My friend Bob Russell died on August 23rd. He was 62 years old. He was diagnosed with cancer in May of 2011.
Bob Russell's memorial is today, Sunday September 8th in Traverse City. I regret that I cannot attend. But I am there in spirit. My energy is co-mingled with those I love, which include Bob, Sally, and their whole family and community of close friends, into which they included and adopted me. This inclusion is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received in my life and I am forever grateful to be included in their world.
I met Bob Russell because of my discovery of the Neahtawanta Inn in 1990. Enjoying my short one night stay there so much, I returned in 1993 when I was working on a Native American writing project. "Neahtawanta" is an Ottawa word for "nice place that I would like to hang out," and Bob and Sally, owners and proprietors of the Neahtawanta Inn just had connections to everything cool in the Grand Traverse area, including the Native American community.
After staying for more than one night in 1993, I felt drawn back to Inn. From 1993-2007 (that's fourteen years if you're counting), I stayed at the Inn every summer for my vacation. I would stay for at least a week and at most sixteen days. My consecutive streak was broken in 2008 when days before my trek north, the engine in my car died. Needing a new engine, and being unemployed, I did not know if I would have a car at all let alone the money to stay at the Inn. By the next year, 2009, I had met Liesel, and we were making plans to get married in October. I made reservations to take her and the kids to the Inn in August, and then my mother was admitted to the hospital. I figured my regular vacations at the Inn were now a thing of the past.
I did not even try to go in 2010 or 2011. And then I learned that Bob had cancer. It started with esophageal cancer and then moved to his liver. Eventually, the cancer traveled to his brain. Though Bob fought the cancer valiantly and with good humor, he fought a losing battle. Liesel and I visited the Inn in 2012. I wanted to show her the place and try to share why it is so special to me, why all of Traverse City and the peninsulas are so special to me. I am glad we went when we did because not long after we were there, the Inn suffered a terrible fire, and the repairs are still in process. The Inn has not yet re-opened. Though originally they had anticipated re-opening in July, the new target date is October. Though Bob died surrounded by family at Glenn Lake, it would have been more fitting for his end to come at the Inn, his home for so many years, and one into which he devoted so much time and energy.
|Me and Bob on the porch of the Inn|
I wrote about my love for the north in T-shirt #85: Up North. What drew me back to the north initially again and again was my childhood. As I explained in T-shirt #85: Up North, my family lived in Traverse City when I was very young and then vacationed there every summer for many years after. Thus, it made sense that I would return to that area for my own vacations.
I cannot describe the feeling that one gets staying at the Inn. You would have to experience it for yourself, and yet there is no guarantee that you will feel what I feel. There's a serenity there. It's peaceful. It's quiet. It's old and haunted (though not in a bad or icky way), but the heritage is obvious and ever-present in its aura. It's well cared for, well-tended, clean, yet not shiny or chromed or ultra-modern. But there's more. There's an energy that infuses the place, which is impossible to describe. As I write these words, as I look at the pictures, as I culled out of the journals from some of time there that I will present below, I can feel the energy. It's good energy. But I cannot possibly describe it. But one thing is certain: there's love there.
I am told that I became one of the Inn's favored guests. Bob and Sally would anticipate my arrival each summer with some excitement. In part, this is because we had all become close friends, and we would hang out together. They included me in their lives and their community and for that I am forever grateful. Being part of the Neahtawanta world changed my life and made it a better place. But also I was model guest. I did not make a mess in the bathroom. In my two weeks, I might only need my sheets changed once if at all. I kept to myself, though I was available to chat with them if they felt like it. I respected their privacy when they were hiding out or doing their work. I could function as a surrogate inn keeper if they had to leave and greet arriving guests as I spent most of my vacations sitting on their porch writing.
|me with Sally. Sadly, I do not have a picture|
of myself with both of them, all
three of us together.
Also, from 2006
But, mostly, we became friends. We would go out to dinner together. They invited me to their parties. Bob and I would go to movies together, especially movies in which Sally was not interested. And we would have great conversations. I am indebted to Bob for so many wonderful conversations. He shared so much of his knowledge with me. He introduced me to many things. He recommended books, and then we would discuss them. He would also tease me relentlessly but lovingly.
For instance, because I have struggled with depression throughout my life, and especially some seasonal affective disorder, I start every morning with a 30 minutes of light treatment with a special blue wave UV light I own. Yes, yes, I know. One generally does not suffer SAD in the summer. But I am creature of habit, and so I do the light treatment year around, increasing my sessions to 60 minutes in the winter. After all, the UV rays can't hurt me. At the Inn, I would get up somewhat early and come down for coffee, which is ready 60-90 minutes before the breakfast start time, which is 9 a.m. I would get my coffee and excuse myself to go back to my room for my light treatment. Bob would tell me that the Inn has light treatment of it's own: "It's called sunshine and it's out there," he would say pointing outside and cackling his maniacal Captain Blackheart (his nickname) cackle. Of course, he was right. But he also understood that I was a little OCD, and so I do what I do.
|From an Inn party in 2006|
Bob is explaining the strange
and ancient artifact in his hand
while drinking wine
|More from the 2006 party. Bob is often drinking wine as he relaxes at night after a long day|
of inn keeping and activism. Foreground left is Kim, a regular guest and someone I have come to know well
and enjoy talking to. Background left is "Honky," one of the Neahtawanta board members and
a good friend of Bob's.
BOB AND TECHNOLOGY
Bob loved technology. He created an early ISP start up with his best friend Grips in the 1990s, which they then sold during the web boom. Bob was always ready to discuss technology and read about the subject voraciously. He introduced me to Ray Kurzweil. (I wrote about Ray and The Singularity is Near in T-shirt #77. I still have not read The Singularity is Near, though it remains on my stack because of Bob. But I did read a shorter, more digestible version of the same subject matter in Radical Evolution, also recommended by Bob (and now a book I teach at WMU).
Radical Evolution describes the future of "GRIN" technologies and how each of the four technologies (Genetic Engineering, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Nanotechnology) could transform our way of life so radically that the emerging culture and society will bear little resemblance to the culture that preceded it. This transformation is called a "Singularity." Ray Kurzweil explored the concept in much more depth in his book and the forthcoming documentary.
The "singularity" is so named because the influence is as pivotal and profound as a gravitational "singularity." The automobile and the computer are two such recent singulairites. Each of the GRIN technologies, combinations of them, or all four could transform our culture and society into what would seem like paradise on earth to anyone from even 50 years ago let alone 100 or 300. The new world will be unrecognizable to those people from that long ago era. Of course, the technologies could also bring about an apocalypse. But those are stories for another time. Back to Bob.
Bob and I had a running joke about "nanobots." Before he learned that he had cancer, Bob joked about getting his injection of nanobots, little machines that would swim through his blood stream monitoring his health and repairing what is "broken."
"I am just waiting for the nanobots, and then I won't have to worry about anything."
When I visited the Inn last year, I joked with Bob that he just missed the advent of the cancer finding and ultimately the cancer killing nanobots.
He agreed. Just a few more years, and the nanobots would have found the first stirrings of the cancerous growths, and it will not be too much longer after the release of monitoring nanobots that we could see bots that will find cancer cells and destroy them, effectively curing cancer.
I cannot remember everything we said about the nanobots, but we got a lot of mileage out of the running joke. I hope the nanobots do come to exist. I just wish they existed a bit sooner to help Bob.
Bob's office was to the right of where I would sit on their porch in my spot to write. In the picture of the Inn below, the left-most tree hides most of the couch on which I always sat in writing sessions on the porch, but you can see the left side of the couch to the left of and past the tree. Bob's office is through the left wall and in the part of the Inn that runs off the left side of the picture.
Sometimes Bob would tell me something through the window facing the couch, especially if I was not listening to music through headphones, which I often did. Or he would take a break from what he was doing to come out and share something he had just read or something he thought would interest me.
I owe you so much Bob. Thank you for being my friend. I will miss our talks. I will miss you.
When I learned I had cancer back in March of 2013, I also thought of Bob and Bob's cancer. Even in March, Bob was still fighting. He was still seeking treatments, hoping to reduce the cancer in his brain, hoping to get it out of his body beat it back, stay.
I never shared with Bob that I had cancer, too. After all, mine was beatable. And I did beat it.
Bob did not.
That's all the perspective I need on cancer.
I am damn lucky. I know.
I shared a lot of music with Bob and Sally over the years. Bob often kept CDs I made for him or recommended in his car. Our tastes aligned in many ways. Sally told me that after the 2001 attacks, 9/11, they were listening to a CD I made called "How to Disappear Completely" from a song by Radiohead. The lyrics "I'm not here; this isn't happening" struck a chord.
LINKS TO STUFF ABOUT BOB
This is a great video tribute out together by Hallie, Sally's oldest daughter. It does a great job of capturing Bob's spirit in a series of photos accompanied by some of his favorite music.
VIDEO TRIBUTE TO BOB RUSSELL - OH CAPTAIN MY CAPTAIN
RECORD EAGLE ARTICLE - Lading Environmentalist and Community Activist dies
RECORD EAGLE - BOB RUSSELL OBITUARY
I tried to make the banner image below a link to the Paypal site but failed. Then I tried to make it a link to the inn page where a working link to the Paypal site exists, via the same banner image, and I am not sure that works either. So, there's a link below the image. Bob would scoff at me and laugh and tell me that I am using outmoded technology and then laugh some more. Thanks, Bob. I still hear you in my head.
LINK TO THE NEAHTAWANTA INN
I did not know how to properly commemorate Bob and what he meant not just to me but to all the people who knew him and loved him. Sally often called him "Russell" (his last name). This caught on with some people who hung around them a lot. Though mostly, I called him Bob.
After some thought, I decided that my best tribute would be sharing stories. I already shared some, but I have more from journals I wrote at the Inn in 2001 (all dates starting with 01) and 2003 (dates starting with 03). The 2001 journals were letters to my mother, so references to "you" are meant for her.
The journals share many stories about Bob, Sally, and the Inn as well as my vacation there and what I did and what I thought about. I am leaving them only partially edited for now, but I will work on them this week to get them more ship shape.
Also, I am not done digging out old journals and will continue my Bob tribute and my Neahtawanta love letter with future shirts. Stay tuned.
For now, thank you, if you are reading. This is a HUGE entry. I hope you find some of it (at least) enjoyable.
It’s a beautiful day. It’s currently 72 degrees with a light and variable wind, mostly from the ...um, I always mess this up. Let’s see. I have to remember that the inn faces northeast but really more east than north. So the wind looks like it’s coming from the eastish, but I doubt that’s right. It’s sunny with some nice, low clouds. The porch is newly painted and wonderfully smooth. It’s kind of an emerald green. I sit in a couch just to the right of one of the two doors that open onto the porch from the inn. Lots of changes to the inn. New doors, some of which they had installed by the time I was here in February. I am in room 3, which is the only room on the second floor, now, without water. I used to stay in room 4, which had a sink, but they added a bathroom to that room and so it’s too costly. Room 3 has a sink, but it’s on the backside of the inn, not facing the water, so it’s not as nice.
The water level is WAY down this year. They have built a little dock here to traverse the shore weeds and help people reach the tip of the sand bar where it’s best to enter the water. Russell (Bob) says the water’s really warm, though he often remarks about “global warming at its finest.” He’s funny.
Bob and Sally are the same as always. Wonderful. They love having me here. Sally asked about you. Then I asked about her mom, who had been 86, and who died in March. Sally and I had talked a lot about this last year as we were both going through Mom things. She’s having a rough time with it, she says. Things hit her at certain anniversaries, like her mom’s birthday and stuff. Her mom didn’t die suddenly either. She kind of wasted away.
Bob and Sally have a new dog because Jasmine died. The new dog’s name is Lucia. For a puppy, she’s rather sedate.
The Neahtawanta now sells jams and honey and things for some local folks. I may bring some home with me. I had the raspberry and blueberry jams this morning and they were delicious. The blueberry had real, whole blueberries. There’s another flavor with merlot in it. Blueberry Merlot. There’s also a Blueberry Shiraz.
Bob just interrupted me and showed me two of the videos he has made of the activism their group GAG (Guerilla Action Group) has done. Neat stuff. They did an anti-war protest at the Cherry Festival. He also had a video of the candelight vigil (little tiny shoe-size boats with candles) that they do every year on the anniversary of Hiroshima-Nagasaki. He has this amazing Mac computer with 2500 MHZ processors. wow.
It’s later. No movie tonight. Bob and Sally invited me to dinner with them at the Bowery. So I decided to forego the movie as I had two Bloody Marys (maybe should be Bloody Maries, drop the y and add “-ies” like marry and marries or party and parties) on the deck over looking the lake on a perfect night and then two glasses of wine in the Bowery. Not to worry Bob drove. ;-)
I had this amazing trout with a Michigan cherry glaze, garlic mashed potatoes with a chicken gravy and a small cob of corn.
So we dished. Bob and Sally like to complain about the guests. One of Bob’s new raps is the preciousness of natural resources like water and how bottled water is already more expensive than gasoline and will be one of the more valuable natural resources of the future. Well one “expletive clueless” blonde the other day made the mistake of mentioning that she likes to take these long showers: “I stand under the water for like twenty minutes just enjoying it before I soap up or anything.” Bob showed amazing restraint when she said this in front of him and didn’t humiliate her with a snide remark about water conservation.
I have fun with them. I think they’d be too political for you. But they really are lovely people. They are currently upset — among many things over which they are upset — about these local folks who clear cut this enormous road across the road from the Inn for this little development of eight houses they are making for their family. They could have cut in the road from another direction (off Shipman Road) and lost only one or two trees but they had to do it off Neahtawanta road, because they wanted to. Anyway, Bob and Sally are just a little bit angry at these “expletive morons” as Bob calls them. Anyway, we saw them at the Bowery, so we were whispering about them at our table as they were at another nearby table.
Lucia, the new dog, found the trash and had it strewn all over the kitchen for us when we came back. And this after remarking on how she’s quite the sedate dog for a puppy.
It’s nearing 23:00, so I think I will mosey off to bed. I will write more tomorrow.
It’s become colder and it’s raining.
Bob just returned from a swim. He said, “ I was swimming along and then I realized it was raining. Good thing I was in the water already or I’d get all wet from the rain and I wouldn’t like that.”
Bob just told me about something you might find interesting. Unlike many people, we’re well aquainted with infections that are resistant to certain kinds of antibiotics because, as many people, doctors overprescribed these antibiotics (one being arithromicin [sp?]) and the bacteria built up an immunity. (In fact, this is one of the criticisms against antibacterial solutions.)
Anyway, according to an NPR report, chickens are given hundreds if not thousands of doses of antibiotics as they are raised, supposedly, to make the meat healthy and to counteract various problems of the conditions in which they are produced. Well, these antibiotic resistant bacteria are showing up in these chickens. And people are eating this bacteria laden chicken. I don’t remember the figures. One is 30% but I don’t remember if it’s 30% of cases of illnesses are from this or 30% of chicken eaters get this or what. Then there was like a figure of 5000 deaths a year from antibiotic resistant bacteria.
I know, not a pleasant subject, but a scary report.
Outside now. On the porch. I wrote my entries in my film journal. It’s mid-60s with a gusty wind. One of the women of the five is leaving. Bob and Sally are down on the beach with their friend Honky. Nadia is vacuuming. I have been working on my survival book. I want to start the other one today or tomorrow. So far no real poem production. My poetry time may be gone, though I suspect I real try again. It may take a while to get back in the groove.
Oh yes, this morning was scones. Bob has really improved his methods. The scones used to be dry and heavy like rocks. Now they are very fluffy with a cinnamon topping and more of the jam they sell here now.
I may have to go get my heavy socks.
The guests of rooms 1, 2, and 4 have left and will be replaced by a bunch of folks going to a wedding. The five women leave tomorrow but they’re less bother now since it’s so dreary, they aren’t hanging around the inn so much.
I haven’t started counting my calories yet but Bob tells me that 1500 calories is starvation level. He says normal levels with exercise is more like 2000-3000 a day. Bob is a little paunchy though, which is odd as he is working up to swim across the bay here, which is this cove formed by Neahtawanta Point.
More later. I am going to go get my socks.
Bob and his friend Honky were just telling me about this group to which they belong called Bioneers. It’s a group committed to applying ecological models to politics, economics, and everything. Like for instance designing an economic system with a tree as a model. The way a tree photo synthesizes, purifies air and water, the way it grows...all would be perfect as a model for an economic system. They’re scheming a Bioneers conference here at the inn next year.
Okay, I lied. I am writing just a little more. I have moved to the picnic table, which Bob finally moved back to its spot on the main lawn overlooking the water. It had been behind some trees between the two lawns.
The first lawn is in front of the inn, between the inn and slope to the water. The second lawn is to the left, if you're facing the water, and that’s where they have the fire pit and charcoal stuff for the “flash eaters” as Bob likes to quip. They want the meat as far from the inn as possible because not only do they not like the smell of burned flesh in the air but Bob makes comments about air borne flesh bacteria. He’s a barrel of laughs.
So I am sitting outside here. Really outside. An acorn just fell and hit me on the back. This is one of the pleasures with the new computer as it has a good, strong battery. This little bit of typing has only used 3% of its capacity.
Bob and Sally have a wedding to attend today, and so if the new suite guests do not arrive soon, I will have to play surrogate inn keeper. I will probably go to Elk Rapids tonight, but I may wait and go later. There’s a lot of wind and a thunderstorm is on the way.
I should get a camera and take more pictures of the inn and of Bob and Sally.
As you can see, I have stayed rather late. The day is quite beautiful in the dying light. From the porch, I can see the water of the cove. Two colours of blue. The shallow stretches so far now in its lighter, pale blue and then there’s this clearly visible line where the water changes to a darker blue.
The water’s moving quickly too with the strong wind. But it’s so quiet here. People all around are gone or indoors. And the light is this great, dull, flatness.
I just went for a run and a swim after my nap, which followed much writing while listening to the Tigers game. I have not decided my dinner plans though I have decided NOT to go into town. Or nearly so. I may just forage here and not go get food. The sub was rather filling and I could eat sparringly and save my calories. Though I figure I burned 4-500 calories with the run. Tomorrow I am keen to run twice. Once in the morning and once later in the day. After my swim, I discovered this weird bruising on my leg.
It’s these odd purple blotches near my ankle. Good run, though still a walk run. Maybe I should go eat something...
I love the familiar. It’s why I started coming to Traverse City in the first place. I remembered much about it. Now, the Neahtawanta is familiar. I’ll get deja vu on the steep cement stairs that lead to the beach.
Every room has a memory, every place. Many of the memories of Traverse City are about our wonderful family vacations. Running along the beach, splashing in the water on film. I wish we edited all those together. We should. Dinners on the back porch of the cottage. Shopping at Giant and Tom’s with you. Getting stacks of comics at that little store or Thompson’s News. Going to the magic shop or the stamp show at the Elks Lodge. Travelling to some weird restaurant like the Cherry Bucket or one at Shanty Town in Leland or one in Sutton’s Bay where they had the ship to play in. So many wonderful memories. One of the best things about doing my vacation myself is that there are few to no obligations. If I don’t want to go to dinner, I don’t have to go. If I don’t want to go to town, I can stay here. I have total freedom to make my own schedule, and I love that.
Bob is hilarious. Earlier today he hands me this article from the Economist, a magazine I started reading because I discovered it here. He says to me, “you worry about the environment, right? Well, no need to worry anymore, here’s the “truth” about the environment.” And he plunks down this article called the same. And this article, which is written by some idiot Danish statistician (why this qualifies him I have no idea), claims that the scare over the environment is not as bad as environmentalists made us believe it to be.
So, we’ve been joking about this all day.
“I was so worried. Nothing to fear now.”
“I am so relieved that all that scare over the environment was for nothing.”
I am now sitting in my bed after 21:00 as you can read. I am listening to one of the mixed CDs I made called “How to Disappear Completely” and writing more to you before I may or may not do some writing before bed.
Hi there. Beautiful morning. The sky is blue with clouds at the tree line along the far shore. A gusty wind, Warm, wonderful day. The sun is glistening off the water of the bay. Wow.
Blueberry and peach (a combo, not two separate ones) buckle for breakfast.
Still have not had a swim. Took a long nap. I think I will stay here tonight: no movie. That way I can call you without guilt and I can read and write more, especially read. And go to sleep whenever. I need to buy supplies. I’d like to get some vodka. Maybe I will have a quick dinner and have some vodka. Raspberry flavored with Sprite.
Bob and Sally have ruined Poland Spring water for me. Have you been with me when I hunted for Poland Spring water? You know, I have many bottles that are Poland Spring, yes?
So Bob sets out this magazine with a cover story: THERE IS NO ICE MOUNTAIN. Well, come to find out this has to do with Poland Spring, too. There was a Poland Spring but it’s all dried up.
Nestle, who owns both, was wooed by Engler. They were charged $100 fee per year and offered bazillions in tax breaks (ie. Michigan ina fucked financial state) to pump 100 to 300 gallons a minute out of an aquifer in Mecosta county that feeds Lake Michigan. They may eventually pump 800 gallons a minute. They have been doing this for almost two years now.
Anyway, that’s why the water vanished from so many places. They’re boycotting.
The article may be slanted though and I will ask Bob about this. I wrote about Kalamazoo wanting to pump water out of aquifers out in Ross Township. Citizens freaked that Kazoo wanted to pump water for free and then sell it back to them, which is essentially what Nestle does with Poland Spring and Ice Mountain.
But when I studied it, something like 300 million gallons of water flows through the aquifer per day. Kazoo wanted to pump something like 30 gallons a minute. 43,200 gallons a day, leaving 2,956,800 gallons through the aquifer per day.
43,200 is something like 1/69th of the total gallons per day or 1.44%.
The point of the story is how certain beliefs I hold dear are often shattered here at the Neahtawanta. Even if Nestle is only pumping say 1% or less of the total water output, they are not paying enough in taxes or in fees to have the water. $100 a YEAR?????
That’s insane and sick.
I don’t think the issue is that they should not have the water but rather that they should pay an adequate fee for the water and pay more in taxes.
I am trying to talk myself out of boycotting Poland Spring because although the spring is dry, I like the idea of it.
The article does not mention the amount of water that flows through the aquifer per day. Bob is quoted in the article (cute) and seems to suggest that aquifers can be drained. I know water is not like oil though. Oil takes so long to be created by the earth it’s not really a renewable resource. But water is sustainable. Ground water does renew though probably nowhere close to the rate of 800 gallons per minute/per day.
*sigh* Another illusion shattered.
I just played surrogate inn keeper with a woman and her daughter. They want to stay here next week. Only one night has one free room. No rooms at the inn! ha.
The night is so gorgeous. Some clouds have perked up and there’s a northern breeze. But the water near shore is relatively placid and the night is amazingly still and serene.
- chris tower - 1309.08 - 15:43 (and 1309.09 - 9:28)