By Ellen Foley Special To Channel 3000
BAYFIELD, Wis. -- Bayfield is a two-by-two town.
My husband Tom and I visited there on a whim recently and rented a place just off the main street. We had a porch from which we could watch fellow tourists, some who had just jumped off motorcycles or others who had elegantly slipped from their Porches, as they walked hand-in-hand to the restaurants a block away.
Many of the merry travelers stopped to smell the flowers in the yard-sized garden along the sidewalk in front of our place. No matter how gruff or mismatched they looked, the couples cooed at the rose bushes, orange and yellow day lilies, giant black-eyed Susans and lush green grasses shooting out of the ground like fountains.
When we planned this trip, we had thought we were going to another version of Door County. Instead of Illinois tourists, we would see Minneapolitans. Instead of goats on roofs, we would see a great blues singer named Ruthie Foster under the Big Top.
What was most distinctive about Bayfield were the lollygagging sweethearts walking slowly down the streets, taking in the sites, barely talking but clearly enjoying the views in tandem.
While Door County may be a haven for families, Bayfield felt like a place for a second honeymoon or perhaps a place to "smell the flowers." We felt protected by the eerie quiet of the Apostles Islands on the horizon, standing sentinel to the anger of Lake Superior's renowned storms.
For us, Bayfield was a moment of welcome self-reflection and a reminder of our affection for each other after 27 years of marriage and Tom's near-death, brutal 3 ½-year battle with brain cancer.
Just before we left on the trip, we attended a reception for the University of Wisconsin's Carbone Cancer Center, the place that saved Tom's life and an organization that needs a lot of money and support to keep going as one of the few highest-rated cancer treatment facilities in the nation.
The top doc reported that research indicated a strong link between living life in a mindful way and keeping the immune system strong, a particular concern for patients like Tom who have had a blood cancer, lymphoma. This research started with a grant from Forward Lymphoma, a Madison-based support group for blood cancer research led by our friend, Ron Skoronski.
Heading off to the Northwoods seemed to be a good way to renew our commitment to living mindfully, also known as day-by-day living, and prepare for the next important scan, Aug. 10.
Tom is just coming out of the "scary time" when his cancer statistically could return at any moment. A strong immune system has been especially important these past few months when job pressures have had us in their grip. Surviving cancer is always on our minds. So is "living cured," a phrase our doctors use with us now that Tom is in remission that we hope lasts many years.
I told Tom that Bayfield reminded me of Ireland, particularly of Dingle, the ferociously stark barrier between the churning Atlantic Ocean and Ireland's western coast. My relatives reportedly left that place and a set of islands called the Blaskets to seek opportunity in the United States more than 100 years ago. It is, like many immigrant stories, a powerful tale of survival and we took great strength from that trip and our ancient roots. Like Dingle, Bayfield held ancient stories of overcoming great odds and I wanted to connect with that.
The link to Ireland was strongest as we took in the breathtaking views of the Chequamegon Bay from the Apostle Highlands Golf Club. Sailboats bobbed in he bright blue water divided by green islands the size of gigantic barges. Wildflowers lined the fairways. The breeze brought cool and welcome relief on a hot summer day.
Tom is happiest on a golf course so our stay involved several trips there.
On a particularly stunning day, on a hill above the bay and with the islands as seductive as Dingle, Tom thrust his golf club straight up toward the clouds and yelled to no one in particular: "I AM ALIVE!"
I looked to the glinting waters of the bay as inspiration for survival just as we had at misty Dingle Bay. It occurred to me what is good for the soul may indeed also be good for the immune system.
Like so many unspoken truths shared two-by-two in a long marriage, we didn?t talk about Tom's survival song on the fairway during the six-hour car trip back to Madison. We are, however, holding hands a lot more often. And, at least for me, the vision of open water will always be fresh in my mind's eye.
Ellen Foley is a Madison area writer and communications consultant. © Copyright Ellen Foley 2011