John Weiss: An outdoorsman relishes his final day in the woods
ELBA — Curious about the slurping noise coming from the Whitewater River, Dave Rossman carefully peeked over the bank, hoping to see the trout feeding on bugs.
He saw only the dabbled surface, no fish.
That was all the excitement nature would offer — no noble bald eagles swooping down the river, no mighty buck strutting past. Yet that was all the excitement that Dave — a hunter, angler, camper, canoer andbeekeeper — needed. The Rochester man loved being out in the woods on that late-summer evening, the evening that would be his last ever in the woods.
In less than two months, Dave would be dead from the brain tumors that made walking or talking difficult and stopped him from going into the woods on his own.
I've known Dave for decades, first as the city transportation engineer who was a source in some stories I wroteyears back, and later from church. When I had shoulder replacement surgery in September 2010, Dave stopped by with some honey. We learned that we lived just a few blocks apart, loved to hunt and fish, had similar temperaments, reveled in the quiet of woods, songs of birds and the gobble of spring turkeys. We even hunted turkeys within a few miles of each other.
We thought it would be fun to hunt together sometime, maybe for turkeys.
In the summer of 2011, however, he had a seizurecaused bybrain tumors. That cut down on his ability to go outside solo, though his daughter, Sarah Gilgenbach, of Mound, did take him out in the fall to his favorite deer-hunting spot. Dave had to sit in a chair; no climbing into a tree stand. A deer fooled him by coming behind him. He laughed about that.
Slowed down gradually
Gradually, we could see Dave slow down, have a harder time speaking. But his passion for the outdoors never slowed; we would talk about it, about his memories, when I'd stop by with fresh bread.
Being close to the land came in part from growing up on a farm near Douglas, Kris said. He often went back for the hunting and the quiet. Being an engineer "is a very creative process," she said. "In order to be a creative person, you have to be still once in a while."
Dave was also very spiritual, loved being close to God's creation, she said. That could be in seeing a vast wilderness or a tiny chickadee. It didn't make much difference to him -- he loved it all and the stories that went with it. "There was always a story and it was always greater than the hunt," Kris said.
One day last summer, Kris mentioned to me that Dave would like to take a final trip to the woods, to say hello and goodbye to the creation he so dearly loved.
Logistically, however, it was hard; Dave couldn't walk far.
Debbie suggested some private land where I hunt, fish and enjoy nature along the Whitewater River. It's a place precious to me with so many great memories of hunting, fishing, birding, nature. I wanted to share that with Dave.
The last time
The owner has a Gator and took Dave down to an area he had mowed along the river; Kris, Debbie and I walked.
We brought sandwiches. Dave loved the cookies for dessert. He didn't say much, couldn't say much. But he was looking, watching, admiring.
I hoped for that eagle or buck that would be a monstrous exclamation point on what we all knew was his last time outdoors. All we got was that slurping.
Kris said later that Dave was thrilled with the evening, though he couldn't express himself. "His eyes would have said more to me at that point," she said. "He wasn't speaking very much. He could think but he couldn't find the words to say it."
While he couldn't say it, she believes he was thinking of the big things, like life and death, she said. Dave once did say "I don't want to leave this creation because it's so beautiful," she said.
While Dave couldn't express himself after being at the river, she's certain he was aware of "the awe of God's creation," she said. "I'm certain he would have given thanks for that; I know he heard the trout."