She remained my friend, championed my pursuits, cheered my successes, told me (when I was my family of four’s sole financial support) that if she ever had kids she wanted to be a mother just like me.
She was an athlete, kayaking the Baja, the Mississippi, the Amazon, and other waterways, clocking over 30,000 miles in a boat.
She was a quilter.
She became an ordained Methodist minister. She and her final husband adopted six kids out of foster care and raised them to adulthood.
She was my writing partner, my thought-partner, my editor and believer.
On Washington Island, she was my neighbor.
She was my oldest friend.
Lying in semidarkness on my yoga mat months after Valerie’s death, I heard my teacher say she would read a poem titled CANOE. I heard my friend’s voice in every word. I tracked down the poet, corresponded with her, told her about Valerie’s amazing, adventurous life.
Recently, I was asked by Valerie’s children to speak at her memorial service. Luckily, I had CANOE.
CANOE by Joanne M. Clarkson 2021 (used with permission)
The waxing crescent casts a tiny canoe on the water.
She is empty, enlivened by breezy waves.
I swim out into the midnight lake and climb within her nacre.
I take up a paddle painted with images of fish and birds.
She carries me into a perfect shadow.
Mayflies or snowflakes in starlight surround us.
I face fear and joy in equal measure, my honest life.
And in a minute or a month, when I return to shore,
All that needs to heal lies behind me in a wake.
And she sails off toward wholeness carrying the weight of my dreams.