Just how big the evergreen tree was, Janet Stein couldn't tell for sure. What she did see, though, was her mischievous son, Adam, climbing it.
It was Monday night and the Stein family household just south of New Trier had filled up with Adam's friends and with the Steins' family. Adam had died tragically early Sunday and everyone gathered to keep the Steins company and to talk about Adam.
It was then Janet saw the video of Adam, on an annual snowmobiling trip to Wyoming, scaling that tree. As he advanced up the tree branch by branch, he was encouraged by his friends to keep going. He did just that, reaching the top of the enormous tree. The video then shows Adam as he tries to figure out how to get down. He chose the quickest way possible.
He pushed off the tree, let go and fell into a big pile of snow.
That was her boy.
"It looked like an awful big tree," Janet Stein said. "That was Adam. He lived life to the fullest. He always said when he went on those trips, 'Mom, don't worry about me. If I die, I'll die having fun."
Unfortunately for the Steins, that's exactly what happened early Sunday. Adam had attended a cousin's wedding in Northfield, then had his father drive him to Hastings so he could hang out with friends and soak up some Rivertown Days fun. He wanted to be responsible and not drive. He told his parents that he would either catch a ride home with a friend or he'd spend the night at a friend's place.
He went to a tent dance here and reconnected with old friends.
"Everyone who saw him that night said he was having a wonderful time," Janet Stein said. "All of them had nice conversations with him. He was being Adam, just being a social butterfly."
Later, Adam chose to begin walking home to his parent's house. They live two miles south of New Trier, so the walk would have covered more than 13 miles. He made it about six miles before being struck while walking in the lane of traffic. It was about 4:30 a.m.
"I guess he chose to walk home that night," Janet Stein said. "We don't know why. He could have called us. We would have picked him up in a heartbeat. He probably just didn't want to do that."
The Stein home has been a busy place this week. Friends of Adam who had been working in the Dakotas, or in Iowa, all drove back immediately upon hearing the news. They came to Randy and Janet Stein's home to share their favorite stories of Adam and to comfort the family, including Adam's brother Aaron and sister Amanda.
"As fast as his friends could get here, they got here," Janet Stein said. "They came from the Dakotas. Iowa. That kind of tells you what kind of guy he was. His friends are awesome. Not just his friends - our friends, everyone who has come."
Those friends have kept the mood as light-hearted as possible, telling the Steins about all the crazy things their son would do to get a laugh.
"Him and his friends did some crazy little things," Janet Stein said.
Adam apparently would break into song, or dance, on a moment's notice.
Sunday afternoons in the fall and the winter were big for the Steins. All of Adam's friends would come to their house to watch the Vikings play. Adam had a tradition for everyone that included going into the lawn at halftime to play a pick-up game of football. Janet Stein said that those friends are planning to come to her home this fall for the first game to watch the game with the family and play catch at halftime. Gestures like that have meant a lot to her and her husband, she said.
Adam went to elementary school at the private Catholic school in New Trier, then attended Cannon Falls High School. He graduated from there in 2006. He was working in construction.
He enjoyed building demolition derby trucks and competing in demolition derbies. He often competed at the county fair derbies in Cannon Falls and Farmington.
Trips like the annual venture west to snowmobile in Wyoming were highlights, as was his first trip this year to Mudfest near Motley. He bought a mudding truck and drove out there for the weekend.
When it came time to work instead of play, Adam rolled up his sleeves, his mother said. When a major storm rolled through New Trier in July 2008, family members nearby had homes and farms badly damaged by the storm. Adam took time off from work to help out.
"He had a big smile and a big heart," Janet Stein said. "He was always willing to help others and to help his friends. He was a good friend and a good son and a good grandson."