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Death and Transfiguration (1996)
There have been a number of obituaries in the WIND in the past few months. Indeed, if we look through the WIND over the past 22 years it is a pretty long list. Still, here we are, some from the old generation, some from the new. People will move here, some for a few years, some for the rest of their lives, and their arrivals and departures will be duly chronicled. Some will move away. Some will die here. All of us come from a long line of dead people.
You will not see in the WIND an obituary for Gene Mann. Like many other summer residents who die, his passing will go unnoticed by those who read the WIND. He was a resident of Manhattan, Kansas, in his early sixties, husband, father, worker in the grocery business, summer resident, whose family has had a piece of property and a cabin here for more than 70 years. Just another in a long line of dead people.
Gene spent every summer here while growing up. He did all the things young people do: hiked, fished, got into the troubles all young men get into, danced, kissed a girl, sweated under the summer sun and looked up in wonder at the full summer moon. In those far off days heat in cabins was provided entirely by wood, both in the fireplaces and in the kitchen stoves. As a result, there was always a supply of stovewood. Gene and his boyhood friends turned stovewood into boats, and spent many hours having boat races on Fawn Brook. They would drop a piece of stovewood into the water, and then, using a long stick as a prod to get it out of trouble when it got stuck against the bank or ran into roots, they ran along the banks, laughing and yelling as one or the other’s boat would float swiftly down the little stream or become stuck. Sometimes, on a warm day in August, as I listen to the wind in the pines, I can still hear those boys’ happy voices on the summer air, reminding me of a place and time where a stick of stovewood could be the key to adventure.
Gene, like the rest of us, grew up, had responsibilities, got old, had a heart transplant, lived for a few years more, somewhat uncomfortably, and died. He leaves a wife and children who loved him, a sister who loved him, and friends who loved him. It is a story as common as the dust on our unchanging dirt roads.
As with many others who have loved this place, Gene's ashes will be scattered on the land he loved, that he shared with his family and friends and the Almighty, and which he leaves to his heirs. It is a measure of those who live here, for a while or for a lifetime, of their love of this place, that many choose to spend eternity here.
His death and his ashes remind us that this place has a high value, not only among the 300 or so souls who live here at the moment, but among the many more who have had such a strong feeling and connection that they want to stay forever. So it is that the living have an obligation to all those who have gone before, as well as to those who will follow, to care for this place as we would, well, for a cemetery, for that is what it has become, and increasingly will become; it has become sacred ground.
Like all other ground, it was sacred to the stone age peoples who lived here first, and for 150 years it has been treated as a commodity: a place to dig for minerals, to cut wood or raise animals or exploit for the money of travelers. Now, however, it has again become a burial ground for many people, as it was before the white man came, and we see it once again as sacred.
In having his ashes scattered here, Gene Mann and many others make their final statements about their love, their respect and their attachment to the place where they spent the summers of their childhoods or the autumn of their lives and nurtured their families over many years in the splendor of the rocks and pines and mountains.
The question is, will we treat it with the reverence it deserves? Will we, the living, make the same kind of statement? When we are added to that long line of dead people, what will be said about us?
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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