Dan McMurray died. I never met Dan, but I knew him quite well. While this might sound like an odd statement, it is the reason for this writing. Dan’s passing hurt me. And while he is gone, the entire history of our friendship and correspondence remains intact and unchanged. Our paths crossed via the Internet a few years ago and we had been corresponding and trading seeds ever since. Losing a friend that only existed via emails and message boards is one of the strangest things I have ever had happen. Dan’s extensive photo documentation of his contraptions he built, his gardens he planted, and all of the varieties of vegetables Dan grew over the years is still silently sitting out there on the Internet. No more will be added to it, nor will any of it be taken away. It just stopped. I have Dan’s first message to me and I have the last words he sent to me all sitting here perfectly preserved in binary code. Dan was wise, funny, and generous. All of the ways I knew Dan still exist, but Dan is silent.
Dan was obsessed with “paying it forward” and you just could not out give him. He sent me dozens of padded envelopes full of seeds and would not let me pay one cent for the postage or cost of the envelopes. For every seed I sent him, he sent me a thousand. The only way I could do anything in return was to send him something when he was not expecting it. Right before Christmas I sent him a big box full of interesting things. Most of it was made here in Arkansas. Dan had never had pickled Okra or Sorghum molasses so he was quite surprised when a box of “Southern goodies” showed up in Wynndel, BC. He was most excited about the Arkansas Oil Stones I sent for sharpening his knives and tools. He said he had been wanting one to replace the “one that grew legs about 30 years ago”.
As I said, the loss of Dan has been one of the strangest feelings I have ever had. To add to the bizarre nature of our electronic friendship is the fact that we were born on the same day. Sharing a birthday with “Grunt” as he was known on the Internet, somehow added to the magnitude of his passing. There was a point last week where I wanted to scream at the entire Internet world to just shut up. Didn’t they know Dan was dead? How could they keep going with their silly banter and childish drama and not be mourning my friend?
But the world goes on. Dan knew this, but this has always been a hard lesson for me to learn. It takes me time to deal with loss and I don’t think I respond to it the way many do. I needed “down time” and a few days or weeks to process all of this. I’m not going to get it. It is planting season. It is Dan’s own words that propel me into this growing season. From an earlier post where Dan was discussing his wife’s illness, this is how he put it:
"We both know that we are never going to shake the world with our presence, but maybe, by doing this, we can stir up a bit of the dirt, and maybe start a few ripples that might add up to something in the course of time. Life goes on, how ever altered. The world doesn't stop spinning because one of us stumbles, and the seeds still have to get out there to be planted. That is the way she looks at it, and I have to agree. In the end, the cancer will "win", but it's going to have to fight every step of the way. We can not let it stop us from being who we are and doing what we do, as long as we are able to do it. We are both old enough to know that the immortality that we all feel in our youth is an illusion. We are all going to shuffle off into the dark at some point. What counts, in the end, is how you shuffle.
Would we rather things were going a different way? Of course we would, but they're not, so we acknowledge the fact(s) and get on with life. Whining or ranting about the "unfairness of it all" would do nothing but waste time, and that is a quantity that we have forcefully been reminded is of limited supply. None of us has an unlimited supply of days stored up, and any of us could be gone tomorrow. Life doesn't come with a money back guarantee, as to either quality or quantity, and most of us put off things that we really want to do, because of some fancied limitation or lame excuse. I don't say "don't bother to save for tomorrow" because that would be even dumber. But do do the things that you really want to do, if it is at all possible.
When you reach the clearing at the end of the pathway, the saddest words ever spoken always begin with "I wish I had..."
Just before Dan’s passing he sent me probably around 400 to 500 varieties of seeds. Some of the things in this collection he had never even grown. He wanted me to have them, and just as important to him he wanted me to get them out there in the world so they were not lost forever. He had planned to send the rest of his seeds to me but he ran out of time. I will do what I can to track down the beans and assorted other things that never made it to Arkansas so that I can “get them out there”. At one point I was concerned that Dan would not agree with selling seeds as opposed to giving them away. As Dan always did, he put my mind at ease.
“Steve: I want your seed business to be successful that is why I gave them to you= it's getting them widespread enough that they can't disappear that got me into trading in the first place. So if more people grow them, they are that much safer.
In one of the last emails I got from Dan he had this to say:
“Steve: I do have a couple of varieties that I know are good, and may have extra seed on hand for both (no older than two years) for both = Guido and Joe's Portuguese. Guido I got from Belgium I believe (I will look it up), Joe's was a family heirloom that was grown by my second wife's inlaws since the 1950's. There are numerous photo's of both in the albums. I will also send Coastal Pride Orange and it’s red variant and a few with no names = give them a name and get them out there. All of these need to keep going and I am leaving it to you to do it.
I will go through what I have for seeds here in the next little while, and see what I have that there might be enough of for you to utilize.
I'll try and start going through the seed bags hanging in the greenhouse now = get some idea at least of the varieties I managed to get seed from. I think I covered most of them, but there may be some I missed.
If I don't get back to you again in a couple of days, nudge me again. I seem to be a little more forgetful with this last round of chemo. It's also knocked me on my butt a bit harder than before = no stamina at all, and pretty wobbly if I don't really take lighter loads and go slower.
Glad to hear your dad made it through it all for so long. Tell him HI for me
I have a lot of work ahead of me. With all the varieties of seeds that Dan sent me it will take years to grow them all out enough to produce seed for Double Helix Farms to offer. There is a cliché that says people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. It looks like Dan fits all three of those.
Last year on our shared Birthday Dan had this to say:
“Steve: I have had too many reminders that things can go south on you with no warning or reason, so every day is a special celebration of life now. I don't wait for a reason to wear the good clothes (bad example, I don't have any) or have a special meal = I have no guarantee that I will be here for the next special occasion coming down the track, so I do it now. It doesn't cost any more than putting it off, and I get to share enjoyment with the world now.
Link to any of the photos you like. I am happy to see them shared.
PS Your seeds should hit the mailbox tomorrow”
Cancer took Dan 9 days before our Birthday this year.
Dan always closed his blog postings with the phrase “The adventure continues”
Well Dan, you are right. The Adventure Continues… Dan is just silent.