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the mystery of my brother's life & death on Omena Bay

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.

Last day of sailing season 2010, January 23, 2011. Also the first day of sailing repair season.

Sand River Ontario

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Tags: Dave Dickerson, Omena, canoeing, family, kayaking, lake michigan, living, northern michigan


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Comment by Home Builders Association of the Grand Traverse Area on April 24, 2012 at 11:08am

What a wonderful tribute to your brother.  Your family is in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.

Comment by Monterey Wheeler on April 24, 2012 at 7:21am

Perfect, Rachel. Dave is savoring every word. Blessings to you and your family.

Comment by Rachel North on April 24, 2012 at 2:10am

I've started a memorial page where people can leave memories, photos and share. Please pass it along to those who'll be interested.

Comment by Carolyn Faught on April 23, 2012 at 10:27pm


I have been thinking of you ever since I heard this very sad news. I did not know your brother but after reading your very fine piece and seeing the photos I sure wish I had known him. Peace to you and your family as you weather this time of celebrating his very full life and mourning his passing. Hugs. Carolyn.

Comment by Eric Clone on April 23, 2012 at 7:08pm

I sit here reading this with deep mixed emotions mostly of the sinking lump in my throat kind. Dave was a great guy, friend and soulful buddy. I last remember him inviting me to the Gales of November this last season and regrettably I had to decline but we made the promise to go "next year". One morning last spring I happened to wander down the road to find his humble home on the lake after a quick spring kayak past it just a few hours before. He and I sat for a couple hours sipping coffee and enjoying warm conversations as the sun filtered through the cedars. We spoke a lot about the coming season's paddling opportunities.That very canoe he donated for our engagement photo shoot two years ago. I will very much miss this wonderful soul. Good bye friend.

Comment by Kara McConnell on April 23, 2012 at 3:45pm

Rachel...your beautiful reflection brings back a flood of memories...hikes, paddles, xc skiing up the hill, dinners at your folks house...laughing like crazy and loving like mad... I know that I am a better person for having loved and been loved by David...he was beauty itself...


Comment by Karen Johnson on April 23, 2012 at 9:42am

I met Dave when he auctioned off a canoe ride on the Betsey at the Goodwill Fundraiser about 8 years ago. I was the lucky winning bidder. We tried to coordinate our schedules for months, trying to catch the autumn colors while they were still on view. The day we picked ended up cold, grey and rainy. I was rather wary--hadn't sat a canoe since Girl Scouts; hadn't even met this guy, just talked with him on the phone. We met up half-way to the site, introduced ourselves and decided to brave the weather. So began one of the best days I've ever had. For several hours along the quiet river we talked about everything and nothing. I was immediately aware that Dave was one of the rare ones--someone who loved life and relished each opportunity to learn and experience something new; to challenge each day--truly an old soul. We'd run into each other at various times and places over the years and it was always like we'd just stepped out of that canoe--I knew I'd made a friend for life back on the Betsey and that my life was the better for it. I know that all those who knew and loved Dave, feel the same.



Comment by Tom Kelly on April 23, 2012 at 9:11am

Thank you Rachel, for this wonderful tribute.  Dave was always ready to help here at Inland Seas, in fact he was in the Boat Shop last week helping the students fiberglass the inside of the canoe they are building.  He will be greatly missed here, and throughout the community.  Our prayers are with you, Chuck and Janet.  

Comment by Jamie Jewell on April 22, 2012 at 11:01pm
Thoughts and prayers with you and your family, Rachel.
Comment by Dave Dean on April 22, 2012 at 4:23pm

Leelanau County has lost one of it's great water men. Dave's life on the water was his perpetual adventure. I was privileged to share it with him in a very small way. I admired the cut of Dave's jib and will always be the better for knowing him. And I will never again see a small boat, working to weather under a brooding sky, without thinking of Dave. I wish you fair winds and following seas my friend.

My thoughts are with the Dickersons, Jill and his endless list of friends.


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