A MEMORIAL DAY OUTING in 1998
[This article appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of Wilderness Way magazine]
It was a cool and overcast day as participants for my Memorial Day wild food outing gathered at Pasadena's Hahamongna Watershed Park. It was the site of the largest known Gabrielino Indian village in the Arroyo Seco. On the far side of the canyon, archaeologists had found Indian bodies and believed it was an old cemetary.
Among the half-dozen participants who showed up for the outing was Martin Kruse, a bearded, burly bear of a man who looked like he'd be more at home in the 19th century. He introduced himself as an archer, and told me that we had many friends in common, including Ron Hood. Martin and I chatted as the other outing participants listened, and he told me about his work with archery and primitive bow-making.
We walked slowly as everyone asked countless questions about wild flowers, weeds, flowers, mushrooms, ground squirrels, and poisonous plants. When we encountered poison hemlock, one woman seemed particularly interested. It turned out her interest was more than academic. Before her father died a few years earlier, the medical establishment managed to keep his body painfully alive for a few weeks beyond when he normally would have died. She said she wished she had known of a way to bring about a quick and painless death. I made no value judgement on her commentary, only saying that I regard each moment of life as sweet, and that death comes all too quickly for most of us.
We walked down into the large flat expanse of the park, and Martin began to identify coyote from dog tracks, and crow tracks from other birds. He'd obviously done a lot of tracking during his bow-hunting time.
When we saw the deer tracks, Martin showed us how the deer's hind foot had stepped into its own track just laid by its front foot. Martin said that only the female walks that way, that the male's gait is different. .
Eventually, we headed back to the picnic area with the plan to continue identifying wild greens, and collecting enough for our wild food meal that is customary on all these walks. The planned topic today -- because it was Memorial Day -- was "Considering Death."
Someone in the rear called out that Martin had fallen. The man who had been walking with him said he'd not tripped -- he just fell. I tried to rouse him, but it was quickly obvious that he was "out." Since I was the only one who knew the area -- I ran to a phone to call 911. Within 15 minutes, paramedics from the City of Pasadena were on the scene, attempting to revive him. They carried him into the ambulance and took him away.
It had all been like a dream, and now Martin was gone. We discussed whether there was more we could have done to help Martin. We discussed whether we thought Martin would revive or not. The paramedics were fairly tight-lipped. We recalled one paramedic yelling "full arrest" to another when they arrived at the scene.
So there we stood in the cool afternoon breeze, contemplating death in the most sobering manner possible. I briefly explained to everyone the death lesson I'd prepared -- which hardly seemed appropriate now.
At that moment, none of us knew yet that Martin would not recover. Nor had we known that Martin had a heart pacer, and an artery to his heart that was narrow. We were aware that he'd had surgery because we opened his shirt and saw the scar.
A German woman who'd been on the outing, Walti, told us that we should not feel sad.
"What better place to die." I could not help but agree with her. Martin's death was apparently sudden, and his last memory would have been looking at the willows, the rushing stream, and the cloudy sky. In his final moments, he was surrounded with friends that he'd only met that day, trail compadres who shared his love of the outdoors, all brought together at this time and place to witness his passing.
Later, I shared this experience with Ron Hood. Ron wrote an e-mail letter back saying, "I hope things went well for you today and that you found some peace. I can feel the pain in your letter.
"I've known Martin for many years. Martin always lived life in the fullest way he knew how. It was only later, after the damage was done, that he began to slow down. His heart operation, and his physical condition, finally conspired to release him for the greatest experience of all. You just happened to be there when it happened. That was good for Martin and bad for you. I wish I could exchange places with you. Martin was my friend and I would have understood his journey because I understood him.
"I can say one unalterably true thing about Martin. He was a good man and a good friend. Everything else is part of the legend.