Monday, April 12, 2021

Serenade of the loon and the journey of healing

Loon

(All loon photos courtesy of Peggy Ivimey)

*A Brief Author’s Note: I first drafted “Serenade of the Loon” several years back. I had plans to submit it to Adirondack Life magazine, but lacked the loon photographs I felt I needed to complete it. so I never did.

Peggy Ivimey and I graduated from Saranac Lake High School together. She still lives in the Saranac Lake area, where she is a photographer specializing in loon & eagle photography on Lake Colby and throughout the Tri-Lakes area. I’m sure many of you already know Peggy and her top notch Adirondack bird imagery. When I first saw it, I found her photography’s high quality striking. In my humble opinion, some of the very best work I’ve seen.

Long story short, we recently reconnected via Facebook and decided to collaborate. “Serenade of The Loon” is the result.

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Serenade of The Loon

At Home in the Mountains

Alone with My Thoughts

Dancing with Bears

In My Favorite Spot

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Mist Cloaking Sunset

By the Light of a Fire

 Twinkling Star Ripples

Reflect Zen Dreams Aspired

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Howling with Coyotes

Sharing Prayers with the Moon

Nature’s Night Cavalcade

Serenade of the Loon

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I love that rare time spent alone, in an Adirondack lean-to, in my favorite spot, on the shore of my favorite lake.

wading

Sitting cloaked in the warm solitude of campfire flames, I find time to reflect.  Past adventures, current projects, future plans – dreams that may now never come to pass.  Cancer, and its aftermath, is a life altering experience.

I reflect back on those dark days before surgery- telling my wife, “I’m so afraid“. Her response; “I know. I am too.”  The hard tears that followed.

Sitting alone in my pickup truck with my then nine year old son RJ, who said, “Dad, I don’t want to adjust to your cancer- I just want it out.”

Keeping my fingers crossed that my sixteen year old daughter Chelsea would pass her driver’s test on the very first try- because she would be at home looking after her brother and sister while Robin and I were in New York for my surgery and we needed her to have her license so she could get them wherever they needed to go.

Sharing, bedside with my daughter Abby, the joy we’d had with her travel softball team that final summer before surgery.  I called it our “Magic Season“.   It was. We also all thought it might well be my last.

I managed one last day trip into Middle Saranac with family that summer.  I remember riding with my brother in the pontoon boat across the lake, shedding a few private tears with myself as I thought, “I may never see this place again.”

richard monroe

Getting in the car to leave for New York and Sloan Kettering, my wife and I both frightened at the prospect of it being a one-way trip.

That was twelve years ago.  Doctors performed miracles to keep me alive.  Once their work was finished, it was my job to live.

For over a decade post-surgery my wife and I trekked back to Sloan Kettering and Manhattan to see Dr. Wong, my Head & Neck surgeon.  On one of our lasts trip I asked him, “So Doc, out of ten like me, at this point how many are still alive?”

His response– “You are it, man.  Last man standing.  Sole survivor.”  Those words have been liberating somehow, realizing I somehow beat the odds.  I’m beyond borrowed time now, on my own clock; year twelve, month five, day twenty-two.  Still counting.

My Oncologist’s words “It’s time to call hospice.  There’s no more we can do.” I still hear their echo.  They still bring a tear to my mind’s eye. They still give me chills.

In real life, those words don’t generate cinematic skydiving bucket lists.  The truth is much more personal, more concrete, more real.  “New shingles on the roof “, “Make financial arrangements,” “Teach daughter to drive,” “Son’s Hunter’s Safety course,” “Share family time,” “Be generous with hugs and I love you,” “Pet the dog,” “One more kiss for my Wife.”  I often sit pondering these thoughts as flame turns to ember and I drift to sleep.

Awakening to the damp chill of morning and the sound of waves gently washing the shore, I begin each new day by putting a fresh pot of coffee on my rekindled fire.

I live life differently now.  I have a deeper appreciation for “Living Life In The Day I Am In.”  With each new morning, I put one more day in my pocket as I silently pray my morning prayer;

“Thank You Lord, For Yesterday, Today, and Each and Every Day of Life- Amen.”

looking forward to making the most of the day I’ve just been given.

The sun’s rays slowly bring a new day’s life to the lake.  Once camp coffee percolates, I add it to my prescribed feeding tube mix.  “What the doctors don’t know won’t hurt them”, I think, smiling.  I sit listening to a red squirrel drop cones to the lean-to’s roof top from one of the pines towering above.  Morning meal complete, I douse the remaining fire, pack my gear, and prepare to head home, reluctantly leaving one more night of camp solitude in my wake.

My canoe glides gently across still morning water as I paddle the lake.  Mist rises, a passing dragonfly hovers briefly, then darts off to its day.  A night spent alone in an Adirondack lean-to is a soul cleansing experience. For anyone seeking peaceful tranquility, I highly recommend it.

Dr Wong and the medical team at Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital performed a miracle. They saved my life.  Twelve years post-surgery, I’ve beaten long odds.  I’m on my own time now.  No more “bucket lists.” It’s simply my job to live.

From somewhere upwind a solitary loon’s echoing wail embraces morning’s mountain air chill. I listen, smiling softly to myself as I continue paddling homeward, contemplating life.  A fitting accompaniment.

  Serenade of The Loon.

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Until Our Trails Cross Again:

richard monroe and his canoe

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Richard Monroe

Lifelong NYS resident. Raised in Saranac Lake. Cornell graduate(ROTC). Army veteran, Airborne/Ranger qualified, 10th Mtn Div, stints in Honduras and with JTF VI. 3rd degree Black Belt; 3x cancer survivor; published writer with several featured stories in Adirondack Life Magazine. Residing in Watertown NY with wife Robin & our 3 adult children. Loving Life. Living in the Day I am in.




16 Responses

  1. ADKresident says:

    Beautiful reflections~ written from the heart. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Richard Monroe Richard Monroe says:

    You are most welcome. Thank you for the kind comments.

  3. Bill D. says:

    Thank you for writing this very moving piece. I, too, visited Sloan Kettering and they are absolutely first rate. Carpe diem.

  4. Richard Monroe Richard Monroe says:

    Thank you Bill. They absolutely are a world class resource. Stay strong-Best wishes- Be well.

  5. Bob Meyer says:

    Just read this piece. Beyond words. Beyond thanks.
    Peace to you Richard on your journey.

  6. Richard Monroe Richard Monroe says:

    Thank you Bob. Your kind comments are greatly appreciated. May your journey be serenaded by loons. Best wishes. Be well.

  7. Vanessa Banti Vanessa says:

    Fear and experience of loss is deeply challenging. This was a moving article, and I can relate very deeply to these feelings, more so than you might guess for someone my age. I’m glad you’re beating cancer, Richard. Hope you’re able to maintain the type of peace described here :).

    • Richard Monroe Richard Monroe says:

      Thank you Vanessa, for sharing your insights. I’m not sure age is the most important factor when facing adversity, whether cancer or otherwise. I suspect a strong support system, mental focus & prayer matter more, regardless of age. Plus maybe a few fireside dances with bears while serenaded by loons. Thanks again. Be well.

      • Vanessa Banti Vanessa says:

        I am just seeing this reply – you’re very welcome! I feel (and believe I am) a lot younger than perhaps many of the writers or especially readers here. Sometimes it is challenging to express how much I can relate. I am presently going through a very tough time, but am also working full time so I do not have many opportunities for rest & healing.

        I am happy for people that do! Best of luck to you, seriously. Your writing is a great addition to the breadth of the work at the Almanack.

        • Richard Monroe Richard Monroe says:

          Thank you Vanessa. I hope everything works out for you. From your comments it sounds like you are pretty mentally tough, so I have confidence you will find the strength to work through life’s current challenges. Find & hold moments of peace. Be well.

  8. Beautifully written and very moving. Peggy’s photos are always wonderful.

    • Richard Monroe Richard Monroe says:

      Thank you Stephen. Obviously, I wholeheartedly agree. I know your Adirondack Wildlife Refuge is important to Peggy. So much so that I believe she recently asked us all on Facebook to donate to your cause in lieu of gifts for her birthday! I think what you do there is awesome. Thanks.

  9. David Gibson says:

    One of the most compelling and rewarding reads ever in Adirondack Almanack. Thank you for sharing with us all, Richard.

  10. Richard Monroe Richard Monroe says:

    Holy…just…Wow! I am not even sure how to respond! I am very glad you enjoyed it. I just want to sit here and freeze frame this moment. My humble thanks David. You just made my day.

  11. Jaime says:

    Loved reading your article. Poetry is a vagrant of quiet. The words are never fully equivalent to the experience behind them.

    • Richard Monroe Richard Monroe says:

      Thank you Jaime. I don’t pretend to be a poet or consider poetry my forte. I’m more of a short story writer, if anything. Occasionally though, when I start writing, a story just tells me it wants to be told in some form of verse. I listen, follow the flow, and do my best to comply. I guess somehow “Serenade Of the Loon” ended up representing some of both. Peggy’s loon photos were the inspiration that helped me to finally complete it. I am so glad you enjoyed the result.

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