Ruminations From the Western Slope

Ruminations From the Western Slope
Colorado River near Moab, Utah

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Mighty Big Heart

My favorite photo of Susan was taken just a few weeks after I met her in the fall of 1973. She is sunbathing on a Big Sur creek, hugging a huge marble boulder. Embracing the earth, as it were. And very appropriate for a person who embraced life to its fullest capacity.

We’d met in the campground at Pinnacles National Monument. She was traveling alone in her green VW bus and I was a single park ranger on the make. She was easy to get close to, and so I did. I was surprised when I found out she was five years older than I was. She seemed rootless at the time, living out of that bus which was decorated with macramé, spirit catchers, pieces of shell and driftwood. A woman for the times.

Shortly thereafter we took up residence together with no thought of consequence or complication. I had a secluded house in a canyon near the park where we could enjoy the natural surroundings to the fullest. We traveled though the southwest in the fall of 1974 and I latched on to a job opportunity in the heart of Canyonlands National Park. She moved out there with me with no hesitation. We pretended to be an old married couple, and moved into a government mobile home at Squaw Flat.

The next two years were filled with an almost primal intensity as we shared the isolation and exhilaration of our red rock home. Hardly a day went by without a reminder of the splendid beauty and force of nature manifesting itself around us. Susan immersed herself in the spirituality of place. She seemed to have a supreme confidence in the goodness of man and the ability of the universe to take care of her. As for me, I hopped on the steep learning curve of a backcountry ranger, and wrestled with my own inner demons. It was inevitable that the arrangement would change in time.

One cold December morning she packed up her bus and headed south toward Flagstaff, leaving me behind in my helpless confusion and loneliness. But her upbeat spirit remained ingrained and allowed me to survive and, in time, to thrive once again.

We stayed in touch over the years as I followed her spiritual exploits in the eastern Sierras and finally to Hawaii. We swapped cards every Christmas and got caught up with each other in small increments. Until this Christmas when I received no card in return. Soon thereafter I received a note from her younger sister informing me that Susan had unexpectedly passed away last May from “an enlarged heart”.

I was surprised at first, then not so much. Susan eschewed most medical treatment. She never had a viable income or any health care. Just supreme faith. And, in the end, a very big heart. She leaves behind a very big gap in the world. One more vibrant flame of optimism and hope for humanity extinguished, but magnificent memories that will live on in me forever.


  1. What a fitting memorial to such a free spirit and one who lived life to the fullest. Even though I knew Susan for a short time, her kindness and grace will remain with me always. Like a butterfly whose life is so short, she leaves behind the memory of beauty and peacefulness. She surely touched my life and I am grateful for having known her.

  2. Greg: I was very moved and touched deeply by your e:mail and blog about Susan. I remember her grace and her love for life and the earth was remarkable.

    Tom Ferrell

  3. Just random guy... you dont know me.. neither do i.. but this story.. its amazing. You made me imagine the entire story in series of pictures. Great writing..

  4. I wanted to echo what the other guy above me said. Beautiful story, and I'm sorry that she passed away. I guess we all do eventually, but some earlier than others. That's all. Just earlier than others. She looks like she was a beautiful woman and I'll bet you think of her daily and how lucky you were to spend time with her, and how you wish you could just roll back the clock of life.

  5. This is a very moving story of life and living. Thank you.