Sunday, September 18, 2011

I know very well I could not

I have been writing a few too many memorials in recent years. I suppose when you enter your seventh decade (a grim way of saying I'm 61 years old) you can expect to lose friends. Most recently, it was Andrew Pierce, a much loved and ubiquitous presence in our regional horticultural scene, and most importantly to me, my friend.

If you click on that link you can read a short tribute I wrote in another Blog I contribute to about the man, or a very cursory allusion to a few of his contributions to my workplace. No memorial can capture the true essence of the day to day interactions over the years that accrue to create a friendship.

How could I begin to encapsulate nearly forty years of interactions with an individual with whom I had nearly daily contact with during much of that interval? When the terrible telephone call comes, and you choke back the tears and start philosophizing, you try not to be too overwhelmed with the reminiscinces that begin to jostle your memory. Andrew bringing me coffee as I worked in the Rock Alpine Garden and telling me to stop for just a minute, and chat. Andrew driving me up to his home when I was a bachelor, for dinner with his wife and kids (I would stay overnight almost every week at least once at his home in the early nineteen eighties), for friendship of course, but also because he wanted his young solitary friend to have some companionship. He felt sorry for my bachelorhood. And I was a bit lonely to tell the truth at that point in my life.

The many memories over the years of the distinctive laugh, the lunches at work, the lunches here and there all around Denver over the years, the banquets, the hikes on Mt. Evans, on Horseshoe Mountain, on Squaw Peak...

All the meetings we attended together, and the strolls in gardens. The countless hours spent in one another's presence. Hundreds and hundreds of conversations and interactions down through the mirrored hallways of reminiscence. How utterly one takes one's friends for granted.

Suddenly he is gone. Of course, one mourns one's friends for themselves. But John Donne tells the terrible truth that no man is an island, and what we also mourn is the loss of love, and half that love is directed to you and that half is now missing. You love your friend, but that friend loved you, and that you feel profoundly diminished because all the memories you cherish were reciprocated, and the other half is abruptly gone. It is we who are ineluctably halved thereby. No wonder we hurt.

This year I have lost so many people who knew me as no one else ever shall. They knew and loved me as no one else can ever quite accrue: for decades, from my youth, through my entire middle age and on the threshhold of my old age. These are the selfish thoughts that those of us who are, perhaps, a bit too reflective, whose complicated lives are prone to thinking strange thoughts.

Andrew had been losing his hearing for years due to meningitis as a young man, and a few years ago somehow miraculously began to hear quite well (an operation? new apparatus? Why can't I remember? How I marvelled at it and rejoiced for him)...but like all gardeners he was visual in the extreme. He created innumerable gardens in his life, many like Hudson and Denver Botanic Gardens were highly conspicuous and extensive. I could dredge up no end of appropriate images for him. But I find words are a greater salve for me when I suffer loss. Especially poetry. The Donne poem always reverberates in my heart when I experience loss. When my mentors pass (and I have had a few) Whitman's "Oh Captain" comes to mind, and I begin to hear the words echo in me. For Andrew, however, I think a sprig of oak with some clinging Spanish Moss says much of what is making me ache so much tonight, keeping me awake at 2:00AM remembering sweet days--decades really--of companionship. And feeling very sorry for myself.

I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing
by Walt Whitman
I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches,
Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself,
But I wonder'd how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there
without its friend near, for I knew I could not,
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it and
twined around it a little moss,
And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in my room,
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,)
Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love;
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana
solitary in a wide in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near,
I know very well I could not.


  1. You honor your friends well with such deeply heartfelt words, your joyous leaves. I'm sorry for your hurt.

  2. You are too sweet, Christi! You would have loved Andrew, I know. I felt a tad self conscious, putting my ruminations of him and my mortal thoughts down: these blogs can be therapeutic, especially when one knows someone like you is out there in Cyberspace! Autumn is tiptoeing in here...I'll bet it's heavenly now there on the Sound.

  3. Hearing his brogue would disarm any conflict, his stylish dress spruce up any occasion, and his stature make everyone stand a little taller. He was everybody’s uncle who always had a smile on his face. That's more than enough for any one man. My sadness at his loss is more peaceful for having known him.

  4. You said it, Jim. You bring back an image of him in your prose. I had no clue he'd had so much impact on others as he had on me.


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