhairaunui
and their more stately cousins far below
We have listened to the difference
the Ruahine breeze plays through them
And we have lived by the mountain river
sparkling in the sunlight like jewels
followed her twisting turning bends
heard her songs and been embraced fully within
her deep clear cold pools
And we have lived with whio
and their unerring grace
united if briefly
 as brothers...




 Aroha,
Robb

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Wisconsin part 2... Lambeau Field





One of the highlights of our return to Wisconsin was to be able to attend a Green Bay Packers game at Lambeau Field. The day was flawless, perfect blue skies and a beautiful fall day. By the time the game finished in the early evening the sun had gone down and the night autumn air had become decidedly chilly. But the warmth of sharing this day and experience with Charlie, family, and so many friends made our smiles broad and our hearts warmed through...and a Packer victory at Lambeau of course helped a bit too!

Charlie and I before the game at my sisters house. 
To grow up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is to be a Green Bay Packer fan. Much like my current home of New Zealand, lives and dies by the actions of our rugby All Blacks, Green Bay is dominated by the presence of the Packers and the ultimate symbol of that is the looming forbearance of Lambeau Field. For a city the size of Green Bay, the population of which even now struggles to reach much over 100,000, to even have a professional team, much less a gem of a stadium like Lambeau, is an amazing story in itself. And if you have grown up there, suffered and celebrated the lows and highs, but have always loved and supported our team regardless, it is a story we actually feel a part of in our hearts. The team and stadium are without an actual owner and instead are an incorporated part of the city itself. It is a unique and special relationship between city and team.

Charlie had watched many a Packer game with me in New Zealand. I took him out of school when he was 7 in 2010. The Packers were playing in the Super Bowl. Far more important than a day of school in New Zealand. It was his heritage and history. He has seen me rant and rave at the television as I despair at times and delightedly roar at others. He has become familiar with his own favourite players, and tracking the results on his own. But for every story I can tell, and I can tell a few, for every game we can watch from over here, nothing speaks more than a trip to Lambeau itself on a game day. A world class sporting experience. The pageantry, the place, the people, the sights and sounds of 75,000 people in such a place. To be able to share that with my son from halfway around the world is a whole series of dots I needed to connect for him. For me.


Our tickets. 40 yard line behind the Packer bench. I sat in these seats on a snowy Christmas Eve with Charlie's momma in 1995. One those dots I wrote about above.

My sister, Trish, Charlie, Robb, and brother in law Steve in the Lambeau parking lot. What a day to tailgate!
The one part of this which I cannot explain to my son is how deep this connection reaches into the lives of those of us whom have grown up in Green Bay. Even those few whom are not football fans are certainly aware of the Packers and Lambeau, especially during football season, but also in our daily lives when our travels bring us down to the south west part of town and Lambeau comes into view. It is always there casting a giant but quiet shadow over the events of our lives....such as this event I commented on before the Super Bowl in 2010. An event that rocked my world and still does....

 1975 Bishops Charity Game Packers vs. Giants:
 It was summer 1975, I was 15 about to be a junior in high school and though school had not yet started two a day football practices had. My friend Kevin, who was born and lived across Tommark street from me his whole life, was out for football but was injured and had stopped attending practice. kevin and I had been best friends from day 1, but in the past year or more we had grown apart. Well more like he was just in a different orbit than me, a faster crowd, a better athlete, better looking, he had just moved beyond me in the stratified teenage world. SoI was surprised and delighted when he rang me that hot summer evening and said he had gotten to tickets to the Packer game that night and would I go with him. We walked from Tommark street to Lambeau Field , 15-20 minutes, one of the beauties of a small town having an NFL team. I recall now being almost overwhelmed at how happy Kevin seemed to be in my company, laughing and talking about old times, things we had gotten up to in the neighborhood with our mates, and how much fun we were having at Lambeau Field watching a meaningless exhibition game sitting high up in the stands. It is a beautiful place to watch a football game, and that night it was spectacular, warm, a gentle breeze, and in the company of my best friend. After the game we walked back to our street, and as I had practice at 7:00am bid Kevin goodnight. But he insisted I come into his house and we sat around his kitchen table, as we had so often done, and continued talking. I finally insisted I had to go, and it was almost reluctantly Kevin walked me to the screen door leading to the garage and street. As I walked out the door he suddenly grabbed his very cool brown denim jacket and handed it to me, telling me he didn't need it anymore and wanted me to have it. I remember walking across the street to my house, the street lights casting those golden shadows and thinking what a great night.
A couple days later the phone rang around 5:00 am. As my bedroom was downstairs and had an extension I picked up the phone at the same time as my mom did upstairs. All I heard was Kevin's mom screaming to my mom that Kevin had shot himself and was dead. I hung up the phone and went to sleep, as if refusing to believe what I had just heard. I went to football practice as if nothing had happened, and it was not until Coach Miller gathered us around as a team an announced what had happened ad he broke down, that the truth of it, the enormity of it hit me like a sledgehammer blow and I lost it. It is still hard for me to write this. I still miss my friend. The last time I shared with him was at a Packer game. My life unfolds and the Packers weave in an out as a constant presence, marking good times and bad. That is how it is when you grow up in such a place. It doesn't matter if you like football or not. The Packers mark time and events in our lives and that is one of the reasons I hold them so dear. I will think of my friend as I watch this game, and I will remember him.



the next generation

Or this memory...................
I was 27 when my dad died. Like all fathers and sons we had our ups and downs, he had his demons, I have mine. Sport was the one thing that always connected us, the Packers were always a big part of that.
He died a few months before Christmas on a holi
day with my mother in South Carolina. I had to fly from Minnesota where I was then living to SC to pick up my mom, make some arrangements, and drive mom back to Wisconsin, a near 20 plus hours drive, then go through the funeral. Before I knew it, I was back in Minnesota at work, and wandering around in a sort of a daze wondering what all that had been about. Christmas came, and it was a not a happy time as I recall, I was still not really together, it was our first Christmas without our dad, my mom's without her husband. For those whom have lost parents or loved ones you understand the difficulty of those first holidays - a representation of life ahead, of change, of moving on, of acceptance.
Christmas day came, and early in the morning there was knock upon the front door. I answered it sleepily, and probably a bit hungover, and there stood my old wood working teacher from West high where I attended school and my dad taught. I could see he was a bit nervous and uneasy. In his hands he held a great big package. He said, "Robb, I don't know how to tell you this, but this is a Christmas present for you from your father. He gave it to me shortly before he died to be made into this". He handed it to me with his eyes tearing as I stood there stunned, said "Merry Christmas" turned and left. I sat on the couch alone and opened it. Inside was a beautiful wooden plaque upon which was mounted half a genuine real Packer helmet, and below which was mounted two pieces of the original goal post from the very first Superbowl the Packers won in 1967 and that my dad had procured and saved all these years. It was if he reached out and hugged me, and I could finally let my tears go and miss my dad. I still miss him. It was the best present he ever gave me. Go Packers Go!



My friends Greg and Phils on my left. They had driven the two plus hours from Milwaukee without even having tickets. They were coming simply to enjoy the pre- game tailgate atmosphere and knew I was in town from New Zealand. great friends. I have attended many games over the years with these fine gentlemen. On my right is my old comrade Rick Parduhn. A fine man and I have shared many adventures with him near and far.



On the way into the stadium we ran into many old friends. This is James, and high school friend and former team mate at Green Bay West high school. He is now a teacher himself.


My beautiful sister Trish surprised Charlie, myself and Rick by getting us passes to actually go onto the field prior to the game. A pretty stunning development. I have been at many many games at Lambeau, seen some of the all time great players and games over the years. There has never been a time when I have walked from the stadium atrium to the actual field that I have literally not gasped at how incredible it really is in person. The fabulous green of the grass, the colours and sight of the chalked lines and uniforms of the players. The massive lit up scoreboard. It always feels like the first time. To share that moment with Charlie, and then be able to actually go onto the field was spectacular. A moment we will always have together. Lambeau Field!

Charlie with a couple of the Packer Cheerleaders. Look at that smile!


nephew Max and Steve  in their seats


In our seats with my other nephew Benjamin. Family and friends. What a spectacular day!
It was a great game! The Packers were not playing particularly well but stayed in the lead as the Chargers marched up and down the field. The warm afternoon faded into the slightly windy and growing cold of an early fall evening. The crowd grew restless as the game came down to final play from the Packer 3 yard line. See the video link below the last photo to see what happened....

A few days later we were privileged to dine with and meet the Packers coach, Mike McCarthy. I have been honoured in my time in Green Bay to meet such Packer greats as Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Ray Nitchske, Tony Canadeo, Charley Brock, Ted Fritsch,  Dave Hanner, Fuzzy Thurston and a host of others. It is always a pleasure and they have always been accommodating and kind. Must be a bit of a fishbowl experience for them at times so I appreciated the coach making my son feel a bit special. Go Pack!


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wisconsin Part 1...The Fall

 I sit here now in somewhat bittersweet contemplation of the journey back to my original place. Even Charlie commented to me while I was driving him to school, and me to work, this past Monday morning, on how it seemed almost unreal that time had passed so quickly. I am glad he made that connection and gets it. It seems a bit surreal to me as well. We had some amazing experiences which I will try to unravel in a series of posts here....

  The one part of this trip that impacted most significantly, and certainly more so than any of my past trips home over the last near 24 years was my sense of place. My Turangawaewae, my place to stand. As much as I love and feel connected to the Ruahine ranges here in Aotearoa, I am still manuhiri, or visitor, there. That does nothing to diminish the connection I feel when amongst them roaming, indeed, one of the gifts the Ruahine have given me is the Powerful sense of connection I felt to Wisconsin on this trip back. The Ruahine have bestowed within me far more awareness of my own place than I ever had when I was actually there. Wisconsin! I love just saying the word...

 One of the questions I am most frequently asked in Wisconsin is what do I miss most about America, about the states, about home. I think most people might expect me to say a kind of beer, or food, or the Packers, and so on. It is far deeper than that. It is the place itself, and unequivocally at a certain time of year. The Fall. The dramatic and stunning change to the seasons, the exchange between the lush greens and heat of summer to the subliminal softening of the landscape building into the booming crescendo of the full bloom of autumn. The heart is light and not yet grasping the reality of the long cold months ahead but rather delighted in the beauty and change. We caught it perfect and I spent a lot of time walking in the woods and forests with Charlie, other friends, and mostly on my own.

Above is a moment at Devil's Lake State Park, or Manitou (Spirit Lake), as originally named by the Indian tribes which lived around it. This is a glacial lake formed 12,000 years ago when both ends of an ancient river that flowed through were blocked off by glaciers depositing terminal moraine boulder fields on either end. The hills around the lake are thought to be over 1.6 million years old and though now called the Porcupine Hills were once mountains towering higher than the current Rockies. The lake is surrounded by quartzite bluffs up to 500 feet high. In the company of two fine and treasured friends we spent the whole day tramping, climbing, and taking in the splendour of such a place. These ancient hills seemed to be nudging me and reminding of the Ruahine, that how in comparison how youthful and full of vigour and restlessness they are in comparison to these eroded giants now melting back into the earth. Yet no less significant.



Indian Summer! Helped an old friend check out some new ground for the upcoming deer hunting season. Over 35 years ago I took my friend to land I was allowed to hunt on owned by family friends. 500 acres. Some a Christmas tree farm I worked at during summer trimming season, and then a beautiful hardwood forest and ridges running into a lowland bog. A lot of deer were taken there. Karl got to know the owners and hunted there for decades after I left. Eventually the owner died, and the land was sold. No more hunting. We are mere caretakers of the land. In any case we scoured this new public land for deer sign and trails. On such an amazing day it was easy and fun. The company even better. It reminded me how I discovered on that Christmas tree farmland that I never really cared that much about the deer. I just liked to be in the woods. Rave On!

A long walk in the fall woods today along a trail I used to cross country ski upon back in the day. 6 miles through the birch, pine, and maple forest. A real adult portion of Wisconsin woods. The leaves which a few weeks ago were brilliant oranges, yellow, and the colour of spice, cumin, cinnamon, and turmeric, now fallen. The trees now mostly bare except for the occasional splash of remaining fall hue. A stark and bare scene, different than the full bloom of fall, yet still beautiful and stunning in ways equally smile inducing. The trees themselves seemed to be sunning themselves on such a day. As if knowing the approach of the long cold months ahead. The leaves on the forest floor have accrued the crunch and papery sound of completeness. A fall walk in the Wisconsin woods.


The autumn carpet. On my first walks the leaves were still soft and resilient. The winds blew gently through on the Indian Summer breeze and the leaves floated to the ground. We tried to catch three falling leaves for good luck as they swerved, swayed, and danced to the ground. I never did.

Above Manitou on the bluffs looking below the southern moraine terminal. Just beyond here lies Parfrey's Glen...


Parfrey's Glen is a spectacular gorge carved out of the prevalent sandstone interspersed with quartzite boulders and rock from the retreating glaciers. Spent a lot of time here back in the day hiking around and through and cross country skiing nearby during winter.


That's the best thing about walking, the journey itself. It doesn't matter much whether you get where you're going or not. You'll get there anyway. Every good hike brings you eventually back home."
-  Edward Abbey



At Manitou Lake with my friends. A moment with Jeff, one of my oldest friends and one in particular with my relationship was built and continues to be through nature. We have walked, tramped, skied, paddled, wet lines, listened to music, and played an awful lot of basketball together. He, like Mike who observed this moment with his camera, have both come to New Zealand and tramped in the Ruahine. Days like this, even though overcast, still shine very bright. It felt like somehow the circle was now complete.

I enjoyed most just lingering behind Jeff and Mike and watching them walk and interact ahead of me. Gesturing, laughing, and earnestly discussing one subject or another. Even in my lingering I felt part of it, connected, knowing, and understanding it all. The smiles and hugs from that day still warm me. Kia ora!

Charlie loved this sign along another old cross country ski trail we walked one fine day. The possibility excited him. Me too. We never saw him or her, chances are the bear would have smelled or heard us far before such an encounter. Good to know they are out there. Charlie said on the way out the bear was me. I liked that...

Te hei mauri Ora!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Cousins...




We have certain days in our lives that take on significance. They stand out from the others in either great joy, or like today, great sadness. The memories of them take on a certain hue, be it a brilliant lightness when we fall in love, or see the smiles and hear the laughter of our children. Or the dull grey and black stillness after a storm has passed with more dark clouds on the way. My cousin died today, and though the sun shines brightly outside and the skies are a flawless blue, all I see, all I feel is the grey. A shadow that has its hand upon my shoulder touching me with unrelenting grief and guilt at my distance from the unfolding of these events.

I had an older brother whom passed away over 20 years ago now, when I first arrived here in New Zealand. I never felt for him what I am feeling now inside for my cousin. The reality is I was far closer to Roger, far more of a brother to him than I ever was to my own brother and so the shadows of grief are far more consuming and mist filled in direct proportion to the love I felt for him. And although our paths physically only crossed a few times in the years since I moved here, he was always in my heart. We never missed a beat. We never judged, we never lectured, we never shook our heads at our flaws and our mistakes. We just loved each other and took the moments when we could. I think we both carried the same sort of melancholic sadness and searching that truly made us kindred souls. We understood each other completely and without need to explain. Today has left a deep hole in many hearts....

We were born six weeks apart. Those two little babies on the laps of our mothers would grow into very large men. How I wish I could sit in that lap and be comforted just one more time...

The most special times of anticipation for me growing up was when we travelled to Chicago, or when our people there were coming up to Green Bay. Waiting for those cars with Illinois license plates to pull in the drive and watch those people emerge...my grandparents, my great aunt and uncle, my aunt and uncle, and most of all my cousins! Be it Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, or a Packer - Bear game, it didn't matter, the fun was about to begin.


    
My dad, me, my grandfather and Roger, my Uncle Roger and older brother Steve. The men of my youth. I am the only one left from this moment, those men in their prime and we boys. A high water mark.


      
Families eh...Roger adored my older brother Steve. Steve was a pretty awesome guitar player and Roger was highly interested in that. He was probably closer to Steve than I ever was. He seemed to understand him and Steve had far more time and patience for Roger than he ever did for me. My sister Trish and I would be entertained for hours by Roger. He had that gift of just being able to look at you and make you laugh. We spent a lot of time teasing, or being teased by our older sisters as well.

Through the years we developed different interests and activities. Roger acquired a beautiful '57' Chevy and a biker jacket. I wore my letterman jacket. Yet it did not matter if we were on his turf or mine. Amongst his friends and their world I was included and accepted, just as he was in mine. I like to think of that as a quality in ourselves and the friends we chose. We had some interesting times as teens, and in our 20's. I will leave it at that.


  When I was in my mid 20's I graduated from college and moved to Minneapolis. Roger stayed in the Chicago area. We saw each other a bit less frequently. I got a call from my mom one afternoon, which surprised me a bit as I knew she and my dad were traveling out east. My dad had had a heart attack and was dead. My mom was in South Carolina and needed me to come and get her. I arranged a flight schedule that took me on 3 different flights to get to Charleston. I arrived there 12 hours later and found my mom in a hotel. It was the first time I ever saw age on her. We made whatever arrangements we needed about my dad and immediately began driving home to Wisconsin, I would stop and call my sisters to inform them of our progress and try to comfort them. We drove straight through. The next few days were a blur of activity and people coming and going and over that 72 hours I would have been lucky to have slept 5. I had not cried, I had not really thought much at all, I was numbed to everything. The funeral wake came and I recall my friends hugging me and people paying their respects as if in a dream. Then in walked my Chicago family. When I saw Roger everything cleared and the enormity of it all hit me like a sledgehammer. I collapsed into his massive frame and powerful arms and I wept and wailed. I felt like he and I were entirely alone, and that he was the only one whom could bear my weight, my grief, my sadness. He just held me. He understood. Until today I have always known those arms were still there for me and now they are gone. If I close my eyes and release myself I can still feel that hug.

The last time I saw Roger was in Chicago a few years ago on my last visit home. I was so pleased that he finally got to meet my youngest son Charlie. It was stifling hot and most of the last evening there at my Aunt Jean's house he and I sat outside on the porch. Me drinking whiskey, Roger smoking cigarette after cigarette. He no longer drank. We talked long into the night about our lives, about our families. Roger had finally found a real passion with photography but we didn't much get into the future. We never did much of that in our 50 plus years of each others company. We were always just in the moment. A blessing and a curse. I think we both always knew that as well. When I hugged him goodbye in the early hours of that hot summer morning I did as if at may be the last hug ever. You learn to do that with people when you live on the far side of the world away. As it turns out it was our last hug. But not my last tears. Those tears for that goodbye, for all the embraces, hugs, laughter, honest tears, sadness, Old Style beer, Elvis Presley, basketball camps, 57 Chevy's, Packers and Bears, up all night talking in smoky hotel rooms, getting me out of fights, for him loving my brother, for being tender when my friend Kevin killed himself, for picking me up at airports, and most of all, for that long beautiful hug when my father died....I love you cuz. I love you my brother. Keep the fire warm...