Room 709 Palliative Care
Entering the room Mitchell and I hugged. I moved toward the Big Man with difficulty. On the way in Jane and Jose had said David had just gone into a coma. It made last week's visit of Mary and I more significant. I reached for the frail hand and I got a groan, not one of pain or fright but the long questioning one emerged. It was the same plaintiff call I remember 12 kilometers north of the Dempster Highway, the night we camped in open bear and ptarmigan country on one of our many northern trips. I was sleeping in the Suburban between the built in ptarmigan pens and Ingram was tented outside – on the air mattress and warm bags in the freezing night – but exposed to any visitors. His call was clearly questioning the rustling noises beside the vehicle. Was it a flock of ptarmigan or a bear? he tried to ask quietly. It was still light at 12:30 that early morning. He was trying to quietly assess the visitors. I banged the doors from the inside - a flurry of wings confirmed the willow ptarmigan.
We shared many great trips. My wife has had to accept that my favorite traveling companion was the Big Man. He never complained at camping in unusual sites, at me and my dog taking a 20 hour hike while he occupied himself with local wildlife or vistas. I remember returning down a long treeless tundra valley towards our northern Yukon campsite and scoping the landmark mountain, still more than a mile away, to see an animal moving on the summit. Caribou or bear? As I got below the mountain, at camp it became clear that over 1200 feet up the steep rocky-talus slope was Ingram – totally an anti-gravitational phenomena. It boggled the mind how this 350 pound giant had navigated the steep boulder and slippery mountain. My massive friend sat calmly on the peak. An hour and forty minutes later I joined him to watch a sun traverse the northern sky – a glow that straight lined along the horizon. He never asked for, nor would have accepted had I dared offer, any help.
We hardly ever entered a northern Eskimo or Indian village that within moments Ingram had not found the bone yard, their 40 years of discarded vehicles. He was out of the vehicle with wrenches looking for parts to fit my antique 1970 suburban - driven by the common motor and parts for 20 years - the contents of these scrape yards. We often left the north with more weight of parts than my vehicle weighted. The gathering crowd of locals, adults and kids, always enthusiastically assisted him. Out went more complimentary Bald Eagle books! It was unfortunate the First Nations people did not need tax guides!
But perhaps what was always the highlights of the summer month I shared with Ingram were not the wildlife treasures we saw or even caught, but were the gas or village stops. I knew of every bake shop in the north – he every store selling ice cream. Out was Ingram with a free Tax Guide or eagle book for all, a multitude of questions to find out how the Chief hunted caribou, how the store owner survived the dark winter months, or how a nearby kid, trying to corner a ground squirrel in a culvert, got to school. As I explored the wildlife and native cultures, Ingram questioned the rest of the world. No one escaped. Traveling with David was always exciting, inspiring and so so educational. Yes, my favorite traveling companion is gone but not forgotten.
I met David in the early 1970's, was baffled by this man who one moment was performing a belly flop off the high board or the next day writing a White Paper for the government on some complex tax issue. In another moment he was giving out free advice to people who could not afford tax consultation or finishing up some high profile businessman’s tax from – for a pittance of what his work was worth. He was in heaven, if I dare use this word, when questioning or pontificating on radio, TV, the stage, a gathering or on the web. He was at his best giving.
Indeed, David loved front stage. My initial thoughts on this reflection went: I know many famous people who could largely be measured by their greed; many more of less wealth who were also preoccupied by greed driven pursuits; many others simply trudged on through life and ignored the world's plight and callings for a responsible sustainable world. Fortunately we also know a few who championed for good causes. But no one I ever knew was so devoted to giving freely of himself to others than the Big Man – indeed the Big Man. But despite his attraction to ‘front and center’ I never saw him do a put down to any other person. He always honored persons and perspectives. In all those years I never saw him sell a single book – his tax guides or my eagle book. Giving was the Big Man’s thing.
I have known David and Jose from the beginning, and specifically Peter, Mitchell and Jane since all were in the womb. I could not imagine living with David, except for my treasured month for many years traveling the north to strange places. However, I was so very impressed with how David and Jose attended and cared for their kids – who have been there at these trying but important times. When my wife and I got to adopt a daughter over 22 years ago, we agreed to name the Big Man as Godfather.
I treasure my time and friendship with David Ingram as a highlight of my life. Dear traveling companion and friend, I will miss you.
p.s. a retrospective on David Ingram's life is growing over at www.david-ingram.com - please join us.
Hancock Wildlife Foundation