So long, Mike and Ron

Two long-time friends died within the past week or so. They were both younger than me by a few years, in their mid-60s, but age was not necessarily related to their deaths, which have given me cause for some introspection.

Ron Forner’s memorial was Thursday. I didn’t know he had been failing with lung cancer for the past year. I didn’t know because I had lost touch with him: he had moved away, as I had, moved back, as I had, and we connected briefly with the assumption, I think, we might resume a friendship. Life might have gotten in the way.

Recently, I had resolved to call him to see if he was interested in getting together to play music. We had done that often 25 years go. It was enjoyable. Why didn’t I call? He had been, after all, a good friend and a really nice guy. Great musician, too. He’d made a living at it when he was younger. We’d sit in his basement, Ron trying to figure out the latest music-editing/recording software while I scratched my head over the very concept of digital music and tuned my guitar ad nauseam.

But when we got around to playing, it was magic.

I heard about my other friend, Mike Lamb, Saturday. His death was quite unexpected, but not really. We’d been friends for 40 years. and more than once, he had said he would die young. His health was failing as well but, his wife Laura said, he just didn’t like getting old. A few years ago, as we whacked around a golf ball on a crude, little layout he’d put together beside one of his cabins, he said with some surprise, and frustration, he hated not being able to do things the way he did when he was 18.

In the ‘70s, another friend, Lee (whom I have also lost touch with), and I helped Mike raze a derelict house on a few acres he bought along the Crowsnest River at Burmis so he could build a new house. He’d been a fixture there since, for friends basically from around the world to visit.

He’d turned a couple of old log cabins and a new, larger version into a B and B for fly-fishers. We  helped him move two of the log cabins, one intact, the other log by log and rebuilt on the side of a rock within eye-shot of his beloved Crowsnest River. He called it the Caddis Shack, a term coined by pal Joey that we used symbolically in communicating to fly-fishers in North America and beyond about conditions on the Crow, through a guide/map “As the Crow Flies” and the website, to which this blog is attached.

For many years, we fished a lot, sometimes daily, year around, from the Crowsnest to the South Castle to the Livingstone and from the Waterton to the Wigwam. When I moved back to Lethbridge from the Pass, we’d have to plan a bit more to get together. He seemed to like my version of a lime-Trude fly, size #14 and #16, so I’d tie a few for him.

One time on the Waterton River, about an hour-and-half drive from both the Pass and Lethbridge, we chatted a bit before we started to gear up. Mike had forgotten his fly rod. I fished, he went home.
Another day – the last day of the downstream fishing season – also on the Waterton, he had driven from hunting up the Livingstone Range that morning. When we met, he wasn’t sure he wanted to hunt pheasants or fish, suggesting he could probably do both. He hunted, I fished.

Then, there was night fishing on the lower Crow before it became part of the Oldman (he insisted on calling it the Three Rivers) Reservoir. You’ve heard of sight fishing? Try fishing by ear. I really can’t explain why we did stuff like that, but it was memorable.

That’s what’s left: memories. As another friend said, I’ll keep the good ones.

Anyway, I won’t get into how he died, because I don’t think anyone knows for sure yet. It’s safe to say his death was tragic in a sense, but his life fuller than many. His body was found in a snow bank not far from his house.

As for my second-guessing brought on by the deaths of two good friends, I’m sure I’m not the first to lament not having kept in touch more and being a better friend. Rationalizing it doesn’t help, nor does it matter.

What matters to me now, is to do a better job of connecting with the friends and family I have left. And let them know I cherish them.