This is a post that I started writing back in January 2017, but for a reason that I’ll explain at the end of this post, I haven’t posted for most of the last year. So this post is out of date but I decided to finish and post anyway. Try to imagine you are reading this in January 2017.
In recent years, but in especially in 2016 several lives ended that had particular meaning to me.
When I was young, I wasn’t much of an athlete, but the one sport that I became very good at was ice hockey. I started playing and following hockey in the late 1960s. The NHL had expanded from the “original” 6 up to 12 teams and there were six players who stood apart from the rest. Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita of the Chicago Black Hawks were two superstars in their prime, Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito of the Boston Bruins were up and coming superstars. The Detroit Red Wings Gordie Howe and the Montreal Canadians Jean Beliveau were legends, still brilliant players that were approaching the end of their playing careers.
I started out rooting for the New York Rangers who were the home team at that time but as I watched more games, I began to first admire and then root for the Montreal Canadians. The Canadians team captain was Jean Beliveau. Jean was a center who played with what appeared to be effortless grace and polish. I also played center and worked hard enough to improve my game that I knew that it took a lot of effort to develop the skill to play with that polish and grace. As he had for millions of youngsters, Jean Beliveau became my hockey hero and roll model. Yet it was something more than just his brilliant play that cause Jean to be my hero, it was the way everyone spoke or wrote about him, with a tone of reverence.
It took some time to understand that reverence was for Jean Beliveau the person not just Jean Beliveau the hockey star. He was a foundation of the greatest dynasty hockey has ever seen and one of the greatest players of all time but when people were asked about Jean they often first spoke about his decency as a person or how much he was admired before talking about his hockey performance. Shortly after his death, I read he never understood why people looked up to him as they did but that he understood it was a special gift.
As much as I admired Jean Beliveau, there is one hockey player that if pressed I might admit was even better than he was. That player was Gordie Howe. Gordie passed away not long after Jean and it is appropriate that they are linked together now as they were in there playing days. They both became established superstars in the early 1950s before I was born and yet were still great into the 1970s. Both retired from the NHL in 1971 and were immediately voted into the hall of fame. Jean ended his career appropriately by carrying the Stanley Cup around the rink in Chicago after the Canadians had upset first the Boston Bruins and then the Chicago Blackhawks to win the tenth Stanley Cup of his career. I was 15 years old at the time and those playoffs are the fondest memories I have from following professional sports.
Gordie’s Red Wings did not have a good 1971 and finished out of the playoffs. He found a different way to have a storybook ending to his career. In the early 70s a new professional hockey league, the World Hockey Association was formed and Gordie came out of retirement to play alongside his sons, Marty and Mark. They won a WHA championship together and then played together in the NHL after the WHA was merged into the NHL. Gordie was in his 50s by that time but he could still play. Always made me wonder what a force he must have been back in the early 1950s.
I wrote previously about Muhammad Ali. I don’t think there will ever be a sporting event that has all the political and social meaning that his defeat of George Foremen had.
The permaculture world lost two of its greats. Bill Mollison, who founded permaculture and Toby Hemenway, the author of Gaia’s Garden the most popular book on permaculture. I hope that someday their work will be as well-known as the name Muhammad Ali is to most people.
The name Maurice White may not sound familiar, but you are likely familiar with the sounds of Earth Wind and Fire the musical group he founded. Maurice was my music hero.
As much as I admired the people mentioned above, the death that hit me the hardest in 2016 was Jack’s. Jack was a mix breed dog that we adopted back in 2006 when he was about 9 months old, after the passing of our dog Schwinn. Jack was smart, had a sense of fun and something more that is harder to define. He liked everyone around him and brought a calming presence to all the beings around him. He joined our older dog, Harley, in the household. Harley had severe separation anxiety and needed to be put in a cage whenever he was left alone in the house (he would tear at electric wires and so was a danger to himself as well as curtains and furniture), even though he had the company of Schwinn for several years. In Jack’s presence, Harley never experienced another episode of separation anxiety and didn’t need to be cage for the rest of his life. After Harley lived to a ripe old age, we came across Woodrow, a scrawny cowering dog, who spent the first 9 month of his life in constant fear. Woodrow was a project, but Jack was up to the task. For the first few months I had to carry Woody from our house about 150 feet deep into the backyard. Woody would try to run back to house and hide. Jack would herd him to keep him outside. At first, Woody could barely run since he had no muscle. Gradually Woody got distracted enough by Jack’s herding that he forgot to be afraid. They began to play back in the woods. Woody went from a scrawny 47 pounds to a wiry strong 63 pounder, who with his greyhound like build, could run like the wind.
I’ve loved all of the dogs that I’ve had. But I felt Jack to be a kindred spirit. Jack had a few health issues during the years and I had worried that he might not get to die as an old man being held in my loving arms, as our other dogs had. But in 2016 he was bouncing around like pup and I would watch him playing with Woody with a big smile on my face and the thought he would be with us for several more years. On an ordinary Sunday morning I took Jack and Woodrow for a walk along the brook. Jack seemed a bit off on the return from the walk. A trip to emergency Veterinarian found that his body was filling up with fluid, emergency surgery found that a tumor on his kidney had ruptured. There was nothing they could do.
When I think of Jack, I’m reminded to cherish each day, because you never know which might be your last and that lives that touch you each day matter the most, cherish them.
For me the last half of 2016 and all of 2017 was the year of my divorce. For a writer of my limited ability, that was too much of a distraction to complete any of the blogs that I started, so Investing With Nature sat idle. With my daughter (SUNY ESF) and son (high school) both graduating and moving unto the next phase of their lives in 2018, it will be a busy year, but I hope to complete the posts I started and have ideas for many new ones.
This post was a diversion from the normal Investing With Nature topics but if you have any nostalgia for old time hockey these are some of my favorite links: