Jan 162012

My reaction to Carl Hanson’s very moving and inspiring memorial service is to wonder why I worry about all the stuff I worry about. If things get bad fast (or slow) it won’t matter if you have a fifty pound sack of beans, some gold coins, a thousand rounds of ammo, a garden or a water purifier. All those things might make life easier or safer or less stressful but unless you have a group of friends to help you and support you when times are tough all the other preparation you make will be worthless.

A community of thoughtful people will be our most important asset and we clearly have this kind of support on Lummi Island. We don’t all get along all the time (I’ve probably repeated Ed Scott’s description of Lummi a hundred times so far—”an argument surrounded by water.”) But an island, particularly a small one, makes for an interesting kind of club. There’s automatic membership if you live here. There’s associate membership if you have a connection. It’s the kind of place where people pull together very quickly when there is a need.

Carl was a guy who showed up when needed. It was always fun to see him race by on his tractor, looking straight ahead, focused on his mission. And, a couple years ago when he almost drove over the edge while mowing a neighbor’s bank it was no surprise to see his good friend Bill racing on an even bigger machine to rescue him.

Somehow the island draws people like Carl, people who you can like immediately without reservation. People who you sense are reliable and dependable, hospitable and helpful. Most of us aren’t as good as Carl but there are a lot of folks around here who come close, which makes me appreciate how smart we were to move here. I expect that being in the right place will make the future easier and better.

Carl Hanson was one of those guys who you think you know well even if you don’t. I certainly was on the edge of his life not having lived here that long. But we had some nice interactions and I particularly recall a sunny day on the beach where we found him resting up against a driftwood log watching his granddaughters play in the sand. It was easy to relax with him. It’s a nice way to think of Carl, basking in the sun and gazing across the water, chatting about kids and grandkids—the really important things.

Our last visit with Carl wasn’t as picturesque but was more memorable. We were on a walk a couple weeks before he died and came abreast of Westshore Farm as Carl was retrieving his mail. We stood in the road,  as is the island habit, and talked. Cars slowed and pulled around or stopped for a minute to say hello. Carl had complained to me a week or so before that the steroids he was taking made him very emotional and as we stood together and talked he repeated his unhappiness with a drug that would make him burst into tears. We talked about other things, the apple trees and how they might need some pruning and what would happen to the place when he was gone. He wasn’t happy with the way he was feeling and it was clear he was ready to go. And I thought while he was talking that it might be important for a strong, competent fellow like Carl to be able to leave near the top of his game.

I’ve had a few chats like this with people who knew they were leaving soon. Some were ready (prepared…preppers). Others weren’t prepared and, as a result, had much more pain and inner turmoil. Getting ready for the big, final, GO does take some courage and preparation.

As a pilot, Carl was able to view the island from the air on many occasions. No doubt he saw it as a whole. He saw the big picture. What he saw, he liked.

It’s interesting that many people got their first impression of the island while guests at Westshore B and B. We are lucky that this first impression came from our finest ambassadors, people who helped set the standard for how our community behaves. Because of Carl, and Polly, we are a community much better prepared for the future.


  9 Responses to “Carl and the Community”

  1. Thank you Randy. Well said. I too love our community. There will be a hole in the island tapestry without Carl and Polly.

  2. I agree…our friends and neighbors are our most important resource.

  3. Well said, Randy. Carl and Polly were special people and it was a privilege to know them. I too was fortunate to have some conversations with Carl in his last few months, and I’ll never forget them. He was trying to find a place of balance with some things important to him which he felt he might be leaving unfinished. We also talked about whether or not there is an afterlife or reincarnation. He had never believed there was, but he had an experience after Polly died that made him examine that belief. I was grateful to him (and told him so) for the opportunity to talk openly about death and things most people don’t even want to think about, much less discuss. I’ll give him a special thought every New Years Eve, when his midnight renditions of “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes always made me feel the miracle of being alive and greeting another year.

  4. Thanks, Randy, nicely put. I only met Carl once briefly on a walk a short time ago (maybe in Nov.?) but everything you’ve said about him here was evident. But then I get that feeling about a lot of people I’ve come to know here. A lot. When I left Seattle 6 years ago I came for the beauty, the quiet, a “sense of space”, meaning distance away from …well, too many people I didn’t or ever would know. Ironically, now, if I had to leave for some reason, it wouldn’t be the beauty I’d miss so much (okay, I’d miss it some), but the wonderful friends I’ve made here, folks who I know have my back, as I do theirs. We’ve proved that time and again already, without a disaster. It may be a small island, as you say, but the view or “picture” is very big, isn’t it?

  5. Beautifully written and who could argue with one word of it. I too thought, during the memorial, that I could never be as good a person as Carl. And I thought about what I would want for a memorial myself. And yes, we are so lucky to have chosen Lummi Island as our home.

  6. Carl’s service was indeed a memorable moment in celebration of a memorable life. You are quite right that having friends and being a reliable and trustworthy friend is the only true currency.

    Ben and I are among those who came to Lummi Island because we met Carl and Polly at their B&B and they kept asking us back. The octagon house Ben built for us in Stehekin was inspired by the Hansons’ octagon. It is hard to imagine the island without them. Before Polly died, she waved a hand at stacks of messages, magazines and books, and told me, “I can’t do that [fighting for good causes, resisting others] any more; you’ll just have to do it now.”

  7. How sorry Bill and I are to have missed Carl’s memorial service (we were visiting my sister), so we are especially thankful for everyone’s comments here.

    Carl and Polly welcomed us into their circle of family and friends, and we cherished them as a very real part of our extended family. Neither Christmas nor Thanksgiving dinners will be as rich for us in the future without them. Both had a deep, joyful and boundless gratitude for the beauty and wonder of the human and non-human world. They were thoughtful, hard-working, generous and loyal to friends and the principles of living they believed in. Carl and Polly both were charming and loved to laugh, plus great conversationalists; we spent many nights staying up way too late talking and laughing about Life, the Universe and Everything. They were adventuresome and fearless in individually unique and sometimes startling ways. Both were strong-minded and strong-willed, making them sometimes challenging (even to their friends and each other), but that was as it should be — Carl and Polly were vital people, spicy and involved with life.

    This island community is filled with so many good people – talented, vigorous, kind, determined, funny, eccentric, thoughtful … I could go on, but it’s key to why Bill and I treasure living here. Serendipity brought us to Carl and Polly’s West Shore Farm many years ago, but neither luck alone nor the island’s beauty would have drawn us back so magnetically, The kindness, friendship and love that Carl and Polly unfailingly offered us was a bedrock of Lummi Island becoming our heart home. We will always remember them with love and gratitude.

  8. Carl had Sisu.

  9. It saddens me to learn so late of Carl and Polly’s passings. Jill and I used to go stay with them at Westshore Farm when we lived in Seattle. We last saw them in 1995 and after moving to Gig Harbor, fell out of touch. Our fault, and our loss.

    We stayed with them probably six times. We were always treated like family and thinking back on this now, I can hear their voices and especially Polly’s laugh. Carl used to fire-up his sauna for me and I remember getting mild electric shocks from the cold water shower pipe outside because of a bad ground.

    His stories about flying and coming out from Michigan originally, moving to Mercer Island, working at Boeing and then escaping to Lummi were fascinating. I wish we’d also moved up to Lummi.

    Carl and Polly Hanson were wonderful people. I’m thankful I knew them and this is a reminder to me of how to live life with grace, humility and joy.

    Om Mani Padme Hum Carl and Polly!

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