Honestly, I'm having a bit of trouble mustering much concern over what you'll do in the woods this week.
Don't get me wrong—I like you, in an abstract way, and I think it's great that you're into being outside. It's just that this week my primary activity, both indoors and out, will be mourning.
Last week, the planet and everyone upon it suffered a great loss. Last Thursday the ocean stole away a noble soul. The frigid water brought an early end to a life spent helping people, finding less destructive ways to live and promoting fairness and peace. Last week, my friend Brian "Frog" Gharst was taken behind the veil, to a place from which we're forbidden.
I miss you as I would my own fingers, Frog, and this week I'm going to need all the subtle power of the wild to begin to heal.
Thank you for all you taught me. Thank you for your bravery in the face of being outnumbered, for your dedication to doing a job the right way despite all the annoying steps, and for your commitment to creating a better world for everyone. I was fortunate to watch over the years as you sought to refine your craft and your existence, as a constant branching brought forth the teacher, the frame builder, the street activist, the rickshaw driver, the dear friend.
There are so many stories I'd share. Like the time you defended a kid you'd never met before from their physically abusive parent. And the way you stayed with them until the police arrived. And the way you refused to leave when the cop tried to push you from the scene.
This is an outdoor column, so let's talk about your relationship with the natural world. I met you after you'd wandered into the Buffalo Field Campaign, and I saw you engage the forces of destruction from the Bitterroot National Forest to the California coast and beyond. Your long travels by bicycle inspired me to take up the habit, and the six-person Port Townsend-to-Missoula "Tour de Struction" ride awoke me to the joy of the long, quiet road.
Here in Missoula, you worked tirelessly with Free Cycles to make sure everyone had access to transportation. You built a cart that allowed a paraplegic man to enjoy sylvan trails, you nurtured abundant gardens to feed your friends and you bolstered our courage at every Critical Mass. From welding bike license plates with school kids to shooting bagels at them from a giant trailer-mounted slingshot, your huge heart and your joy at our common condition drew us all toward you.
I don't have the words to successfully say farewell. I'll probably work on that for a long time. With this tribute, I simply want to remind the people you knew of their great ally, to introduce those who weren't lucky enough to meet you and to put your antagonists on alert, as your spirit is still with us, and it's stronger than ever.
As Mother Jones said, "Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living," which is about the best transition I can come up with. In memory of Frog, I'll share some ways you can work this week to support wild lands and wild people:
The Missoula Food Bank benefits when you take part in—or just watch once you've dropped off your donation/canned food—the Blackfoot River Challenge, a three-day blend of clinics and races that begins at 6 PM on Fri., June 19. Head to trailheadmontana.net and follow the links.
You can help expand wilderness protection when you join the Wilderness Institute on one of nine mapping and monitoring trips into the Sapphire and Blue Joint Wilderness Study Areas this summer. Grab more info, and sign up for trip fast, when you visit www.cfc.umt.edu/wi.
Another group that makes no bones about fighting like hell is the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation. They also lead trips into the woods for the purpose of protecting them, and their website sports a long list of trips you can jump in on to lend a hand: Visit bmwf.org.
It would appear we've no want for wilderness protection groups, but considering the enormity of their challenge, we could probably use double as many again. The Great Burn Study Group, which is dedicated to securing wilderness designation for that area, currently seeks two lovers o' the wild for employment this summer. The gig involves an "integrated pest management strategy," so if you're not cool with herbicide spraying on public lands, this ain't your bag. For the rest of you, your resume, references and cover letter will make Beverly overjoyed, so send them to email@example.com.
And finally, for all the anarchists out there, I encourage you to take the land into your own hands this week. Weed a community garden bed, take a kid with little going on for a hike in the hills, ride your bicycle armada through downtown on a gorgeously sunny Saturday or spend a few hours tossing a line out into the Bitterroot.
Chances are, Frog'll be around there somewhere, grinning at you from behind that big red beard of his.