I wasn’t leaving forever. Or at least I didn’t think so. It was July 28, 1976, and I was at the airport, leaving from Portland Oregon. Final destination.. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the wonderland I had just spent the last year of my 20-year-old life in. Skiing and Hang Gliding. Living in the town of Jackson, working at the Wort Hotel as a Bus girl/hostess at night, and Skiing the Teton Village during the day, and playing my guitar and singing with Paul Hartman, a local musician and turned friend and like a brother. And, after the ski season was over, and I followed David my high school sweetheart, on to Corvallis Oregon, where he would start College at OSU that summer, and we would continue our Hang gliding adventures up and down the West Coast Dunes and Mountain launches.
During my short stay in Oregon I started a small 3 piece band, to play and perform my original songs. After interviewing several musicians who answered my ad I had put in the local music store in Corvallis, two guys John P. and Jim D. showed up to audition. They were both jazz musicians from Chicago and had called themselves “The Pigmy Ponies. I loved the ideas they had to give my songs, so we rehearsed for several days and tried to land a gig in Portland.
My money had dwindled down to almost nothing, and I was getting very thin, something due to my high metabolism. Eating hot dog sandwiches and Mushrooms was starting to get to me too. We were promised to have a performing job in just two months but, I could not wait that long. So I had to make another big decision fast. I had been living away from my home in Huntingdon Valley Pa for a year, spending 3 months of the road crossing the US, with my duffle bag, violin, my mothers 00018, 1949 Martin guitar, crock pot, Acme Vegi juicer, Fender amp, and microphone, not to mention my Fujika 701 35mm and Cannon Super 8 Movie camera, along with film editor and portable Kodak movie projector.
With 3 kites on top, David, Jamey, and I ventured out discovering all there was off route 40 West to fly the Kites, and then up the coast of California, making our way up to Oregon and Washington State. That year had been the highlight of my first trip away from home, and across the US.
Acquiring C passes at the Village in Jackson Hole created a wonderful way to show up daily in the snow, and learn how to ski. Standby on the Tram back then was easy, as pie, because the Village wasn’t overpopulated yet, as it is now. I rarely skied on the weekends, but met people from all over the world while heading up the chair lifts telling me what an incredible mountain this was, and that I was extremely lucky to live there and play for that winter. After all, the Tetons had the steepest and most rugged terrain, not to mention crazy assortments of all types of snow, and conditions. I realized I had entered a University of ski bum knowledge, and I would learn both from teachers and first-hand trial and error, how to navigate down this incredible mountain. With this young and willing body, I was ready to take on the task.
With every run down the mountain, I felt stronger and stronger. I felt also that it was in my DNA since my Father had started me on skis in the backyard when I was a small child. He coming from Bavaria had had to ski to school and so was natural on the boards. I learned to feel at home in the snow, and on the mountain, because of my German Father.
My decision then to leave the West and head back to Pa, after the seasons end in 1976, was all around the fact, I had run out of the money I had saved, and needed to go back to Pa, to reorganize myself while my boyfriend finished college that summer. But, there was a significant reason this decision was so difficult. I would have to borrow the money from my parents, and I would be leaving not just my boyfriend I had just spent four years with, daily living an amazing life on the road, but also leaving my siamese tabby point cat named Salomon. He would have to stay back with David and travel with him in the truck when they would take camping trips while I was gone.
Looking into Davids eyes as I got to the gate at the airport, was the last time I would ever see him again.
My return ‘home” showed me I had grown into another person. Although my family was happy to see me, they were busy with their own lives and I felt a great loneliness sitting in the bedroom I had once grown up in. I felt like Alice in Wonderland in the tiny room that felt as if I would smother in. I became depressed and thought of ways to reach out to David, sending letters, and as he did have a phone, it was expensive to call so we had decided to try not to use the phone. And, after 3 weeks of crying and wondering how I was going to have the money to get back out to Jackson, I found myself dreaming of starting a music store there in town, and I would ask the help of my Father and the Zapf Uncles I had who owned and ran The Zapfs Music Stores in Philadelphia. This gave me a brave new idea, and I was so frantic to call David to tell him the news of this awesome idea, and how this would further our lives together to live in the mountains of the West.
As I was making the call to Corvallis, I found that the phone had been disconnected. I wasn’t sure where to turn at that point. There were a few friends who were still in Jackson and I did have their phone numbers, so I called our friend Kevin, who had taken over the one-room Shack we had lived in the winter before. Kevin knew where David was. He had taken a semester break and driven back to Jackson with Salomon, and another friend. They were camping on the Snake river, just below Phillips Ridge , and planning to Hang Glide off the Range near the Pass.I was a bit frantic to say the least, as the importance of my call would lead me to have to wait for the next day, so that Kevin could drive out to the camp site to relate the message for David to call me asap.
Living with cell phones back then was a luxury we would never know, and we delt with the circumstances accordingly.
That night I cried and realized I had a fever. I felt weak and desperate as I looked out the window in my parents suburban house onto the street where I had grown up. I got up again and called Kevin. It was now dark, and it was too late for Kevin to head out to the site, but he promised me he would head out first thing in the morning.
I waited patiently as I could.I felt weak and exhausted and began wailing all of the night. The next morning it seemed, my fever had broken.
I finally received a call, but this call was not from Kevin. This call was actually from Davids brother Mark who had just come home from college himself. The call was not a good one. He told me he was coming over to my parent’s house to deliver the news. When Mark arrived I was waiting outside on the front lawn anxious to hear, what could have gotten so bad that he couldn’t tell me on the phone? My intuitive self seemed to be fighting the words I was going to be delivered. The wording Mark had maybe been trying to understand himself on his 35 min drive to my parent’s house. I never had any “bad” news directed toward me ever before. I was able to keep myself very composed through the tragedies which had been happening around me, such as my 2 best friends, losing their brothers by suicide, and other reported losses in the neighborhood. It was a time of a generation just coming out of the Vietnam war, and drug overdoses were ramped. But David didn’t go to war, and he was so much into living, discovering himself, and “flying” via Kite or Skiing. There was no shortage of smoking pot either, but that was mild compared to the destructive damaging effects that “hard drugs” were doing to young minds everywhere. Who would never get to feel the adrenaline rush of using their bodies to experience the Joy of living.
At age 20, your dreams are just beginning to form, I saw no reason that God or the heavens would strip away the very hope for a wonderful life that I had been expecting to have all along. But this dream of mine and David, would never be lived out by the two of us. The law of gravity and circumstance decided to show up that day. And Mark stomached up the bravery to deliver to me the news I would never in a million years believe I would hear. Or be alive to hear.
David had crashed off the Range that next day. Jamey had taken off first and landed clearing the mile of trees at the bottom, and David was next. His take-off was fine, yet, as he started his 360’s to descend, he overcompensated and his kite banked severely. The sail inverted, sending him into a dive at 200 feet. It was humanly impossible to pull the kite out of the dive. David had well over 200 flights under his belt. But his crash was so severe as he hit the trees, he died immediately.
“Something hidden. Go and Find it. Go and look behind the Ranges— Something lost behind the Ranges.Lost and waiting for you. Go.”Kipling—-The Explorer
Bringing Salomon and David HomeAnd so just 3 weeks after leaving the West which I had named in my heart as my new home, I was faced with having to bury my plans, my future with David, and the dream of living in the mountains. Seemingly, I felt no one person could ever know what I was going through, nor would they ever feel the depth of my pain with me, and as I could not even see the whole event clearly either, I tumbled into the rabbit hole of anger grief, and disbelief. Why me?
Davids’s parents were beside themselves with shock and despair, from not having seen their young vibrant intelligent son for 1 year, only to have to identify his body after flying to Jackson to retrieve their 20-year-old sons remains and bring them home. Jamey loaded Salomon onto the flight from Jackson airport and brought him home. Davids’s mother, Pearl, held Salomon in her arms and cuddled him so tight. I felt the need to give Salomon to her, as she had no one to hold from this ordeal, and Salomon was a symbol of our free life we lived out on the mountains and hills for that brave and wondrous year. I no longer had a real home, as far as I was concerned, and I wasn’t about to bring him to my parents. He would stay with Davids’s parents and he would be loved greatly there.
And the question came from his parents to me…” did David ever mention anything about how he would want to be buried” What a strange but willing question to ask this young 20-year-old would- have -been -daughter-in-law. I answered, “Yes, he told me he never wanted to be in a casket.”
That was the truth. He had seen our friend’s brother who had shot himself, laying in a casket at a viewing several years before our trip, and told me that night after the viewing..please never let that happen to me, I don’t want to be put into a casket”
And at that moment, Pearl then said, ok, we will have him cremated and spread his ashes on the mountains, I believe he would have wanted it that way. Ok, I replied. Looking at this beautiful loving mother, who had just lost her son she had not seen in a year, and knowing exactly what he would want to have done for his “funeral.” She in my eyes was someone I needed to be close to through this, and she remained my dear friend all the way to her death at the age of 80.
And Salomon the cat lived to the old age of 20.
I flew out of Pa with my sister Sonja, to meet up with Davids’s parents in Jackson, so that we could have the burial. A sense of belonging began to return to me as we landed at Jackson Hole Airport, but it wasn’t long before that sense of belonging began to dismantle my “selfness” as I looked upon all of the sights and listened to the sounds that could only remind me of my time there, and now without David or my dream. How could I ever go on? Seemingly a silly question to ask, as I was being asked to help bury or set free a soul’s memory.
Linda took this picture from the small prop-plane flying into Jackson Hole
Seeing the Ski Village and Rendezvous Mountain was a glorious feeling and I breathed in the fragrance of the day, the mountain air, and my lightheadedness which comes from altitude, which I had come to love to be in.
Skiing daily a 10,000 ft mountain in some of the USA’s largest vertical drop, and uncertain snow conditions, amazing powder, deep bowls, and narrow chutes learning to navigate through trees, with fresh powder dropping on your head as you would make your way, maybe even having the first powder tracks of the day. All this in one year, and it was a great year for snow in Jackson Hole. 1975-76.Looking at the mountain though in early September with this new task, with no snow, Rendezvous appeared as a whole different animal than the one we had had the pleasure of playing on. The boulders and terrain of the mountain showed its more rugged side. Where climbers dared to climb and hikers would lose their footing, and fall to their deaths below. The mountain spoke to me that day, in that it wanted to be honored, and respected. The mountains will always be unpredictable, no matter how prepared we may be, Nature has laws that demand respect, and we must abide by them or we may not get the result we intend. Play. We mostly use mountains to play. There are other reasons, and the challenge of the gifts the mountains can bring to us can be spiritual, Physical, metaphysical or just plain fun. Today though was not going to be fun. Today I would have an experience that would take me into the next stage of my life and beyond.
David’s father Meron was very quiet. As he stood at the bottom of Rendezvous before entering the tram that would take us to the top of the mountain. I couldn’t help but continue my photography. Was that disrespectful? After all, I had been filming every flight David was ever on, except for his death flight. Because I was not there. Was that fever I had had, a sign that he would be leaving the planet? Were the poetry and the songs I was writing all connected to this experience of life over which I seemed to have no control after all?
Pearl pulled a small cardboard box out of the truck. This truck we had taken up and down the West Coast, stopping to camp along amazing forests and rivers, cooking freshly caught salmon on our camp grill while bathing in icy waters of the Northwest Pacific Coast. The box had what was left of this person I once knew but in the form of bone and ash. Pearl then approached me and said, it’s not really legal to do this so we will cover the box with Davids’s Ski Hat, the one with the frog on it. She was his mother after all, and she was remembering her little boy, not my future mate whom I was supposed to complete my life with. She wrapped the box carefully and handed it to Meron. Meron then carried the Hatbox under his arm and we carefully took a summer ride on the Tram which would then take us to the very highest point of the mountain, the bowl we had learn to ski, Rendezvous Bowl. At the top , the dwarf trees were windblown and like lawn ornaments stood on the top of the mountain as if to say, I bet you couldn’t live up here like we do! Not much could survive the winds, snow and brutal temperatures of the mountains. We were all just guests there, and I saw the respect immediately from the meeting of Meron and the mountain. He stood as if he needed to see the last sight his young son had seen. He wanted to feel happy that his son had a wonderful and blessed time on that mountain. Because the mountain was Davids’s last home, and Meron it seemed, wanted to feel that home and what it may have meant to David. As I watched Davids’s father walk around, it seemed as though he couldn’t let the ashes leave him under his protective arm. Fathers can’t always protect their sons, no matter how they try to give them the tools they need. I began photographing the love I was seeing through my camera until it was impossible as I was trying to come to terms with what really was happening here. A Father and Mother, losing their young son, letting him go, with an untraditional funeral, the three of us, on top of the mountain they knew their son loved. I would never be the same.
At the top , the dwarf trees were windblown and like lawn ornaments stood on the top of the mountain as if to say, I bet you couldn’t live up here like we do! Not much could survive the winds, snow and brutal temperatures of the mountains. We were all just guests there, and I saw the respect immediately from the meeting of Meron and the mountain. He stood as if he needed to see the last sight his young son had seen. He wanted to feel happy that his son had a wonderful and blessed time on that mountain. Because the mountain was Davids’s last home, and Meron it seemed, wanted to feel that home and what it may have meant to David. As I watched Davids’s father walk around, it seemed as though he couldn’t let the ashes leave him under his protective arm. Fathers can’t always protect their sons, no matter how they try to give them the tools they need. I began photographing the love I was seeing through my camera until it was impossible as I was trying to come to terms with what really was happening here. A Father and Mother, losing their young son, letting him go, with an untraditional funeral, the three of us, on top of the mountain they knew their son loved. I would never be the same.
Pearl also had her camera. She was an artist, and loved photography, I am certain this is also why we got along so well. I always felt I had so much to learn from her. Pearl led Meron over to one of the wind-blown dwarf trees and had Meron open the box and emptied the bone ash under it. I think she took a picture, I think he walked away, I do have a picture and I believe they left me alone with the ash for several minutes, although I can’t recall how long, I do remember staring at them, and trying to focus on the “Personal “ aspect of this is his body. But that really didn’t sink in, I just felt as if we were just discarding the remains. But somehow, this event led me to the next question… where did he go?
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