A Line of Good Dads

Rob with Marva and Annie in her chariot at the pumpkin patch, c. 2001

 In 1990, as my father neared the age of eighty, he looked back over a life of struggle and hard work and questioned what his life had amounted to. I wrote this poem to tell him what his five children thought he’d accomplished:


Someday we’ll sit where you are sitting now.
We’ll wonder how the years went by so fast.
Surprised and saddened, we will think
“It isn’t fair, this failing of this frame that holds the me of me.”
And what did I accomplish with the years God gave?

Our wealth, our honors may be small
But if, like you, Dad, we can know
We built within our children character
A love of rightness
Joy in work
A caring for their fellowman
So that our children’s children too are blessed—
Then we’ve not lived in vain.
We did, and did it well, life’s greatest task.

Twenty years later, my son Rob married Lydia, who brought with her to the marriage two-and-a-half-year-old Marva. As soon as legally possible, Rob adopted Marva, but he’d become her daddy long before the ceremony. His children were everything to Rob’s own workaholic father, but he spent little time in interaction with his son until Rob was old enough to share his dad’s interests in chess and old cars. It was I who spent time reading to the children, taking them fishing, and involving them in creative activities. I taught them to love the natural world and answered their endless questions.

These things hadn’t been part of Lydia’s childhood, but Rob picked up where I’d left off with him, playing games with Marva, helping her draw and collecting rocks with her. When Annie came along, Rob shared baby care chores with Lydia. As Annie grew older, Rob taught her songs and did art projects with her, too.

He helped them with their homework, although being naturally good at math, it was hard for him to understand why his girls didn’t always “get it.” If relationship problems came up with their friends, Rob knew how to ask the right questions and point out thoughtful ways to deal with the situation. He helped them find ways to solve their own problems.

Marva has picked up her dad’s work ethic. She’s almost always had a part-time job since her high school years. Now twenty-one, she’s lived on her own for several years while working and going to college.

At fifteen, Annie has his scholastic ability and wide range of interests. A few months ago, Rob found a 1965 Ford Galaxie for her to drive when she turns sixteen. It just got a new paint job, and Annie plans to help her dad finish restoring it.

Great-Grandpa, who was an expert mechanic himself, would be proud.

“Our children’s children, too, are blessed,”  thanks to a line of dads who did their best!

Annie’s new chariot

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, a Good Place to Take a Break

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center

We’d driven I-5 between northwest Washington and Hank’s Columbia River home country many times. About halfway to our destination, we always looked out over the Nisqually River Delta and thought how it seemed to beg exploration. We knew dike removal had been done there in 2009 to allow the tides of southern Puget Sound to restore the estuary.

As we drove back north this time, fighting heavy traffic about 8 miles east of Olympia, I wondered out loud if there might be some place to take a break down there on the delta. Hank swung onto Exit 114. Signs directed us under the freeway and into a different world. The road ended in woods that opened into fields and watery areas. There’s a Visitor Center and Nature Shop, from the deck of which visitors can view a freshwater wetland as tree swallows swoop around them.

Come take a walk with me!

The Refuge has 4 miles of trails. We followed a handicapped accessible boardwalk trail along the freshwater wetland, then detoured out toward a couple of large barns and back along the edge of the saltwater wetlands, where various waterbirds fed in shallow water. If we’d had time, we could have followed a boardwalk trail out across the estuary, where fresh and saltwater combine to form habitat rich in nutrients for over 300 species of birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. There are a wildlife viewing tower and platforms along the way where visitors can watch hawks, owls, and other raptors hunt in the marshes and fields. Shorebirds search for food in the mudflats, and harbor seals haul out in the salt marshes. Salmon and steelhead use the estuary in their passage to and from freshwater, and for nurseries for their young.

Most major estuaries in Washington have been filled, dredged, or developed, but in 1974, Nisqually River’s was set aside for wildlife with the establishment of Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.  More than 760 acres have been reconnected with the tides of Puget Sound. It’s the largest estuary restoration project in the Pacific Northwest.

It not only provides respite for migrating wildlife and a permanent home for other species, it’s a peaceful stopping place for human travelers who need respite from the rigors of the road.

Freshwater wetlands from the Visitor Center
Twin Barns and wetlands, with newly planted native vegetation in foreground

Saltwater marsh with feeding ducks

For more information about the refuge, go to http://www.fws.gov/nisqually or call 360/753 9467.