So, I’m in the air again today, brother Scott, this time a quick one day turn around to New York City, rebounding home tomorrow. You always told me, especially in those last months and weeks and days, how you envied my travels. My gallivanting to hither and yon, seeing new sights, tasting new foods, experiencing new . . . experiences.
Well, I’ll get into Newark around 3:30, pick up my rental car, then head toward Queens and my Comfort Inn. I’ll find a FedEx Office nearby and print the copies that I need, then seek out a place for dinner with a few craft brews on tap. I’ll bring my Kindle and read a few more chapters of Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies. You’d like this one; it’s a CSI-ish search using the evidence of history to find the origins of cancer. Yeah, the roots of the Big C, that foul slayer of thee. At some point tonight I expect I’ll hoist a pint to you, perhaps coaxing the imbibers around me to join in. “To Scott, my brother. My elder. Gone now two years. Slàinte.”
And I’ll rise at dawn and greet my audience at 8, do my thing until noon, then aim my way back to Newark and home. Good times, eh?
I’m not sure I told you enough, Scott, in those final days, that for all my cities and miles and points and free drinks in first class, I envied you more than you could have ever envied me. I think about it often. Every day, in fact. And because of you — in honor of you — I’ve slowed myself down a bit. Given myself that chance to smell the roses.
Nancy and I were in Arizona for Memorial Day weekend and each evening we walked the 2-mile interpretive trail next door to our hotel. As I stopped at various bushes and stalks and trees, I asked myself, in a sense, what would Scott do? WWSD. So, I pinched a few leaves from the creosote bush, crushed them in my palm, added a splash from my water bottle, then inhaled that distinct fresh scent of the desert after a summer rain. I pricked my finger on the thorns of an ocotillo bush and paused to absorb the unique quiver-thunk call of the red-wing blackbirds swarmed in the cattails along the Gila River’s edge.
Periodically, we’d find descriptive signs identifying the flora species and offering the native Pima or Maricopa word for each. You would have been most intrigued by the desert willow. The native word is A:N. Yeah, I know. A-colon-N. And no, I don’t have a clue how to pronounce it. There’s also an U:MUG. My favorite though is the Four-wing Saltbush. That would be SHA’SHKADK IBADKAM. Its distinctive seeds are each surrounded by four papery “wings”. You surely would have gathered a few up to add to one of your collections.
I was flipping through some photos last night, remembering the phases of your life and their associated adventures. I think back often to the days we spent there at the end, you telling me again your tales. I created the website we talked about, and I’ve posted one story so far: when you drowned — temporarily — going after that grouper off South Pier. A few hundred people have read it, many of them letting me know they’re anxious for more. This weekend I’ll add the Mola mola story, when you and your boat-mates on the Lisa Ann came across the school of 2,000-pound ocean sunfish and you got it in your head that riding one bronco-style would be a kick.
Until I saw the photos, I had forgotten about your bear hunt and being trapped overnight in a tree, not knowing if the bear was alive below you or not. I remember well, though, your hunt for the albino “ghost gobbler” turkey in the hills of Spokane and when one of your “pet” boa constrictors struck you, its pin-teeth circumscribing an oval of mini blood drops around your face from chin to forehead. I recall you telling me that when you regained consciousness on the floor, you were pleased that the snake hadn’t begun consuming you. Yeah, I’d be pleased, too.
There was a new TV show on Discovery or Nat Geo this last year called Swords, all about the swordfish fleet along the Atlantic seaboard. Watching it finally gave me a perspective on what you did for those ten years. Yeah, I saw Perfect Storm and know “George Clooney’s” boat was just like yours, but seeing the day-in day-out grind of stringing and hauling long lines, now I truly understand why your body was so beat up at the end. Respect, my brother. Respect. And you would have loved this other new show, Wicked Tuna. Though you never fished them commercially, I know you brought in your share of those big guys.
Mostly though, Scott, I loved paging through those pictures simply to admire your achievement as a naturalist and nature photographer. What was it about you, man? I mean, I could stand in a forest for a month and the creatures there would never come within a city block of me. You sit on a log and within a few hours deer and squirrels and even weasely weasels are scooting up to eat out of your hand. Nancy and I talked about it a while ago and concluded it came down to your humility, your indefatigable and enduring belief that existing in the natural world is nothing short of a privilege. An honor. A sacred responsibility. And that the animals somehow knew that.
And for that, my brother, I acknowledge and humbly admit that for all my trappings of success and accomplishment, I will always be the lesser man. And I love you all the more for having taught me that lesson. I only wish you were around to teach it to me in person, rather than through our memories of you.
I miss you, Scott. I miss you, my brother. So much more than I ever knew I would.
Yet, on the flip-side, I see you and remember you in every moment I pause in my life to take a look around. To see life for what it really is. Thank you for that.