Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Trail Crew Dan

Yesterday one of my trail crew buddies from the distant past took a different trail,left the world a smaller and less vibrant place.

I'll always remember him as Trail Crew Dan, although he moved on from our trail days to do other things. I'll never forget sprinting after him, laden down with the cross cut saw and a shovel, determined to stay on his heels. After a creek crossing he turned to me in amazement. "I didn't think you'd be able to keep up with me," he said. I also remember days of playing Hearts, and  his admonishment, "No table talking!" when one of us let slip a remark about our cards.

I had a trail crush on Dan, like I did with all the trail crew guys, but it wasn't a I-want-to-date him kind of crush. It was more a mixture of admiring and respect, because like all the others Dan seemed more alive than most of the rest of the world. He wore a hat that could have been characterized as cowboy, but it worked. He wasn't afraid to talk philosophy on a fireline. Nothing fazed Dan,

Except, melanoma. I wonder when it began; maybe all those high elevation days as we swung pulaskis and shoveled out waterbars with little regard for sunscreen? Dan was an outdoors kind of guy. We never really thought about it much, that the sun we loved could also kill us. But there are other causes too, some genetic, some strange uneasy environmental cause we don't know much about, or just random bad luck.

I didn't keep up with Dan after I left those mountains, but I heard about him, that he married and had kids. I remember when he and his wife first met, saw her hiking in to meet him on the crew. To me, who only had an occasional, ephemeral boyfriend, it seemed like he had taken some giant adult step away from us.

As he has now. I heard about his death in  an airport, impossibly loud, impossibly crowded, and I blinked away the tears. How could our strong, invincible crew be broken? I know it's unrealistic to think that it won't; but Dan, how could  it be Dan, who owned an organic farm? It just isn't fair, like it wasn't with Ken, two years ago, who skied the tall peaks better than any of us ever could. Why not the bad people in the world, the ones who maybe deserved it?

It's not my loss. I wasn't there to see Dan all the years after our time in the mountains. He didn't come to our occasional reunions. But it's still a punch to the heart, because we all shared something wild and real, twenty-somethings doing work we thought of as important and big. Those people were my family, a tribe who understood seasonal work and migration and aching muscles.

Whenever Dan and I faced each other on either end of a misery whip, I knew it would be hard. He was so much stronger than I was, and when there is that imbalance, one person is tempted to push hard  towards the  other, less strong partner. I had been there before, with strong guys determined to prove something. Instead what you want to do is let them pull the saw toward them, but give a slight push as well. It's a delicate balance, a sweet dance, to make the cross cut saw sing. Dan and I could do it. Dan had the patience. Dan had all the time in the world.

Hike on, Dan. I'd be your partner on a misery whip anytime.




16 comments:

  1. Well said Mary. So so sad. I really wished I had kept in touch with Dan over the years. He would always be up for hike after a long day of hard work or encourage a "shortcut" back to camp. Even though it was cut short he had a remarkably full life and was an inspiration to many. --dm

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    1. I remember hearing about those shortcuts.

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  2. Sorry for the loss of your friend.

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    1. I hesitated to post this because we really hadn't stayed in touch; I wouldn't call us friends. But his death touched me more than I thought it would.

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  3. I hate that cancer never plays fair. Sorry for your loss.

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    1. Cancer sux, like I said it's not my loss, but I feel so badly for his friends and family.

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  5. Ohhh, I'm so sorry. A much younger friend has just been diagnosed with myeloma, which she has determined to call "My Lemons." I hope there is some way Dan's family can have your lovely memory.

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    1. His family is pretty private and I dont really want to reveal too much or to share with them, just wanted to write about what I felt about this.

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  6. Thank you Mary - you captured those sweet days and Trail Crew Dan so poignantly. It's still sinking in but I'm quite sure that he will always walk those trails with us.

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  7. Your poignant words let those of us who never met him know that there was a special person out there on the trail and in the world.

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    1. There was, just seeing all the different people who wrote in to his go fund me site ((which a friend set up, I don't think his family would have) it was amazing to see all the different things he did that touched people.

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  8. Sorry Mary! Even though you two had gone your separate ways it still pulls at the hearth strings. I think your writing helps you to heal your heart. Thank you for sharing a little bit about your Trail Crew days with us. Yes, Cancer sucks!

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    1. I don't think you ever really forget some people. Thanks Kim!

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  9. Hi Mary, this is Dan's wife, Carol. Thank you for the wonderful remembrance. Dan absolutely loved and cherished his trail crew days and everyone who shared them with him. He always yearned for those carefree and invigorating summers. They were a huge part of who he was, and how he lived and approached life. I would gladly read any more stories, you don't have to keep them general or too private. I just want to hear more of the stories that Dan used to tell that we never wrote down or recorded. Thanks again, Carol

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