Friday, April 19, 2019

Six More Weeks of Winter

Her name was Anna Mae Veronica Soules Sullivan Berels.

Anna Mae’s mother was Delia Flanagan, who in 1894, at age 17 sailed alone from Ireland on the S.S. Lucania to America looking for a better life for herself and her children. She married William Soules who was born in 1867 just after the Civil War. Their daughter Anna Mae Soules was the youngest of eight children, born in 1921, and for 97 years she lived through the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and World War II. She married a steel mill crane operator named James Sullivan who for three terrifying years fought in the war in Europe and was one of those trapped in the Battle of Bastogne. Anna Mae remembered when milk was delivered by horse cart, and everyone sat around and stared at the radio in the evenings listening to shows. She loved to sing, dance, laugh, learned to drive on a Packard, lost her first child and husband to cancer, and tried in vain to teach me math despite my lack of interest and utter absence of ability.

Anna Mae died a few weeks ago.

She was my mother. 

I’m making this post to explain why House Sullivan has gone dark. Those who sent emails are likely wondering why they haven’t received a response. For the last month, we’ve been…occupied.

Everything was dropped when my mother went into sudden decline. Afterward, to recover, my wife Robin, my daughter, my brother, and I all went to High Island, Texas as a sort of escape.

High Island is neither high, nor an island, nor is it a resort destination. It’s an incredibly small town in the middle of nowhere. It is comprised of a high school, a gas station, a fruit market, and not much else. But, located on the gulf coast, the trees of High Island are the first that birds migrating north from South and Central America see, and they land there exhausted from the trip. Some, like the ruby-throated Hummingbird, have been flying for eighteen days straight without stopping. In High Island they wash off the salt water, and gorge themselves on hackenberries, and recover for the rest of their journey. From March until May, High Island is the birding capital of the world. I had planned the trip months before, and wasn’t sure we would go, and then we did.

Feeling a bit like four migrating hummingbirds, we landed among the hackenberry trees and for three days went birding. Spring was full-on, and the place was filled with very nice, very happy birders. Older folks mostly in funny hats yoked with binoculars worth more than high-end iPhones. That’s the thing with birders—I never met an unfriendly, or unpleasant one. For those depressed from Annamae's passing, a flock of birders is a wonderful antidote.

We hunted the wildlife refuges for warblers, the gulf coast for shorebirds, and the maze of oil rig roads for meadowlarks and scissortails. The highlight came on the last day when we were given a magical quest.

After swearing to keep the location secret, (to prevent hunters from finding them) I was told of the whereabouts of a pair of Whooping Crane, the second rarest bird in North America with less than 500 left. (The rarest being the California condor.) The directions were sketched on a piece of paper and were arcane and vague. Odds of us finding these birds was unlikely, but we set out anyway. This unlikely and incredible quest that took us far afield in the massive state of Texas. We were on a feathered grail quest.

Against all odds, we found and photographed the birds. At a later date I hope to post the photos and many others, and perhaps give more details about the adventure, but for now I feel I am writing on borrowed time.

The day we left, Robin became very sick exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Pumping her with Advil and NyQuil, we got her home. She’s so bad, we will be making a rare visit to the doctor. Also this morning, my brother reported he, too, has what is, very likely now, the flu. This means it is probable that I too will suffer the same very soon. I'm already feeling a bit weak.

So while I would like to report that our trip to witness the spring migration, the rebirth of spring, and the success of our Hooping Quest was spiritually rejuvenating, (which it was) and that House Sullivan is up and running again, we are not. We remained in an illness inflicted limbo.

I hope you will bear with us and be patient.

Some winters take longer to shed than others.


  1. Just remember, especially at times like this, when you expect nothing from the world, everything is a wonder and every moment a gift. Craig

    1. Wise words...wonder who said that originally ;-). Seriously, though thanks for your kind words.

  2. Hello Michael,

    you're asking us to bear with you and be patient - but you owe us nothing.

    You've given us so much through your books, we owe *you*.

    So, please take your time, grieve for your mother, get well again and then, if and when you feel like it, we'll still be "here" for you.

    Best regards, Wulf

    1. Thanks Wulf,
      It's great being back at the keyboard. I missed it a great deal.

  3. Glad to hear that your birding expedition was a success, but sorry to hear about getting sick! Get well soon!


  4. Hope is the thing with feathers...

    Rest and recuperate. I'll be here as will many others I am certain.

  5. I lost my mother in December after a sudden decline. My deepest sympathies for your loss. It sounds like she was an amazing woman. I hope the plague soon passes and you all recover quickly. We'll all still be here, waiting patiently. It's not like you're going all Patrick Rothfuss on us. ;-)

    1. So sorry to hear about your own loss, and thank you for the kind words. You are correct, when life throws me some lemons it might mean the delay of a few months, but it'll not reach the level of other book delays.

  6. So sorry for your loss, Michael. Do your best to be well and celebrate a life well lived. Your community isn't going anywhere.

    - Don

  7. Michael, I'd been wondering about you and your mom and brother, and Robin, as she flew up to help. I'm so sorry that you've all been down with the flu, in addition to dealing with the loss of your mom. She sounds like an amazing woman. But what a blessing the trip was, especially at this difficult time! Hope you are all up and about soon. My condolences and prayers are with you.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. When Robin drove up to Michigan she expected nothing more than a few days of "logistics" to help my brother out. Obviously, it went much differently and we are grateful that she was there to help him and mom through the process. We didn't know if we were looking at hours, weeks, or months, and we're glad it came sooner rather than later. Mom had no pain and had her family around her. Good things all.

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