Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I received a letter from Greg, Russell Towle's son last week with the shocking news that Russell had died in a car accident on I80. Since then, I, and many others have been struggling to make sense of the loss. Others who knew Russell better than I have described his many talents and contributions to the Dutch Flat area. I won't attempt to improve on these except to say that he was indeed a gifted Hiker, Geologist, Environmentalist, Mathematician, and Craftsman. These descriptions seem inadequate to me somehow though: they imply fragmentation where there was gestalt.

So how did I know Russell? My parents bought a small plot of land in Alta in the early eighties, upon which we built a small cabin. Although the cabin was small, the lack of power tools made building it a laborious task, and I welcomed any visitors who could distract my parents from the task at hand. Russell visited us several times, having been introduced to us by our long time family friends the Woodhouses, and I always came away with some new knowledge about the area.

The first time he visited, he recoiled at the fact that we were in the process of dispatching a shrubby looking evergreen which had been blocking our trail. It turned out to be a Pacific Yew, which was becoming scarce in the region. Of course, the Yew, beyond its utility in bow making has also turned out to yield a powerful chemotherapeutic called Taxol.

On a subsequent visit, Russell took me gold panning in our little creek and explained what kinds of features in the river bed might catch suspended gold. To this day, I remember the exact part of the bedrock where we moved a large river stone, filled the pan with sand, and a few minutes later were left with a few fluttering flakes of gold.

Russell also led us all on wonderful hikes, some of which have become family favorites that I have walked countless times in the years that followed. The trails to Salmon lake and Smart's Crossing are perfect examples of this, and we will hopefully be doing some of Russell's more ambitious hikes (from his wonderful blog) in the coming years.

I only realize it now that he is gone, but just knowing that a person of Russell's erudition, integrity, sense of stewardship and generosity was up there on Moody Ridge was a very comforting thought. It is heartbreaking to know that he is no longer with us.

Max Nanao
August 19, 2008

1 comment:

Karen said...

Dear Max,
I wept as I read your letter, but I thank you for bringing more of Russell back with your sharing. Karen (sister) http://russelltowle.blogspot.com