Steve Ervington (1944-2014)

September 12th, 2014

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One of my strongest memories of Steve was his performance as Lomov opposite Frankie Rogers playing Natalia Stepanovna in Anton Chekov’s one act play, “The Marriage Proposal,” staged by the Lund Theatre Troupe in 1976. His portrayal of the gawky hypochondriac landowner suffering “palpitations”–first of nervousness and then of rage– remains the funniest comedy I’ve ever seen. Thirty-five years later, I can still taste the tears of laughter it set flowing at every rehearsal and performance.  That character’s awkwardness and hysteria perfectly offset Steve’s easy grace and cheerful equilibrium.

According to Peter B., Steve often said, it wasn’t about what you make or do, it was about what you are.  Steve never said that to me, but what he did say on several occasions was that he knew I was an achiever and he wasn’t.  In fact he was a major achiever—as an artist, a designer, an actor, a builder, a social worker—though his achievements never gained the professional public recognition they might have. It was his respect combined with his affection that made me feel so good.

Celebrations of Life are about loss and compensation.  The hole left by the person’s departure takes on a distinct shape that remains with us, one more firm and positive than that of many who are still living—people we’ve lost touch with because of distance and circumstance, people close by who we were hurt by or tired of.  Our connection with them awaits such memorials to be rekindled.

With Steve it was different. My grief is not about a past memory but a for a lost presence and a foreclosed future. It was his being here that helped draw me to Lund every year. It was his participation that helped motivate me to join in group adventures like climbing on the South Powell Divide, kayaking in the Broughtons, hiking the West Coast Trail and the Grand Canyon, and canoeing on the Yukon and Green Rivers. It was the expectation of his quirky and amiable company that I anticipated making it fun to grow old.

My last encounter with Steve was in his and Juliet’s house on August 7.  I held his hand and said, “Tomorrow I’m heading back to California.”

“Take me with you,” he whispered, then faintly chuckled.

For a moment, I was at a loss.  Then came the words: “I will.”

And then it dawned on me what they meant:  “I will…everywhere that I go.”





Dusty Davis 1976-2014

August 22nd, 2014

 I met Dusty in Spring 2001.  He was a student in my English class at Cal Poly, “Ecoliterature: Reading and Writing the Landscape.” Though he looked no older than the others, it was clear from his quiet yet confident demeanor that he was a “mature student.” Our distant but warm friendship began when he took up my weekly invitation to extend our Thursday afternoon class hikes with a sleepout somewhere on Cal Poly Land. We wandered above the railroad tracks and discovered a fawn left sleeping in the tall grass by its mother, a bubbling spring, and a patch of rare Mariposa Lilies.


Another Thursday we camped above Stenner Canyon and the next morning found our way down Dairy Creek and crossed fences to get back to Poly in time for 9 AM classes. He was wonderful company, easy to talk to, easy to be quiet with, open to adventure.

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At the end of the quarter I asked each student to submit one piece of work they’d completed for inclusion in a class anthology.  I was planning to copy and paste them into a crude Word document and pass out duplicated copies, but Dusty volunteered to do a real graphic layout and then insisted on hand-sewing and binding 40 copies in order to learn and practice those skills. I remember him staying up till the small hours to complete the job, along with Elena whom he’d recruited to help, and the gasps of wonder when these unique artifacts were distributed to his classmates at the final exam.


Dusty liked exploration, literary as well as physical, and I admired his discipline and talent.  The following year he joined another class hike and campout, again crossing fences, and this time taking refuge overnight from a downpour in a neighbor’s antique barn.



A couple of years later, I was thrilled at the art installation Dusty created in the space of the Kennedy Library atrium by hanging dozens of green apples on fifty-foot lengths of nylon fishline, each swaying delicately and glinting in the sun. I enjoyed his large oil canvases, his eye-popping photographs and his vivid descriptions of the people, places and food he encountered on the long motorcycle voyages he chronicled in his blog,

Dusty, the adventurer and artist was balanced by Dusty the deliberate perfectionist and long-term planner. When he decided upon graduation to pursue the career of web designer, I wasn’t surprised that he was hired by one of the most prestigious firms in town, nor when he gave up that job to work with a thriving local e-commerce company in order to learn some of the technical and commercial skills required to create his own business–sans MBA. I remember the courage he summoned to finally take the leap and his excitement at finding the gorgeous building on Chorro Street at an affordable rent for the headquarters of Fertile Minds.

I had the privilege of working with Dusty on several more projects.  He designed beautiful invitations for a benefit for the Sierra Club.

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He worked with me and Jan Marx to create websites for several of her political campaigns, including her present re-election bid.


And when I decided to start my own blog after retiring from teaching, I welcomed the occasion to ask Dusty to design it.


The appearance and functionality of all these creations remain  as apt representations of the way I remember Dusty’s character: composed, elegant and clear.

Belize Expedition–Conclusion

May 3rd, 2014

Next morning is for departures.  As we cook coffee and oatmeal at our campsite, Ismael the volleyball coach,  guide, drummer and singer is solemnly raking the sand of the whole island compound.  He’s transformed the ceremonial space of last night’s fire and chanting to a clean white carpet. I ask him about the chants and he tells me that Garifuna compose songs for everything, fishing, cooking, loss of love, sadness—all come from the soul.

We will be taken by motor boat back to Dangriga to retrieve our stashed belongings and stand together for the last time.


From there Joe and I will go to the interior to spend two nights at Mommaloots, an ecoresort in the jungle where we encounter more fascinating people and memorable sights.  Peter, John, Lionel, Andy and Eban will remain in Belize for several more days, enjoying new adventures.

On the flight back to Houston I have a short conversation with a young man hardly 30 sitting next to me who’s just downed two little bottles of vodka purchased from the attendant. He’s returning from a five-day trip during which he bought a lot near the beach in a resort subdivision outside of Belize City for $230,000 USD. It’s an investment for his retirement, secure, he says, because of the way the place is growing. “Maybe,” I say, “though with the way sea level is rising, you never know.” As we fly over the Yucatan coast near Cancun, I ask where he’s from. “Saskatchewan,” he replies, “but right now I’m headed back to work in northern Alberta.”  “Tar sands?” I inquire. “Yep” is the answer.

Belize Expedition–Day 8

May 3rd, 2014

April 19

As I light the Whisperlite stove to brew a second round of morning coffee, Joe calls from where he stands offshore, “Hey Dad, would you bring my fishing gear kit from the tent?” I know from the quiet intensity in his voice that this is serious business.”


I shut down the stove and hustle to do his bidding. His pole is bowed and then a big shining barracuda appears on the end of the line.  He lifts it onto the rocks, carefully grabs its sharp-toothed mouth with his special fish pliers and removes the hook.


The creature thrashes wildly and Joe asks for a club. I cant find one, so he stabs it repeatedly in the head with his fish knife.


By now the whole gang is watching and cheering.


When the desperate gasping in the gills ceases, he carries it across the island to Fidel’s dock for cleaning.


The whole family is out to share the excitement.


Joe scales and guts the fish, but even the serrated portion of his knife wont finish the job.


So Fidel calls for his machete to chop off the tail and head, which his wife will put in a soup.


In return for them he offers to debone and filet the catch, a job completed in two minutes with swift graceful strokes of his short-fingered superpowerful hands.


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We take the prized several-pound filets back to the heavy picnic table we’d moved into our camp and start cooking.  I dig out the nori, powdered wasabi, and ginger I’d brought for this imagined occasion and slice up chunks of sashimi. John fires up one stove and poaches several batches in a thai coconut curry mixture he’s been saving, and Joe chops garlic and lime for braising in the frying pan on another.




Fidel soon joins us to enthusiastically sample the variety of cuisine and join us in another group portrait.

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It’s Easter morning.

After the long breakfast we clean up the campsite and depart, heading south toward tomorrow’s rendezvous point on Billy Hawk Caye with the Island Expeditions boat that will take us back to Dangriga.  We paddle comfortably across more open water and through narrow passages in the mangroves.


After an hour we gather near a beach and campsite where several children are playing.  John is chatting with them when I hear a bright voice with a British accent saying “Welcome. Happy Easter, wouldn’t you like to camp here?”  Out from the trees walks a young woman in bikini top and white skirt that she hitches up as she wades toward Joe and me.  “Hi, my name is Willow,” she declares, “I own this island. Why don’t you come ashore and join us.  We’re just firing up the Barbeque to roast some pork.  There are a bunch of kids coming from the mainland for an Easter Egg hunt.”  I say, “This must be the island of the Sirens,” and catching the reference to the Odyssey, she replies, “They told me not to go into the water on Good Friday or I’ll turn into a mermaid, but I did so anyway.”

At first the men are undecided, but consensus slowly emerges that we should continue on.  I remark that a more suitable incident to recall would be the island of Circe, where the beautiful witch entraps Odysseus and his crew, sleeps with him, and turns the rest into pigs.

Paddling a little further, we pass a blue billed pelican sunning his wings



and a mangrove thick with perching white herons at the tip of  Billy Hawk Caye.


It turns out to be a center for Island Expeditions populated by West Vancouver High School kids on a tour playing an intense game of volleyball with staff members, including Mike and Kimike.  We unpack, set up camp, and eat our picnic lunches.


Then we get back in the kayaks for an afternoon trip to Bread and Butter Caye a few miles south, another reputedly excellent location for snorkeling.

Propelled by a tailwind through a long crossing we land at a newly constructed boat dock.  Again we’re welcomed by Europeans, this time an elegant young couple with German accents, he tall and blond, she in a black shoulderless sarong, both wearing designer sunglasses.

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They apologize for not having any beer available but say we’re free to tie up and explore the beautiful reefs on the western side of the island.  The place is immaculate and artfully appointed.


P4190071.JPG They tell us it belongs  to a Minnesota wheat farmer who is developing it for his descendants and who has invited them to remain there as caretakers, which they decided to do for the next three months, interrupting their trip around the world. Their job is to is take a rowboat to some nearshore shallows, shovel it full of wet coral sand, row it back and  unload it behind rock dams and pilings to reclaim more land.

Knowing that this is the last time I will be snorkeling in Belize adds to the splendor of this final dive in clear water illuminated by the late afternoon sun.







The upwind paddle back to Billy Hawk through choppy water splashing across the bow is strenuous but not tiring–two kayaks and four paddlers moving in unison as if to the beat of a drum.

At the campground we assemble in the outdoor dining room under the second floor dormitory  and exchange tales of glory with Mike and Kimike.  We’re served beer, salsa and chips by two young girls carrying babies on their hips who work with the cook, Jackie, in the small kitchen preparing meals for the tour group.

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She prevails upon us to order fish dinner instead of eating more freeze dried meals, but can only serve us after the kids have finished supper.  So we retire to the bar that’s just opened.  Mike introduces us to his own microbrewed “Bittaz,” a private recipe for a native Carribean medicinal elixir with a slight alcoholic kick and the taste of sweet anise that after a minute modulates to the expected bitterness. It’s Mike’s mission to preserve the traditional Garifuna recipe that’s being threatened by mass production in Belize City.


Suddenly I feel my neck and shoulders in the grip of fingers that push knotted muscles against bone and release little explosions of pleasure.  I had no idea there was tension back there after today’s paddle, but Andy finds and makes good use of it.

Our dinner is served at the tables after the students leave.  It’s deep fried snapper, head and tail included.

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The darkness makes it easier to suck the sweet oily meat right off the bones, and I begin to understand why Fidel was so interested in the parts left out of the filets. Jackie has also prepared a savory spiced rice and a cucumber salad, along with a freshly baked chunk of marble cake that makes me crave a second piece.

After dinner I wander to the end of a long dock on the east side of the island, lean on the railing of a gazebo and gaze wistfully at the bright stars in the moonless sky. Behind me, I hear the sound of drumming. I’m drawn back to a campfire in the middle of the sand, surrounded by the high school kids and their teachers sitting on benches.  The wood seems to burn without being consumed.

The drumming stops and Alex, one of the principals of Island Expeditions tells a story of Garifuna history.  His people, the people of Belize, are descended from the offspring of Carib and Arawak Indians and escaped African slaves. The drum rhythms and dances tell their history and preserve their traditions.  The drumming starts again, led by Ismael, the tall guide with long dredlocks whose grace and intensity playing volleyball I admired earlier in the day.

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He begins to sing a haunting, varied melody in a language that sounds like no other I’ve ever heard. The high school students sit transfixed.  By 9:30 I fade out of the circle and flop down in the tent.

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