The serviceberries bloomed overnight. Their bloom coincided with the deep and devasting loss of one the valley’s most precious flowers, Mary Kiesau.
I can’t help but think it was the passing of Mary’s spirit that awakened them to bloom. After all, Mary was her own special wildflower. A champion for wild nature, a student of the earth, and an artistic inspiration, she placed nature at the foremost of everything she embodied. As a nature photographer, her work captured the simple wild beauty of the landscapes we all cherish. As a naturalist, she was always curious, always learning. She offered her knowledge and wisdom of the wild earth with genuine excitement and an open heart.
To me, Mary was one of those friends whose mere presence was a comfort. However sporadic or interrupted our encounters were, there was always a genuine connection, bounded by a shared trail to the Methow. Mary and I arrived in the valley about the same time and during those early days, we spent time playing ultimate frisbee, hiking, and biking. This was life before kids for me. After I got swept into the world of motherhood, our trails diverged. She pursued a graduate degree, got serious about her photography, and I become involved with the schools, the pool, the paper. I used to be a regular attendant to Methow Conservancy lectures and classes back then, and Mary was of course always there. We’d catch up with a beer at the Twisp River Pub (oh, those days seem like ancient history!).
One time, Mary and her long-time partner Merle Kirkley introduced me to an unmarked trail into Copper Basin along Highway 20. The trail traveled through a long traverse across slopes of cascading wildflowers. As was her way, we stopped and identified the flowers as we talked and walked, her dogs by her side, and camera in hand. Last summer, I backpacked into the same basin for a mother-son campout with three other moms and their boys. I thought of Mary along the way, trying to reconcile the reality of her journey with cancer and the trail we had once hiked. Like any expedition she would undertake, she showed confidence, hope, and a fearless openness to what might lie along the trail.
It was a remarkable weekend in the mountains last summer. Jagged peaks, clear mountain water, meadows, imaginary boy games that only 10-year-olds understand, giggles, and lots and lots of wildflowers. Thank you, Mary, for showing me the trail to that special wild place where the flowers, the water, the rocks, and the wild beauty will be forever be imprinted in the hearts of those young boys.
In fact, Mary has imprinted so many of us with meaningful insights. She is one of the reasons I stayed in the valley. Sometimes, all you need is a straightforward friend who offers up advice without asking. Mary was one of those friends. She said to me once, as I deliberated about moving away, “Sarah, you and Hans belong here, you can’t live anywhere else.” She was right. She was right about a lot of things. On this Earth Day, Mary’s passion and wisdom, taken from us too soon, live on in the land and she would want us all to go out there and learn from it. Happy Earth Day, Mary, your trail will never be forgotten.