There have been a few departures in my life that have saddened me greatly.

Fay Brown left this world about a month ago. Miss Fay was a landmark in this community; a cornerstone of the writing enclave that has been nurtured here. I have referred to her writings often, as she was a pivot of the famous 1959 edition of the Banner-Tribune.

Miss Fay also wrote Franklin Through the Years which is one of my most prized books.

She was always kind and gracious to me, and complimented my work, a nod I did not take lightly.

She goes to join a cadre of local area writers who have gone to their hereafters such as Bernard Broussard, Fielding Lewis, Ella Mensman, Nora Lewis and others. I hope they’ll welcome me into their very exclusive club when my time comes to join them.

Last week, Carolyn Burgess Savage also departed to the Creator of All Things.

Miss Carolyn attended Haskell Indian College in Lawrence, Kansas. Following college she worked in Washington, D.C. for the Department of State. Later in life she taught Chitimacha Culture and Language for the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana until retiring due to declining health.

One of the gentlest souls I have known, she was the pride of the reservation with her uncanny ability to master the Chitimacha language, some 60 years after it supposedly died.

Before last Christmas, she called and asked me if she could procure a few alligator teeth from my father’s stash. I don’t share these things often, but I gladly brought her a half-dozen, knowing not only that I wanted her to have them for her grandchildren, but also that my dad would have wanted her to have them, too.

I dearly wanted her to do some narration on the LPB production of “Native Waters: A Chitimacha Recollection” when we were making it, but she wasn’t feeling up to it. Her voice was distinctive and endearing, an Indian woman’s voice if there ever was one. Though her health declined in recent years, I never saw that it diminished her spirit, or her smile.

Lastly, though it might seem odd to mourn the passing of someone I never met in person, a departure in north central Arkansas continued the spill of sadness of late.

I’ll just call him Tom. I do so because Tom was an extraordinarily private person, and I respect that deeply.

Back in 2009 when Suzie and I were planning our first trip to the Ozark Mountains, I was looking for guidance on where to stay, what to see and of course, where to fish. I contacted a northwestern Arkansas pal I had also met when he was a contributor to the e-zine “Far & Away” I once managed. Dan gave me some great tips, but also put me in touch with Tom.

Tom in his younger years. This is the only photo of my friend he ever shared publicly, and so I felt comfortable sharing it again.

Tom and I hit it off at once, and the three of us often had a triage of emails going on subjects ranging from Harry Middleton to politics to the history of trout in Arkansas. Regrettably, when we went to the Ozarks the weather was foul, and trying to squeeze in as much activity as we could between storms and showers, we didn’t get time to meet up with Dan and Tom, but promised we’d be back the following year.

He lived on a bluff overlooking the Spring River. He moved there from Texas decades before. The Spring River called to him, he said. It emerges near the Missouri border, formed by a spring there that dispenses 9 million gallons of water per hour to the surface. Yes, I said 9 million gallons per hour. So the Spring River is cold and fast along its upper reaches, full of nutrients and full of beautiful trout. I caught one there that shimmered like the rainbow it was named after.

Over the years that followed, Tom and I found a lot of similarities in our thinking. He shared remarkable wit and wisdom with me. I could tell you about Tom, but instead I’d like to share a few of his words with you, and send a shoutout to the old man at Buzzard’s Bluff for forgiveness.

Upon the death of our old Labrador retriever, Daisy, last fall, Tom sent me these condolences:

“My soul grieves for you and Susie—and the old dog. There’s something special about old dogs. Perhaps it has something to do with the knowledge that their run will soon be finished—or the equal certainty that we won’t be far behind. With old sporting dogs—working retrievers and pointers—the dog/man connection is even closer—and more painful to surrender.”

On trout fishing in the Ozarks he offered:

“While locals may fish the small streams a bit if you encounter anyone else you’re simply still not in a remote enough section. Over half of the charm of those streams is discovering those places that others don’t go. It has cost me a LOT of tires over the years but was well worth it! Even then the fishing may not be spectacular but knowing that your fly or lure that brought the little native to hand had never been seen in those environs before imparts a feeling of ‘purity’ to the experience. I see no substantial differences between the brightly-colored sunfish or bass of the Southern fastnesses and the native ‘Little Salmon of the Springs’ (Salmo Fontinalis) of remote Appalachian brooklets. They are both jeweled blessings of the Gods and worthy of respect and proper thankfulness.”

That was Tom. Ornery as a rattlesnake at times, wise as Merlin, literary as Hemingway. It came through in casual emails so naturally I don’t think he knew it was happening. Even when talking about fly rods, in this case a beautiful classic bamboo, he wrote of his inability to actually connect with that particular rod, something most fishermen just consider a tool:

“I wish that rod and I were sympatico but we simply aren’t. It just doesn’t feel right to me and why it doesn’t I couldn’t verbalize with the help of BOTH Hemingway & Faulkner. It is a completely non-verbal sense that defies transmission to another mind, mainly because it defies my own understanding. But just as one KNOWS when he casts a rod that was meant for him we also KNOW when we cast one with which we can never come to satisfactory terms. It is a minor desolation to my soul.”

He shared some native spirit with me, too. In response to a column I wrote on the pitfalls of being a ‘Breed as it were, he wrote:

“You’re getting there, bud. And you’re going the full route too. I have faith in you because I’m following your trail. Just much further back since I had further to go. But flowing waters and winds speak louder to me each day and their words are starting to come back to me as they should—they are my native tongue. Tell them I’ll be ready to share a fire with them soon. Tom.”

And finally, oddly enough, he shared my deep love for October, and sent me this:

“Buck up Bunkie—magic October is just around a couple of bends in the creek.

“O suns and skies and clouds of June,

“And flowers of June together,

“Ye cannot rival for one hour

“October’s bright blue weather…”

We didn’t make it back to Arkansas that next year. Haven’t been able to get back at all, with this recession and outrageous gas prices. It will be many years before I forgive myself for not biting the bullet and getting up there to meet my friend, shake his hand and cast a line together into the cold flow of the Spring River.

Tom, Dan and I kept up and deepened our friendship via email and on discussion board on the ‘Net. He followed the wind and the river last Thursday, and true to his nature, there was no memorial or service.

Fair winds and following seas, OFOTB (he knows what that means) For a man I never met, you’ve had a very meaningful influence on my life and my spirit.

Save Dan and me a spot on the river.

1 comment to Partings

  • John Ruskoski

    What great thoughts people like this who have passed on to the elements of all that is. Going before down that trail before us, they leave winding trails made up of those kind of great memories. Another well written article Roger, in this one you exhibited great compassion and love for many deserving souls whom you shared good favors and graces during your own life; I have much empathy for your words in this article concerning some of these humans of our past, unfortunately I did not know Tom, but if you live your life for the higher power that comes through our Mother planet Gaia, one can totally grok that talk where those words came from.


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