Lately, everything seems to be coming unglued, with our communities being forced to put down one crisis to cope with the next. The threat of fire (still very real for many here) has faded into the background with the high potential for a fish kill and the recent death of one of our brightest young people from our river communities.
Lucius Robbi was unaccounted for over most of the past week, having disappeared on his way from his summer raft guide job in Idaho to his first days of college in Montana. A few days ago we learned that he died in a car accident en route.
Lucius was a person who did a lot of living in his 21 years, more than many of us do in lives four or five times as long. He was always out in the world experiencing it as much as possible. He reminded many of us of the importance of valuing the time we have.
In the past few years, Lucius had grown into a river runner, and I was lucky enough to spend three days on the river in boats with him. He was just completing the transition from teenager to mature adult. His voice had shifted and he carried conversations easily about anything. When a much more experienced Klamath River raft guide fell out of the boat in Little Ikes rapid, Lucius took up the guide paddle without hesitation or fuss and manuevered us to the right eddy to pluck him back into the boat. It was like watching an instinct surface that had always been in him.
We were learning around the same time to read rivers and feel the resistance of water against our paddle blades, letting it guide us as we guided boats (though he quickly surpassed my abilities at this.) In spite of the growing up he had done, Lucius kept some of the best parts of youth with him: joy and wonder in everything. Also, he was wonderfully humble and unassuming, two qualities that are essential to growing up and running boats down rivers.
Later he guided us through the Orleans gorge on a raft, stopping the boat often so we could lever invasive weeds out of river bars along the way. He was giving of his time for good causes locally, and good natured about the expedition from start to finish, making the most of the adventure.
And he once paddled alongside a few of our rafts in a rescue kayak on a grey, foggy day after a rain. He took every opportunity to be on the river and learn its impulses. We compared notes about wildlife and joked as we went. He had become a person you wanted to be around, to have along on your travels, where ever they may be.
He had grown into his own role these past few years. Now we are missing him beyond words in this community. So much it’s hard to know what to do with ourselves. It’s hard to even believe he’s gone because we don’t want to believe it, and because we loved and supported the guy he had become. Our hearts are hurting. Not nearly as much as the hearts of those closest to him, I’m certain. But because he was out in the community and the mountains and rivers everywhere he went, many of us felt close to him. I guess we still are. When I heard the news about his death, I walked, without thinking, outside to watch the sky, the silver lining on the clouds at sunset, trying to appreciate it as he did, to find him in it.
Lucius, you made a mark on this place and these people. You lived a remarkable life. Thank you for illuminating our lives and our memories. You will be remembered as a pure, positive force by many of us for a long time to come.
At a recent rally to stop a Klamath fish kill and demand that the Bureau of Reclamation release more water down the Trinity (which it did!), someone carried a sign on a piece of cardboard that read (in two languages): Put the world back on it’s axis. #releasethedamwater
Indeed, the world feels wobbly and thrown off course. Now we need to begin the process of making it right again. All we can do is be slow and deliberate and conscious of everything right now: the pain of losing Lucius, the gratitude for how he brought us together, the fear of losing a fish run and a productive river, the pride in the power of the grassroots that pressured the BOR to release water, the relief in reading the news that a federal judge upheld the BOR’s decision and rejected Westlands Water District’s legal bid to halt the releases, the fatigue of enduring fires in places where they have been supressed for centuries and the hope that fire can come back to this landscape in a more balanced way.
The world is very much in need of renewal. Thank goodness it’s September, and we live where we do.