Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Notes on Jeff: 1.

Moments I recall amongst so many: 

Jeff was a friend I met in my youth and grew with to the brink of old age. We went from the complete and utter freedom of youthful vigour through to the accruement of love, children, jobs, property and responsibilities we could never have imagined at Ripon College in 1980. Though our actual contact was rare after I moved to New Zealand in 1993 the times we did see each other in 1995, in 2006, 2012, 2018 and 2019, and of course 2009 when Jeff and Sara were in New Zealand, were always a perfect blend of recognizing our old memories and history but being able to remain in the present and talk about our lives as they had unfolded. The talks we had around so many campfires or wood stoves in remote mountain huts stay vibrant within me. And particularly the last ones in 2019 Door County with Rick Parduhn and Mike Gatenbein. 

True, honest and vulnerable moments. Memories from 1980 to 2021 that will burn brightly in me till I join Jeff around that final campfire. 

I was fortunate to have such a friend as Jeff. One of the rare few we can meet after our formative years and high school with whom we connect and nurture that bond through the years. I shared moments with Jeff on the basketball court, in canoes, walking in wilderness, concerts, Packer games, Brewer games, and a few wild parties, (my 21st, and Jeff’s flat on Oakland Avenue in Milwaukee, a few Miflin Streets, San Francisco, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and a few other places). I also worked with Jeff a few different times. His approach to that, his work ethic, also remains with me to this day. 

To those who knew Jeff well he could be slightly stubborn at times. When he would start rubbing the whiskers on his chin and begin to frown a bit the jig was up. Be it a route ahead by river, lake or wood, politics, the Packers, Badgers, windmills, being cold in Wisconsin vs. New Zealand, it didn’t matter. Once he put his stake in the ground that was it. I always understood that about my friend. 

And it may seem that Jeff at times never let anyone’s inexperience or hesitancy in a canoe, kayak, cross country skis, or off track route get in the way of a Jeff Kjos plan. I have been thinking a bit about this. As many times I was on the recipient end of those plans. So I stood on a few steep hills in the winter snows of the Baraboo range, not having skied in years, or being a giving a sit on kayak with a rapidy river ahead, or Jeff deciding there is an interesting looking rock formation well off the track he wanted to take a look at. Yet I survived them all. And learned in each case to stretch my comfort zone. I carry that lesson with me always. 

Yet peeling all that back these last few days I also realize that Jeff most likely just assumed because these things were so easy for him that they shouldn’t necessarily be difficult for anyone else. He was so gifted athletically, so agile, nimble, and coordinated that he could simply do so many things physically that us mere mortals cannot. He had panache in nature. 

The call I got from him when Luca was born and informed how fragile and tiny she was and the battle they faced ahead. Yet the love for his daughter and partner, the love he exuded even over the phone was palpable. Phone rates very different those days but we talked for a long time. 

Or that final evening we spent around that Door County campfire in 2019. All old friends, all who had visited me in New Zealand, and shared so many other special moments with each other, yet also had our own paths, our own lives. And the laughs we shared that cold night were in equal proportion to the tears that flowed for our painful times. And the comfort in the laughter, tears, or just the many moments of quiet with the fire popping from the late fall wind stirring the cherry red coals, and the snow falling with no need for words. The company was enough. 

I am going to share my photos, words and thoughts of Jeff here in a more quiet place than Facebook. I hope those that love him find them as well. 

E hara take toa

i te toa takitahi

he toa takitini

My strength is not 

as an individual 

but as a collective

Monday, August 30, 2021


“Worry is a way to pretend that you have knowledge or control over what you don't--and it surprises me, even in myself, how much we prefer ugly scenarios to the pure unknown.” 

 Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Lockdown Day 11: 

In the midst of lockdown boredom today I went and “inventoried” our wood supply. We are only 3 weeks or so away from Spring. It occurred to me last evening that we haven’t even needed to light the fire to warm the whare in over a week. Except to dry some clothes. At one stage in the past month we were putting the fire on every night. I tend to get a bit worried and a hoarding tendency with regards to our wood supply and was thinking we might need to get to some in, however I realized today that we actually have plenty. I divide our wood up by age, dryness and type. And was pleased to find all the stuff I collected this past year from our own trees, and hauled over from a neighbor who cut down a few big trees in his yard and graciously offered some to me if I hauled it away hasn’t even been touched. 

We put new insulation underfloor and in the roof a couple years back and it seems to have really settled in this year as it seems we only need to get the fire going, turn it down, and then feed a piece in every now and again. 

All exceedingly boring stuff  I acknowledge but it’s lockdown. I’m itching to get out and I’m tired of walking on cement and foot paths. I dream of the Ruahine , or even the Te Arapiki Steps. Both off limits. Looking forward to focusing soon on training up for a Ruahine ramble. 

My boys have created a gym outside in the garage complete with a home made bench press and boxing bag routine. They go at it hard. Tara is doing it too. 

And I’m cracking another Mac’s Golden Lager. One arm curls. 

17 December 2020

Triangle hut porch

5:45 pm

The final evening of our Ruahine wander has arrived. An evening that always seems to arrive in the blink of an eye and wishing we had planned another day or two. I just breathe deep and let the gifts we have been given sit upon my soul. Adding to the memories and lustre of the rich history I have accrued here. 

For the first time in nearly six days I look up at the tops of the Whanahuia and see grey cloud gathering. And it smells slightly of rain. A possible interesting dimension to be added to our trip out. 

As we are walking out all the way to the car tomorrow I will again leave quite early in the morning. I feel quite good with the rest day and I should be much more match fit with a much lighter pack. And I know the route very well and have done it in both fine and deplorable weather. The last time I climbed up there a few years ago on my own it was deplorable weather. I recall hunkering in the tussock out of the gales and thinking of both John and Pete. I was a bit out of sorts to be true. But thoughts of prior experiences and good mates over ruled my building anxiety and worries. I carried on. 

Pete and I had a fine session down by the river. The last of our whiskey proved to be a generous few wee drams and the glow it provided enhanced by the song of the river, the place, and especially the company. We toasted our absent mate John Nash and told a few stories of his company. I met Pete 20 years ago at Iron Gate hut which is the next hut down the Oroua river on a trip I did with my brother in law Steve from Wisconsin. From that meeting has come a valued friendship and more so one meaningful to my relationship with these mountains as Pete, John and I have done a number of Ruahine trips over the last 15 years or so. Pete has a doctorate in Entomology and is also an amazing botanist, photographer, writer and observer and teacher. I have been fortunate to forge relationships with people like Pete and John Nash. Not bad for a transplanted Yank. 

On the other hand part of me is also looking forward to pulling into the driveway of my whare and seeing Tara. And my sons. Tara would accuse me of being nostalgic writing that, and possibly I am. Maybe it is the whiskey but I think I am also getting better at dealing with the anxiety our, at times, chaotic household can produce. And spending a week out here does a lot to balance my Te Whare Tapa Wha...Hinengaro, Tinana, Wairua, and Whanau, Mental well being, physical well being, spiritual well being, and family well being. I am ready to pick up the burdens I always leave at the Ruahine boundary. Lighter and fitter. 

It is now quietly drizzling. The first rain we have seen. The sun has passed and the air gathers a chill. Dinner and a small ceremonial fire await. Kia Ora Ruahine!