Today my best friend from high school, Anna, and her new husband, Matt, dropped by our house for a visit while they were in town for Anna's dad's wedding reception. It was great to see them again, since the last time we saw them was during their wedding, and was a little busy. It was the first time Anna had been back to the house since before Marla passed away, and it was fun to watch her face as she saw all the changes to the house since then. I think it was a little bitter sweet for both of us, because we both spent so much time in that house with Marla during middle and high school.
Towards the end of their visit, I remarked on Anna's necklace, which was a metal likeness of a split willow deer figurine made by Native Americans. I told her that I had a real one made by a friend of my family back when I was really young and that I had just recently found it. So I ran downstairs to grab it out of my office and brought it back up to show them. Here's a picture of a split willow deer...I'll put a picture of mine in when I get time tomorrow...I like mine better.
For the first time in years, I started thinking about the man who had made my figure for me. I didn't really know much about him as a person, but during my childhood, he always seemed to magically find my family and I whenever we rafted down the Grande Ronde River. I remember that he always paddled a canoe, wore a loin cloth (and nothing else), had a very long beard and hair, and smelled of wood smoke and tobacco. To me, he always seemed like a very mysterious figure. I'm sure his arrival into our camp and his appearance was much more ordinary and human than that, but to a child, he was an elder to admire and almost fear.
I remember sitting at his feet as he made my figures, or knapped flint, or drew charcoal pictures, and listening to his stories. I don't remember any of his stories, it was too long ago, but the impression is still there.
As I was telling Anna and Matt about this man and my memories of him, they remarked, "Wouldn't it be funny if it were Jim Riggs? He's a very famous outdoorsman and teacher, and he lives in these parts." I told had told him that I thought his name was Tom, but the more I thought about it, maybe Jim was his name. So I did the only thing I could do...I called my parents...
Sure enough, it was Jim Riggs. He had been one of my dad's patients and a good friend. So unbeknownst to me, I sat at the feet of an apparent woodland legend as a child and still have one of the split willow figures that he made from the willows on the edge of the Grande Ronde to occupy his hands while he told stories...or at least that's the Jim I remember. And the picture I found of him isn't much different.
I think it would be interesting to contact him again, tell him about my memories of him, and find out who the real man is behind the child's imagination. Or maybe I will just leave him the way he is in my mind...a teacher whose lessons I don't really remember but which left a forever-kind of impression.