For Rod. For Lynn’s family. For Lynn’s loved ones. And for Lynn.
Eulogy for Lynn Harnett
on the NH/Canada border.
We had driven 25 miles on logging roads in northern New Hampshire looking for a clue to the trailhead that led to Little Hellgate Falls. The trail was extremely remote. You had to bushwhack to get to it. And we didn’t quite know where to go.
We parked the car at the designated mile marker. Was this even the right road? Lynn was excited. A good day in the woods for Lynn was a hilly run in the morning and two hikes during the day, gin and tonics on the deck overlooking First Connecticut Lake at 5, followed at 7 by a dinner made largely from vegetables Lynn harvested from her garden. Even up on the Canadian border, with a dull chopping knife and only salt and pepper to season the food,
Lynn knew how to find and create a quality experience. She was an ideal partner for any adventure life posed. Lucky were we who shared even one day in this adventure with Lynn.
Our quest for the falls was our second hike of the day. It was late afternoon and Little Hellgate Falls was in there somewhere. So was dusk. In the woods dusk is dark. And dusk awakens the wildlife.
All we had to do was find the trailhead. The whole hike was only five miles. Lynn was a runner. We could do this easily in an hour or two. We’d read that the falls got its name — Hellgate — because many a logger lost his life down there breaking up log jams. How intriguing. Lynn strode off ahead of me. No time to waste.
We were up to our shoulders in tall grasses. If there was a moose standing next to you, you wouldn’t know it. Lynn pushed on, unencumbered by anxiety or doubt. She was fearless, strong, curious, smart — the attributes of an adventurer unleashed.
These wild woods were as much Lynn’s element as the stack of books she’d piled on her nightstand back at the cabin. She’d plowthrough those books with the same resolve she plowed through the entanglement of brush.
Ahead of us, far in the distance, was a mountain. I knew Hellgate Falls was not in this direction. We were heading for Maine. Lynn flew ahead, straight into no man’s land. There was no trail. There was no sign that any human had ever trod here. A thrilling thought. Neither of us knew then that the trailhead was a mile back. We’d passed it, hidden by the brush and grasses.
Little Hellgate Falls trail was not the objective for Lynn. Though we eventually found the trailhead, it wouldn’t have mattered. Lynn was at thepeak of her game with a late afternoon bushwhack into the vast and unexplored unknown.
the source of the Connecticut River.
After dinner and perhaps some reading, Lynn would bring a drink and a cigarette out to the deck. She’d settle herself into a comfortable position and listen to the loons out on the lake. And eventually the animals would resume their noisy activities in the woods all around the cabin.
But what Lynn really loved, what engrossed her for hours at a time, was to look up into a sky so full of stars there didn’t seem to be any space left for plain black sky. As midnight approached and the dew thickened and the temperature dropped, Lynn stayed on, looking up, watching the stars shoot in all directions, big and little, bold and bright.
I’d head off to bed, too chilled, too sleepy to maintain the watch with Lynn. But when I’d get up for a glass of water or to use the bathroom, I’d look out and there was Lynn, gazing upward, fully engaged.
Just a few weeks ago, Lynn said that she had been waking up very early in the morning. At 4 am she would get something, maybe it was Ensure or maybe it was a fruit popsicle, I couldn’t quite hear what. By then, her voice was a whisper.
She said she was would sit with the silence and spend long, quiet time thinking in detail about her life. “I’m really enjoying this a lot,” she said. She felt it was a privilege to have this opportunity to reflect.
On a subsequent call, she said she’d begun to write a short memoir, or maybe, she said, you could call it an extended obit. Maybe 10 or 11 pages, she said. The next time we spoke, the project was of such interest, Lynn-the-writer said, that she’d decided to work on a complete memoir — if time allowed.
Lynn’s life defined the word “compassion,” as we all know. She understood us, perhaps at times better than we understood ourselves, and she knew what to do and say to give us truthful comfort and peace. She was not, however, self-sacrificing. She was grounded. Whatever she said and did flowed up from a core of self-knowledge and assurance that evoked our awe and respect.
In the last days of her life I suspect it began to occur to her, as she took inventory there in the growing light of early morning, that she had never deviated from her high standards. Book reviews, gardening, writing, cooking, reading drafts of our work and giving feedback, running and hiking, her honesty and authenticity — she had done everything exceptionally well and all of us shared in the bounty of Lynn.
With Lynn, you can say that hyperbole is an impossibility. No one here would disagree.
As Rod knows, because he kindly stood and held the phone for Lynn, the last words Lynn and I spoke to each other were: “I love you, good friend. Exceptional friend.” Rod said she was smiling. I think Lynn smiled because, at the end, she had taken the time to draw her life of unparalleled quality and compassion around her. She could warm and comfort herself with the success of her efforts.
Lynn died too young. And she suffered too much. But she said, “I’ve lived a good life and I’m ready for this. I am not afraid.”
This was not a story she told me to make me feel better. This is what she learned about herself at Little Hellgate Falls and that she later confirmed, with magnificent grace, in that clearing she discovered at 4 am on Marathon Key.
We cannot say thank you enough, Lynn, for the good times, good food, fine insights and deep thoughts you shared. With you, we all had a taste of the very best that life offers. What you have worked so hard to give us will not be undone by death. You will live on in the thousand ways you have touched us.