Deb and I recently had a much-needed getaway to experience the natural beauty in the western states of Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota.
We spent time in the scenic canyons and mountains of the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone Park, Devils Tower, Spearfish Canyon south of Sturgis — we must have met and followed thousands of motorcycles on this vacation — along with Mount Rushmore and the Badlands.
The scenery was breathtaking, especially on a 10-mile float down the Snake River in the Grand Tetons near Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
We arrived back in Creston just before dawn on Sunday, driving nine hours across South Dakota and northwest Iowa overnight after a scenic drive through the Badlands late Saturday afternoon.
It was a great trip, with a look at some of America’s history mixed in with appreciation for some of the nation’s stunning natural sights. It caused me to pause and reflect that I didn’t get our kids to some of those patriotic and spiritual symbols, such as Mount Rushmore and Devils Tower, when they were young.
We tried to squeeze in vacations between sports seasons nearly every summer, but rarely did we allot enough time to cover 3,000 miles like our excursion last week. In retrospect, I would have tried harder to do some of that. A lesson for younger families, I suppose.
As rejuvenated as we felt coming off that terrific trip, our mood suddenly took a gut-wrenching turn Sunday afternoon.
A neighbor told us our next-door neighbor and good friend, Larry Schad, had died Friday in a horrific highway accident in Idaho, not all that far from where we were staying at the same time in Wyoming. In fact, the TV news we watched in our motel room originated in Idaho, but we had not heard of that accident.
Larry felt like family, because of our long relationship as next door neighbors. He was one of those guys who would do anything we asked — look at my sputtering lawn mower engine, help each other with weed control and fertilizer for our adjacent lawns, help with trimming and watering plants when we were away for a few days, etc.
If Deb or I were out exercising and strolled past their front porch on our way to our house, Larry or wife Joyce would stop us for a quick conversation, or in Larry’s case, some kind of teasing, smart remark. If we were grilling on the back deck and he was out, he’d always jokingly ask what was for supper and what time he should come over.
It’s hard to even look to the north and see that property and realize he’s not coming outside ever again. It doesn’t seem real.
Our heartfelt condolences go out to the families of everyone involved and sincere wishes for Joyce’s complete recovery and ability to cope in the best way that she can. Our neighborhood has lost one of those bright lights that put a smile on your face, and it’s a more somber place now.
Then, Tuesday night we got a second emotional punch in the gut when we heard of the death of 36-year-old Beth Coen of Creston.
I first met Beth when I helped coach the St. Malachy School girls basketball team in 1995-96. It was my first middle school coaching experience. Beth was the team’s best player. She was a fluid, athletic kid who could be as creative on the basketball court as she was later with the eye of an artist with a camera in her hands. The shot she took of a Summit Lake sunset earlier this summer was one of the best photographs I’ve ever seen.
Like Larry Schad, Beth Coen was clever and could put a smile on your face. I admired her strength to stand up and not hide from who she was, and to embolden others to likewise be proud of who they were.
Deb and I got to appreciate some of nature’s awesome beauty, for sure. But, at the same time, we mourn the loss of those who brought the light of friendship and humor to those around them every day they were on this earth.
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