I believe that you can tell a great deal about a person from the way they treat animals and children. My paternal grandfather was a tough man to be around at times. Even after he passed away, he requested that there be no memorial service. His final wishes were to be cremated and his ashes spread near the junction of the Clearwater and North Saskatchewan Rivers. This spot is about an hour’s drive from my home in Red Deer and it is on the way to one of my favourite rivers to fish. Every time we cross the river, I smile to myself and think of the day we gathered to fulfill his final wishes.
It was a small contingent. Me, my parents, my aunt and uncle. We met for breakfast in Rocky Mountain House, a small town where my grandfather was stationed during his time with the RCMP. The restaurant is a short drive away from junction of the Clearwater and North Saskatchewan, so we found our spot quickly. It was a gorgeous spring day, but we were not able to access the actual junction of the rivers, so we settled for a spot along the banks of the Clearwater just upstream.
As we said our goodbyes and released his ashes, we heard the voices of two small children. Their dog bounded up to meet us and actually ran right through the recently spread remains of my grandfather. At first, I was taken aback that someone else had intruded on the final memory of a man I admired and learned so much from as a child. My aunt, as usual, was able to make me smile and put things into perspective. We didn’t say anything to the children, returned to our vehicles and came to my place in Red Deer to spend the rest of the afternoon. As we prepared for supper, Auntie Lee laughed to herself then told us how she thought it was fitting that our intimate memorial service had been crashed.
“After all,” she noted, “Dad loved kids and animals. He didn’t like most people, but he always had time for children and animals. I don’t think he would have minded that we had company today.”
I’m inspired to write this by the passing of a person I only saw three or four times a year, but I looked forward to seeing him each time. I didn't know him really well, but honestly felt like I got to know him better each time we came to Nordegg. Brent Young was a figure known by anyone who spent time around the Shunda Creek Hostel or townsite at Nordegg, Alberta. He managed the hostel, was a driving force in the volunteer Fire Department/Search and Rescue, introduced countless people to the wonders of central Alberta and put a smile on the face of everyone he talked to. Brent grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, but landed in Nordegg several years ago and chose to stay because "he liked the big back yard." He was full of unforgettable witticisms like "There's not much happening, but it's all going on in Nordegg.”
Brent loved the outdoors and the adventure it brought. He told me that the perfect drink was scotch because it was easy to carry into the backcountry and all you really needed to add was snow. One of his main mantras was “No dramas” and he spent as much time as he could climbing, skiing or just trekking around. He was absolutely selfless and never seemed to be in much of a rush. This summer, I watched him tour my ten year old son around the Nordegg Fire/EMS newest bush rescue vehicle. For at least fifteen minutes, he answered every single question with the same patience and enthusiasm. Brent loved to talk and treated people with dignity. He was a big part of the reason I wrote the following blog last summer. (Nordegg: Reason #3 To Love Central Alberta)
For the past several years, every time I brought a group of children to stay at the Hostel, I looked forward to visiting with Brent. My oldest son loved the hostel so much, he wanted to spend his tenth birthday there. From middle schoolers to Cub groups to my own children, Brent treated the kids with respect and loved sharing his little piece of the world with anyone who found their way to the hostel. Kids loved Brent because he wore knitted hats, spoke with the cadence of a surfer and dished out phrases like “Cool bananas” and "Have a sunshiny day". Even if we weren’t staying at the hostel, I loved seeing him around the community or when we came to the hostel for a hot shower.
Brent died last week in a backcountry skiing accident. It seems fitting because he made his exit doing something he loved to do. I’ve read many stories about the untimely passing of people who love the mountains. Will Gadd has written a couple of columns about people who remind me of Brent. Accidents are an acknowledged risk of anyone who heads into the backcountry. No matter how knowledgeable or skilled you are, nature is more powerful and unpredictable. I’ve often said that if I pass away unexpectedly, I’d want to do so while I was fishing. I honestly never believed that a person I knew and admired would be in this type of situation.
The world lost a beauty last week. Brent truly made the world a better place and people can learn a great deal from the way he respected and loved the outdoors, treated others (particularly children), and animals. He was the full meal deal.
We are heading to the hostel for Cub Camp this weekend and it saddens me deeply to know he won’t be there in person. Shakakan.