In my dream the pipes were playing
In my dream I lost a friend
Come down Gabriel and blow your horn
‘Cause some day we will meet again
–“Fallen Angel” Robbie Robertson
“The last goodbye is very hard to live with.”
–Elizabeth Strunk, Kevery’s mother
A year ago, Kevery Strunk, my buddy and part of the family at Chilkat Guides rafting company for 15 years, went, as they say in gospel churches, home. Kevery, isolated by liquor and chased by demons I was sure he was beginning to conquer, took his gun and shot himself in his open, fragile heart. There is something so wrong about a bullet, self-inflicted or not, shattering the ventricles and auricles of a big, beautiful heart that fed a body and soul that nourished all of us for so many years. His death was as if the glacier that feeds the Tsirku River, where most of the raft trips are run, had dried up overnight.
I don’t believe it’s all for nothing
It’s not just written in the sand
Sometimes I thought you felt too much
And you crossed into the shadowland
Kevery came to Haines, Alaska over 15 years ago, after many years as a deep sea fisherman. He was a Vietnam Vet, had lived in communes, built yurts. He first drove the bus for Chilkat Guides that took the guests up the valley to the put in for the Bald Eagle Float trip. I was usually giving a talk on the bus so he and I spent many hours, before and after trips, exchanging stories on the bus.
The mid-90s was a boom time for tourism in Alaska and Chilkat Guides experienced a huge growth spurt. A warehouse was built, managers hired, more boats and buses acquired. We needed a full time maintenance manager and Kevery took the job. Patching boats, sewing straps, building benches, Kev was a master of triage in keeping gear in working condition.
A few days after he died, Kevery stepped into my dreams, telling me he was sorry for something. I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I rode down to the warehouse around 1 in the morning. I went over to his work station and sat in his chair and looked at the boats that he would never patch. I thought of all the times we’d sat and talked about everything from our mothers to music to motorcycles to alcoholism. I thought of how all of us, for months, would come into the warehouse and look over at Kevery’s chair and maybe, just maybe, he’d be sitting there, that it had all been a bad dream.
After an hour or so, I stood up from his throne and walked over to the Kevery’s standing workstation, a room full of toxic chemicals and sandpaper and tools. On most work desks there are photos of kids, or pets, or pictures of faraway places that evoke wonderful memories. Above Kevery’s workstation were two album covers. One was of a 1974 Olivia Newton John album and the other was a Carly Simon Greatest Hits album.
In 1974 I was listening to the Stones, Bob Marley, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye. I would turn off the radio or go running from a room when an Olivia Newton John song reached my ears. But like a bad advertising jingle or a cluttered room, our minds keep things whether we want them or not. Looking at Olivia Newton John on her cheesy album cover, the opening to one of her songs streamed through my brain:
There was such a self-eulogy from Kevery in those lines for me that, at 2 in the morning, in an empty warehouse in Haines, Alaska, I can honestly say that an Olivia Newton John song made me cry.
Thanks for everything Kevery. I know you’ve come back. Maybe you’re that Balinese baby I held last year. Maybe you’re that young eagle the tourists are photographing. Maybe you’re a pup in a wolf den in Alaska. Wherever you are, lucky them.
The only way I could send you more love is if I had a bigger heart.