Last month, the world lost a dear friend. A mountain man, a river man, a great man.
Telly Evans, July 25, 1974- June 16, 2010. Photo by Matt Yost
I met Telly while I was stationed at Boundary Creek working for the Forest Service. When you live at your job (and your job happens to be in the Frank Church Wilderness) you make friends with people you may not have the opportunity to otherwise.
Along with a slew of private boaters, there are commercial groups that have an eight-day rotation for permits on the Middle Fork. I had the chance to meet hundreds of new people each week, but it was the commercial boaters who were a constant in the continuous influx of people coming to boat the River of No Return. Although they weren't the only people I looked forward to seeing, the night Telly's company Rocky Mountain came to Boundary was one I looked forward to most.
The bond that forms between people drinking around a campfire shootin' the shit week after week, year after year, is hard to describe if you haven't experienced it, and that goes ten-fold for the Middle Fork. Oftentimes, my good memories of Boundary Creek are synonymous with my times spent around Telly.
Telly had a presence that only someone of his nature could. He was over 6 feet tall with an unforgettable laugh that came straight from the belly and echoed for miles. He was good looking, gregarious, light-hearted, engaging, and welcoming. He gave good hugs. He mixed a mean cocktail that may have done little to his large frame, but knocked me flat on my ass. He was a storyteller, a conversationalist, a friend of many. His smile (and that laugh! You can never say enough about it) were incredibly contagious.
Telly and I weren't close friends, but I did consider him a friend.
Which was why it was like an arrow to the heart to hear of his passing last month. Especially the nature of which, (and I do not mean to exploit his death, but only say this to clarify) being that he took his own life.
I sometimes feel that because Telly and I weren't close friends, I don't have the right to feel this way. It seems that because I am not family, I have no right to cry. But it doesn't change the fact that a day hasn't gone by that I don't think about him, and that if I don't keep my mind busy, I still cry. I think about his family and his friends and the Rocky Mountain crew. I think about anyone who got the chance to sit and talk with him and discover what a great person he was. I feel awful for the loss these people have endured. They are on my mind more often than not. And yet I got a chance to spend more time with him than some, being someone who spent five summers seeing him every week, and I don't feel I deserve the same.
It has been a strange thing to work through, both mourning Telly and feeling undeserving the right to mourn. Yet I cannot deny the affect his death has had on me. I have come to the same thought over and over again during the sleepless nights when I can't chase away the confusion, disbelief, and sadness.
People don't understand the strength of their presence or the mark they leave on others. The imprints we leave on eachother's hearts and minds can be made in an instant and last longer than fingerprints, but are just as unique.
Does it matter that I wasn't as close a friend as some? Were we not two people put on this earth who met and shared time together, no matter how short? People come and they go, but it does not lessen their importance. It does not weaken the lessons we learn from them.
Telly is someone I will never forget. He never knew in those nights around the campfire he was making an everlasting impression on me, or that he was a player in an era of my life that has left me forever changed. And he probably never once thought I would be affected if he were gone. But I am, and his passing weighs heavy on my heart.
I didn't make it to Telly's memorial, and I have felt unsettled not being able to make a proper tribute. This is hardly deserving of such a great man, but it is the best I can do. I was taught to use my talents, and so writing of life and loss is what I have to offer.
Telly, you meant more to this world than you'll ever know. I hope wherever you are the rivers are as beautiful and wild as the Salmon, and you have found peace.