View from Glen Hill: An inclusive bucket list

My sister-in-law Deborah has a bucket list, as do we all I suppose. But hers has greater urgency as a result of a diagnosis of a gravely aggressive cancer. She is my wife Becky’s younger sister, and as with all things among Becky’s siblings, one sibling’s priority matter becomes all siblings’ priority (and their spouses’).

The top item on Deborah’s list while she was still up for long air travel was visiting Sedona, and so all but one sibling (plus spouses) flew to join her there this spring. (The fourth sibling and spouse were absent because of a sabbatical in Spain.)

We experienced with Deborah the grandeur of the high desert just south of the Grand Canyon, including a lengthy Pink Jeep drive across some of the vast and hauntingly beautiful wilderness areas surrounding Sedona. Local literature speaks of vortexes supposedly existing all around the area — those mystical “thin places” where Earth and the beyond are said to intersect. I can’t speak to vortexes, but I can affirm there is definitely a tranquility of spirit induced by this breathtaking landscape extending in all directions.

Even as we marveled at a dramatic sunset viewed from a bluff above the town as the setting sun kissed the majestic rock formations that encircled us, we also found time to laugh, cry and reminisce about parents long-deceased, about growing up in close-knit families, and about kids and grandkids. Those discussions seemed especially poignant in this setting, though never depressing or oppressive since that is surely the antithesis of the Sedona experience, set apart as it is from the busy-ness of the world. Instead, one simply basks in the transcendence of this space and time that will stay with us forever.

Deborah is an artistic, witty and loving person who also brooks no nonsensical platitudes or maudlin displays. Her courage in the face of her circumstances is really quite amazing and truly uplifting for those of us around her. Supported so well and faithfully by her devoted husband Lee, there is no doubt that she’s in very able hands — her own included.

Our siblings-and-spouses group had a second joint experience: a week together this summer in a rented house on the beach in Ft. Myers Beach, Fla., permitting the missing sibling and his wife, freshly returned from their sabbatical, to join the other three siblings and their spouses in the experience. Since Deborah and Lee are west coast Florida residents, this trip required no air travel for them yet allowed us all to be together in a very special setting.

And so these four couples from North Carolina, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Florida converged on a southwestern Florida beach at a counterintuitive time of the year for a Florida beach experience. While we brought along gallons of sunscreen, we didn’t expect to be spending much time outdoors in 98-plus-degree heat. However, we northerners found we had really misjudged that part of the experience as we enjoyed enormously swimming in the warm surf in the early morning and evening, watching the many birds, walking along the shore, and then retreating to air-conditioning at midday. But mostly we simply enjoyed our time of being together, doing as we did in Sedona: laughing, sharing stories, and this time viewing home movies from early years forward.

In addition to swimming, grilling, those home movies, and spirited and convivial dinners out, we also took a tour: a boat ride from Cape Harbour (just to the north of our beach house) to the broad Caloosahatchee River near where it feeds into San Carlos Bay. We sailed past an enormous bird-haven island to the spot where coastal bottlenose dolphin are known to congregate for mating — and also, given a gestation period of a full year, for giving birth assisted by up to eight companion dolphins who not only help in the birthing process but also fend off sharks attracted to birth blood in the water.

And so we saw pairs and larger groups of dolphins cavorting, swimming side-by-side alongside our large slow-moving boat as they used it for protection against swifter-traveling vessels that ignore this area’s “no wake” warning signs. We also saw moving together a much rarer sight: several huge thousand-pound manatees, with one bearing very visible scars from boat propeller encounters. And that rare sighting was a fitting one since Deborah, lover of all animals, is especially fond of manatees.

Bucket lists probably need a better name, but by whatever name they are called, they offer truly remarkable experiences indeed.