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Lions Roar : March 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2013 36 artists to talk about the finer values of life to our hardscrabble, alcohol-fueled community, a place the ice had left so recently that the stones still seemed cold from the leave-taking. And Scott did bring the writers and artists in. He wanted to keep things the way they were, but he couldn’t help but see places where—if he shoved hard, as if straining against a boulder to position in his stone wall—there might be room for a touch of improvement. I had two daughters, and Scott and his wife, Sherrie, had two daughters. We moved into the future not so much side by side, but staggered. In sight of one another. He wanted to be a writer—wanted to create, to replicate perfect worlds that neatly imitated this perfect one he had found. But sometimes I had the sense that the long-ago muck from Houma had dried around his ankles in such a way that the last residue of it might never fully wash away, no matter how robustly he postholed through the deep snow on winter ski trips, no mat- ter how many times he bathed in the falls. Scott fell into the Yaak River once. He was leaning out over the wooden bridge below the West Fork Falls, as if seeking a fountain of youth—and maybe, for a while, finding it. But he was wearing a heavy pack and, top heavy, he peered over a little too far and pitched forward, freefalling into space, with the shallow, stone- studded braid of the river some twenty feet below. What else to do but go with it? He gave himself over to the falling, leaned even farther forward, astronaut-in-the-forest now, and allowed himself, despite no acrobatic training, to rotate two full times—his life depended on it. Then, as he was cartwheel- ing, he grabbed the rushing-by leafy fronds of a green alder and held on for dearest life. The alder bowed all the way down with him, as if spring-loaded, leaves shredding as he plunged toward the stones, but the green living whip of it slowed him down with each microsecond he hung in there. He could feel the miracle happening, and in the end it was perfect. As gently as a ballerina on a bungee, the C-shaped arc of the alder lowered him onto a dry stone mid-river—the shower of those green sunlit leaves still drifting down atop him as if in a parade. A hermit thrush called somewhere in the old forest. Scott looked around. No audience, only God. What to do?—what else to do?—but gently, daintily, release the whipcord of his salvation to spring wildly back up into the canopy with a whistling sound. More leaves tumbled slowly and landed in the trickling shallows before spinning lazily down- stream, while Scott stood there balanced on his rock, young and strong and damned lucky. And saved, for now. THE HARSH CHILDREN in Houma and the ruffians in Pittsburgh were nothing compared to what Scott found up here in Yaak Valley. Everyone, or almost everyone—save for me and a couple of others—was anti-government, anti-wilderness, anti- peace, anti-flowers. It was the era of the Oklahoma City bomb- ing and Waco and the shootout at Ruby Ridge, just across the border in Idaho, and also the federal building attack in Spokane a few hours away. It was a strange, twenty-year segment of our nation’s history, like a dark blemish in a long strand of DNA. I have to confess something now: it was my stories about the beauty of this place that pulled Scott west. Just as I had done, he and his girlfriend left their old life and drifted here. But I’d arrived without a road map; I’d just set out one summer on the longest day of the year. He, on the other hand, had had a road map. I’d led him into paradise. The old Atlantis was long submerged, yet here was a place where the foundation could be built anew. Even here, a billion years ago, there had once been an ocean, but it was long gone now, and we ran and played in the mountains as if it had never been, or as if we had left the swampland and entered a dream. Like me, Scott became an environmental activist. He went down to the bars in the long summer evenings, and the loggers didn’t like that he liked me. He was always getting in fights, defending my good name We have fought many amazing battles. We haven’t really won any yet, but neither have we lost any. It’s been a pain in the ass, but I’m here to tell you it’s been glorious. Opposite: Horses graze in the fields at the Fix Ranch, which the author and his wife once called home. Scott (left) and Rick