When people ponder the mystery of my brother’s death, I expect they will shake their heads and say, “What a shame.” They’ll say, “It was too early to be canoeing,” and, “What was he doing so far from shore?” They’ll ask, “Why did he go by himself?” And they’ll talk about the mishaps that might have occurred that put him in that cold water, on a spring day, canoeing on Lake Michigan.
During all this thought, they won’t think about the verve that drove my brother to live more in his 44 years than most of us will live in twice that. Because the real mystery about my brother is in his life not his death. He was fueled by a passion for living. Salmon fishing in the Pacific. Ice climbing on Mount Washington. Downhill skiing black diamond slopes of Bridger Bowl in Montana. White water rafting the Galliton River in Yellowstone Park. He paddled the Gales of November in Lake Superior. His sailboat was the first on Omena Bay in spring and the last to come out of the water.
Lest you think of his life as a series of adventure vacations, Dave’s unfailing energy made him the guy you count on … to put siding on your house … to install your radiant heat or banisters on your cottage steps … he was the guy who helped you move, or left perfectly cut firewood for you without being asked … During the recent storms he was one of the first on the road with his chainsaw and the last to come in, cutting the tree blocking Firelane 7, and Firelane 4, and 8 … or the one poking through my garage roof. He fixed your screen door. He helped me set up my booths at work. He sewed my boots together when the stitching started coming apart.
And he built a unicorn of birch logs for his niece on Christmas morning.
He knew how to love. He built a swing for his lover because swinging and climbing trees is her thing. On her birthday he arranged a day in the trees for her. He called her, “Babe” and “Hun.” And held her hand, even after 5 years with her. He made sure the house was quiet and soothing when her days were stressful. He worried for her and braced to fight anyone who didn’t recognize her value.
An idealist. A champion. A dreamer that wasn’t afraid to live his dreams. He built his life around kayaking, canoeing, sailing, hiking, snowshoeing and climbing. He found grace in every weather. And he took it seriously, buying the best quality gear and the right clothes for the weather. He bought my daughter’s first life preserver, her first sled and her first snorkel. He organized her first canoe trip, and her second and her third. He left a good job as the buyer for the world’s largest paddling retailer to live on Omena Bay, because that’s where he wanted to live.
And so if you miss an opportunity to sail, or you cancel a camping trip because it might rain, think of my brother shaking his head and saying, “What a shame.”
Note: The seas that day were remarkably calm. Not wavy, no clouds and only a breath of wind. Dave had his life preserver on and he knew what he was doing. Whatever turned the canoe, put him in very cold water. The water was only 41 degrees and he’d have had less than a half an hour before hypothermia set in.