One Saturday this past May I hopped into my car and headed out to Pleasant Valley. It was a fine spring afternoon—warm, sunny; blue sky peppered with puffy cumulus clouds.
I headed north toward Hartland, turned off onto Route 219 and followed it up by Enders State Forest. Eventually I cruised over the crest of the Saville Dam and coasted down the hill to Pleasant Valley. It was a short leg up East River Road to the Stone Museum.
I found Walt Landgraf, the museum curator, out back, shovel in hand, repairing the stone walkway. He smiled as I ambled up and pushed my hat back on my head.
“I wanted to give you a copy of my new book,” I said, offering him the parcel in my hand. “You’re in it—I hope you don’t mind.”
“Well, well,” he said with a grin. “I hope it’s duly inscribed.”
I nodded. He opened the book, read the inscription and smiled.
“The piece about you is in the back. There’s also one about Chief Joseph Fire Crow.” I directed him to the pages. “Let me know if there’s any mistakes I need to correct.”
“Well, now,” he started, then stopped. “I suppose you’ll be coming round for the Saturday evening lectures again this summer?”
Since his retirement from teaching, Walt had put together a series of talks on topics of local historical interest—the colonial charcoal and iron industry, shipbuilding, ice age geology, Native American soapstone artifacts, indigenous flora and fauna.
“Oh, I’ll be there. They start in July, right?”
“We changed things a bit this year. I’ll be away in Nova Scotia come July. We’re starting the talks in August.”
“August it is, then. I’m sorry I missed your wildflower walk this past weekend.”
“Oh, there’ll be plenty of others. I’ve always got something going on.”
“You certainly do,” I grinned. “Have a good vacation. I’ll see you come August.”
We shook on it, and he resumed his work while I climbed into my car and headed down the driveway.
My daughter called me at work this morning to tell me that she had seen the obituary in the Courant. “I read the name, and I thought, gosh, I know that guy. Then I realized who he was.”
I finished out the day seeing patients. It wasn’t until I got home and read the obituary myself that I fell apart inside.
“How old was he?” my wife asked at dinner.
“Sixty-six,” I said.
I telephoned my friend Jeff to commiserate. Jeff is the fellow who first told me about Walt years ago. If it hadn’t been for Jeff, I probably would never have made Walt’s acquaintance.
“I heard day before yesterday,” Jeff told me. “Someone sent a mass e-mailing. He died suddenly of a heart attack while he and his wife were on vacation in Nova Scotia.”
“Are you playing tonight?” I asked, referring to Jeff’s band.
“At seven-thirty,” he said. “Why don’t you come and sing with us?”
“O.K.,” I said.
I inscribed a copy of the book and took it with me. After a few beers I got up and sang with the band. We did a rendition of “The Sloop John B,” “Margaritaville” and “Shady Grove.” When the place cleared out, I gave Jeff the book.
Several members of the band knew Walt. One fellow was composing a song in memory of him. They all wanted to see the part about Walt in the book.
Afterwards I left and drove back home through the darkness with the windows down, listening to the nighttime cacophony of insect songs in the woods. As I headed across Saville Dam I saw the moon high in the sky, nearly full, its soft light bathing the valley that Walt loved and walked and knew so well.
Further along down the road the moon slipped behind a few black clouds and faded from view.
I still can’t believe he’s gone—another voice from the village, now silenced forever.