Just wanted you all to know that we are preparing to head back up to Trinity at the end of the month.
Jim and our HRD handler will spend a day further narrowing the zone his dog alerts to and taping it off.
Then the next day Steve's brother, Don, will be flying out from Tennessee and joining several men from my church, along with a neighbor, me, and Karen--one of my very best friends who I get to see far too little these days! Jo, tracker extraordinaire, will come along (God bless those amazing eyes!). We may even get some help from a local Eagle Scout troop (I wonder whose eyes will prove better: Jo's highly trained ones, or the Eagle Scout's very young ones!!)
I am looking forward to this different, super-focused type of searching. Less physical than previous searches, and probably working together as a whole group quite a bit.
I have ordered sifting boxes for the team to use, as we expect it would be the tiniest bones and teeth that would be left at this point of the process. These boxes have 1/4 inch steel mesh stretched across a wooden or PVC frame. You dump in a load of rocks and dirt and start shaking. Fine dirt and the tiniest rocks fall through, then you're left with the material that bears the closest examination. We'll also bring buckets to transport the rocky debris to the sifters and kneeling pads to save our knees and bums as we sit for long periods of time, carefully examining small areas.
Patience, excellent vision, faith in all of the good work that has brought us to this point in the process. We must also be sure to bring these along with us.
Please pray for an effective search day Friday for Jim, the handler and his dog. And also for we ground searchers--that God would direct our vision, help us see what he wants us to, and give us a safe, positive time spent with each other. (I have no doubt about that last part, as I think it's just about impossible to have a lousy time when it's spent in the company of such great people!)
And for frosting on the cake, some of the neighbors up there will be cooking their amazing dinners for the team. I think they love being able to give in such a tangible way. But I also love looking them in the eye and taking in the generous, caring hearts that are so evident there.
Thank you for your continued financial support. I have been able to reserve our huge SUV for the guys to drive up, to pay for the sifters we will be using, and to begin to refill the basic "base camp" supplies of batteries, radios, fluorescent vests, etc...
Your support literally carries us forward. We ride on your shoulders. So we never forget that we couldn't possibly have gotten here without you. You are amazing!
It used to be that Steve would take Ellie shopping the day before Mother's Day to pick out a present for me.
One year, around age three, Ellie and Steve were on their yearly mission at a local mall. They walked into a department store and there--straight in front of them--beckoned the most beautiful, shiny, sparkly thing ever! She just had to have it, had to bring it home and wrap it up to give to Mama.
At dinner that night she was having a hard time keeping it a secret--like a happy little tea kettle about to blow its' whistling lid. We didn't make it quite all the way through the meal before she couldn't take it anymore. Her pudgy little fingers started to dance, her eyes were ready to pop out of her head, and she started saying "It's so...", "It's so...", (building, building)..."SPARKLY!!!" With this proclamation she exploded out of her chair and started a manic circling dance around the living room. "Sparkly!" "Sparkly!!" "SO SPARKLY!!" I don't remember how we ever got her to bed that night.
When Mother's Day finally arrived the next morning, there it was: a simple, elegant, round make-up mirror. No gaudy rhinestones or embellishing. It was just something about the lovely reflecting glass itself that so impassioned my girly girl.
Then, as she matured, they would troop off to one or two of my favorite stores and come home with a lovely blouse or unique piece of jewelry. Always a hit. They knew me well.
So I wasn't sure how it was going to work out this year, with Steve gone. But it really was quite touching.
Newly-licensed Ellie drove herself to the craft store and home, then proceeded to create a beautiful frame collage: each frame with a different photo of her, or she and her Dad together. Steve pulling her on the attached ride-along bike, Ellie suspended mid-cartwheel on the beach during our last vacation together. Ellie playing possum as Steve happily carries her piggy back. Priceless!
I'm sure she missed doing the Mother's Day mission with her Dad. But I so admire the way she rose to the occasion and carried on the tradition, planning and creating such a meaningful memento all on her own.
Her Dad would be pleased. I hope she is. As a matter of fact, I can just picture him sitting on her shoulder through the process, offering love and encouragement. "You know how to do this, Ellie. You've got this!"
The other gift I received this past weekend was experiencing just a taste of what I imagine God feels toward us when we, his children, go out of our way to show our love for him. Because I did feel so well loved. There's nothing like it!
The Q-Tips are running out, the T.P. is low, and I'm on my last tube of toothpaste. So I know that it must have been a really long time since Steve died.
He was our "hunter" when it came to those household necessities--the only one of us willing to brave the fluorescent, concrete maze that is Costco. He was so thorough that we are only just now running low on those "basics".
So a lot of time must have passed!
This morning, as I was lingering for a few moments before climbing out of bed, I noticed something new out our second story window: the redwood that Steve planted about five years ago in our backyard to provide a bit of "forest" all year long has grown so statuesque that I can see it without even sitting up in my bed.
And the shrubs and trees in our yard are clearly on to the fact that the resident yard man isn't around because they are rebelling against any sense of order, creating a lush, verdant jungle back there.
So a lot of time must have passed...
My lovely daughter is growing in confidence and wisdom. Driving all over town. Trying to narrow down her college wish list. Almost a senior.
So a lot of time must have passed.
When you've been derailed by shock and grief it's as if the time keeper in your brain shuts down, and the intuitive awareness we normally rely on to track the passage of time just quits working. So you are left to more concrete methods to mark the days, months, years. (I feel like I should pull out some chalk and start making hash marks on the wall of my cave/bedroom to help me keep track!)
The light on our determined redwood is starting to take on the angle and tone of early summer. (I must admit to a sense of dread that's been mounting over the past couple of weeks as I feel this shift moving us against our will toward August. )
And then there's my wild mane of hair. I wish it would just stop growing. I keep having to return to have it cut. (I think this is the fourth time since August.) I know you all deal with this regular annoyance, but for me, it can only mean one thing:
A lot of time...
Thanks for hanging in there with us through all of it.
Awkward. It's not something I'm used to feeling. I've generally been pretty confident and comfortable in my own skin.
But ever since Steve died--especially when I'm in a group of couples--I feel an off-center self-consciousness I haven't known since I was about thirteen.
Not sure how to sit, how to hold my hands. Unmoored. I feel far from port, aimlessly bobbing in the water, longing for my anchor.
I had become so accustomed to having Steve to sit next to, knowing he would make conversation with me, laugh at my jokes, be there for me to lean into when I needed connection, even finish my thoughts for me when I struggled for words.
And then afterwards, as we drove home, we could compare notes, share our reactions to the events of the evening. Sometimes just sit and silently process. But even in the quiet there was connection--a "we".
So strange to be a "single" person in reality, when Steve's presence is still so very real for me. (And then, his absence has become a "presence" of its' own--like those paintings where the eye is drawn to the shapes and design found in the "negative" spaces.) His absence is a piercing silence.
So I have to relearn how to be in a group. I trust that in time I will gradually become less acutely aware of his absence and more at peace with my single self, more anchored in my new life.
Not a lot to report at this point. Our specimens are being processed this week at what is supposed to be the best forensic lab in the country. (Thanks to the excellent referral made by our HRD dog handler, very experienced in such things.)
So now we wait again. Well, not just waiting. We are busy pulling together our next trip to Trinity. Probably mid to late May, when the water in the drainage has a chance to subside enough to safely cross it. I'm busy trying to find "ground pounders" who can give us 4-5 days of very small scale searching. And once our dates and numbers are finalized I will begin "hitting up" family and the women in our church who have helped us so faithfully all of these times.
Meanwhile, I thought I would share something I wrote last night.
THE EASY LIFE
I still have the garland of Christmas lights Ellie draped across my headboard to welcome me home from my December search. I turn them on at night before climbing in to read or write. Soft tones of red, yellow, green and white spiral around an evergreen bough.
Very cozy, so I'm always motivated to use them. (Not to mention, they remind me of Ellie's sweet expression of love, which transforms one of the most painful areas of my home into something approachable).
But the problem is this: I have them somewhat jerry-rigged, so I have to get down on my knees and reach back into the tight space between my bed and the little table right beside it to locate the dangling plug and stretch it across the gap to the waiting socket at the end of my equally-elusive extension cord.
But I do it because it sets a positive, comforting tone. Tonight, as I was carrying out my little ritual, I had the thought that if Steve were here, he would first have had to tease me about my twinkly lights. But once the laughter died down, his mind would start working on a way to make it easy for me. Like the way he wired in a low switch for my reading light so I could just reach over and click it off without even having to sit up. Cush!
Or the motion-detector lights he installed in the garage so we wouldn't have to find the switch or tumble down the steps in the dark. Or in the garden, the agreement we had that if I would pick out and position new plants, he would do the harder job of digging and planting.
Little things in themselves, but taken together they paint a portrait of a man who expressed his love by trying to please me: to make our home a place of comfort and beauty, and my day-to-day life as easy as possible.
I do wish I had been more deliberate about letting him know that his messages of love were seen and appreciated, that I recognized what a spoiled, well-loved woman I was...
I was pretty good about thanking him. (My Momma taught me well!) But what I'm talking about is a choice to stop-what-you're-doing-and-go-to-where-he-is. Touch, kiss, hug him (or all three!). Go ahead and make a big deal of it. He'll feel suddenly "Oh gosh" shy, might even tell you to cut it out. But that doesn't mean he doesn't need it.
It only takes a moment to lavish love and affirmation on our partners. So I want to encourage you, wives and husbands, to make the most of those moments, while they are still possibilities for you. Because you never know which of those might be your last opportunity to express your love in this way, and down the road , looking back, you will want to know that you did it well.
I haven't posted a lot of details regarding the remains that we have found. But I want you to know that we have three different types, and one of them stands out to me as showing the strongest potential.
The lab will begin analyzing this particular "specimen" (for lack of a better word) this week. So my hope is that it will not be too degraded to give us conclusive results. Their process sounds very meticulous and professional, so I believe we are in good hands. (They also came highly recommended.)
So please pray that all of the technicians' training and experience will come together to achieve a definitive result for us. There is more analysis that can be done with the specimens, but a clear "positive" result at this point would allow us to finally get off of this ride.
As always, feeling so thankful for all of your support.
For those first few months of living here without Steve, it seemed I kept encountering him around every corner. His shirts in our closet, the huge, empty space on his side of our bed, the beautiful crab apple he planted in the yard--once a small, gangly thing--now with sturdy trunk and in full, riotous bloom. All of the creative carpentry touches that make our home so much more comfortable and unique than the "white bread" state we bought it in.
When I would come across these reminders, the experience was startling, vivid, unleashing a flood of memories. Images, expressions, little videos of Silly Steve, Irritated Steve, Affectionate Steve played in my head.
It felt kind of like living inside an emotional jukebox. Eager teenagers are pushing buttons. Each one pops up a new song and a flood of associations and emotions with it.
But lately I'm noticing a softening of this phenomenon. I have fewer unexpected "encounters", and when they do occur, the memories and emotions have been bleached out. Softer colors, less intense emotional reactions.
The earlier "jukebox" phase was quite painful, but preferable to this muted stage, where I find myself having to work to remember what Steve sounded like, how he moved, his smell... I don't like this less accessible, more distant version of Steve. It feels like he's being pulled away from me one tiny layer at a time.
Give me the painful, unexpected, vivid jukebox any day.
It's been a full, productive day. Our HRD handler worked all day to further narrow our search area, with the help of our Most Excellent Assistant (pictured below).
This sweet lab has traveled the world helping his owner locate the graves of soldiers missing from various wars, as well as helping out law enforcement here in the states. He's about as experienced as they come, and today he came to our rescue.
He began by confirming the alert that our Montana team led us to and a local SAR handler confirmed at what we have been calling "ground zero". (This is the spot where we have high confidence that Steve passed away on his second night out).
There has been a huge amount of rain up here this past winter, so we knew that there was a good chance that remains might be washed downhill from this area. The HRD dog confirmed this for us today. He has been trained to search out bones, and he alerted in quite a few spots downhill and downstream from "ground zero".
Then we were able to narrow the area further by having him check above this zone and below it so we could gradually push in the search boundaries. We now have a distance of approximately 500 feet to concentrate on--so much more defined than even 24 hours ago!
I am feeling so thankful for this handler and his dog. They have given so selflessly of their time and energy--driving long distances to get here and climbing around the mountainside for days once they arrived. And all through the day, thinking creatively, analytically, outside the box.
Now the pup is snoring away at my feet, the handler is looking weary, and I'm feeling the call of the bed, so I will sign off.
We head home tomorrow--again without the complete result we were hoping for--but feeling hope that it may be just around the corner.
Please pray for safe travels home. It's been good to feel forward progress again, and it will be good to be back at home with my girl!
Yesterday the HRD dog had 15 "hits", and today we have a plan to significantly narrow those in hopes of finding bones.
The dedication of these guys (including the 3-legged one) is so inspiring to me. Even though the task at hand could absolutely weigh my heart down, and a part of me is always averse to approaching it, just being around such selfless, resourceful people makes it so much easier to take.
Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers today.
The gears are slowly grinding back into action, after a season of rest.
Winter put our search on hold, and we will be starting back up again this week with a new, highly experienced HRD handler from Southern California.
Last week's chilly snow has given way to sunny, spring-warm days up at Trinity.
Even so, I feel very ambivalent about returning to that place. I'm looking forward to doing something more tangible to help us move toward closure than researching labs and organizing analysis of the remains we have found. Also looking forward to seeing the good, generous people we've come to know up there.
But that place. I do dread seeing that peak again, feeling it gloat at me from its' impossibly high, knowing position...
Much good work has been done by our team this winter while Ellie and I have been busy learning to live without Steve, but instead with grief: this invisible "other" whose presence is frequently felt in our relationship, in our home.
I feel we have to be so purposeful in how we are with each other--trying to stay connected with this strange intruder breathing down our necks.
On most days, in most ways, I am grateful for a growing sense of relationship with my lovely daughter. It's a different way of connecting-- more complex, more deliberate. But I do feel that we will be stronger, more honest, closer because of our shared experience. So this has been our winter work.
Meanwhile, Jim has been involved with his SAR team, as well as educating himself through Chico State's Forensic Anthropology Department, learning more about bones and how to recognize them in the wild, as well as preparing for this next search.
Michalle and Cris have been reviewing their "scent mapping", developing some theories about where we might possibly find a greater concentration of remains. (Of course, they have also continued to go out on SAR missions in their home states. Michalle's team recently helped find a missing 13-year-old girl, safe and sound. Amazing!) We are working on the logistics for their May visit.
Meghan and Peter have been giving us weather updates, checking out the post-winter condition of the roads, and reserving cabins for us for this week and next month.
So while we have been away from the mountain for the winter, the work that everyone has been doing at home will equip them to bring in new resources and perspective.
Today I enjoyed some time with Ellie before I leave...again. Tomorrow I will finish the supply and food shopping and pack my duffle bag. So strange to be doing these little rituals again.
Please pray for this good weather to hold, for safety, for patience and endurance as we all wait for much-needed closure.
So grateful for your support all along this journey.
Well, it seems that one of the many lessons of this year has been the importance of becoming acutely aware of how little power I actually have in life.
Through all of these searches, we have only had to sit out one day (when there was such a deluge, we wouldn't have been able to see two feet in front of our faces!). For that, I am thankful.
But the resort managers who have become our good friends told us that, while they haven't seen any snow all winter, there was quite a bit forecast for this week.
So we have had to postpone our search with the new Southern California HRD handler a few weeks, waiting for the snow to melt and clear the ground again. Hard, but necessary.
As it turns out, my dog needed some emergency surgery today, so I am relieved that I am here instead of there. I would have definitely needed to be here.
So disappointment has morphed into relief. Just when I think I know exactly what should happen, when it should happen, I can almost hear God chuckle as he gently reminds me how non-omniscient I really am. (Thought I had already learned that one this year, but clearly I have a long way to go!)
We will reschedule for a few weeks from now. I will be sure to let you know as we approach our new search window.
Thank you for your continued support and prayers. We are building up funds for the next big search in about a month. We have enough for three teams now, so that is great! We are hoping for four to six, so please keep sharing our story with family, coworkers and friends.
(Today is Good Friday. So for those of you who weren't able to make it to a service, here is the text from the meditation I was invited to share at my church. I wrote it on Christmas Day, but felt it was probably more of a Good Friday kind of message...)
God has been using my love for Ellie, my daughter, and Steve, my late husband, to teach me about His love.
It hit me one day right in the center of my chest--I was holding my brand new baby girl and breathing in that intoxicating smell at the back of her head when the scripture “…God, His son not sparing…” filled my mind.
You see, it took 16 years traveling on a long, painful road of infertility procedures, medications and miscarriages before we adopted Ellie.
So by that time, this long-awaited baby could only be amazing! We were picturing the future, and a rich life together as a family. Our joy felt complete, overflowing! So the thought of ever being able to voluntarily let her go? Unimaginable.
But God, His Son not sparing… Unfathomable.
Such a mystery!!.......
Now, I’m not a big lover of mysteries. Give me a novel with well-drawn characters, problems to solve and some complex dynamics between people, and I’m content. I don’t crave the adrenaline of a mystery—too anxiety provoking.
So I’m guessing that tolerance of the unknown must be one of my many growing edges, because I find myself living smack dab in the middle of mystery this year: some of it disorienting in its’ swirling mix of loss, suspense, pain and questions.
Some of it overwhelmingly lovely.
Today I want to talk about it all. But I need to begin with the darker mysteries before you can understand what the stunning, most beautiful one has come to mean to me.
Last year at this time Steve, Ellie and I were moving through the steady rhythms of work, school, Easter vacation. Spring passed, Summer began.
Ellie was doing lots of swimming and horseback riding. Steve & I took a camping trip to Yosemite. But otherwise, we were mostly just working, putting in our vegetable garden, enjoying the more relaxed pace of Summer. Steve was looking forward to the men’s backpacking trip in the Trinity Alps—always a highlight for him.
Then August 2nd happened. During a day hike on that trip ----In a heartbeat--Steve vanished from the peak they had climbed to, and so with him, the life we had known.
Overnight my family and I were transported to a place of chaos, questions, and drama that continue to this day.
Meanwhile, in these long days and months since Steve went missing, my heart has been rearranged—and in that new arrangement God has created space for an even greater—very personal—understanding of his fierce, reckless heart. “…for God SO loved the world…”
This is what I want to share with you. But first, I need to tell the story of what happened when Steve went missing: my journey to find him, and Steve’s journey down that mountain—carefully pieced together step-by-step by a team of volunteer searchers (including many from our church), along with a few experienced, dedicated trackers and cadaver dog teams.
My memories are like a photo montage—but this one is emotional: mostly felt viscerally—in the heart, in the gut.
At times my spirit scans the collection: Dale’s call at 10 pm. on the Saturday night Steve went missing. The numbness that was replaced with a strange mix of adrenaline and peace. Those long days of sitting on the lawn with my sister outside the Search and Rescue command post, waiting for any news.
Then there are the things Steve experienced that I can only imagine:
His sense of adventure as he scouted out a better route they could take down the mountain than the steep, punishing one they had used to climb up.
The beauty of the beckoning peak.
Looking over the edge to see the unbelievable view from the tip top of the earth.
I feel the slow, lazy turn of my heart as my mind scans these images. As they are floating across my field of focus, my attention suddenly comes to a screeching halt as the next one comes into view:
The 40-50 foot fall off the cliff, the tumbling slide down the rocky slope.
Blinding pain—enough to leave him dizzy and faint. He could only make it a few steps before having to lie down with his head under a bush to avoid the punishing sun in the heat of the day. Harsh. Violent.
Then gingerly moving his mangled body down the mountain, as the white hot August sun turned to dusk, and dusk to cool darkness. Tripping and falling, his injuries forcing him to sleep sitting up. Alone. In the forest, with evidence all around of bears and mountain lions. No flashlight, no matches, no jacket.
Almost unbearable, these images. I almost…can’t…let myself imagine them.
To look back on something so excruciating that happened to the man I have loved since I was 16 takes all the courage I can muster.
Then it hits me: a retrospective look at this is sheer torture. But what would it be like to see all of this happening before it even happened—to your husband, son, wife…whoever you hold most dear?…
Now, imagine that--through some magical power--you could stop this movie from ever playing—that you could tear into the projection room and rip the cued up film right off the reel before it even aired. You would do it, right? I know I would!!!
But God knew what was coming when He sent His only Son into our crazy, mixed-up world in the form of a vulnerable baby. He wrote this movie!
Coming close to this kind of trauma experienced by someone I love, has changed me. It has shifted my perspective on everything—but especially on God and His love for us.
When I try to wrap my limited mind around the idea that He could choose to set His Son’s story in motion—fully able to see the beauty, pain and horror that lay ahead for Him, my simple, limited mind goes “tilt”.
Then when I hear that He would choose to—literally—put his Son through all of this hell for me, my heart collapses on the ground, unable to begin to know where to put that.
The word “love” is so inadequate. We need some uber-charged language for that kind of blinding passion.
On this Good Friday, I feel so unworthy of this reckless, costly sacrifice God made for us. Ahh…but therein lies the beauty and the mystery: it’s not because we’re worthy—just because we’re loved……Deeply loved.
So here is hoping that you too can soak in the astounding meaning of God’s gift to you today—given from an inconceivably immense heart of love. Because He really loves you that much.
“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son…”
Well, we got our latest testing results back. This was the soil that two separate HRD dogs alerted to. The lab down in Tennessee that ran it through their Mass Spectrometer said it showed some decomposition features, but they couldn't tell whether it was animal or human. So one more inconclusive result...
The tissue four HRD dogs alerted to came back inconclusive from the DOJ. They said they couldn't find human DNA there, but couldn't say conclusively that it wasn't human, since it was exposed from the elements for so long.
The wildlife biologist who looked at another of our specimens said it didn't look like any animal she had ever seen (while Fish & Game said they couldn't tell one way or another...). This is the one specimen that I have seen, and it not only looks "human" to me, but it looks like Steve. This is the first one the private lab is working on, as they felt it held the most promise as far as the ability to extract & analyze DNA is concerned.
Then, if they are unable to extract it from there, they will move on to the soil & tissue.
So no definite "no's", but no clear "yes's" either!! We are hopeful that a "yes" will come in the not-too-distant future.
Meanwhile, I am beginning to pack up supplies for our first search of the season. This one will be led by a new volunteer HRD handler from Southern California with over 200 "finds" of human remains. Jim will fly in and assist with navigation and safety. Cathy and I will serve as communication assistants, backup drivers and cooks.
While it is maddening to have to wait so long for resolution, it does feel good to be doing something to make things move forward.
So thank you to all of you who have helped us begin raising funds for the next large HRD dog search in May. (We are hoping for 4-6 teams.) At this point we definitely have enough for two teams, so that's a great start.
Please do continue to share our story with friends, family and coworkers via email or conversation. We would love to keep the momentum going so we can finish this soon!!
Ellie's birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's Day, then today--my birthday.
It seems that almost every month brings some kind of holiday or "special" day--each one feeling "half full" (or at times, "half empty"), but none feeling right, or normal, this year. All askew.
Like a gyroscope spinning off balance, trying to find its' center, Ellie and I have been "wobbling through" these marker events, feeling some relief at the end of each one that we will never again have to experience that particular "first" without Steve.
But there is a force that has kept us from careening into the walls, or losing our momentum all together and just shutting down.
It's the steady messages we keep receiving of love and support. Like today: over 30 birthday wishes came my way, making this first birthday without Steve a whole lot easier. I kept receiving them throughout the day--often at the times I needed them the most.
So thank you so much for your thoughtfulness on each of these days of "firsts".
In those times when I start to feel "alone", I need to remind myself that it is only an illusion. In reality, I'm always in good company--your company--held in your thoughts and prayers, right where I belong.
Thank you so much to all of you have been helping us build some momentum toward our next search by offering your financial support. You have brought our funds up to the point that we can bring at least one of the handlers out. Hoping to bring two to five more. They definitely work best as a "pack"!
And to you "prayer warriors", thank you and please keep at it!
"Hope you are 'Moving forward with your life.'.....'moving on'..........'Getting over it'"
All of these well-intentioned bits of advice appear to imply disengaging your heart from the loved one you've lost and proceeding with your life...But that's not how it seems to me.
At our wedding, my brother-in-law and his younger brother sang these moving lyrics from West Side Story: "Make of our hearts one heart, Day after day, one heart..." The words continue: "....Even death won't part us now". (We took liberties with the lyrics and changed them from the faithless: "Only death will part us now.")
I still feel a sense of connection--but in a different way. While I no longer get to rest in that almost palpable sense of "we" I used to find security and comfort in, neither do I feel the severing and leaving behind that "moving on" would imply was necessary.
Instead, in the center of my chest I carry a sort of nest. And placed within it is a collection of smooth gemstones, each one formed of memories--condensed down, pressed together--of those most valued people I have loved and lost. My heart carries these stones tucked away--nestled within it.
The loss of Steve is the newest addition to the collection--kept company by my wonderful, soft grandmother, my fellow-adventurer cousin, his mother and my favorite generous-hearted aunt, two longed-for babies I miscarried.
So experience has taught me that with each loss my heart is changed, reshaped, as it learns how to "hold" the newest addition. I know how to do this. (Maybe your experience is different.) But I'm not "moving on" or "moving away" from my life with Steve. Instead, I'm moving with him, carrying him always in my changed heart.
Will I move forward with life? Yes. But our love and this loss have changed my heart, for always. So Steve goes with me. I carry him in my rearranged heart.
Good morning, All!
I thought I would give you a brief search update:
Jim collected some soil from our search area that two HRD dogs have strongly alerted to (one in blind testing). We have sent it to a lab at the University of Tennessee for analysis via Mass Spectrometry. This should allow us to very clearly determine the chemical make-up of the soil and additional substances contained in it. Kind of like the technical/scientific equivalent of those amazing HRD dog's olfactory senses!
It should arrive and get processed in the morning. Not sure how long it takes, but will be sure to let you know the results!
On the HRD front, we have a very experienced handler and his dog coming up to Trinity in a few weeks to help us out. So "Search Season" is beginning in earnest. This handler has had over 200 successful "finds". So we are hopeful he will help us as we focus in on locating Steve's bones. Like all of the people assisting us, he operates on a totally volunteer basis. He says "I do it for the families." What a guy!
Then, just behind the first handler, we are beginning to organize a large (largest yet!) group of handlers and their dogs (4-6 dogs, if we can swing it). They will be coming from Montana, Arizona, maybe Washington, and converging in Trinity. Last year's handlers have continued to analyze the scent maps they created and feel there are some areas they haven't had a chance to check out yet where they believe we might find a larger mass of remains--or at least some skeletal ones. They really want to solve this mystery.
Unfortunately, some of the areas they need to work are inaccessible by foot, so we would need to bring back the helicopter (at about $1400/day). Clearly, finances will determine how thoroughly we can do this.
By my estimate, if we bring all six, handlers and their dogs, the cost for that search (including helicopter time, SUV rental and airfare) would be about $8,000.
We have $3,000 set aside at this point for this search season, so would have to quickly raise another $5,000. That sounds like such a huge amount, but I know that it is doable.
So if you would please share our GoFundMe link, tell our story to co-workers, friends, and church members, and ask them to help support our effort to bring Steve home, we would be so grateful! And to those of you who have already given to help us get this far, we owe a huge thanks!!
So I'm putting out this request, hoping it will blossom into enough support to bring back those amazing HRD teams and let them finish the job they so want to!
I will leave you with a photo of my redeemed orchid. It was just about to meet a "green can" fate when it perked up, shot out a new green spike and began pushing out some buds. Talk about determination! So maybe I'm not an "orchid killer" after all. I see it as a little miracle, a reminder to not give up hope--that God can make beautiful things blossom in what seems to be a hopeless situation.
About 38 years ago, a few days before he was to propose to me, then-23-year-old Steve sold his best loved possessions: his stereo and speakers. (So close to a young man's heart!!) He put the money in the pocket of his Levis and rendezvoused after school with my good friend Karen at the jewelry store where she worked.
She knew me, knew diamonds, and knew Steve's heart. So together they looked over all of the wedding rings until they came upon the one I'm still wearing tonight. (I imagine I will eventually take it off--but I still feel married, clearly feel committed...)
When he first bought my ring, the wide band was formed of distinct chunks of gold, pressed together. But gradually over the years, life has worn them down, smoothed them out--like so many of our "rough edges" that soften with time. It's transformed, yet more lovely.
The diamond is not big or flashy, but instead is perfectly imperfect. (A young man's stereo system can't furnish a fancy gem!) If you look at it at all closely, you will notice a significant "flaw": a good-sized fleck of coal just to the side of center. Steve was apologetic, saying "I wanted it to be perfect." But to me, it already was. I loved that bit of coal because it was an ever-present reminder that some of the most exquisite things in life are born of tremendous hardship or pressure. A lump of coal, under intense, unrelenting pressure produces a miracle of strong, sparkling minerals.
There is an exquisite beauty that can awaken in the middle of this thing called grief: a vulnerability, a quickening, an opening of the heart and spirit. Opening to your self, to others, to God. It's the gift in the center of the grief.
My prayer is that God will continue to surprise me with rare things of beauty that are and will be formed in this dark season of my life.
The poet Rumi writes: "The wound is the place where the light enters you."
Happy Anniversary, Babe. And I still love the ring.
About 38 years ago, a few days before he would propose to me, then-23-year-old Steve sold his best loved possessions: his stereo and speakers. (So close to a young man's heart!!) He put the money in his Levis and rendezvoused after school with my good friend Karen at the jewelry store where she worked.
She knew me, knew diamonds, and knew Steve's heart. So together they looked over all of the engagement rings until they came upon the one I'm still wearing tonight. (I imagine I will eventually take it off--but I still feel very married, clearly committed.)
When he first bought it, the wide band was formed of distinct chunks of gold, pressed together. But gradually over the years, life has worn them down, smoothed them out--like so many of our "rough edges" that soften with time. It's transformed, yet even more lovely.
The diamond is not big or flashy, but instead is perfectly imperfect. (A young man's stereo can't finance a high quality gem!)
If you look at it at all closely, you will notice a significant "flaw": a good-sized fleck of coal just to the side of center. Steve was apologetic: "I wanted it to be perfect." But to me, it already was. I loved that bit of coal because it was an ever-present reminder that some of the most exquisite things in life are born of tremendous hardship or pressure. A lump of charcoal, under intense, unrelenting pressure produces a miracle of sparkling minerals.
There is an exquisite beauty in the center of this thing called grief: a vulnerability, a quickening, an opening of the heart and spirit: opening to your self, to others, to God. It's the unexpected gift in the center of the grief.
My prayer is that God will continue to surprise me with rare things of beauty that are and will be formed in this dark season of my life.
The poet Rumi puts it well when he writes:
"The wound is the place where the light enters you."
Happy Anniversary, Babe. And I still love the ring.
We spoke with the DOJ a few days ago, and they said their written report will be received by the Sheriff's office this week. So it shouldn't be long before we have a chance to take a look at it to see what testing was performed, and the details about their analysis.
Based on their verbal report, it looks like the DOJ was not able to give us the definitive results we were looking for. This isn't surprising, given the specimen sat out in the elements for four months before we found it. But very disappointing all the same.
We still feel pretty confident that the various specimens we have found are remnants of Steve, given the consistent, strong, independent "alerts" the HRD dogs have had in response to them.
So...My desk is full of letters with shipping instructions and "Chain of Custody" forms which my attorney will send out to the various parties that have had possession of any of the specimens for any amount of time, documenting exactly who had them and when they changed hands. This is in preparation for sending them off to the private lab in Ohio.
The process is frustratingly tedious, as I am so anxious to just get them sent off so they can be analyzed. Once received by the lab, the procedures should take 4-5 weeks.
The technicians sound like they know what they are doing, so we are hopeful that they may have more advanced equipment and/or skill levels that will allow them to analyze the specimens more effectively. (They also have four things to work with, instead of just one.)
So please pray for a thorough, competent approach. Closure of this chapter would be so welcome!!!
I have a love/hate relationship with orchids. I love their simple, elegant lines, thin, perfectly-veined papery petals, dramatic stamen and pistils. But they are just too delicate for my bull-in-a-china-shop brand of gardening. (I major in hardy plants that can weather a fair amount of neglect.)
I feel sure Steve recognized this horticultural handicap on my part. But almost every year he would produce a novice orchid to celebrate Valentine's Day or my birthday, maybe an anniversary.
In most ways i think he knew me very well, generally accepting the more disappointing aspects of my nature and habits. So when he would bring home a new orchid (never to sit alongside an existing one or a collection because I alway managed to kill them off before the next victim arrived), I would feel such a mix of feelings. Surprise ("We're gonna' try this again?!"), worry ("How quickly will I kill this one?"), and just a wee bit of hope ("Maybe this time...") But floating above all of these emotions would be the sweet awareness that Steve had more faith in me than I did in myself.
His last orchid gift to me sits on a corner table in my living room. Last March's birthday present. I must say I had made friends with this one. Pure white, delicate, it always reminded me of a young bride. It was doing pretty well until August, thriving on its' diet of two ice cubes once a week. Then began that six month stretch when everyone and everything I cared about became neglected in one way or another. Like every one before it, the orchid dropped all of its lovely petals, then sat there in naked defiance--just daring me to throw it out.
But it was the last gift I would ever receive from Steve, so I just couldn't. And besides, none of us looked any better, and we were being allowed to stay. It seemed an extra measure of grace was in order.
And now, when I look at it this evening, I'm so glad I didn't sent it off to the dreaded green can. It still carries beautiful, rounded jade green leaves at its' base, but then its' stalks look like two straight green sticks. From a distance, house guests would probably wonder why it hasn't been tossed yet.
But look more closely and you will see why it's been given a reprieve: pushing out of that dead-looking stick-like stalk at an odd angle is a lively spring green four inch section of new growth proudly sporting two tiny baby buds. Life. NEW life.
Feels like a familiar message from Steve: "Don't give up, Darlin'. I know you can do this. You're a lot more capable than you realize." A message I so need to hear during this most challenging season. A good, kind word sent from my perceptive husband, as seen in the form of this silly, optimistic plant--all full of potential.
One of my all-time favorite pictures, taken at a friend's wedding about 12 years ago. It captures a moment (among many!) of Steve so loving being Ellie's Dad.
I think that this feeling you can sense in every bit of Ellie's body and spirit--security, peace, warmth, connection--must be a taste of what Steve is feeling in the safe-at-last presence of God.
I so miss him tonight, but have to remind myself that he is in very good hands--the best! (Who knows...maybe even getting a long-deserved piggy back ride. I must believe that God remembers how to play!)
Remembering, longing, and trying to release him all at the same time...
While we wait in suspense for our DOJ report to come in, I thought I would share a story I wrote about my girl who is growing into quite an amazing, strong young woman.
Sledgehammer. I have one. A sledgehammer, that is. I came across it in the chaotic jumble that is my garage.
So let me back up a bit...Steve's hobby (when he wasn't cycling, building or hiking) was designing and meticulously maintaining fish tanks. He started small, with a single fresh water tank. But as he learned and honed his craft over time, more and more fish survived, and the tanks gradually morphed into ever larger and more complex ones. The latest tally was 4 tanks in the garage (a breeding tank and several isolation/recovery hospital tanks).
But the crown jewel is the 90 gallon (yes, you read that right!) salt water tank that reigns over our not so very large living room. It's so huge that Steve had to knock out part of the wall and create a strong platform of sorts in the area above and behind our mantel to support all of that fishy glory. It's beautiful, but--like so many beautiful things--oh so "high maintenance!!".
I complained about the noise of the massive filters in the living room (concealed behind a cupboard door, but irritating nonetheless!) So he installed an outdoor filtration and supply shed with pipes that pass through the wall, connecting the tank with the outside equipment. When the guys from the fish store came to teach us how to manage the system, they used language like "over the top" and "professional level" to describe his ingenuity and handiwork.
So I need to be honest here: every time I looked at the tank during the first few weeks after Steve died, all I could feel was overwhelm, and all I could see was the fantasy that kept playing in a loop in my mind: smashing the tank wide open with that handy sledgehammer and reveling in the glorious cascade of water, fish & glass. Then, quiet, peace, no more responsibility for all of that equipment, all of those fishy lives. Ahhhh!
Now, I did have the self-control to avoid sharing my proposed use for the sledgehammer with Ellie. But one evening, fresh from one of our first searches and absolutely depleted like never before, I did find myself saying "Elle, maybe we should just give the tank away. I think it's going to be just too much for us." She's been so busy with school and sports, I actually though she might just go for it. Boy, did I get it wrong!
Not my most shining parental moment. She immediately, passionately protested--an articulate, quicksilver advocate for those fish. (She should consider a career in law.) She passionately reminded me that "It's Dad's thing! He would want us to keep it going!" Of course.
So we made a deal. I was happy to support, but this would have to be her project. If she was willing to learn what needed to be learned and did the work required to keep the tank clean and the fish happy (or at least alive), we could give it a try. The fish would have a reprieve (& my sledgehammer would stay out of service in the garage).
So we started watching the videos my sister and nephew took documenting the fish employees tutorial on how everything works together and teaching us just what needs to be done if you want a healthy tank.
Well, life got busier, and we reached a point after about four weeks of minimal time spent on the tank, where we had our first big test. The tank had become taken over by "hairy algae": long, slimy green trails of gook. It was so bad that the fish would occasionally get hung up in it as they tried to maneuver around the tank. So we knew we could delay no more and would actually have to dive in to cleaning the tank for the first time on our own.
Fortunately for our entire fish population, Ellie is not a quitter. (It also helps that she's a science whiz who dreams of becoming a marine biologist!)
So we started in the dreaded outdoor filtration shed--where we cleaned and replaced the filthy "sock" filter, did battle with the gunky-green, fish poop-filled "protein skimmer", and learned how to wield the fancy spigot Steve created to pump water out of the "reverse osmosis" water tank. (I'm not making this stuff up!!)
Because we are such "newbies", this part of the process stretched over a couple of days. On the third day we (well, Ellie...) vacuumed the algae and fish poop from the tank itself. Then it took quite a few tries (6?) to get the salt levels right so we could refill the tank and be done with it!
It looked stunning: clean glass, happy fish, healthy corals and anemones. But by far the most beautiful thing I noticed was the transformation I saw in my daughter: from anxious, reticent, 16-year-old slowly tiptoeing around the scary tank to accomplished, confident, persevering young woman. I hope she feels proud of herself for taking on such a daunting task and seeing it through. I know her Dad would be!
(Written in the wee hours of the morning. I will warn you that this one contains more difficult detail than normal...)
Tonight I walk such a strange tightrope, teetering high over jagged pinnacles to my left and a raging torrent on my right. I could easily lose my balance and careen down into the depths of one or the other.
You see, this is the week that the Department of Justice lab estimates they will be completing their DNA analysis of the specimen we gave them on December 4th, having compared the DNA sequencing with three of Steve's siblings.
So here I struggle to maintain my balance: on the one hand, I desperately need and want closure. So a clear "positive" result would be a relief. But I sense that this news would come at a price--some hard, hidden terrain not yet visible from up on that tightrope.
Because if they come back with a clear statement that this is definitely Steve's tissue, then the visual images of how it got high up in the treetops before the wind blew it down to us, and all of the animal activity that would have preceded the birds bringing it up there, threaten to take me to a place I could never imagine--shredding my spirit as they pull me down into the crevasse.
But I have so longed for some kind of resolution--emotionally, practically. The life insurance that Steve so diligently maintained, as well as Social Security benefits we need all require a death certificate, which can't be issued without clear DNA evidence. So yes, closure is necessary. The heaviest dose of reality is required.
As I inch my way forward along this hard, thin wire, I see that the river to my right looks equally treacherous. If the DOJ says the results are "negative" or "inconclusive" (which wouldn't be surprising after four months out in the elements), then we will have to rely on our weaker (more difficult to process) specimens for DNA. That, and most likely more searching--hoping that Winter's cleansing rains up on the mountain have helped to consolidate Steve's remains so as to present a simpler, less confusing scent profile for the HRD dogs to work.
More planning, time away from home, fundraising, distraction... All to eventually end up in a very similar situation--perhaps even more painful details coming to light about what happened to Steve's body once he didn't need it anymore.
Sometimes the only way out is through. This seems like one of those times.
The only thing that gives me the courage to get up in the morning and set my trembling feet on that cold wire is the sense that God goes before me, behind me and right alongside me...taking my hand, whispering in my ear to keep trusting, keep moving. He's "got" me.
May you sense his presence in your travels today also...
Jo is not a flashy woman. She dresses simply and lives a quiet country life as a self-employed architect in the home she designed in the mountains about an hour East of Trinity.
She has auburn hair and lively, intelligent eyes, a quick wit and a strong feminist perspective. She's a bit shy, but can definitely hold her own when it comes to discussing anything she feels passionate about.
Humble, respectful, determined. I like her a lot. (Can you tell?!)
Jo just sent me the written report of the many hours of tracking work that she did for our search effort. This twenty year veteran is amazing! She tracked Steve literally step-by-step for over a thousand footsteps.
She would look for telltale indentations of the correct size and boot characteristics, bent leaves, smashed moss, and broken twigs consistent with early August impact.
She could tell where (and in what position) Steve rested. She was able to identify with strong confidence where he was in the evening, where he spent the night, and note the changes in his behavior when the sun once again illuminated his trail.
I was aware of these aspects of her tracking work. But until I received her report, I didn't realize how many other factors she was also noting in her efforts to interpret the signs correctly and keep "on track": soil characteristics, weather history, degree of slope, types of vegetation, etc...
I am sure that by this point this wonderful woman has given us hundreds of hours of her time and expertise--without accepting a penny for her efforts.
There are so many people in life who will puff up with lofty platitudes about helping people in need. But Jo is the real deal. The kind of person who works doggedly to perfect her craft, then puts herself out there to share it where it's most needed--no matter how exhausting, uncomfortable or dangerous it might be.
I can see her blushing a bit as she reads this and exclaiming in her deep voice: "Oh Carrie, it really wasn't that big a deal!!" But yes, Jo, it was! It is!!!
So, thank you...thank you for being one of those rare, inspiring people who actually "Walks the Walk!". I am so happy you walked into our lives at a time when we so desperately needed both help and inspiration!!
P.S. I'm sorry, Jo, but I just had to say it!
We spoke with the lab that is processing one of our DNA specimens last week, and they indicated that they should be done this week or next. (I will be sure to let you know when we hear their findings.)
So while I wait here--bereft of any semblance of creativity--I thought I would post something I wrote in December...
It quickly became apparent, that nonstop rainy December day, who had the right gear and who did not.
The trackers and dog handlers (for the most part) wore waterproof boots and rain pants, topped off with effective rain parkas (the operative word being "effective").
Then there were those of us nonprofessionals: a few had good gear, but most (like myself) wore "this-is-only-for-running-from-one-indoor-location-to-another" rain resistant (but far from waterproof) gear. I've never felt like such a City Girl!
When we started out that morning--climbing out of the vans, wrestling with packs, hats, & ponchos to layer over all of it--I remember feeling irritated. We had hoped that at least the weather would cooperate.
We weren't hiking for long before the water soaked through my pants, "longies", and boots and started sloshing around in my socks. It was definitely a bit uncomfortable... Fortunately, it wasn't cold because we kept moving and the thick forest provided a sort of protective cloak around us.
After about half an hour into the search, I noticed a shift: instead of a grumbling resistance to my soggy state, a certain degree of acceptance kicked in. "It's just going to be a wet day..."
Don't get me wrong. We all enjoyed hanging our dripping coats above the wood stove at the end of the day and propping boots around to begin the slow process of drying out for the next day. (The most seasoned among us brought two pair!)
So even though I was far from prepared for the shocking, surreal experiences of these last four months, I am hoping that--just as I eventually adapted to the endless rain that long day--a similar shift will take place in my heart and soul. I'm praying that through these hardships a certain degree of acceptance, strength and resilience will develop. Toughness (the good kind).
I have a hunch that God is using all of this rain to soften the clay of my heart and spirit so they can be reshaped into a form better suited to meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
There's a dance that Steve and I loved. You could say it was our "go to" dance. The choreography was set as a duet for our first twenty years together. It was gentle, playful, yet purposeful--even passionate at times--usually working well together, moving in sync. (Except when we weren't, and toes got stepped on, the delicate "leader"/"follower" balance grinding to a halt, while grace seemed to take a holiday!) But on most days if you were to look into our home during those first two decades you would see a smooth waltz--or maybe even a lively polka.
Then our longed-for baby girl entered the dance. We would have been wise to bring in a choreographer at that point, to prepare us for the overwhelming energy and tempo shift of parenthood. But we adjusted and became so quickly enthralled with the sweet "we" of us that we dipped and spun and whirled in our circle dance--drunk with love for our baby and our new trio.
Fast forward more than a decade of family life. Over the past few years, we had been living with an active teenager. So Steve and I had been trying to learn an updated duet, balanced with plenty of solo time and less of our beloved, familiar trio.
Meanwhile, I think Ellie had been relieved to have more and more light, lithe peers to connect with. Most of her heart naturally wanted to move in those circles.
Then August 2nd happened. Much of these past five months haven't looked like any dance I've ever seen (with the exception of some of those experimental pieces, full of chaos and confusion). It has felt like we can't possibly start moving in earnest, because we are missing our third dancer. So much of life is clumsy, out of rhythm, out of balance without him.
And yet...and yet...we have begun. It definitely feels like a rough sketch, a work in progress. But it does have some of my favorite elements from our dances over the years. Yes, it bows and dips with the weight of life--as it must. But it also rises, spins, and even skips at times with a funny joke told, a good moment shared, a positive "Dad" memory recalled.
They say "The only constant in life is change". So for now, we will just keep right on dancing--learning these new steps and savoring those moments of grace when we are blessed with them.
I wish the same for you, wherever you are in this ever-changing dance.
Grateful for all of your support along the way...
I thought you might like to know that Kevin Fagan of the San Francisco Chronicle has written another story about our search for Steve. He demonstrates a level of compassion and sensitivity that I greatly appreciate.
You can find it online tonight on SFGate.com and in print tomorrow.
A few readers are hearing our story for the first time and have made contributions toward the search, which is wonderful. There are three more specimens that we would love to have tested; so every bit of help paying for those costs (at $1,000 each) will increase the chances that we will have our answer soon.
If you have friends, family or colleagues who haven't read Kevin's San Francisco Chronicle stories of October 23rd & January 18th yet (or Elizabeth Cosin's October 5th story in The Santa Rosa Press Democrat), please do pass them along and let them know we are still trying to raise funds.
Thank you so much for all of your prayers, words of encouragement and financial support. You are an amazing group of people, and we are so thankful for you!
We are all waiting on pins and needles to find out the results of the Department of Justice's analysis of the first specimen we have sent off. We should hear back within a month, but can't be sure how much of a backlog of cases they might have...
Thanks to many of you, we now have enough funds to send a second (different) specimen to a private lab for analysis. We hope to have it there by next week, and then it should take only four weeks for processing. This gives us an alternate (& probably more timely) method to potentially solve our mystery, once and for all!
Please pray for skill and wisdom on the DNA technician's part. This specimen has been exposed to some elements that will make extracting DNA particularly challenging--though apparently not impossible!
So once again, thank you for making it happen! We will be sure to let you know the results of both of these tests once we have them.
I keep noticing circles in my life over the past five months:
*The circles Anna and I walked around the little schoolyard that was doubling as command center during those four and a half surreal days in August when Search and Rescue teams were looking for Steve. Walking and talking. Pacing and praying. Trying to just keep breathing...
*The members of our search team gathering in the cabin or up at the landing zone at the beginning and end of the day. Many with different faith perspectives, but all holding hands, bowing with us as we prayed for blessing, guidance, safety. (One of the young men in the group commented "I've never prayed so much in my whole life as I have up here!") And I thought: well, good. It's a good thing to get used to.
*The circular "grid" we formed around "ground zero" in the middle of our half mile diameter final search zone. This was probably our most somber day in that dark forest, knowing the odds of finding Steve's remains were the highest yet. I stood closest to the center point while five guys formed a line to my right. Once we were evenly spread apart, we choreographed a slow moving line, pivoting around the center point. Once we had finished searching our 360 degrees we would shift the whole line out to the next ring of our "grid" and do it all over.
*But more recently, here at home, back in "real life"
(Oh, I can't wait 'til it actually feels that way!), there has been an exquisitely designed circle forming. You see, people all over the country have been praying for me, and especially for my sixteen-year-old daughter, Ellie
And while I have too often been biting my nails and filling my mind with fearful scenarios about her future without her Dad, God has been very carefully placing some amazing people in a circle around her! Each one is mature, loving, strong--full of good humor and faith. Each one a gem.
They overwhelm her with hugs, enfold her with unconditional acceptance, generously and clearly, unabashedly declaring what a great kid she is. Filling her tank. She beams and blushes and shyly moves in for more of the same! This is by far my favorite circle--inhabited by a high percentage of redheads! What's up with that?!
This circle was custom-designed for my Ellie by a God who cherishes her even more than I do! In that wonderful way He has, He's whispered in the ear of each of these people, telling them to circle up around my girl. After all, He is (and has always been) her Father. She belongs to Him--not me...
Thank you, God, for bringing these amazing people into Ellie's life, knowing too well that my limited resources could never be enough to give her the thousand messages of love and words of wisdom that she will need to soak up over the next few years.
Support. Prayer. Sacrifice. Love. Such beautiful things, these circles. Such works of art!
Lots of "firsts" these days. This past weekend we had our first dinner guest since Steve went missing. Our longtime friend, Marci, came to spend the evening with us.
As the sun went down, I began preparing my favorite soup recipe. Same kitchen, same music, same time of day. The same, but not the same.
As I focused on the task at hand (gathering ingredients, making stock, chopping vegetables), it began to almost feel normal. Except I wasn't hearing "smells great!" from the family room where Steve should be relaxing and reading or watching a game.
It was clearly too quiet, so I turned on Pandora. Somehow I have trained "her" in recent weeks to play sad love songs. Wonder how that happened! I've been noticing my emotions become stirred by music in a way they never have before. Behold the singing, weeping chef! (I tell myself I need to pick up the guitar again...)
When Marci arrives there is just me to greet her, as Ellie is upstairs showering. She graciously fills the air with conversation.
Our relationship with Marci started when she was Ellie's kindergarten teacher 11 years ago, and has been gradually evolving over time. Steve was our biggest link in recent years, as he spent so much time at her ranch--envisioning beautiful, functional improvements, then making them happen.
So now that she's in our house and he's gone, do we let ourselves speak freely about him or not?
I'm happy with the balance that we find. We go ahead and talk about how much he would have loved the finished product of her kitchen remodel--creatively envisioned along with him years ago, completed recently without him.
My favorite parts of spending time with people who knew Steve are when they share things he did or said when he was with them. He built a bunkhouse and office for another friend and ranch woman. She told me recently of how he wanted to show her that if he designed it a particular way, he could bring extra light into the tiny office area. She said "But I just do paperwork in there. I hate paperwork!", to which he replied "Don't you want to hate it just a little bit less?"
These remembrances are unexpected gifts to me. A few more images, impressions I can store in my mind and heart that remind me: "Yes, that's the kind of man he was." In that moment it feels like I have a little piece of him, his presence. So welcome.
When it comes to speaking about Steve, I think people are generally worried. They want to say the "right" thing, and surely don't want to cause pain, so most people say nothing. I can see an idea form... followed by a quick intake of breath...the words right there. But before they can escape, lips press tightly together, eyes look away, and awkward silence moves in.
I think I probably speak for many people who have lost loved ones, when I encourage you not to hold yourself back from mentioning them in conversation. You won't bring us more pain. It just doesn't work like that. Quite the opposite.
So when you come through my door, please, please say his name.
Grateful for all of the times you have..and all of the times you will!
With the beginning of this New Year, I thought I would share some encouraging details about the search with you. I was hoping to have more definitive answers before getting anyone's hopes up, but I'm not sure just how long that will take.... So I'm taking a gamble that you will find this incomplete information to be better than none at all.
Our last search was probably our most productive so far--most likely in large part because our search area is so small and concentrated now.
At this point the team has collected three specimens of what we believe are Steve's remains. The aging looks correct, and two out of three come from within the 1/2 mile diameter area where we believe he passed away.
Four separate HRD dogs each independently "alerted" strongly to the first specimen, and it has been sent off to the Department of Justice for DNA analysis. We hope to hear back on this by early February, but understand it could be quite awhile as there is a considerable backlog of cases at the DOJ.
We would love to send off at least one more specimen--this one for expedited testing--but private DNA testing is quite costly. So please do share our link with anyone who might be able to give us a hand with this expense.
Thanks to the generous, supportive "army" you are, all of our other bills are paid as of today. (Whew!) I can't begin to say how thankful I am to all of you for your emotional, spiritual and financial support throughout this ordeal.
We anticipate returning to the mountain this spring to search again, as we would all like some closure and I would love to have all of Steve's remains collected and brought home.
But for now, I am feeling thankful that such tangible progress has been made, through the love and incredible generosity of so many! I will be sure to let you know when we have results on the testing.
The door is opening, and I can't see yet what is on the other side.
There is a hand at my back--gently, but firmly, urging me to walk through.
My legs want to clench. My feet are grounding down, preparing to resist. But my heart and spirit are already half-way across the threshold, compelling my feet to follow.
In some ways, I know this place: going away to college...getting married just shy of twenty...moving away from family so Steve could go to seminary....flying to Texas to adopt Ellie.
Each time a sense of adventure and fear. Hope partnering with resistance and a pull toward sticking with the familiar. Push, pull. Push, pull.
Each of these doors--though full of challenge--saw joy and growth on the other side.
There is a big difference, though, this time: I didn't choose to walk up to this door, didn't choose the circumstances. Far from it.
I don't actually have a choice but to go ahead and step across this threshold into the New Year. But I can choose this: I can pray for the gifts of trust and hope. Trust that the hands that have led me to this huge, imposing door will stay right with me and my little family as we navigate the challenges of this unfamiliar land. Hope that he has something more rich, healing & rewarding than we could have ever imagined on the other side.
So this is my prayer for you too: that whether you have chosen your path or not, trust and hope will go with you.
It was brief--but beautiful--this look in my daughter's lovely eyes tonight. Open, connecting, at peace. It was mesmerizing.
And it started something fluttering in my chest--something I haven't felt much of in months: hope. Hope that her spirit has survived her father's death and all of the shattering loss, chaos and disappointments that have followed in the four months since. I feel hope for her, for myself, for us as a resculpted family--even as each day we are trying to figure it all out anew.
I know there are no guarantees that tonight's experience won't be replaced by more typical teenage distraction in the morning. But for now, I'm going to savor this wonderful feeling.
"Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul..."
These moments come and go so quickly in life. I'm praying that you will have the opportunity to notice that familiar fluttering, quickening of your own spirit in the presence of someone you love (or could love!).
Grateful for your friendship and support,
I'm noticing I've become much more of an introvert as I live in the middle of this thing called grief.
My focus and thoughts circle inward, and as I move among people in stores, or out and about, I crave a certain cloak of invisibility. My gaze drops, my shoulders round--everything turned downward. It's a wonder I haven't been crashing into people or things out there!
But today there were a few moments when I felt a gentle, clear prompting to peek out of my shell. And each time I met the eyes of someone else who clearly personally knew the kind of territory I've so recently come to inhabit.
A thin, homeless man shot a furtive glance my way, visibly stressed as he tried to maneuver his bike laden with full, black plastic garbage bags along a busy, rainy street.
The other was a woman at the grocery store. The first thing I noticed was a kind of energy void around her still body--in the middle of a bustling store--and recognized she, too, was practiced in the fine (but lonely) art of invisibility.
I think that actually, there are people like me--like him, like her--all around us, because pain and loss are such an inevitable part of our lives. We all slam face first into them at one time or another.
So herein lies the challenge God has put before me with this heightened awareness: am I going to let myself quietly, quickly cinch up my super-invisibility cloak when I peek out enough to see someone else in pain, or am I going to look them in the eye, make some sort of connection, and try to be open to where it should go from there?
I have learned first hand over the past four months that compassion travels directly from the giver's eyes to the receiver's heart. And I have received so much of that healing, generous love that I need to see those moments--those glimpses--as opportunities to "pay forward" a small part of the care and compassion that have been poured into me.
When I first spoke with Jim Higgins, our pilot and lead searcher, I asked what his fees were and he said "There's no charge. I'd be happy to try to help you. All I ask is that you pay it forward someday."
Well, here's my chance to begin--one glimpse at a time.
I thought you would want to know that--even though we are off the mountain for now--our team continues to work away on processing what we have learned and preparing for the next phase of the process.
Jim and his research team have continued to gather resources and further educate themselves about the best ways to approach the challenge of collecting remains in spring.
And as if he didn't have enough on his plate already--with running a company and managing our search--he recently completed all of the training to become an official county Search and Rescue volunteer. I'm not surprised he's taken this step, as it's consistent with his determined, generous spirit. Congrats, Jim!
Cris & Michalle (two of our HRD handlers) have been putting all of the scent information they have collected on one central mapping program and strategizing about where to go from here... These women do not give up easily either!!!
I haven't been nearly as ambitious: inventorying and putting away search supplies, paying bills as they continue to come in, organizing our emails and paperwork. Nothing very exciting, but it does feel good to clear the decks and give my home a chance to return to some semblance of "normal".
While our team is in semi-hibernation for the winter, we would still very much appreciate it if you continued to share our story and help us fundraise where you can. (I have $1600 in search bills for helicopter costs, the mapping program and rental car expenses on my desk today and not quite enough left in the fund to cover them...). And we anticipate at least a couple of significant expenses over the winter as we finish up this effort and prepare for spring.
I so appreciate all that you have done to help us find Steve and bring him home. We absolutely could never have narrowed the search nearly as much as we have without all of you!
I pray that you and yours will enjoy some serious "hibernation" this holiday season.
The first hint came around 9:30 pm on my way home from Trinity. It was a text from my 16-year-old daughter, Ellie, saying "Just wait until you get home! LOL!". Hmmm... She had me guessing for miles.
So when I finally drove up our quiet, dark street, there it was: my simple suburban house decked out in Christmas light finery. There were twinkly stars hanging from the roof and rows and rows of white icicle lights suspended from the ceiling of the front porch. Put all together, my little house glowed and shouted out "Welcome Home, Mom!" Tears. (The good kind!)
And there were even more surprises inside: A beautiful, fat, friendly Christmas tree that Ellie chose and put up with my good friends Megan and Harout, as well as lighted greenery spiraling up the staircase.
But my very favorite part was at the top of the stairs in my bedroom. Ellie had done this room all herself. There was a sweet garland of greenery festooned with tiny colored lights that swooped gracefully over the top of my bed. And on my bedside table sat the tiny Christmas tree that I always set up in Ellie's room to make sure there is plenty of Christmas cheer in there. But she wanted me to have it this year. I so love that girl's heart.
So I am home again. Ahhh! And this time for at least five or six months. We weren't able to bring Steve home, but we do have some important clues to follow up on. So over these wet, cold months we will all get some much needed rest, spend time with our too-often-neglected families, and continue to process the information we have gathered.
Then in the late spring or early summer, as the ground warms up, we will plan to go back in. There was so much scattered scent, coming from so many directions, that it seems to have overwhelmed the HRD dogs, making it difficult for them to pinpoint the location of Steve's remains.
But as most of that scent washes away with the snow and spring rains, it should actually be a clearer, simpler task for the dogs. (At least that is my understanding of how they work.) Their amazing noses can locate bones as old as 40 or 50 years, so less than one year should be no problem for them.
But for now, I will put away the bins of search supplies, store away my suitcase, and try to shift my attention back to what has always been the most important thing: sharing with my daughter--and each person I have the privilege of moving through life with-- as much of the love and compassion that I have been blessed to experience from so many of you as possible. You see, you have changed me. You have changed us. We are so blessed.
So tomorrow will most likely be our last day of searching this season. There is a howling storm bearing down on California, with flooding, snow and wild winds predicted. We are getting out of the mountains just in time.
We will do our very best to piece together all that we have learned so far from aerial searching, ground searching, tracking, HRD dog searching, scent mapping, behavioral analysis, etc...
And it all still seems to point to a small area. (300 square feet.) So tomorrow we go back in. Nine of us this time. Hoping to make the best use of the day, hoping to tie up all of those loose ends. I am fully confident that God can bring this about if he chooses--even on the last day.
So I would ask you to please pray for closure (once more!) and for continued safety. A dry day would just be frosting on the cake! (It rained all day today, so we are all feeling pretty sloggy, hoping our boots will dry before morning.)
But most of all, please pray for peace in the process, acceptance of whatever the result will be.
Well, our HRD dog teams are home with their families tonight in Montana and Arizona. We have so appreciated their time, energy and expertise.
Now, tonight, we have some fresh troops: three men from Sonoma County, as well as Jo (our tracker). Tomorrow Carmen (another tracker) will join us. We are back to ground searching mode-- looking for remains, clothing, etc... in a very small search area compared to where we started.
The rain has returned (though gave us a break all day!). Tomorrow the forecast looks good. So please pray that it remains that way. We want to make the most of the last couple of days we have to search.
As always, so grateful for all of your kind words, gestures of love and caring, and constant prayers.
Everything seems to be all out of balance over the past four months. Many people put all out crazy amounts of time, energy, love, intelligence, research, money, etc... to help us in our search for Steve.
And with most things in life, the better the input, the better the output. If I work hard enough in my job, or my parenting, or my education, or my spiritual life, the results will show themselves to somehow honor all of the effort I have invested up to that point.
The first time I slammed into the wall of this well-hidden fallacy was when, as children, we would go out to dinner with our dad. My parents were divorced, and so we only had the opportunity to do this once every few years. We would get dressed up in our fancy, itchy dresses and stiffly stand to wait for him, sweating in our ruffled dress-up socks.
I don't know about my sisters, but it always felt somewhat like an audition to me. My thinking would go something like this: "If he thinks we look pretty, and we have good manners, maybe he will come back home and we will have a Dad again!"
But then those dinners were often disappointing affairs. Strange food at fancy restaurants where we were surrounded by adult diners and there was a big deal made over which fork you used to stab your shrimp. And clear disappointment on Dad's face if you didn't remember from our last dinner out three years ago.
So what happened there? Did the amount of effort and good faith invested leading up to the meal guarantee us a positive result? Far from it.
Or when Steve and I lived through sixteen years of infertility treatments and procedures--always assuming our intense efforts would be rewarded with that amazing baby we were yearning for for so many years.
But it just didn't work that way. Instead, we basically had to give up on our quest. Then, to our good fortune, God flipped all of our plans up on their heads and gave us something totally different: He showed us that a loving family could be built a whole different way--through adoption. And not long after that "Ah Ha!" we adopted our daughter Ellie, bringing her straight home from the hospital. We have never had a shadow of a doubt that this baby (now lovely, 16-year-old girl) was meant to live and grow up in any family other than ours. She has been absolutely the best "fit" imaginable--the perfect gift.
So did we get what we thought we wanted? Absolutely not! Was the grief excruciating? Definitely! But in the end, I believe God did honor all of those years of love and investment in building a family. He just didn't bring it about in the way we had envisioned. Actually, his vision was bigger and so much better than ours.
So now as we near what could be the end of our search for this year, I am reminded of this hard-learned principle. I need to trust God that the time, love, work, prayer, money, energy, time away from family and my job--not to mention the amazing contributions of so many of you--won't be for naught if we don't find Steve. I have to believe that he will take all that this whole community of people has put into this and spin it into something unexpected, maybe difficult, but undoubtedly loving--surely taking care of our need for closure in some yet-to-be-revealed way.
I am praying for patience to wait for Him to reveal his plan for Ellie and me and for trust: the ability to really trust that His solution (not the one I was so sure must be right) will indeed be the very best, most loving, custom-prepared one for me and my little family.
My hope is that your unexpected twists and turns take you to a new, wonderful place.
The rain is pounding on the roof of our cabin. Normally a soothing sound, but tonight only frustrating!
Our HRD teams have graciously given us one and a half more days of time to try to finish the search. We finished one large area, so now they would like to focus on what is looking more and more like THE location--the place where their dogs have had their very strongest responses (two of them right near each other, but on different days).
Unfortunately, this area lies across the drainage--which is now a torrent. Tomorrow we are supposed to have much better weather, so we will hike in and see if the water levels have dropped enough for us to cross it.
So please pray for safety--especially given the steep terrain of the area we are hoping to search. But also for dry weather. That would literally be a God-send!
And now it's way past time for me to climb in. I think I will follow the excellent example of Zara and Zig, pictured below.
Last night we were visited by a wonderful Ripple Creek neighbor by the name of Suzanne Conrad. She came bearing some of the best-smelling homemade turkey stew and beer bread I've ever had. It couldn't have come at a better time, following such a long, wet day.
It was a great gift to be able to really relax before dinner, instead of running around cooking as soon as we get back from searching!
Tonight I again enjoyed the fresh gingerbread her friend Claudia Lawrence had baked for us (complete with whipped cream. Yummmm!)
So we had a full table--8 of us. We sat around and enjoyed some good conversation (interspersed with "shop talk" about the day's findings and the newest updates for the maps).
After dessert everyone crashed pretty quickly; although none so quickly as Mike Verdooner (pictured below napping with "Roxy" his sweet pooch). We teased him mercilessly, although he had every right to be exhausted, having gotten up at about 3 a.m. to drive from Chico that morning.
So I think this is what community is supposed to look like. Circling around people going through a hard time, giving to them in both tangible and intangible ways, hugging them, looking them in the eye, and saying (sometimes without even uttering a word): "Your pain is important to me. You are important to me".
It's a beautiful thing, and I am thankful to be the recipient of so much love and compassion!
You should have seen all of us in our rain gear yesterday and today! Longies top and bottom (two pair for some of us!), rain pants, sock liners, wool socks, plastic bags over our socks, then boots. Gloves. Spares for later. Rain coats, packs, rain hats, then rain ponchos over that for those of us whose rain coats seem to let more rain in than they keep out! (I've put a photo below of our gear drying by the wood stove.)
Fortunately, today was a better rain day than yesterday. And tomorrow should be MUCH better. Thank you, God!
The rain makes it more difficult for the dogs to pick up scent from a distance, as it tends to just stay centralized. But if they are "right on top of it" they alert just as well as they normally would. We had several "alerts" from them again today--all still confirming that we are working in the right area.
So this is good news. The team will be pushing all out tomorrow, as it is our last full day before two of our handlers have to return to Montana, and we are expecting more serious rain on Friday.
Fresh ground search and flanking troops arriving tomorrow night, so that will bring some new energy to the team at a point when everyone starts to get a bit weary. Some of these guys have been here at least three times. Amazing!
So I go to sleep with a sense of being so close to resolution. More hope than I've had in awhile. It's a good thing...
And we definitely could not have gotten to this point without all of the many ways you have been there to support us! So thank you, thank you!
Please do continue to share our posts with friends, family and coworkers through email, Facebook and Twitter.
The rain is pounding on the roof of the cabin tonight as I write this. We had pretty steady rain today--but not a downpour like this! They are predicting about two inches for tomorrow. But is that enough to stop the team? Absolutely not!
So we have plans for a "warm-up zone" in the SUV at Base Camp: towels, changes of clothes, hot coffee & chocolate so our searchers can get their core temperatures back up before they head out again.
We had a very good day today, with much progress being made as the dogs grid searched a large chunk of our search area. They gave quite a few alerts--some very strong--all continuing to confirm that we are looking in the right area.
We are thankful that tomorrow Peter and Mike V. will join us, putting our numbers at 9. We need all of the "eyes" we can get!
So please continue to pray for vision, safety and closure. (Some breaks in the rain would sure be nice, too!)
So the first wave has arrived here at Trinity. Michalle, Cris and Dawn (with canine companions) all arrived here safely. For this we are very grateful!
They have already been hard at work on their mapping tasks, preparing for the first day of searching tomorrow.
We were joined by a new searcher, Mike Weihman, a Sonoma County firefighter. So thankful to have the him up here! He is the only guy here so far, so I think he will be relieved to be joined by Jim and possibly Scott tomorrow.
Then as the week progresses, we have gradually more and more people helping out. Two of the handlers can only work through Friday morning, so we are all praying that the weather will cooperate and they will be given wisdom and vision to be able to find Steve while they are here.
All are asleep now, except me. Tomorrow morning is an early start, so I will head off to bed now.
Thank you again for all of your support and encouragement!
We have all been busy preparing for our next search. Jim has been consulting with HRD dog handlers and Search & Rescue professionals. The online team that analyzes photos has been poring over the ones related to the specific area we will begin searching on Tuesday, looking for clues--anything out of place or unnatural-looking. The men from my church and other friends have been packing their bags and gathering supplies. The women of my church, and even some Trinity community members we have yet to meet are preparing meals and baking for the team. Meghan and Peter have been making sure we have winter forest service gate keys that actually work. (Imagine how it would have gone if they hadn't done this!!!)
Here at home, Ellie and I are working on the plans for where she will stay while I am away, how she will get from place to place, etc... Thanks to all of you who will be hosting and chauffeuring her! You make my absence so much more bearable.
I've been planning food, transportation, sleeping arrangements and other logistics, as well as hauling our bins of search supplies in from the garage to my living room. Right about this point each time, my house looks decidedly more chaotic and my pets start looking a lot more anxious!
We have so much information that Jim has been painstakingly integrating into one map that charts Steve's tracks, most likely exit routes from the drainage, and all of the information from the HRD work showing where the dogs picked up scent, which direction the wind was blowing, what time of day, and how strongly they were "alerting".
He has shared this information with some of the best Search and Rescue and HRD dog handlers in the country. And it seems that they all agree upon one particular (relatively small) area to focus on. This is great news, as it confirms the team's impressions as well. I think we are on the right track.
So off we go, a small volunteer army: HRD dogs and their handlers, committed searchers armed with weapons for protection and GPS devices to help them stay on track, the Base Camp team with coolers of bag lunches and snacks, walkie talkies and crossword puzzles to help pass those long hours of waiting. (We will bring a tent and heater this time, as it is supposed to be much chillier!)
But the most important thing we bring is a sense of shared purpose and --for many of us--the clear belief that if it is within God's will for us to find Steve before the snow stops us, then that's what will happen. We will do the work, because he rarely just "zaps" us, bringing about the results we want without requiring something (or a lot!) of us. So we are moving forward on confidence in His direction, faith in His wisdom and love for us.
Please pray for safety, smooth teamwork, workable weather, and over it all a sense of peace through the process--no matter the result.
Thanks to all of you for your continued support. Please do continue to share our story via email, Facebook or Twitter with friends, family & colleagues. They can google "BringSteveHome.com" or the GoFundMe site to learn more.
There has been a heaviness that sits on my chest and a tight pain at the back of my throat many times over the past three and a half months since Steve went missing. I've gotten pretty good at avoiding it. The secret is to just keep busy. And there is plenty of material to occupy me : parenting, search planning, reorganizing my financial life, etc... So many projects and important things that compete for my attention.
It took me awhile to identify the emotion that was holding such sway as to motivate me to live in a state of constant preoccupation. It's not loss. Not fear. Not confusion. No, instead it is clear-eyed regret.
Regret over things said and unsaid, over actions taken and not taken. Small acts of kindness I could have done for Steve to make his life a bit easier. Simple expressions of love I could have generously lavished on him.
But I especially regret missing some of those opportunities--when his defenses were down and he would let me look directly into those sensitive, beautiful hazel eyes--opportunities to tell him some of the many things I admired about him, like the gift he had for getting our often serious daughter to burst at the seams in laughter. Or his willingness to work SO hard and stretch himself to his absolute limits to support his little family. Or to talk about his dreams, as we used to do in those forever-ago courting days. Or simply to tell him that I loved him...ah, to tell him that just once more!
So please, please... As you prepare for your Thanksgiving celebrations this week, make the most of your opportunity to look your very much alive loved ones in the eye and speak your heart out loud. Because you never really know how many chances you will have, and regret is truly one of the most painful emotions out there. We just can't turn back time
I think we ought to have a national day of reflection on the evening before Thanksgiving. It would be a time set aside to stop and think--REALLY think--about the people in our lives:friends, family, coworkers... And prepare ourselves to look them in the eye and speak the truth about all of those things that make us most thankful to have them in our lives.
Our days and years could be filled with so much more gratitude and so much less regret!
So Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Look them in the eye. Hug them hard. And let your heart start talking!
Literally. Ellie and I are high above the Midwest this afternoon, winging our way to Virginia where my good friend Andrea and family live (having left California to be near family and more familiar territory). They are flying us out to spend the bulk of the Thanksgiving holiday with them. Such a gift, as we miss them more than words can say, and we desperately need to reinvent how we do the holidays this year. This will surely help us avoid being immobilized by that inevitable sense of emptiness that Steve's death has left in its' wake.
And even though the loss of Steve is always with us, all the same we really do want to celebrate "Thanksgiving" in the truest sense. So much generosity we have witnessed. All of that love that continues to come alongside us, making this such a rich time.
Speaking of love "coming our way", Michalle is returning soon for her third Trinity search--this week giving up two weeks of her life to help us find closure. And coming along with her will be Cris and Dawn (from the Minnesota-based Shekinah HRD dog team), who have been here once before. That means we will have triple the canine resources than we had thought just a few short days ago. The timing couldn't be better, as temperatures are dropping and precipitation increasing. So if we are to find Steve this year, it feels like now or never.
So I am hoping this will be the last time I need to ask you for help with covering the expenses of our upcoming search effort. The cost for the handlers' airfare and SUV rental alone will come to about $3,000. Then we have food, supply and miscellaneous expenses as well. This is the most extensive search we have planned yet. Everyone is really pulling together to try to find closure before the snow shuts us down.
You have all been so amazingly generous to us throughout this process. We appreciate all of the many ways you have expressed your love and compassion: practical help, financial support and thousands of prayers.
Without you, we would not have been able to get nearly as far as we have. So thank you, thank you for all of these good gifts! And please do share our story with friends, family and coworkers on Facebook and email.
So less than a week away from the relative structure and discipline of "search days" up at Trinity and my life is just looking so far from neat and tidy!
While up there, I have a truly singular focus (only made possible because of the good folks back here at home who are caring for my daughter, Ellie!). But when I return home to the daily, real-life mix, somehow things get much more complicated!
As a good chunk of me wants to settle in to the natural rhythm of my household and Mom responsibilities, there is another part that is always distracted by the intrusions of texts, thoughts & emails all swirling around the next search (this time beginning November 30th). Planes to schedule, food to plan, volunteers to muster and organize, funds to calculate and raise.
Then these whispers of "life out there" get lobbed over my way, shaking me out of my myopic focus. "Thanksgiving! Family! Gatherings! Travel!". Or I am bowled over by the sound of deep, pure, hearty laughter (my favorite being my daughter's!) Or sweet visits by Steve--remembering sitting on the couch next to me as we watch "Parenthood" together and he tells me, once again, how much I remind him of the beautiful, admirable main character. That's when I remember how much he loved me. What a cool thing to say to your wife.
So tonight is definitely a transitional night. By tomorrow I will have both feet set firmly in search mode. But for now, I leave you with a bit of humor that has snuck in through the windows on butterfly wings. (The butterflies must not have read the sign out there implying only serious, dark material should come into this grieving home.)
Below you will see a few lovely, funny moments from the week: (We do really need to soak these up when they come around. A balm for my soul. Hope they can soothe yours as well!)
It's 12:30 in the morning and my good friend, Steve Frary, is at the wheel as we make our way back to the Bay Area after a week at Trinity.
Hopes were high as we began the day watching Jim, his wife Erica and Mike arrive in Jim's helicopter at Base Camp.
We needed to explore the possibility that Steve may have left the ravine via the southern slope--an area that had not been searched at all yet, but which could possibly explain the particular HRD scent patterns we have been seeing.
Brooke had her strongest alerts yet in that location, but the team agreed that the terrain was just too challenging for Steve to have chosen to hike up there for any length of time.
So now we need to reassess the scent maps and try to figure out where the scent could have traveled from to reach that area in such high concentrations that it would send Brooke into such a frenzy. Jim called tonight, already at work on this question, with plans to do some more ground searching in a few days.
Meanwhile, Michalle and Brooke need to return to their Montana home to rest and recover from this taxing week.
So while we all regroup and decide what the next steps should be, I will enjoy being home with Ellie. We have big plans to celebrate her long-deferred 16th birthday. (It fell just a few weeks after Steve went missing.). Time to celebrate her, to celebrate life.
So here is to my beautiful, smart, strong, loving daughter. I am going to thoroughly enjoy just simply being with her.
So I won't be writing updates for a few days. Just think of us soaking up the chance to do some of those sweet, "normal" things we used to so enjoy together.
Pray that we can reconnect after so much time apart and so many "urgent" things that would distract from the most important!
So many signs converging today! As we head up to the mountain, I have a keen sense that this could be the last time...
Please pray for safety, guidance, vision, smooth team work. I know that we will need all of those things to find Steve and bring him home.
Thank you all for your kind words of encouragement, for your financial gifts that have allowed us--at each step--to continue on. We have never had to stop the process due to financial limitations, and that has been a huge weight off of my mind!
I am struck tonight at how many people have been contributing to helping us narrow down the possibilities of where Steve is in this huge search area.
So many have helped, for so long now! Over the past couple of weeks we have been gathering information from Jim and Mike's continuing analysis and searches, Jo's tracking efforts, the scent work of the Shekinah HRD dog team out of Montana and Washington State, and most recently a week of HRD work by Michalle & her amazing dog, Brooke.
Now it seems that it is all coming together. I watch Michalle spend hours poring over the four foot-long topo map laid out on the dining room table that Jim created for her. She has marks where every HRD dog has shown significant "interest", indicating the wind direction at the time. Then she has drawn lines to show how virtually every one of these "hits" lies on one of two lines. Then, if these lines intersect, we have a very specific target area. And they do.
Today the team went back into the drainage to see it from Steve's perspective: given how difficult it would be to traverse, when would the first reasonable chance to hike out of it appear? Voila! Located right in that very small target area, there is a game trail on the south side of the drainage that rises with a gentle slope, leading into a conifer forest (not the dreaded manzanita bushes that make movement next to impossible). And Steve loved the woods.
So if he exited on this side of the drainage, it could absolutely explain why the dogs keep showing interest on the other side, but we haven't found any tangible physical evidence there. The scent could simply be spilling down the bank on this side and across the creek to the other side.
Tomorrow Jim Higgins, his wife Erica, Mike Verdooner, Scott Steele, Michalle McMillan and Steve Frary will look for tracks along that trail and any others that seem like reasonable paths he may have taken to get out of that extremely difficult area. If they find them, then they will come get Brooke to direct the group with her scent work.
Traveling up the drainage is beyond my physical resources at this point, so I will stay behind at "Base Camp" to manage communications and emergencies, should they arise.
I will spend my time reading, writing, praying, hanging out with Brooke before she goes to work. Trying to digest all that has been happening here over the past three months, hoping to begin to understand how God would like to take these experiences--the most painful, as well as most moving ones--to weave them into a tapestry more real and beautiful than any I could ever have imagined. Beauty for ashes.
So we hope to be able to have real closure tomorrow, God willing. Please, God, let it be so....
So today was the first day I searched the woods themselves with our team instead of working "Base Camp". While the guys searched another section of the road, Michalle, Jo and I (along with Brooke, the HRD dog) checked a "high value" section between the road and the Minnehaha drainage.
We headed into the dense forest from an old logging road, Michalle and Brooke leading the way, Jo bringing up the rear, and me in the middle. Definitely a secure position to be in, sandwiched between these two experienced, confident mountain women.
How can I describe this experience? Dark, thick forest, bounded on one side by a steep, high hillside--so high that the sun doesn't have much of a chance in there. A ribbon of steel grey boulders with a creek spilling over them, forming waterfalls and pools, runs along the base of the slope. The sky above is almost blocked out by a canopy of fir, sycamore and sugar pine. Everything feels close in--too close.
It's fall now, so the sycamores have dropped most of their leaves, spreading them out to form a butterscotch yellow carpet below us. Lovely, but obscuring tracks and potential clues. Frustrating.
Brooke shows "interest" at a few spots: here raising her long black snout in the air, nostrils working hard to draw in the scent she's been trained to pick up. Then awhile later, pawing the ground, moving her nose along it like a long, thorough vacuum cleaner. Michalle, exasperated, says "We know he's here somewhere. We just don't know where!" It feels like we must be so close. But as soon as Brooke picks up the scent, the winds shift and she loses it again. She's frustrated also.
And so we continued for a few hours before hiking out for a lunch break in the sunshine, then returning to complete our search grid until we needed to head out before dusk could hit.
Quiet, dark, mocking forest. It holds the secret of where and how Steve spent his last hours. But still beautiful. Lovely, even...
I do believe that eventually (though not in this life), I will know the story--the complete story--of his last hours. But at that point I will be with him again, and we will be viewing it together, from across a huge valley. By the grace of God, removed from the pain. In a place of peace.
So I am glad I went into that forest today with my companions. It gives me just a taste of what it was like to walk in Steve's shoes in that place. That's the nearest I can get to him right now... And I'll take it.
Thanks to so many of you, we were able to afford the helicopter for today. This was so helpful, as it allowed us to insert our tracker and HRD dog right where they needed to be, allowing them a safe means of getting there and enough time and energy to do an amazing job!
I am happy to report that the search area has shrunk by about 75% since this morning. It has been such a massive area to cover that it has at times been overwhelming for all of us. But now--all of a sudden--it seems manageable!!
Our team all went to bed early tonight, without the usual hanging out to wind down, tell stories & just enjoy each other's company. They just worked so hard, hiking through all of that dense manzanita and scrambling up and down the formidable landscape of the Minnehaha drainage.
I, too, am pretty much done for the day. Got to get to sleep, as tomorrow should be an important day. We will have Michalle and her HRD dog, as well as Jo, our original tracker, working side by side to narrow things even further.
At the same time we will have a small ground search team working: Steve Frary, Dave Berg & me--at least for part of the day.
So I head off to sleep with a keen awareness of the amazing effort and perserverance of this group of people who have all stayed with me---gradually whittling this huge task down to what now seems to represent a potentially do-able thing.
So many good people, so much love coming our way--blessing me and my daughter Ellie in ways we will never forget.
So the day began with a hike with Michalle and her HRD dog, Brooke, along a particular high, circular ridge near the upper landing zone. We had to go early in the morning to observe how the wind was crossing the valley and scooping around the inside of the spoon-shaped ridge as it passed by Brooke's finely-tuned nose.
Bingo. She seemed quite "interested" in the breeze coming her way--directly across the valley from the wooded area where we found Steve's last traditionally tracked footprints and several other important clues.
The only problem is, the only way for Michalle and Brooke to get across to that spot is by helicopter. So we began petitioning the Forest Service to allow us just a bit more time to operate a helicopter in the search zone. (They had been hesitant to extend it beyond October.)
A letter was written & emailed. Paperwork was filed. Calls were made. Follow up calls received. (All of this with very patchy cell service--snatched at key points along the high, dirt road.)
"No" was the response. Unbelievable. How could we come this close, narrow it down this much--over three months' time--to be cut off from exploring the area that seems to hold the most promise of finding Steve?!
So we prayed, and you prayed, and I called them back. After a long conversation, they agreed to give us a few more days of time to operate the helicopter and try to bring closure to our search. Whew!!
So thank you, thank you all....for the prayers, for the financial contributions that are helping us begin to accrue enough to pay for this extra helicopter time. We are so grateful!!
Tonight I go to sleep feeling such a mix: hope that this ordeal may soon be over, but a keen sense of a much less dramatic, yet more painful one around the corner: the grief that lies just beneath the surface, bubbling up regularly--but its' full measure largely held at bay by the adrenaline and busy pace of the past few months of searching.
But if I get ahead of myself, if I live too far into the future--a jumble of anxiety and anticipated pain--I'm going to miss what I need to look at now, what I need to feel now, the people and experiences I need to be most present with.
"Let the day's own trials be sufficient for the day."
So I pray for each of you: for the ordeals you may be facing today, for the grace to endure, and a peace that goes beyond any understanding...
I'm sitting in our mobile (rented SUV) base camp with my teenage daughter Ellie and her best friend, Veronica. (I happily claim her as my "second daughter"!)
Giving the legs a break and having lunch while Anna and our friend Harout search the next section of our assignment today. Music blasting and teenage laughter are welcome sounds--bringing a little levity to otherwise somber base camp.
The mood goes up and down as Ellie asks her questions, fills in the blanks... Difficult to watch, but seems important for healing. One layer of reality at a time.
Thanks so much to all of you who contributed to our search fund yesterday.
It's looking like we will need the helicopter again to get Michalle and her HRD dog into the rugged area where they need to do scent work.
So please pray for two things: The funds to cover it ($2,000 a day) and an expedited, new authorization from the U.S. Forest Service to land in wilderness space (ours expired 10.31.14, and they were hesitant to extend it at that time. )
The prayers of faithful people are a powerful force toward bringing about change. So please do use that power to entreat our God for help with this search--emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially. It seems inevitable that pretty soon here Winter will shut us down in earnest. Please that we find him before then!
Today we are on the up slope...riding on hope and faith.
We are about to head out the door with Michalle and her HRD dog, Brooke. There is a particular area where many factors have come together: possible items from Steve's pack, tracking, and "alerting" by the dogs.
Please pray for vision, clarity, closure. Please, God...
Of course, each of these searches is costly. $1,000 for a couple of days last week, $3,000 plus for this week. So every bit of support that comes in is much appreciated!
Please do continue to pray and "share" our posts on Facebook and email, as your combined networks are so much more vast than mine could ever be!
Just got home from Trinity yesterday, and tomorrow we leave again. It's not that I'm so eager to be there, but more that weather and time dictate it.
We are expecting unusually warm days up there this weekend, so we need to take advantage of them before the season shifts on us, making searching nearly impossible. We have a return visit from Michalle McMillan, one of our Montana HRD handlers and her dog, Brooke. I can't believe they are willing to travel so far to help us again! Amazing.
I am sure you have been wondering how our last search went. We found that Steve probably got even farther than we had previously thought. So that expanded our search area even more...just when we thought it was becoming focused enough to find him. Very discouraging, to be honest.
Fortunately, we found some new clues that are pointing us to a couple of areas, in particular. So we are hoping that Michalle and her HRD dog will help us narrow the focus once more. No, actually, we are praying they will lead us to Steve so we can finish this never-ending search and all breathe a huge sigh of relief and gratitude!!
After increasing the frequency of our searches, along with the expense of last-minute transportation, SUV rental, etc... for our HRD team, our costs have definitely been catching up to us. So please do share our updates on Facebook and email. We will be needing more funds to make it through this "full court press" and bring Steve home before the snow blankets those mountains.
Thank you to all of you who have given so generously of your time, money and energy! (It's 9:30 at night here in California, and my good friends Bob & Allie Shoulders just arrived with home cooked food for the search. I only spoke with them this evening, and yet they still pulled it together for us just a few short hours later.) That's real love in a casserole dish!
This is the title of one of Steve's favorite books. I found it on his bedside and brought it with me this week. (I think this is my third time reading it...)
Today--as we track and search in a very small, focused area, and once again I am aware that this day could be the turning point--I am fed by the poem that opens the book, so I will share it with you:
Giver of life, creator of all that is lovely,
Teach me to sing the words to your song;
I want to feel the music of living
And not fear the sad songs
But from them make new songs
Composed of both laughter and tears.
Teach me to dance to the sounds of your world
and your people,
I want to move in rhythm with your plan,
Help me to try to follow your leading
To risk even falling
To rise and keep trying
Because you are leading the dance.
So once again we converge on the tiny town of Trinity Center. The locals must really wonder about us!!! The next few days will be focused on tracking a particular trail Jim has been following. Jo will come in to confirm and help manage--hoping to preserve those all-too-delicate prints enough to allow them to lead us to Steve.
(This is an area that would be directly in line with the area the HRD dogs showed "interest" in the other day.)
Jim will arrive in grand style , landing his helicopter in a pasture near the cabin. (I like to tease that it's all "very James Bond" of him!)
My arrival will be nothing as glamorous, but good all the same. It's tough to be home when Jim and the team are up there searching on our behalf.
My "ride" is my trusty Subaru, with almost 140,000 miles on it, driven by a relatively new friend, Chris Huber. He is the kind of guy you can call at 8:00 the night before and quickly get a gracious "of course"!!
It's people like this that I know will be lifelong friends--friendships forged in such an intense, crazy, challenging time. And there are so many of them: Jim, Jeff, Peter, Jo, Megan, Cathy, Bergie, Steve F., Jeff G., Dave D., Dale...and on & on. I am so thankful for these faithful friends--some of whom barely knew me before all of this happened.
Already I am seeing beauty rise up from these ashes.
I don't have a lot to report this morning, but don't want to keep you all on "pins and needles"! Thankfully, all of the searchers are safe and sound. I so appreciate your thoughts and prayers for them last night.
The team found one new potential "clue" yesterday. So far the clues still add up to an image of Steve making it awfully far down the hill...just don't know where that final step was taken.
I must admit that the closer he gets to his car--the one we had to have towed 8 miles down a dirt road and another hour and a half into Redding--the more anxiety rears it's ugly head.
I'm here where I need to be this morning (at home with Ellie), but it's difficult to be so far from the search... Prayers for peace would be much appreciated.
This morning Jim, Jeff and Mike are headed back up to Trinity to meet Peter and continue the search. (They hardly had a chance to catch their breaths in between this time). Talk about determination!
Their tenacity and generosity inspire me daily. I am sure that by this point they have put in hundreds of hours of thought, preparation, driving and coordinating--not to mention searching!
How could I ever begin to repay these guys--and all of you who have supported us in a million different ways? Not possible. I'm just one very limited person.
So I pray that God (who is surely up to the job) will come alongside each of you in exactly the ways you most need it--just as he has been doing for me.
"Thank you " just doesn't begin to say it! There really are no words...
More than two miles. That's how far my injured husband hiked down that mountain.
I just got home late last night from our most recent search--this time with Human Remains Detection dogs and their handlers. So we had Jim, Jo & Mike tracking while the handlers grid searched much of the Minnehaha drainage East of Billy's Peak.
I so appreciate all of the sacrifice, skill and determination of this amazing team of people--all of them focused on helping us find Steve!
The good news is that the search is progressing, with more clues and more narrowing of what has been an immense search zone.
The bad news is that, while every footprint we discover bring us closer to closure, it also means Steve made it that much closer to the goal of making it out--yet didn't. Tragedy multiplied.
But while there are still tangible clues to follow, we feel compelled to continue. We need to solve the mystery, but--more importantly--we need to bring him home.
So please do keep up those prayers for guidance, for resilience, for the energy to continue. I am convinced that, were this effort up to mere human energy, we would have all fallen on our faces long before now. The only thing that makes sense to me is that we are carried forward by the very hand of God. Every step.
Well, Jim and the K-9 team worked hard again all day today, looking for tracks and "sign" as well as moving the dogs through more areas.
Unfortunately, no Steve yet. The dogs continue to show some "interest". But with the particular
thermodynamics of the drainage, ridges alongside, and the peaks at the top of it all , it is very difficult to tell where a scent originates.
As they say: "What goes up, must come down". So as the warm air rises up the drainage during the day it carries scent with it from areas below. But when the air cools and the air drops back down the ravine, then it carries scent from areas above. So if the dogs alert in a given spot, it is difficult to discern whether the origin is above or below that spot.
It's all a much more complicated science than I would have imagined (definitely nothing as simple as it appears in the movies!!)
Tomorrow morning the K-9 team will have about four more hours to search before they return home to loved ones and jobs.
We are so thankful for all of the effort, dedication & sacrifice they brought to our search for Steve. Their hearts seem almost as heavy as mine tonight, as we all had great hope that they could solve this mystery before they had to leave.
So may tomorrow be the day... Please, God!
Thank you again for all of your support. Please do continue to share our story, as we may need our resources to last even awhile longer than any of us could ever have thought.
Our very own pilot, Casey Ross, made the news today by locating a missing hunter from Covolo in good condition. This husband and father, Dave Stornetta, was missing for seven days in the same county where we have been searching for Steve. Due to cold, rainy weather and a very large search area, hopes were not high for finding him. Search and rescue looked for five days.
Then yesterday, when our Air Shasta pilot wasn't needed for our search, he went to look for this other missing man. After only a few hours of searching, he and his colleague Dave located him by spotting the smoke from his fire. We are so happy for this family and for Casey!
I know that we are all waiting to find Steve, but in the meantime, this good news made my day!
Meanwhile, our 5-handler HRD dog team has been working diligently to narrow the search area. The dogs have expressed strong "interest" in several areas; although the challenge seems to lie in the varying wind patterns that carry scent up and down the ravine.
Meanwhile, Jim Higgins and our tracker Jo have been discovering more tracks even further down the mountain.
Between the skills and experience of these two different approaches, I have a strong sense of hope that they will be able to finish this never-ending process tomorrow before the handlers and dogs have to return to their homes and families.
We are all bone weary by this time of the night, so my words today need to end here.
Please do hold your loved ones close. Breathe in their sweet (and even not-so-sweet) smells. Because nothing is better in this world.
It's all coming together today. We are converging from Montana, Washington State & California to take the search to a whole new level.
WE HAVE HRD DOGS! The K-9 teams have arrived in Medford, Oregon and will be driven to the cabin by two more of my heroes, Dave Berg and Kevin Tompkins.
Then the dogs will go to work right away this afternoon, scent checking in some very specific zones to further clarify the plan for tomorrow.
So this is the resource we have been (literally!) begging for for over two months. Now we have access to not one, two or even three K-9 teams, but five! Talk about receiving even more than you ask for!
These women are "praying people", as they put it. So I really do believe that it is no coincidence that they are here. Thank you so much to everyone out there who has been supporting us through your prayers, donations and encouragement!
I feel a sense of hope that this ordeal may soon be over.... of course, some anxiety about what's around the corner. But if I have learned anything in this process, it's that I need to surrender and trust that no matter what is down the road, I won't be alone in it. Far from it.
Through the help of SO many people, we have been able to arrange transportation for the K-9 teams from Montana and Washington State. We can't begin to express how appreciative we are toward all of you who have helped in myriad ways!
As I write this, my sisters-in-law and the women of my church & others in the area are pulling together food for 20 people for four days. Yikes!
More to come later, but I thought you would want to know all is progressing. Amazing!
So happy to be home for a couple of days before our next (and possibly last) search.
I felt sweet, healing pleasure at being able to sit and watch my daughter swim tonight. Feel the cold, hard bench seat. Smell the chlorine. Ahh... little things that used to irritate are somehow welcome now. The "Search Manager" life I've been living has really been such an altered universe!! So it is right and sweet to spend at least a bit of time in "normal" life...
There is a lot of hub bub around the search team members today. Excitement about this 5 handler K9 team due to start Sunday afternoon. Such an answer to so many desperate prayers!!
Since time is running out to set something up, and we haven't been able to secure donated flight hours, we have decided to go ahead and book them on commercial flights.
They will all fly in to Medford and then drive down from there. Jim and Jo will carry out a briefing and orient them to Base Camp and some of the scent zones we have discovered on Sunday afternoon. Then the search begins in earnest on Monday and continues through Wednesday.
We are so thankful for this group! It feels like just the right kind of resource, at just the right time! Whew!!
Now I will see who can help me plan and prepare meals as well as organize supplies for all 14-16 of us during the course of the search.
I'd better get to sleep so I can wake up early and get going!
A huge "thank you" to all of you who have supported us so generously! It is such a relief to know that we are going to be able to get those K9 teams here!!
First of all, I want to thank Kevin Fagan of the San Francisco Chronicle for his thoughtfully-rendered article (see SFGate.com for today's online version or the front page of the Chronicle for print version tomorrow.)
He definitely took the time to "get it", and for that I am very grateful. Steve would be pleased.
You will see "John"'s name revealed in the Chronicle article. Our mystery lead searcher is really Jim Higgins. (He didn't want this blog to be about him, but the paper needed real names for real people!)
So on to Today's Update:
Another full day of tracking by our tireless team. (Well, actually, a couple of them were looking forward to nice hot baths to soak those weary hiking muscles!)
Thank you to Jim, Peter and our trackers for working so diligently through a long, chilly day spent on those punishing slopes and climbing around in the rocky drainage (the creek that carries runoff from the surrounding peaks down toward the road and culverts below).
Disappointingly, the prints became virtually unsearchable in the higher zones today. We feel there have just been one too many rain storms obscuring them. It is actually amazing that they have been visible this long after Steve passed through there.
On a positive note, Jim and Peter found some possible "sign" near the water below through standard ground searching.
Because tracks have become impossible to follow with any regularity at this point, and Winter is fast approaching, what we really need at this are Human Remains Detection dog teams to help us finish up the search. Our eyes just aren't good enough anymore, so it's time to bring in those excellent canine noses!!
A team of five volunteer handlers & dogs stand at-the-ready (from Washington State and Montana). They could start as soon as the 26th, but we do need a way to get them here!!
Since it's ten "bodies" in all, a mid-size plane would be ideal (or 2 smaller ones). No luck so far finding volunteer pilots, so please pray that we would find this resource and ask around in your own personal networks.
If we can't find volunteer resources, then we will have to fly them in commercially. You may notice I have increased our goal to reflect the added cost of getting all ten of these important team members here. (And as always, if we bring in more funds than we need to finish the search, we would be thrilled to use that money in service of other families going through similar situations, or possibly to begin a hiking safety education campaign in the schools.)
So it was a disappointing day in the sense of seeing the clarity of tracks diminish, but hopeful at the same time, in that we may soon have just the right kind of help to finish up this never-ending process!
Thank you to all of you who have donated so generously to help us bring Steve home. Every evening when I get back to the cabin and see your kind notes and evidence of your generosity here on GoFundMe, I feel that very palpable reality that I am far from alone in this...
As to today's search, John and Peter searched with our trackers for another 1500 feet. Amazing! The tracks are definitely becoming less clear as the weather continues to be wet, so they had a few frustrating points when they could not find the tracks. But then they were able to relocate them and continue on. Still only one set of tracks heading down that lonely mountain.
We are so thankful for them!
Probably our greatest request tonight is help with finding someone who could fly the 4-6 Human Remains Detection Dogs and their handlers from Montana out to Trinity Center, CA. Please spread the word through your facebook and email networks. Also, do let us know if you have any resources along these lines!
After several days of discouragement following the news that our Human Remains Detection dog handler had to postpone her trip here, today hope that we can find Steve before Winter is once again stirring in me.
When our trackers met us at the cabin before sunrise this morning for our trip up the mountain, they came bearing good news! A 6-strong Human Remains Detection Dog team along with 6 handlers from a private nonprofit group in Montana has volunteered to come out to California and help us finish our search.
I so feel the hand of God in something like this... Here is another group of experienced, selfless people willing to give time, talent and energy to us without asking for anything in return.
I am just surrounded by so many caring, skilled, unassuming, determined people... I'm in such good hands.
So how did it happen that this suburban mother and psychotherapist now has this network of such excellent searchers, pilots, trackers and dog teams when my personal circle was so much more small and routine only this past July?
I feel like the message to me is "Trust me, Carrie..I've got this!" And while He never promised to spare me pain, I find He does come alongside me, carrying my heart when it has fallen through the floor. I'm in such good hands.
Thank you, thank you to all of you who have contributed so far to our search effort! Without you, we would have had to give up long ago...
We are back up on the mountain tonight, preparing for two more days of searching (weather permitting).
Please pray for two things: First, that the weather would hold through Wednesday...and second, that we would be able to obtain Human Remains Detection dog assistance SOON before Winter sets in in earnest.
We have requested this multiple times from the Trinity County Sheriff's office, usually receiving no response whatsoever. We are baffled at this lack of action on their part.
The handlers work on a volunteer basis, so all that is required is a call from Sheriff Haney's office to authorize them to come and help us out (as many of them have said they would love to do! They are "just waiting for that call...").
Please pray for a change of heart on the sheriff's part. We would love for him to become a part of the solution and help us bring Steve home. It would bring closure to us, to him, and to this wonderful small community that has been following our story for months, expressing support for us at every turn.
This week the press (broadcast and print) will be putting out stories about our search. We hope that this will help spread the word even more, allowing us the opportunity to raise enough funds to continue the search--but at an accelerated pace. Time is just running out...
So good to know you are all supporting us, in every kind of way imaginable!
P.S. I hope to have some good news to report to you tomorrow. At the very least, I will give you an update on our progress as we narrow the search field even more...
So at the end of another day of tracking & searching, the GOOD news is that it looks like Steve survived his first night in the wild.
The BAD news is that this means he made it even farther down the mountain than we thought, and we don't know how much longer it will take us to come to the end of his trail. (We really did think we would find him today.)
So we are all feeling somewhat discouraged at the daunting possibility that he could have made it another 5,000 feet (or more...).
How many more days of searching will it take to find him? So painful to imagine all of that determined effort on his part, traveling all of that distance, but still never making it totally out. Ugh.
So now for the HOPEFUL: We will probably be able to bring in an excellent scent dog and his handler early next week. She will be traveling down from Oregon to lend a hand--and some paws. This new resource could be just the thing we need to find Steve. It's my understanding that they can track scents one half to three quarters of a mile...quite a ways!
So there you have THE MIX again: some very positive things (my sister Anna, who continues to support me through every step of this crazy-making process; all of you who have gifted us with your financial support and prayers; the skilled, professional trackers and handlers, helicopter pilots, searchers working together to help us find Steve).
We take in the gift of all of these amazing, loving people right alongside the most discouraging events we could ever imagine. That crazy mix that life is.
So we try to soak up the good and lean on all of these wonderful, supportive people as we try to keep standing with each new bit of hard news... Lends a whole new meaning to the word "supportive". Thank God for them!
Just as we don't know how far Steve made it down that awful mountain, we also don't know how far our funds will have to last. So if you haven't had a chance to "share" our story to friends, family or colleagues, please take just a moment to do so via Facebook, email, twitter, or the good, old-fashioned telephone!
Thank you so much for all of your support. We surely do "feel the love"!!!
Our team of two trackers accompanying our searchers spent the past Monday and Tuesday painstakingly tracking Steve even further down that steep slope. (5000 feet all together now.)
The days begin at 5:15 a.m. with breakfast here at the cabin, gathering supplies, eating breakfast, and heading out by 6:30 for the 40 minute trek up the dirt roads to the Landing Zone. From there our team loads into the helicopter and heads over to the search zone to begin their 10 hour day of scouring the ground for prints, all the while just trying to stay erect on that unforgiving slope. Very draining!
The good news is that the prints were not washed away by the recent rains (more weather to come this week, but not expected to be heavy). We had prayed that we could get in at least two days of full searching and were able to do that. Such a relief!
They have now reached the area where they feel Steve would have been hiking on the verge of darkness, then probably bedding down. This is the most likely area for us to find Steve.
Their interpretation of the tracks leads them to believe that he was experiencing extreme fatigue at this point, on top of an injury. Hard words to hear, but they make sense...
On the positive side, we have been so grateful to have such a wonderful place to stay where our team could enjoy a great meal together (made by my sister Anna's loving hands), relax and rest well enough to have the energy to get up early and do it all again.
Now the team members have left to recharge in their own homes while Anna and I have a day to rest here in this beautiful place before the next search (Thursday) begins. We hope, as always, that this will be the last one.
Casey, the helicopter pilot that has been helping us, is amazingly skilled (tonight landing with his skids just barely resting on the side of the mountain while the team oh-so-carefully climbed on, hoping not to unbalance the helicopter).
We are paying a very high (though fair) price for his time and use of the helicopter. So thank you so much to all of you who have supported us with your generous donations and through sharing our story with your Facebook and email friends and family. Please do keep that up, as it is definitely helping.
I don't know how well you parent when you are in crisis-- distracted and way too busy---but I definitely don't do it well!
Here I am on the eve of another trip up to Trinity--away from my 16-year-old daughter. This could be the longest one yet. She bravely assures me she will be fine. She's got lots to do, plenty of people to help her get around, to spend time with. "After all, if you were here I would just be studying or swimming anyway..." Ouch.
She has no idea the enormity of this week, how much I just want to wrap her up in memories and bear hugs--all to protect her from what I fear may be the most painful days of all...
Because, you see, once we are done with all of this frantic search activity, all of that adrenaline, then the too-quiet, too slow rhythm of our house will demand to be absorbed, and our grieving will begin in earnest.
So I have been very consciously seeking out moments of connection before I have to abandon her again. It was going pretty well, but then a mis-step on my part. Ugh. So now she is angry--passionately so--feeling misunderstood, overcontrolled. So much emotion. So much pain.
Definitely not the way you want to part before this all too difficult week...
So please pray for my little family as we find our way through what this week holds for us, as we find our way toward our mysterious, unwanted "new normal".
Grateful for your support,
Carrie (& Sleeping Ellie)
I've been spending much of the day trying to wrap up lots of details in preparation for our next search: transportation, landing zone access, finances, etc..
Then there are the logistics for my daughter, Ellie's, care while I am gone. And (more importantly), trying to find moments to connect before I disappear again.
I do know that eventually there will be resolution to all of this. I pray that it will be soon.
I was listening to Danny Gokey's song "Hope in Front of Me" today on the radio. He lost his wife at a young age and writes from a place that resonates with me:
"I've been running through rain
That I thought would never end
Trying to make it on faith
In a struggle against the wind
I've seen the dark and the broken places
But I know in my soul
No matter how bad it gets
I'll be alright
There's hope in front of me
There's a light, I still see it
There's a hand still holding me
Even when I don't believe it
I might be down but I'm not dead
There's better days still up ahead
Even after all I've seen
There's hope in front of me..."
Couldn't have said it better...
I'm thankful for all of you who have given so generously that we can now head back up to the mountain, in hopes of finally finding my elusive husband and bringing him back home...
In the midst of emails, list-making, phone calls and gathering supplies, I thought I would take a breather and share about a few more of our team members...
There are two men on the team (Jeff Gospe and Mark Hurty) who have amazed me with their broad range of skills, their creative minds, and their extra large hearts.
Both of these men are the kind of people you definitely want around you in a crisis.
First, there is Jeff Gospe (on the left, below) who did some challenging searching with the team, followed by helping us manage communications back at our base. On the night that the rest of the team decided to stay out and keep tracking, he volunteered to stay at Base Camp by himself ( a solitary spot on a very remote logging road). He knew there were mountain lions and a fair amount of fresh bear scat in the area, yet still stayed out there by himself. (When I asked if he got much sleep he said "Well, I did get a whole lot of reading done!")
This is the same Jeff who has been helping me wade through some of the complex insurance and financial issues that have come up with Steve's death. He's also the same guy who, with his wife and 5-year-old son, drove a total of 8 hours up to Redding and back to retrieve Steve's car.
Then there is Mark Hurty (my brother-in-law, pictured beaming below with his grandkids). Ever since Steve went missing, Mark has been working behind the scenes on all kinds of things: communicating with the Forest Service for us, researching topography and GPS locations, and thinking through possible scenarios with John.
He came on one of the searches with us and--when the sun was getting ready to set at "Base Camp" and we were getting word that a couple of our teams were having a hard time finding their way back--helped them use their GPS navigational tools to make it in safe... all without panicking. Whew!!
I love these guys and the way they have used their keen minds and willing hearts to be of service to us in so many ways.
You just never know how many great gifts and resources the people around you possess until you go through a tragedy like this and see them circle around and offer up their very best to help ease your burden.
Thanks so much to all of you who shared our link with your networks! It definitely helps!
Today our team is busy finishing up our plans for the next search effort. Planning food, paying the helicopter company, looking over maps and learning more re how to read the "signs" in bird and wild animal behavior. The list goes on....
My sister Anna and I are sitting at my kitchen table (a.k.a. "Command Central") with laptops humming, phones at the ready, while my 83-year-old Mom (another one of my heroes!) is out running the errands I would have needed to do myself. Everyone is doing their part (and more!!).
Please pray for energy and judgment as we continue with what seem to be 1,000 decisions a day (at a time when decision making does not come easy for me...)
We so appreciate knowing that you are all standing behind us. We look forward to the day when we can send you one last "update", telling you of a successful outcome.
So please do keep "sharing" our page... every new donor helps us get that much closer!
The photo you see below is as much as I can show you of our fearless leader, "John", alongside my good friend Dave Dyslin, another searcher. Other than the shiny attire, you would think this was just an image of two guys enjoying a beautiful sunrise. It is that, and more...
It depicts two of the most selfless people I know who (along with my equally-valued friend Jeff and two trackers) have just spent the night out in the deep, dark cold of the Trinity Alps without so much as sleeping bags. Only three "emergency blankets" for five people. Cold. Tired (on this, their fourth day of searching). Hungry. (Because they had granola bars & nuts for dinner--& will have them again for breakfast).
When I heard their scratchy walkie-talkie announcement earlier that day saying they were still following Steve's tracks and wanted to keep tracking through the night, I was sure I must have misunderstood.
"How can you track at night?"
"We've got plenty of lights."
"What will you eat for dinner?"
"We'll be fine. We have plenty of stuff."
"Won't you freeze? You don't have sleeping bags!" "We've got stuff to keep us warm. " Now I know what kind of "stuff" they were talking about (the aforementioned thin "blankets")!!!
These grown men would have none of my mothering. They had already made up their minds. So I sat back and started praying.
Where would I be without the help of these unassuming, focused, courageous people? I would be left forever wondering if I had done everything I possibly could to help bring Steve home. Stuck with those gnawing questions about where his body could have "disappeared" to. So few answers for myself, for my daughter...
Now, thanks to all of them (and all of you!), I have hope that those questions won't have to follow me the rest of my life. And I won't have to leave my husband's battered body in that unforgiving, wild place.
We have raised almost enough funds to get us through the next (and what we hope will be last!) phase of searching, to begin early next week. But we do need enough to finish the job. It would be agony to get even closer--but not be able to continue and find closure--because we couldn't pay for more helicopter time, or supplies, or lodging.
You see, there is no "deep pocket", no wealthy benefactor in our circle. Only a small band of loving, tireless, heroic friends and family members who are each supporting us in any way they can.
So please don't stop telling our story to others who might help. If you "share" these updates on your facebook pages or with email contacts, you could reach many more people than I would ever be able to...
Thank you, thank you for all of the generous gifts you have sent our way so far. Where would we be without you?
I thought you might want to know about some of the behind-the-scenes activities that have been an important part of our search.
Our lead searcher, John, has cameras mounted on the bottom of his helicopter. So relatively early on in the process he spent a day flying over the search area while his camera took 7,000 photos (one every 2 seconds or so). Each of these photos has a GPS location attached (but the resolution isn't very high).
Then more recently, Jeff (my neighbor and friend), spent a day "hanging out" with John--literally "hanging out" of the helicopter taking 1,800 more photos--this time with his hand-held high resolution camera.
They took the doors off of the helicopter so it would be lighter and more maneuverable. Jeff said the trickiest part was when he would shift from looking down at the ground taking photos to sitting up. Immediate air sickness!
On the upside, the quality of this newest batch of photos is excellent, though the downside is that they have no GPS stamp. So...enter the invisible army.
There is a dedicated group of volunteer techies helping us out with all of the photos. (I assume John has used them on previous searches, as they definitely seem to know their stuff).
They have spent literally hundreds of hours poring over these images of rocky hillsides, manzanita bushes and trees--trying to discern what GPS location each significant photo might represent and looking for any small detail that might possibly give us a clue as to where Steve is. This seems like an insurmountable task to me!
When I picture them spending hours at home in front of their computers--all in an effort to help a family they have never met--I offer yet another prayer of thanks. I feel another deep layer of support underneath me...
So thank you, thank you to all of you who have been toiling at this tedious task, all for our benefit. Yes, you are an invisible bunch, but heroes nonetheless!
Thank you all!! We so appreciate all of your tangible expressions of support. Every single one of you helps us get that much closer to bringing Steve home!
THE LONGEST (HALF+) MILE
I was talking with a friend this evening, and it made me realize that there are so many details about our search that I haven't shared.
So I thought I would try to do a bit more of that... I always knew Steve was persistent (some would call it "stubborn Irish"!). But I think that this last trek of his life is the ultimate example of this tenacious, determined quality I admire so much.
As best we can tell from the clues that John and our tracking team have examined, this is what happened: after he fell three or four stories down from the granite cliff at Billy's Peak, his momentum was such that he slid for another 15 feet.
Clearly injured, he had to sit on a rock a few feet from where his slide stopped. Then he lay down for awhile under a manzanita bush (after clearing out some of the brush that would have been scratching at his back and placing it in a neat stack).
Then he began carefully working his way down this most challenging terrain, trying to make it the mile and a half to the town below. 100 feet. 200 feet. (This is about as far as we thought he would get...).
He stopped to rest again-- making another neat stack (this one of wildflowers). 1000 feet.
All along, he was taking a pretty cautious route--not his usual efficient, more fast-paced gait--stepping around rocks instead of over them, walking around bushes instead of moving right through them. He seemed to be trying hard to avoid slipping or jarring his tender body.
2000 feet. Who would imagine that someone who had just fallen that far could keep moving? But Steve was definitely not a quitter. Overcoming an unusually heavy load of challenges as a child. Maintaining and growing a (sorely tested) life of faith. First child in his family of five kids to go to graduate school. Years of patient work alongside his clients as they moved through their own painful journeys.
3000 feet....maybe farther. In beautiful, remote, rugged terrain. This is as far as our trackers were able to make it when they ran out of time, food, and stamina on our last trip. And we still don't know how far down that mountain he got. All we know is that the mountain eventually won.
So that's my husband. Continuing on, hopeful that he could hike down that rugged slope to get medical care and reunite with friends and family...
Persistent. Determined. Courageous. I love that man.
The picture you see below is of Steve and Ellie, taken about 15 years ago in Lassen Volcanic National Park. It was a perfect day. Hiking along a lively, high mountain river, eating lunch together streamside, and then working our way back up the trail, finishing the afternoon with Ellie happily asleep in her backpack. Steve was so proud to be toting her around on his back, laughing as she kicked her legs in excitement when we first heard the sound of rushing water. Showing her the beauty of one of his favorite places...always those high, alpine destinations.
As I'm looking at this photo (below) tonight, I am struck at how similar the peak in the distance looks to Billy's Peak, in all its' awful glory. A strange foreshadowing for me...
Tomorrow will be two months since Steve's disappearance. The days have been moving achingly slowly since then, even though they are full of all kinds of search-related work, as well as the normal day-to-day responsibilities of managing a household and raising an active 16-year-old daughter.
Tonight I pray for resolution, as my spiritual, physical & emotional reserves are depleted beyond imagining. It has just been too long...
So thank you for encircling our little family with your gentle words and acts of practical support. At times like these, thinking of all of you who express your love in such a crystal clear way serves as a balm for my soul.
It's amazing what 100 people can do (over only 6 days, no less!!) Thank you so much to all of you. As you can see, we are now at more than 60% of our goal. This was unimaginable to me a week ago! (I guess my faith still has some stretching to do...)
PREPARING FOR THE NEXT PHASE: So we have a few weeks now of preparation, waiting & praying until our entire team is available for the next phase of our search. Waiting is one of the hardest parts!
Probably our greatest concern right now is the weather. The next 10 days or so look warm and dry, so we are praying for that to hold!
Meanwhile, one of my first tasks has been to arrange accommodations for our large group. Meghan and Peter of Ripple Creek Resort in Coffee Creek have been such wonderful help to us and are holding their beautiful, large group cabin with windows looking out onto the forest (and charging us only a fraction of what it is worth...) What more could we ask for? It will be the ideal place for our search team to rest, recharge their batteries and prepare for the next day.
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS:
When I checked weeks ago about a place for our group of guys to stay for a night before heading up on the mountain and Ripple Creek was full, Meghan and Peter said they had heard our story and wanted to help in some way. So they offered their own home to use while they were out of town. These are people we had never even met!
Then last week, when it ended up taking one of our teams 6 hours to hike out (in the dark), they were absolutely depleted, and we all needed a place to spend the night.
So we went to Ripple Creek around 10:00 p.m. and drove around, trying to find the office. Couldn't find it, but did spot a large cabin that looked like a home. So I knocked on their door (knowing that the owners of the place, Meghan's parents, were very friendly & supportive of our cause).
Well, it turns out that the cabin was just that: a (rented) cabin. Two women were staying there, Jaynie & Irene. They kindly walked us through the dark over to the office so we could use the phone to call Meghan and Peter. Meghan immediately offered us a small, cozy cabin. My friend Kevin slept on the floor, yielding the only bed to our absolutely exhausted searcher Jeff.
So when Jaynie & Irene realized there wouldn't be a bed for me, they insisted I use one of the (many!) beds in the big group cabin. They invited me to join them in a game of scrabble (too tired to play), eat anything I wanted (too tired to eat), and let me know they wouldn't be offended it I just took a shower and went to bed (yes!!!).
For those of you who know me, I tend toward the shy side; so this is was way outside of my comfort zone. But if there is one lesson I am learning in spades through all of this, it is that the heart of God shines through all kinds of people. So I need to ask for what I need, and then graciously accept their love and kindness as those needs are met in a thousand ways I could never anticipate!
So to all of you, friends and strangers alike, thank you for being another vital part of the solution. Please do share our site via email, facebook or tweet to friends, family, coworkers or other community members. We still definitely need all the help we can get!
Okay, so it's time to start talking about "heroes"!!
My friend and neighbor, Jeff Braunstein, just came over wearing a headlamp, tools in hand, to change the headlight in my car--in the dark!
Then there is Dave Berg, who replaced my decrepit mailbox with a shiny new one today, after the mail lady made it clear it was time :)
Through all of these long weeks, while I have been out on leave, my good friend and colleague Cathy Barnard has been helping Steve's therapy clients work through their grief while coming alongside mine, encouraging them to continue to take care of themselves.
This is only a drop in the bucket. I have so many stories to tell of "God with skin on"!
But for now, suffice it to say that I am SURROUNDED by heroes, both here at home, and now all across the country.
So I want to say thank you to all of YOU, my heroes, for helping us persist in our search for Steve! We are much closer this evening than we were even this morning, all because of you...
Wow!!! We are almost to $11,000! It is so heartening to see fundraising moving forward as plans do!
Without the one, we wouldn't be able to do the other!
So thank you to all of you who are helping us get there. Please do continue to share our story with friends, family & coworkers. You are making it happen!
"John" has been busy writing up a report from yesterday's search and creating a revised "topo map" showing the progress of the past week.
When searching, he wears a GPS tracking apparatus so that he can go home and download the track of where they traveled on a given day. Then he adds in "pins" to point out where particular clues were seen (i.e. "perfect prints" or "bedding areas", etc...)
This is invaluable, as it helps us delineate and define where the search area should be for our next effort. Just to remind you: he is doing all of this on his own time, not asking a penny--only that we "pay it forward" someday.
Can't wait to have closure on this and be free to do that!!! (You may be a part of that too, as any funds we do not use for our search effort will be put into a foundation set up in Steve's name to support other families who are in our situation: searches suspended too soon, while loved ones remain missing.)
So thank you again for supporting us and spreading the word!!
Just heard back from our volunteer lead searcher. (He wants to remain anonymous, so I will just call him "John" from now on.)
He spent most of the day leaning out of the helicopter in the search area, looking for Steve (or any clues).
Sounds pretty tired!
The good news is he confirmed that some of Steve's footprints remain in the more protected areas. Whew!! (Unfortunately, the rain did wipe out a lot of them. But between the ones that remain and other "sign", i.e. broken branches, displaced rocks, etc..., he and the tracker feel that there is enough to warrant further "tracking".)
We had worried the prints might all be gone...so feeling thankful tonight that there is still a "trail" to follow at all!
The helicopter costs for today alone were about $1375. So thank you, again, to all of you who are supporting the search through your donations and through sharing Steve's story so others might be inspired to join in also.
Hoping and praying! Our heroic team tracked Steve 3000 feet down the mountain a week ago. They had to stop as energy, time & other resources had run out. Then it rained almost 2 inches shortly thereafter.
Early this week our lead searcher is going back in to check on the tracks. This will require helicopter support. The plan is that the helicopter will fly him there, insert him via cable, then retrieve him when he is done. (This is all necessary because it is such a remote area that it takes about 6-10 hours all together to get in to and out of by foot--not leaving much time or energy to actually search.)
We are all holding our breaths--hoping and praying that the tracks are still readable. If they are, then the next steps are pretty clear. If they're not, then we have to consider a "plan B".
A huge "thank you" to all of you who have continued to spread the word of Steve's search and GoFundMe to your personal networks!! You are also "heroes" to us, as we couldn't continue without your help.
They say it "takes a vollege ". Thanks to you we have raised over $8,000 so far. Almost half way to our goal! It is so heartening to be able to continue, instead of stalling, in our search for Steve!
Carrie and Ellie (& family!)
Earlier this week a private search team located Steve's tracks. We so appreciate your support, as funds are needed for helicopter access to the search site due to its remoteness.
The money we raise will also be used to hire a human remains dog and for supplies. A team of 5 searchers will continue to track Steve until he is located. Any money left over from our search will go to fund searches for other families...(something I know Steve would feel very good about).
While many of you have offered to help us search for Steve, it is very important that you don't go into the search area. It will spoil the tracks, and it's not safe because there is an aggressive mountain lion in the area.
Thank you so much for your help.
The Morris family
Good news! We have the next phase of our search planned. On Monday our lead searcher and a pilot will be doing low flying reconnaissance in the area where we had to stop following Steve's trail.
We are hoping that he won't be hidden under too much foliage, and they will spot him. It will be painful no matter what, but closure will be a good thing. Please pray for vision, judgment & safety for this amazing (volunteer) guy and the pilot.
What an amazing day! Thanks to all of you, we have enough money raised today to fund our next leg: aerial reconnaissance to follow up the ground searching of the past few days. We are feeling much more hopeful than when this day began!
Carrie & Ellie Morris
Thank you for taking a look at our story. The picture above is of my husband, Steve, and our daughter, Ellie, when she was about one year old. Steve was in his element, thoroughly enjoying hiking in the beautiful Sierras and spending time with his family.
He was hiking with our church's yearly men's backpack group in California's majestic Trinity Alps this past summer on August 2nd when he went missing. He had briefly separated from his hiking partner to scout out a better way for them to get off of the peak they had climbed, when he fell off a 30-40 foot cliff.
Search and Rescue teams looked for him for four and a half days before the sheriff suspended the search. Since that time, I have had an army of over fifty volunteers (friends, family and church members) helping us locate the area where he fell and track him over a mile down the mountain below the cliff.
At this point, through the help of helicopter pilots, ground searchers, trackers and Human Remains Detection Dog teams, we have narrowed the search area down from a huge wilderness to just a one half square mile area. We have found several specimens of what appear to be Steve's remains. One is being tested by the Department of Justice, and we are trying to raise funds to have the other three tested by a private lab.
So any help you can offer us would be much appreciated: funds to help cover the testing, words of encouragement, or prayers for our family and the team's efforts. All are very welcome!
There is a facebook page called "Steve Morris Search" where you can follow our progress. There are also articles in the San Francisco Chronicle ("SFGate" online) and The Santa Rosa Press Democrat from October, as well as a January 18th update article in the Chronicle.
Thank you so much for all of your help. Gratefully, The Morris family
P.S. Please do not go into the search area. It could spoil the delicate tracks, and there is an aggressive mountain lion in the area.
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