Not an Animal Tale…But About a Friend

A month and a year ago, the small community of Alsea, Oregon lost a friend. Craig touched many lives in many places, with his fiddle at the ready, his willow branches soaking for the next basket design, his “Bright Moments to you” goodbye. He touched ours personally in a way that soothed the worries of dealing with an old farm where things were always seeming to fall apart, or down, or away. We were all deeply affected by his loss, some because he was family, others because he had been gone so long and only just started to put down roots again in the community. I came face to face with his passing only the day after when I was asked to help dig his grave. Following is the diary entry I wrote last March, never completed, mostly cathartic. It is time to let it go now where it will.

Last Wednesday, in the rich loamy soil of the Oregon Coast range, I helped dig a friend’s grave, 3 feet wide by 7 feet long by 4 ½ feet deep. We are still new in Alsea but have already been folded into the fabric of this small community in ways that bring us joy and ways that bring us sorrow. Our perch here is so transitional, I wish the sorrow had held off a little while longer. And, why was I trading shovels and stories with people I never even knew three years ago, on a wintry day threatening rain, in the middle of the Alsea cemetery, with more graves than current residents; all for someone who had welcomed us to our new homestead with the gift of a widget and the offer of help?

Widgets are wonderful things. Craig wove them from willows, planted and harvested off his property, to trellis wayward roses and climbing sweet peas. If you looked closely, they were earth goddesses in disguise. A testament to his love of women and his love of willow. Earth mothers to the core. We put our widget in our front flower bed, to train the gangly rose away from the driveway, and we we took Craig up on his offer of help that day and for all the days for the rest of his life. He helped to restore our 1930s barn, and he and Greg built the only bridge over the Honey Grove to survive last winter’s rains. The boys worked well together in their own way, separated in age by a day, in experience by a farm.

Craig had only just returned from his annual six week Mexican fiesta, with tales of tequila and art on the beach and old friends and warm nights. He had already shown up to say “Hi, I’m back. I had a great break. I have $27 in my pocket. I’ll see you Monday morning for work!” He was going to add those “Craig” touches to complete our cabin he and his fellow craftsman, Bert, had started in the fall. Now I would see the transformation of our simple structure into a piece of artwork, so distinctive and organic, Craig’s style was recognized by all who appreciated and admired his craft. Craig never made it back to our place. He died Monday morning, ready for work, a cigarette in his hand, a cup of coffee beside him on the arm of his chair.

Dammit, I had other plans for Craig too, although I guess we all did. He would rebuild the Green Creek bridge with Greg this summer, a seemingly insignificant bridge that is anything but insignificant during high waters. He would make cane chairs for our new deck facing over the hay field, so we could all sit out on hot summer evenings sharing a cold beer and a good story. He would teach me how to dry my corn for next winter’s feed, because mine ended up moldy and discarded this year. He would respond once again with, “We can do that,” to the never-ending laundry list of building woes around the farm.

But most of all, we had thought to share many more years getting to know this carefree soul who saw life for its opportunities and bright moments. Damn. Digging a grave for Craig was never part of any plan I imagined for any of my friends, ever…

As I reread this entry, it still seems like only yesterday. Spring is settling over our valley and our world and, quickly, we will be overrun with growing plants and lambs and blue skies … and life. The daffodils have bloomed around Craig’s grave and soon I expect to see the Easter lilies his daughter planted, bending in the wind, on the graveyard hillside above the highway, overlooking our town. We talk of projects never completed and those we only now imagine working on with him. We miss the gap-toothed smile, the cigarette hanging off knarled fingers, the baggy jeans held up with a colorful, old, Mexican belt knotted at the waist. Such a shame to lose a soul; such a shame to lose a light; such a shame to lose our way a little bit, out here in the country.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2007 Scottie Jones

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