Michael Friedman: November 18, 1942 – September 5, 2014

October 7th, 2014

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Michael made me feel secure in Lund when I felt most exposed.  There was something about his domineering figure, his booming voice, his grandiose self-confidence and his awe-inspiring talents as artist, writer and chef that made me feel protected, as if by the big brother I never had. Even when he told tales of disappointment in love or family or career or business–with a puzzled shrug of the shoulders and lift of the eyebrows–his presence seemed sheltering. Never mind that he rarely showed interest in what I was up to, either at home or abroad.

Perhaps I placed trust in Michael because we arrived in Lund at nearly the same time as refugee idealists groping for space to rebuild the world in accordance with our own fantasies, each of us in flight from the world of friends and family back home, but still longing for their admiration. Perhaps it was that the large tracts of land we owned (or rather owed) shared a corner in common, and that we were both concerned with property lines and subdivision potentials along with goat milk and chicken egg yields. Or that our two first children, Jonah and Josh, lived within a half hour’s walking distance and were best friends. Perhaps it was that we were both products of a strong liberal arts education that we expected to put to work in the bush, or that we self-identified as non-observant atheist Jews. Read the rest of this entry »

Steve Ervington: Sept. 29, 1944 – Aug. 21, 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 – August 9 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.