Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Good Friends are Hard to Come By

I first met Rich 15 to 16 years ago. He casually wandered into my shop to purchase some items to go fly-fishing. We hit it off the very first time. Hard not to given his infectious personality and enthusiasm for fly-fishing. Over time it was his passion for fly-fishing and the solace he sought in the outdoors that cemented our friendship. In this chaotic frenetic world in which we live, rivers and fishing were his sanctuaries. There he seemed to be most comfortable.

Since that meeting Rich and I have shared many days on the water that rarely went without an insightful streamside conversation. Two days before he passed away we had lunch. We talked of the rivers we were planning to fish this upcoming year. Although he was going through difficult times, which also occupied a portion of our conversation, it was always dialog that centered around fly- fishing that would balance his life’s challenges.

To the end Rich rarely confided in others. It had only been over the past several years that he had begun to open up some, but at best those windows were brief and unrevealing. For those that knew him he had been struggling with his health to the point of great personal frustration and discomfort, yet he rarely let on.

For a time his health prevented him from participating in those activities he loved. Only on rare occasions did he feel well enough to fish. Even though I tried as did others, he would seldom partake mostly not wanting to burden or be a distraction from that which we enjoyed. That was typical of him, not wanting to burden others.

Even though we still spent a great deal of time together over the past several years, I greatly missed his streamside absence. Our trips and travels regardless of timeframe always bore merit. Although since meeting we had ventured to many waters we were just arriving at a stage in our life’s where it was wade the waters of the west with more frequency. Selfishly our days on the water were as healing for me as they were for him. Looking back I wish I’d been more persistent in my efforts to get him out, even if it was to just sit on the bank of one of his favorite rivers to simply watch the world go by.

He’d recently gone through a second bypass operation that for the first time had shed some new light and optimism on his life. Shortly after this, we travel to the Green. It had been a while since we’d been able to fish together. Although brief we were both excited about the opportunity. We caught a few nice fish that day but, it wasn’t the catching of the rivers beautiful trout that was important, it was those moments in-between where we’d find a good rock to sit and watch eagles soaring overhead, relaxed and forgetful about the our often chaotic lives.

Over time Rich had become my fishing partner, mentor, and one of my best friends. Given recent turn of events I was looking forward with great anticipation to the year ahead. For the first time in years he was feeling strong enough to travel and again wade the rivers we loved so much. For now that will have to wait. Dam you!

With his passing one of my regrets is that I never took the time to fish his favorite waters, Buffalo Ford on the Yellowstone River. Whenever he fish there he’d call me to inform me of his experience. For him the Yellowstone country was not just a place to fly-fish, but a spiritual place. He’d tell me of the trout he’d caught, especially the ones that got away, and of all the amazing wildlife he would see.

I remember one event in particular that he told me of, where late under a dark sky brilliant with stars he sat alone with one of his amazing drums and drew in a pack of coyotes, their cries so close he could barely hear the deep rhythm of his native instrument. For all of his accomplishments in life, and there are many, this one is one of his fondest. We talked of it many times for there was magic in this moment. Often on our treks we’d sit up late and try to replicate this feat, however never with success.

Rich’s passions for the outdoors recently immersed him in an effort to preserve a parcel of Utah’s Green River from being developed. Many of you are aware of this issue. On May 11 this critical portion of the Green River corridor was sold to the Division of Wildlife Resources to be preserved and protected forever. I was in Florida, when the controversial transaction took place. Although, there were a number of individuals involved in this effort, it was Rich’s persistence, ethics, and professionalism that lead to this successful outcome and he alone. He never took credit for any of his contributions. He was humble in these efforts and passed praise unto those less deserving. Such was always his nature.

By accounts I was the last person Rich called.

Several hours after we’d hung up he took his life. Over his last few days he’d contacted many of his friends and family. Not a one of us suspected anything unusual, his efforts to not burden us with his suffering masked to the end. I’ve spent sleepless hours going over that last call. Even as I write I’ve paused to reflect on our final conversation.

In a selfish way I’m pissed knowing that we’ll never sit in the tall grasses on the banks of the Henry’s Fork again or float the Green together sharing a bag of lemon cookies as we always did and that I never took the time to fish Buffalo Fork or sit under the stars there in hopes of enticing the coyotes to join us in song. Dam you!

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