Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Last Post

We have to share some difficult news...

On Thursday evening, August 7, 2008, Russell Towle, author of this blog, died after a tragic car accident on Interstate 80 near Sacramento.

Russell Towle Tribute Weekend
Dutch Flat, California, October 11-12, 2008.
More information, and some photos of Russell are here.

For those who didn't know Russ personally, or who only knew him in one context of his life, his family would like to share a little more about him with readers of this blog.

You already know he was an avid hiker in the Sierra river canyons near our home, and a tireless advocate for the preservation and development of public access to historic trails in the Sierras. Russell was also a brilliant and innovative mathematician, entranced by higher-dimensional forms. He was a computer animator. He was an extremely doting father who enjoyed every single moment of life with his kids. He was a lover of classical Latin literature and Shakespeare, of Tintin comics and Terry Pratchett novels. He was a historian and a writer; a geologist; a linguist; an artist; a builder; a musician with a special love of Brazilian music; a nature lover and photographer. He was a tireless trailblazer, who habitually carried loppers on his hikes, to trim the way and ease the passage of others who would follow.

Russ was self-taught; formal education processes were far too slow for his quick, deep, wide mind.

Follow the links at right to his Geometry blog, and to his YouTube videos. In the "Quintessence" video you can see and hear him talk about a favorite geometrical form in the setting of the small hexagonal cabin he built in 1975 and lived in ever after.

We are all SO blessed to have shared life with him, but no single one of us was really able to appreciate all of his gifts. However, all of us can appreciate the gift that he was able to give to the whole public, the gift that the readers of this blog are already familiar with. Below is a letter we received recently that explains just what we mean.

In love and tremendous grief, Gay, Janet, Greg, and all his family.

In the last two days I have reflected many hours on Russell and our friendship.

I have been hiking the North Fork of the American River canyon for over 55 years. Early on it never occurred to me to do any sort of trail maintenance, I just wanted to access remote fishing locations. Over twenty years ago I started to notice trail undergrowth cut back. First on the Green Valley traail, then the China trail, and the more remote locations like the canal trail between Euchre Bar and the Rawhide Mine. There was a unique trait associated to this work. The small trees and other undergrowth were not cut at ground level, but rather about knee height. One day I came upon a man sitting on a rock smoking a rolled cigarette. Propped against the tree next to him was a short handled compound lopper. He looked a bit rough, so I approached carefully. It was, of course, Russell, and we spent some time talking about the trail system that accesses the North Fork drainage. I was able to share some of my experiences and he seemed very interested. I do not remember telling him my last name or where I lived, however in a couple of days he called me at home.

We began to hike together and he very much impressed me with his absolute passion to protect and make available to future generations the historic trail system of the North Fork. He was literally a walking talking book on many subjects including local history, math, geology, plants, and wildlife. He shared this knowledge in person, in print and on the Internet for all to enjoy. I would learn more from him on one hike than all the books I could read in a year. I began to show him my special secret places like the railroad track in the sky mine. Watching Russell's excitement on discovering something new and unique in "his" canyon was one of my great pleasures.

Russell was determined about clearing trails like nobody I have ever seen. His energy was contagious and many like Ron, Catherine, and myself followed his lead. Sometimes the group was small and the job simple. Other times the group was large and logistics much more complex. I remember such a group clearing the trail from the Dorer Ranch to Sawtooth Ridge one late October day. This trail had not been in use for 75 years and was totally impassable. The operation included a raft to ferry people and supplies across the North Fork, multiple chainsaws, loppers, and one heck of a lot of effort over many hours. Russell was as always out in front directing the operation and the first one to reach the bear bed mine up on the ridge about dusk. He was delighted as only Russell can be about the day's success. It is interesting to note that the Hot Shots fighting the big July fire made use of this cleared trail. Russell also organized trash details to haul garbage left by miners out of the canyon. This was not a fun detail, but once again, following Russell's passionate lead, we filled our backpacks and hiked out. He was truly the custodian of our canyon.

Bodily, Russell is gone, however his spirit will forever remain in those he touched. When I hike the canyons and see the knee-high trademark of Russell's clearing, I will reflect on our long time friendship and his positive effect on the canyon complex and myself. It is said that you only come this way once, so make it count. Russell, our canyon custodian, made it count.

Steve Hunter
August 10, 2008


Anonymous said...

When I first discovered Russell's writings, I wss amazed by the depth of his observation and analysis of his hiking adventures. I had driven the Foresthill-Soda Springs road and was mind-boggled by the North Fork Canyon. After decades of admiring the Sierra from I-80 and my explorations along the railroad, the view from the more primitive road sparked my interest and on searching on the web for Wabena Creek and Snow Mountain, I came across Russell's remarkable writings about the trails, the canyons, the history and his love of the area. I still feel like it's a secret gem in our region and it's our "secret" in many ways.

I'm not even as old as Russell was, but I have enjoyed living vicariously through his trail descriptions and the wonders of the canyon. I've even shared his need to go visit the fire ravaged areas a few weeks ago and actually felt privileged that I had the same interest in seeing the area soon after the fire as this remarkable writer.

I am saddened beyond words that Russell has departed and my thoughts are with all of his family at this very sad time. I hope there's a way for the collective written works to continue to live on - they are so valuable to the future. Just like a 49'ers diary, Russell's writings tell a story that we should not lose to time.

Dave in Applegate

Kevin said...

My sincerest condolences. I only knew him from this blog, but I could tell he was a special person with the gift to share his visions with the rest of us. I will miss him. God bless.

Anonymous said...

Russell opened a new world for me through this blog. I have walked many of the trails he wrote about. I wondered if at some point I would run into Russell on the trail... this is so sad> My condolences to all who knew and loved Russell.

Sincerely Eric Myers

Anonymous said...

very sad to hear this, rest in peace Russell

John Forsythe said...

I never knew Russell, but through reading his passionate blogs about the North Fork I feel as though I have known him for years. He has instilled in me a deep respect and love for the natural world. I am going to be taking a solo expedition into the Upper Basin (North Fork) area and living off the land for several weeks this summer, and his writings have helped me tremendously in preparation.

I only wish his blogs would continue somehow, as I am ever intrigued by his intellect, knowledge, and spirit. May the survivors consider themselves very lucky to even have had such a man in their lives, not just mourn the loss of such.

Thank you for everything Russ.

Brade Barbre said...

Today is Jan.21, 2009 and I just heard the terrible news. I never met Russell personally. I discovered his blog and found it to be an extreamly valuable source of information. I respected Russel for his giving attitude and hard work sharing his knowledge, experiences and keen insight. To me he was like the Jon muir of the north fork. I will miss him...May God bless and comfort his family .

the_moose30 said...

I just discovered Russell's blog while doing research on the North Fork. What an incredible person. Even though he is no longer with us. I will be reading his blogs for months to come and using them to make my own beautiful experiences on the river. My interests lay primarily in fly fishing and I'm hoping to find some magical spots within Russell's blog posts. If anyone has some direction for me it would be appreciated. Can't wait to get on the river and see Mr. Towle's passion alive and flourishing.