Notes from the North Country, by Lon and Lynn Emerick

Our friend Chris was dying. Almost one year later, it is hard to believe and hard to write. She had been a friend to so many, almost from the day she and her husband arrived in Marquette.
Chris had come up alone from the “Lower” on a house-hunting trip while Rob was teaching at a downstate university. Not long into her solo visit, knowing he trusted her as much as he loved her, she bought a home for them on the Chocolay River.
We joked with them that they could not move into the Upper Peninsula from their lower Michigan home because the U.P. was full. No more resident passes were available. Soon after our conversation, we learned that a local business couple had moved out of Marquette, back to the Traverse City area. We made up two golden passes and presented them to Chris and Rob—there were now two open spots and they had official permission to “immigrate” to the Superior Peninsula.
They settled in to their special place on the river as if they had been rooted there and, as the best new residents do, became involved with the life of their community. Marquette Choral Society, Bell Choir, a local church, MooseWood Nature Center, Laughing Whitefish Audubon Chapter and many others benefitted from their support and participation. They spent part of every day canoeing on the river and into the Bayou—finding eagles, warblers, ducks, woodpeckers and other avian visitors. Chris loved watching the birds at their feeders or on the river; the birding hotline often was the recipient of a call from Chris about an unusual visitor.
We were amazed to learn of the wide net of friends that Chris had created in her U.P. years. It was not at all uncommon to be in several completely different venues in the course of a week and encounter folks who counted Chris and Rob among their closest friends. She was a master of the almost lost art of note-writing; her colorful cards came on all occasions and no occasions at all, bringing a ray of sun into any gray or gloomy day. We were reminded of our friend Dorothy Maywood Bird; both were the “there you are” kind of people, as contrasted with “here I am” people. They evinced a lively, genuine interest in you—your activities, what you were reading, what birds you had seen, where you had traveled, what you thought about the local and national scene.
Her positive influence on so many old and new friends was all the more remarkable when one learned about the shadow of illness that hovered over, and sometimes harshly intruded into, her life for more than twenty-five years.
Now the shadow had become a cloud and it was no longer possible to ignore the end that was coming.
The last time we saw Chris was on our way out of town for a long planned trip to the Canadian Rockies. We knew we would not see her again and hardly knew what to say at the end of our cherished friendship. She did. “Find a water ouzel for me.”
The water ouzel or dipper is a western bird that frequents cold mountain streams. Its nest is built almost in the water; it feeds, and gathers food for the nestlings by diving under the rushing water and gleaning for bugs among the pebbles. Back out on a streamside rock, the water ouzel bobs and dips, hence its common name.
On the late afternoon of July 4, deep in British Columbia’s Mount Assiniboine National Park, we were hiking next to the blue-green waters of a stream outlet when we saw it. “Water ouzel,” we said at the same time. The lodge owner, astonished, looked over at the small dark bird bobbing up and down on a smooth boulder.
“They are very rare out here,” she said.
When we returned to Marquette two weeks later, we learned that Chris had died on the afternoon of July 4.
We don’t know about spirits, where they go or how fast they travel. Yet we both knew, without exchanging a word, that Chris was there with us on that day in the mountains and we were blessed with her indomitable spirit.
—Lon and Lynn Emerick

Editor’s Note: Comments are welcome by writing MM or e-mailing marquettemonthly@marquettemonthly.com
Lon and Lynn Emerick’s Upper Peninsula books: The Superior Peninsula, Going Back to Central, Lumberjack—Inside an Era, Sharing the Journey, You Wouldn’t Like it Here and You STILL Wouldn’t Like it Here are available at area book and gift stores or by visiting their Web site at www.northcountry publishing.com

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