For years I went backpacking every summer with Jeff Fairhall. Jeff's the guy who founded Essential Foods, now defunct, makers of The Essential Sandwich. He later cofounded The Essential Baking Company. Jeff was a genius.
Tilth Organic Harvest Fair. I met Jeff at Seattle Tilth the summer I landed in Seattle, 1991. My friend Mark Musick was the coordinator for that fair, and within a few days of my arrival he cajoled me to get involved. Jeff was also a key player in that. Here's a photo of that harvest fair crew. That's me back right, Mark and Jeff standing in front of me. That year I became the house calligrapher, making signs, banners, and a t-shirt, reprising my role at Naropa. For the next three years I would be the harvest fair coordinator, so I had landed my first Seattle job within days of my arrival; it just had a delayed start. Significantly, I was not a writer in that role. But alas, I still had to make the mistake of becoming a professional writer in Seattle. It started out as a job with benefits.
Jeff & I hit it off right away. He was one of the most congenial, humble, genuine people I ever met. He was a millionaire who made his fortune out of nothing much more than inspiration, determination, and genius. Over the years I ended up working for both of Jeff's companies at various times.
My first gig with Jeff was designing labels for new sandwiches. His original designer was no longer available, so I picked up where she left off, using her label designs as templates. Only trouble was, she lived in Mac world and I'd come of age in Windows, excuse me DOS. Back then the two worlds were very much not on speaking terms.
So I got my one & only Mac. Absurdly expensive, and a one-button mouse? But I adapted and started designing labels for new Essential Sandwiches. I got to be more creative when The Essential Burrito came along, designing all those labels from scratch, JIC anyone remembers. I didn't think so.
Yes, you can in fact walk to the curb from here. But that wasn't enough work; I needed more of a job. Jeff gave me one delivering sandwiches to downtown Seattle. It wasn't a high-volume route, but it was interesting. While driving that route I became the wizard of parallel parking. I could zip into a space and have less than a foot clearance fore and aft. That's a skill that I sadly seem to have lost entirely.
oh-dark-thirty. Somewhat later Jeff and his bakery partner George gave me a job delivering fresh bread from the newly opened bakery. I had to get up a little before oh-dark-thirty, which soon inspired me to find work as a writer. But in the meantime I had a route that included fka Winslow, now just Bainbridge Island. A sweet route: get paid to ride the ferry!
Some nice leftovers; french toast, anyone? When I got married, a mistake I needed to make, Jeff and George gave the wedding cake as a gift. Only it wasn't a cake, it was a special edition of George's heavenly challah, filled with dried fruits & nuts, and braided not into some prosaic loaf but 2 interlocking braided rings, an amazing artwork. George was nervous it wouldn't turn out, so he made three. They all turned out beautifully; they delivered all three.
All my years were right. Jeff and I both loved to hike and backpack. In 1992 we made a spur of the moment plan and set out on our first weeklong backpacking trip. The annual getaway with Jeff became a touchstone for my life, the way maybe Xmas is for some folks? The year was not gonna be right without my week with Jeff up in the tundra somewhere.
Enchantments. Jeff & I hit a lot of the local high spots side for backpacking over the years, but we never got our ducks in a row in time for the Enchantments lottery; I have no regrets. We operated more seat-of-the-pants, like hey, it's about time to go backpacking, yeah? In like, late July or early August. Reservations? What?
Atrial flutter. Two spots stand out for me: Heart Lake in the Olympics, and White Pass. We camped in each of those areas more than once. At Heart Lake I had what I now know was an episode of atrial flutter. Is that ironic? I know because I had another episode a few years later that did not autocorrect, and I had to go in for an ablation, which worked like a dream.
Respectful. I had a good time at Heart Lake anyway; we watched bears fattening up on huckleberries and swimming in the lake. Jeff went swimming with the bears, but at a very safe, discreet distance. Jeff was a very respectful guy.
There was sleet and snow blowing sideways. The area behind White Pass ended up being our favorite spot; I think we might've gone there 3 times. Once we had a squall blow up in mid-August, and the only thing that kept our well-staked tents from blowing away was our bodies in sleeping bags, each in our own tent. About twenty minutes later it was sunny and calm. And a little wet.
That time Jeff saved my life with a cucumber. Our last trip to White Pass was our last backpacking trip together. The hike up White Pass is a humdinger. You switchback up an exposed south slope, and water is scarce in August. We knew it but we still ran out of water. Jeff was doing OK with it, but I began to get a little batty and irrational. Jeff pulled us over in the shade of a boulder and dug in his pack, producing a huge cuke. We relished that juicy gourd. It gave us enough juice to make it up to some snowfield trickles. At that point we were more willing to have giardia than to pull out the filters. Evidently no wildlife had crapped in our snowfield.
By that time he was out of reach, out of everyone's reach. Jeff had been living with a brain tumor since long before I met him, and on this last trip it showed through. I wasn't alarmed, he was still very much my beloved friend Jeff, but he had some strange ideas to share with me. Jeff had a few more good years left at that point. And tho' we never managed to connect for our annual trip again, that was at least as much my fault; my life was headed into a foolish new phase. But when his strange ideas started to become public, I wasn't surprised.
Guilty as charged, your honor; I am a card carrying wuss to this day. In Boulder TH told me to work on being manly. He wanted me to do things like hunting, fishing, rock climbing, chainsawing. I was too much of a wuss. He said that hunting and fishing were especially good. I was never interested in either. They were things my father and brother did that I avoided. I was successful with hunting. Fishing I did not manage to avoid. I hated sitting in the hot sun waiting for my cork to bob. As I was trying to be a good student, I borrowed my dad's .30-06 and enrolled in hunter safety classes. As I was studying for my test, I discovered that the bag limit for the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep was one per lifetime. That's the kind of friend Jeff was. I'm grateful to have known him.