Teacher, Lover, Warrior,
24 April 1958 ~ 4 July
Once on a mountain pass in the remote Absaroka, I
walked into a large elk herd that was being stalked by a lone
wolf. The wolf howled in frustration as my appearance disrupted
its hunt. Over a mile to my south, towards an area said to have
army cutworm moths, were two large grizzly bears, walking slowly
away from me. They were across the plateau from each other, at
least a half a mile apart. Meanwhile, a golden eagle soared
overhead, riding the thermals in search of red squirrels just
The interconnectedness I felt in just a fleeting moment on that
pass is what I mean by scale in terms of non-physical being.
Several life forms with different survival agendas coalescing in
what Wallace Stegner described as "a landscape of inhuman scale."
This is what Norman Maclean was trying to describe metaphoricly
in "A River Runs Through it." Life is a series of perfect and
imperfect moments. In perfect moments, we can find grace,
interconnectedness and wonder if we look hard enough. "Under the
rocks are the words. I am haunted by waters." My mind turns to the
bears on the plateau. Grizzly bears have provided me with many
perfect moments in my life. I wondered whether the bears thought
of such a large elk herd and the wolf's attempt at predation. Did
they know I was coming and would disrupt the hunt? Did they know
in advance that there would be no elk carcass? Or were they
totally focused on the moth site and not interested? With so many
moths awaiting them, did a fight with a wolf seem unnecessary?
A ceremony in memory of Lee Mercer was held Sunday, the 14th of
July, at the Shafer Butte picnic grounds located near the Bogus
Basin ski area . The day, weather and location were beautiful. The
ceremony was healing and magical. Many thanks to everyone for their
thoughts, efforts and presence.
Dispersal of Lee's Ashes
In September of 2003 five of Lee's closest
friends backpacked into the remote Eastern Washakie Wilderness. As
per Lee's request, his ashes were dispersed high on Burwell Pass.
One of the party, Robert Beal, has written a wonderful online account of their sojourn.
Thoughts from Friends
It is with the utmost sadness that I must convey to you that
Lee Mercer, aged 44, has died due to cardiac arrest on the 4th of
Katie Fite, Jyl Hoyt, Bob Vestal and I, Chris Wylie, were at
his side. We had driven up the Jarbidge River, and parked our cars
5 miles south of the town of Jarbidge, Nevada. This was about 2
miles north of the Jarbidge Wilderness boundary. As most trips are
with Lee and Katie, wilderness was our destination. We had hoped
to spend 4 days hiking in the cool, verdant mountains. Wildflowers
We left our cars around 4:00 pm Mountain Time. We were walking
on the old roadbed towards the wilderness. Around 4:10 Lee stopped
in his tracks, looked across the valley towards a peak in the high
country and toppled over like a mighty oak whose time had come. In
shock we stared at his motionless body for a moment. He let out a
low rumbling growl. That was his last breath.
Within 60 seconds we had freed Lee of his pack, rolled him over
and Bob Vestal, an MD, was administering cardial palpitations, I
was doing mouth to mouth. We kept checking for breath or a pulse.
We never found a trace. His eyes looked far away and his pupils
A family, who happened to be walking past us at the same time,
ran for emergency help. Around 4:25 first response teams began
arriving and relieved Bob and I. There was an incredible
outpouring of help and resources. Around 5:00 the life flight from
Boise arrived. The paramedics worked with Lee another 20 minutes
without a flicker of response. It was now over an hour since he
fell, so they acknowledged his departure and declared him dead.
He was surrounded by people he loved and who loved him. He was
in the high country. It was a beautiful day. He died with his
boots on. His last vision was of the peaks where his spirit will
always fly. Between breaths I stroked his head and told him that
we loved him and that he was a good man. If he had to die, it was
a good day to go.
I can only say that I know a fraction of the magnitude of this
man. His passing has created many gaps in many people’s lives. He
was a great man and will be sorely missed.
May his passing be an invocation for us all to live each day as
though it could be our last.
My deepest regards and sympathies go out to all who are touched
by Lee’s departure.
When the phone rang late that
night I jumped. Jesus, I thought, who's in the hospital? Nobody
stays up as late as me...just mending a dress so it will be ready
to wear to a wedding or a funeral...
"Yes, Ms. Kirk?"
"This is the Coroner
down here in something-something county and I'd like to ask you a
few questions about a young man we have down here."
Jesus Christ, did he say coroner? I felt my heart leap into my
throat and a never ending expanse open in the pit of my being.
Dan's in bed, Isaac's in bed, Kirby's in town- it must be my
brother Kelly I deduced in a nanosecond.
"We have the body of an Edgar Lee Mercer here and we were
wondering if you might be able to help us reach his landlord, uh,
a Karla Kolb, uh, or any next of Kin."
Relief washed over me and set me free for 3 days. Then grief
stopped by for a visit and much like Lee himself decided to make
it an extended stay. I hadn't been close to Lee for a few years,
so it was weird that it had somehow fallen upon my lap to notify
others of his passing. An eerie feeling swept over me as I thumbed
through his address book. Am I really the person who should be
doing this? I have not been much of a friend to Lee lately, had
not always acted as loving as I could've... even avoided him a
time or two...
"He apparently had a heart attack" I heard myself tell his
friends for about the 20th time.
That night Lee came to me in a dream. Out of the swirling
astroplane he appeared. I could not see him but I could feel him.
He said it was ok that I had become the messenger of his passing,
that he trusted me. I felt love passing through his vibration into
The next day I called Helene in Quebec to tell her of Lee's
death. I told her of my reservations and also of my dream. " He
did love you Heather, he was just telling that to Chris and I a
couple of weeks ago" Helene lovingly informed me.
Suddenly grief wrapped itself around me and pierced every pore
of my body. I knew that I had lost a friend as loyal and as loving
as one could have. He had taken me under his wing at several
junctures in our friendship and provided me shelter from the storm
of my own lost self. He had asked for help and acceptance from
myself and others and found a community, a family, in Boise.He was
as playful as he was philosophical, as passionate as poetic, as
scarred and as beautiful as anyone I've ever known.
I miss him. I think about him 10 fold than I did when he was
alive. Funny how that happens. I feel like he is no longer someone
I know, but someone who is a part of me. My
cellular-molecular-spiritual self has been altered.
Thank you Lee.
Lee was wonderful - he will be
sorely missed by the wild Rockies, grizzly bears, and all his
I also remember Lee saying that we all need to find that wild
place that we would die for.
I prayed he was in a
beautiful place w/ loved ones. He was blessed, we could be so
lucky. I will miss his voice of love for the wild & vitality
Lee died in a place of power, a
place where power swirls. Peaks of thesky island Jarbidge
Mountains capture the visual landscape for thousandsof square
miles, and coalesce wild clouds into fantastic patterns.
Awatershed divide between the Great Basin and Pacific streams -
the MarysRiver flows south into the Humboldt and dead-end marsh.
The JarbidgeRiver goes into the Bruneau, the Snake, the Columbia.
Not so long agogrizzlies ate salmon by where Lee died. Jarbidge
means “monster” – Tshaw’bitts from the Shoshoni. The Jarbidge
Wilderness was establishedby the Wilderness Act in 1964, one of
the nations first Wildernesses.
This is what I’m still trying to sort out … powers and forces,
I first went backpacking with Lee on Memorial Day, 2000 in the
canyonlabyrinths of the Pole Creek Breaks. I hiked out a day early
to drive toJarbidge to meet Susan Tixier to reconnoiter the site
of the Jarbidgeroadbed opening planned by the Shovel Brigade for
that July 4. Susanwanted the Great Old Broads for Wilderness to be
there to present analternative voice.
The road controversy is a case of human folly in the face of
naturalforces. The Humboldt Forest had “improved” an old mining
trail in an areaprone to extreme snowmelt events. The road
dead-ended near SnowslideGulch at the wilderness boundary where
they erected a deluxe newouthouse. In 1995, the road was,
predictably, ripped out by a roaringsnowmelt debris torrent of
rocks and boulders. If motorized accessremains where the debris
torrents left it, natural forces will havesmashed a defacto
extension of the wilderness boundary. To this day, thesituation is
embroiled in controversy and unresolved. On July 4, 2000 wewatched
as the Shovel Brigade hacked into landscape fabric placed by theFS
to stop sediment from reaching the bull trout stream. Watched as
theyremoved a big boulder blocking vehicles from passage by the
first roadbedwashout. On July 4, 2002, I was with Lee at the very
spot where the bigboulder had been removed two years before.
Why were we in this particular place in July 2002? Lee knew
that to getpeople motivated about wild places, you had to get them
into these placesto experience natural beauty and forces. Lee had
put his heart intoorganizing an Outings program for the Idaho
Green Party. The week before,I had done a Jarbidge trip, to
highlight the road issue, as it is againbrewing. We had walked
this way into the Wilderness. Everything waspeaking, ethereally
green in the lustrous Nevada light, with bright tanvolcanic rocks.
Two weeks before, I had gone with Lee to one of his loves, a
magnificentsedimentary mountain range. We walked on the “seds” of
the Lemhis. Theywere dry, dry, dry. We went to a place Lee
described as a win in theTarghee Forest road plan process. Lee
told us about the nastiness of theTarghee Forest plan hearings,
how he and Ralph tried – and this was oneplace where they actually
got roads closed. On July 4th, we were to go tothe Lemhis – but
the lushness of the Nevada mountains was too alluring.Plans
That is how Lee, Chris, Jyl, Bob and I came to drive up the
long canyonin the dust of the 4th of July mayhem, past town, and a
yard ablaze withluminescent orange Oriental poppies. We parked
back from the washoutpoint. Lee went by the river, said it was
good to see so much water afterthe Lemhis. We all put our packs
on. Walking to the trailhead, Lee was somuch himself - growling
“road lice” as motor bikes whizzed by. Said hehad blueberry spelt
bars from the co-op, how post-modern it all wastaking such things
backpacking. Then we came to the place where theboulder had
blocked the old roadbed. This is where Lee died.
The controversy has not ended with the removal of the boulder,
and thesort of re-opening of a few hundred yards of roadbed. After
protractedlegal wrangling with Elko County, the Forest has reached
a settlementagreement, ceding the road right-of-way. There is now
an EIS process todecide what to do. Survey stakes are in place.
Part of Lee was about having power flow through him – to
younger people,to women, to friends - to catalyze a change in the
discourse, and thusthe politics of place, so that wildness might
What will happen here? There are pieces of the Jarbidge story
I study at a great big window,
which kindof opens out to the big sky from the second floor of
this old granarywarehouse. I've been hard at it up there for about
six weeks now, and havea brass Tara head hanging beside the desk,
underneath the window. Atprecisely that time (I noted it well),
the window suddenly slammed shut -something that hadn't happened
before even during times of windy storms(which have been plentiful
up here) - and Tara's head fell to the floor. As it was the 4th, I
wondered if some kind of terrorist attack hadn't justtranspired.
When I learned of Lee's death yesterday, I immediately drewthe
relation. His passing obviously had wide repercussions.
Thank you so much for comforting him as his spirit hovered
there over hislifeless body. You know how sensitive he was, and
how much that must havemeant to him. I'm offering Tibetan prayers
for allaying fears in the bardoeach morning for the 49 days within
which we are said to pass through intoanother body. From the
Tibetan Book of the Dead. I have a hunch he'sgoing to come back as
a grizzly. Hopefully, one far from
I was an acquaintance of
Lee's through Ralph Maughan who is ratherclose to me, he was my
graduate advisor as well as fellow board memberand official of an
Lee was very special to me in that he was easy to get to know
andabsolutely non threatening. He offered me the shelter of his
spartanapartment last April while I was attending a conference
there. We hadthe opportunity to visit at night as we both had very
long days on ourschedules.
The last time I saw Lee was on his birthday and I now regret
that Iwasn't feeling well and drove back to Pocatello, canceling
dinner plansfor that evening. But, somehow, while I was there, I
had the feeling Iwould never see him again.
I am shocked at the news but I am thankful that he went the way
he did. I hope I should be as fortunate when my time comes. He was
with thosewho loved him, in a place he loved, and seemed to pass
without pain andsuffering.
Last night, after hearing of this, I dreamt of Lee and the last
fewtimes I saw him and was suddenly started out of my dream by
loud andlong rolling thunder. All day long, today, such storms
have passedover Pocatello. I was standing in the medicine wheel of
my gardenwatching the evening primrose bloom, in the rain and
lightning, sayinggood-bye to my friend. Then I realized that it
was the rolling thunderthat reminded me of Lee. He was like the
thunder, left that kind ofimpression after talking with him. And
his big voice. I will openlygrieve and pray for those who are
missingLee, as I am, and who have more memories of
Gros Ventre Wilderness
Kevin Loughlin and Lee Mercer
Wind River Range
Teacher, Lover, Warrior, Magician
Under the rocks are the words.
I am haunted by
Where does his spirit
Every one of these images I took while
hiking with Lee...
I first met Lee while he was still living in Baltimore. He came
to the REI store in my area to give a talk on backpacking in PA,
my home state. After his presentation we talked for quite awhile
about some of Lee's favorite subjects: wilderness, politics and
food. We quickly became friends and stayed in contact regularly.
The first place I hiked with Lee back in 1993 was the Gros
Ventre Wilderness, WY. Lee had regaledme with stories of his
wilderness ranger days in this incredible area from the day we
met, so it didn't take much convincing when he asked me to join
him. He promised that he would bring the food and do all the
cooking... how could I refuse an offer like that? However, he
forgot to inform me that he had begun a pure, macrobiotic diet at
that time. I am SO glad that I did not leave my backpacker's
spices behind! After getting off the trail we both feasted at the
nearest Mexican restaurant!
In the years before I met Lee, I had hiked in most of the
national parks in the lower 48 states. However, Lee opened my eyes
to true wilderness hiking in places like the Gros Ventres, the
Winds, Escalante, the Gila and so many other incredible areas. Yes
his trips were often strenuous... taking the trail less travelled
was how he lived his life. The rougher the trail the bigger he
smiled. He purposefully avoided the popular trails, and often went
For several years Lee and I worked together in creating his
"Back to the Source" brochures, and as I had recently started my
own tour business, we worked on joint marketing project. After I
started an additional retail business, I was forced to take less
time off for myself, and the hiking trips with Lee waned. I am sad
that we eventually lost touch after a couple more of his moves and
phone number changes.
Lee Mercer, friend and mentor. Thank you for what you taught
me. For giving me an even greater passion for wilderness. For
showing me new places, and opening my eyes to new ways of
thinking. Our time together will never be forgotten, you can never
be replaced. Though your body returns to the earth, your soul will
forever fill the wild areas you called home. Thank you for
inviting me into your life.
All Images Copyright © by Kevin Loughlin
E. Lee Mercer of Boise, Idaho, died
suddenly of a massive heart attack going into the Jarbidge
Wilderness of northern Nevada on the peoples' holiday Fourth of
July. He was 44 and doing what he loved most -- backpacking with
Lee, co-author with his mentor Ralph Maughan of Hiking
Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness Areas, takes with him
eagerly shared, detailed "firstfoot" knowledge of many of this
country's "backs of beyond." He focused much of his freelance
research, networking, analysis and writing on protection of those
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Lee became the outings coordinator
for the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and the Chesapeake Chapter
of the Sierra Club. His reputation was made by his hikes always
being rated (some would say underrated) as "strenuous." Soon his
most frequent companions were a group of what became lifetime
friends, members of neither club.
In 1992 he began his company, Back to the Source, leading
clients from all over the nation and some foreign countries on
week-long trips into remote areas from Arizona to Idaho. Many of
those clients joined him time and again, looking forward every
year to his "holding forth" en route, on- or off-trail, and around
During his last decade Lee managed to structure life so as to
savor ten-to-twenty-day walkabouts in the most remote areas of the
Lower 48. Solo or not, he would adventure at least once every cold
season in the southwestern deserts and usually more than once
every warm season somewhere higher and, to his chagrin, wetter. In
between he packed numerous shorter trips, some being annual
traditions with familiar faces. While fatigue was a regular
condition, to the burning envy of some, Lee never felt pain
Lee moved to Idaho in 1994, Pocatello to be exact; a city much
to Lee's liking both for its location and culture. A couple years
later Lee came to Boise's North End; he should have never left.
In the last few years Lee turned his attention to writing. He
returned to academia in Boise State University's English
Department. His powerful eclectic intellect was quickly
recognized, and faculty in several departments called upon his
services. Before summer break Lee had been earning an instructor's
certificate with which he was planning to ensure many more summer
His collection of essays, This Plantation Idaho, will hopefully
make it to the printers soon.
Widely read, deeply informed, articulate, passionate and
active, Lee will be sorely missed by all those whom he respected,
befriended, inspired, and plum wore out.
He is survived by his parents Edgar and Harriet Mercer of
Hampstead, Maryland, and by his sister, Lynn Zeher of Westminster,
The news about Lee's passing
struck both Zena and I here in Berkeley veryhard. Both Zena and I
had the great fortune to know Lee from activistoutings, crazy
hikes, potluck dinners (Lee was always the first to arrive)and his
wonderful ramblings about Mormon conspiracies. It helps to ease
thepain knowing that so many loving people have gathered in Boise
to honor hislife and send him on his way to his next adventure.
I had the
great fortune of hiking in the Absaroka Mts of Wyoming with Lee
afew times. I think most people that knew Lee knew him from an
experiencethey had on the trail with him. Lee took me to wild
places in the lower 48that I had only dreamed still existed. While
traveling deep into Grizzlycountry, with fresh tracks of big bear
all around, Lee talked about how theGriz are like "God's walking
the Earth". Lee's ability to travel in thebeauty of the Absaroka
with such an attitude of respect and awe allowed somany others to
find the confidence in themselves to go with him. To go toplaces
they would probably never go alone. For me those trips were
journeysinto the realms of archetypes that our culture has
displaced and repressed.To face the fears of everyday life with
the beauty of the Earth speaking toyou. To sleep under the stars
while the Griz roamed the trail you were juston. To wake and see
the footprints of those that had visited you thatevening. To put
your life in the hands of the divine creator and just letit go.
These experience move me beyond words with appreciation for
During my last hike with Lee I remember always thinking that I
was smellinga bear. If you have ever caught the whiff of a bear
they can be reallystinky. After many days of this I came to
realize that what I was smellingwas Lee. And it was not that we
both had not showered in days. I know weboth stank. But my
experience was that Lee was a Griz. He understood them.He loved
them. And even was starting to smell like them!
I am sure the bears are mourning the lose of such a friend just
as much asus two legged creatures. If there really is
reincarnation, I have a prettygood guess as to which creature Lee
was aspiring to return as. I also thinkI know where I can find him
Jennifer Horton Chadwick
I knew Lee as a boy
and found him to be a delightful little guy. He wasvery easy going
and minimally conflictual. Children can often be testy, buthe
I was glad to hear that he loved his work and writing. It's so
important toknow what you want and find a comfortable nitch. It
makes a difference asto how you live your life. It seems that he
lived a healthy, happy life.Oddly, even though he looked older in
his picture, he hadn't changed inappearance from when he was a
I met and talked to Lee
twice at the monthly Green Party meetings.I was impressed with his
passion for the environment and grateful for his advocacy of the
Owhyees. I was shocked to learn of his death and saddened by the
loss as this voice for the environment will no longer be heard. I
am thankful, though, that his writings remain. He was a good
person. I liked him. My sympathy goes out to his family and
Here is a small story about
Lee, and the words that have been echoing inmy mindsince last
Tuesday when I went into Dawson Taylor for an iced coffee. There
was Leereading the paperon the patio. We chatted for a few minutes
about our plans for thesummer andlaughed at how we had so many
things lined up to do, it would be a verybusy few months.
I told Lee I was happy that he was taking a position on the Ada
CountyCoordinating Committeefor the Idaho Green Party. There had
been some disagreements andturnover in personnel, but I was
encouraged by the new committee membersand knew their talents and
creativity would be a great asset to thegroup.I especially
appreciated Lee's work with Brett Nelson and others thathad
resulted in the a series of educational hikes planned for
theGreen's Conservation Outings program. I could see that this
program hadalready been a success and that new and lasting bonds
were being formedwithin the group and extended to the community.
What better way toinspire environmental action than for folks to
see what we stand to losefirst hand?
In response to my comments Lee grinned broadly, thanked me for
mysupport, and said "I'm hopeful, Elizabeth, very hopeful."
Those were the last words I heard from Lee, and I had been
turning themover in my mind, even before I heard of his death.I
wondered at his buoyancy, in the face of tremendous odds, and
admiredhis positive outlook.
When I heard that he had passed, I felt a huge gap in my
psyche. Forthough we were not close friends, I was looking forward
to getting toknow Lee better and to working with him on the issues
that inspired usboth. I could see transformations taking place in
those around him andknew that together we could accomplish
something positive and lasting.
Now we will have to go on without Lee's infectious grin,
kindness,knowledge and power. And though I wonder at times if any
of us willlive to see better times for Mother Earth, I will, for
myself and forLee's memory, do my best to remain
Lee was in my advanced poetry class in
the spring and we graduated together with a writing emphasis with
our English degree. He brought a lot of life to discussion and
workshops. His poetry was bold and strong with vivid attitudes
(Lee's) about politics, life, wilderness and Mormons. I always
knew that I would laugh to myself and with others when Lee brought
his unique personality into the class. Lee was filled with so much
knowledge about everything and random things that no one else knew
about. I remember we were workshopping a poet from one of our
anthologies and the poem mentioned an obscure town somewhere in
California. Janet (the professor) made a random comment about the
town, basically saying that she knew nothing about it; and Lee
chimed in with the population, elevation, things to do in the city
and so on. We referred to him as the walking encyclopedia after
that because he knew so much. I was just an acquaintance to Lee,
but I know that he will be missed deeply. Lee was always happy and
threw a smile to everyone that came into his line of vision. You
are all in my prayers.
Mary Miller DiFerdinando
I am a classmate of
Lee's from his days at Hereford High School and wasdeeply saddened
and shocked to learn of his sudden passing. Ilast spoke with him
in the fall and know how much he loved his life inIdaho.
On behalf of myself and all of Lee's classmates from the
Hereford HighSchool Class of 1976, we send our most sincere
condolences to Lee's family,especially his parents and sister, and
his large circle of friends. This wasan immeasurable loss and we
will keep all of you close in thought and prayerin the days
I first met Lee in 7th grade
Phys Ed class. I picked Lee to be in my squad. Lee was so enthused
by this that he invited me over to spend the night at his house.
We stayed up all night listening to the Beatles and Steppen Wolf
until his father told us to "turn off that GD music and go to
sleep". Wow, Steppen Wolf and the Beatles, what a contrast. That
was Lee for you. The next day his father took us to the store to
buy some sensible music. We pick out an album called Rare Earth
Live. You know, the one that looked like a nap sack. I think that
was Lee's first backpack. We became close friends after that.
After we went to college we seemed to lose contact. Life is like
that sometimes. We travel different trails only to meet at the
crossroads. Recently we had our 25th reunion in September (nobody,
including myself, from far away made the reunion due to the events
of 9/11) and started to e-mail each other. It was so good to catch
up and talk about "the good ole days".
I was speaking to his Mother the other day and it seemed that I
had stepped into a time capsule 30 years prior. Everybody sounded
the same. I told her of the time Lee spent the night at my house
and he ask my mother "what kind of meat is this?" My mother looked
at Lee and simply replied that it was buffalo meat. Lee thought
for a moment, shook his head, and then replied "not bad". I
promise Lee, no more buffalo meat. Take care friend.
Will Peterson, the
owner/operator and guitarplayer at the Walrus and Carpenter
Bookshop in Pocatello introduced Leeto me as a fellow Baltimorean.
I was lost in Pocatello, a suburbanitefrom Baltimore County living
somewhere way far away from home. Here wasthis happy wilderness
guy named Lee who was practically my same age andgrew up not too
far away from my very home. He was a confident, smiling,friendly
guy with lots of hair. I never knew much about him other thanthat
he was into the wilderness and that he was a nice guy who made
mefeel a little less lost a long way from home.
Even without all the great ecological contributions, Lee's
presence in mylife, as tangential as it was, meant a great comfort
I will talk to Lee as long as I
live. I'll talk to him out loud and in my thoughts. Sometimes he
won't reply (Lee?), sometimes he'll answer with something he once
said, something I've remembered. (I'm angry when I think that I
can't remember everything he said to me; I would like to record it
all. I do recall a group discussion at a poetry reading in which I
mentioned that Joyce said his reason for writing Ulysses was to
preserve the language of his fathers. Lee liked that.) We do have
his writing: something we recognize as distinctly him is in every
sentence. I'll talk to him the way a disciple continues to address
his guru even after the master is gone. I may be idealizing him as
I address him this way, but it won't be much of a distortion,
since he was mythic and transcendent and a holy wanderer.
I can't give you all of the quote from Hemingway at the
Memorial above Trail Creek in the Wood River Valley, but it's
something about the skies and the streams and how "he will be part
of them forever." Lee will be a part of them forever and a part of
us in our portion..
"The desert is the locus dei." -- Ed
|Things you could find our ol'friend Cactus Slim
Returning worn out gear to REI
on Huckleberries in the Fall
Eating a macrobiotic
Buying a computer, selling his computer,
another computer, finally resorting to a
Scrimping on everything, EXCEPT sporting
Listening to the bluegrass of Seldom Seen,
Drinking Strong Coffee with maple
Writing allegories, with pen names and
Getting them published.
You could find
our friend Lee
To homeless, and observing meth addicts.
ranchers rant about the Juniper Invasion.
Stirring the pot.
Gemland is a plantation, not a state!
The governor.s dirty little secret.
OR the irony of
the Zygote Cult down in the Nephi
You could find our old friend Cactus
Popping iodine tablets into water
Renting the movie Plan
10 from outer space, again.
Watching a football
Talking about the hypocrisy of Brigham Young or
Or how Gemland/Idaho isn.t a
state, it.s a plantation.
You could find our friend
Plotting for amusement
monkey wrenched solutions for the cattle
Nature Conspiracy or the next
Stirring the pot with spicy witticisms
Idaho Conservative League;
The Golden State
Or maybe the fascist elite.
find our friend Lee Mercer
Explaining the dysfunction
of four wheeling road lice
and 6.2 liter diesel Mormon
Assault Vehicles, then
leaning forward towards you to
laugh and smile about
You could find our
friend Cactus Slim
Reckoning his time from a hundred
years ago. Where BC
is Before Cow and AD is After
Waxing poetic about the curative
powers of Miso, the
health in Garlic, Ginger, Peppers and
in EVERY meal.
You could find our
friend Cactus Slim
Cavorting with the denizens of
Telling tall tales of Tucson
Teaching you how to loose your
And as a brother increase your
Being your friend.
You could find
our friend Lee Mercer
Strategizing eating patterns at
local pot lucks
Listening to your last wilderness
telling you his.
Putting on his latest
pair of boots,
showing you the ones he just wore
Driving perfectly too slow,
Talking your ears
Scrutinizing maps, tracing the way in,
the way out.
Wandering when he wasn't
telling you when he was.
Exploring his non-physical while he still had a
Lee and I met in 1990 in a
bike shop in Baltimore, and he quickly became a friend and mentor.
He was a force in my life. I’d grown up in cement alleys and
rowhomes, and it was Lee who introduced me to the West, who showed
me the wild space and wilderness that is the soul of this country,
the majesty of life by foot and pack.
Lee lived with singular intensity and was drawn to this
intensity in others. He spoke his mind no matter who heard him,
and kept opinions on everything. He could be intimidating and
compassionate at the same time.
When I think of Lee, I think of how moved he was by ideas, how
his whole body would bend toward you when he emphasized a point. I
think of his easy laugh, his head-shaking at the people who want
to homogenize, flatten, pave our minds and environment. I think of
an enlightened determination, a refusal to bend no matter what the
opposition. On one trip in the Grovonts, we got badly lost and
stumbled onto a ranch after two days of bushwacking. The rancher
saw us, correctly assumed our environmentalist proclivities, and,
with what I took to be typical cowboy hospitality, threatened to
shoot us if we were still on his ranch when the hour was up. After
we’d escaped in the bed of a dusty pickup, Lee ruminated on the
situation. "That cow-herder was goddamn lucky," he finally said.
"We’d of plugged him with a handgun if he’d pulled that rifle on
us." Sometimes you didn’t know if Lee was serious, but you knew he
was not a man to be pushed around.
Other memories are of Lee suggesting a rest day when I was too
proud to ask for one, of Lee bringing extra gear when he knew I’d
forget mine, of Lee as gracious teacher, of the mercy inherent in
Lee’s view of the world. And, for all his broad understandings, of
Lee’s appreciation for the instant. His countless pointed fingers
— at a fleeting grizz, a mountain lion track, a browsing elk, a
distant glacier or storm or rock. His appreciation for the every
footstep of the millions he took in the wilderness, his hunger for
the view from the peak, and his love of the way up. He left us as
he lived with us — on the move in the wild, cherishing the
journey. Wherever he’s climbing now, it is doubtless higher and
more peaceful, and he is beckoning us to keep walking, remembering
how we fit into something incomparably larger than
I just found out about Lee's
passing, and you know it just brought tears to the eyes. I always
loved running into Lee. I never hiked with him, we would just run
into each other at simple places, the co-op, or a potluck (many of
them), or some similar thing. I was always really happy that he
was there too, if you know what I mean. He was really good. I'm
remembering him after he crashed on his mountain bike addimately
telling me how important it is to wear your bicycle helmet,
telling me with real concern for all involved, for everyone. It
was always obvious to me that he was a bear, as close to a
human/bear as I would ever meet. I loved the ways his body moved
when he talked. Unencumbered and true to the moment. Freer than
most would allow themselves to be. Just a few little snaps of
appreciation and thanks. Still getting used to it you know.
Lee Mercer has to be blessed
by our Lord. As the saying goes only the good die young. He will
be missed by anyone who loves the high country.
As I look upon Lee's picture,
many thoughts and memories fill my mind. I will miss him
tremendously. Although we lived a distance apart, a true
connection held us together. I only wish I could still visit with
Obituary in the Idaho Statesman, 10 July
Mercer, 44, of Boise died suddenly of cardiac arrest on July 4,
while hiking into the Jarbidge Wilderness with friends. A memorial
service will be held Sunday, July 14th, at 7 p.m. at Shafer Butte
campground and picnic area -- 16 miles NE on Bogus Basin Rd; 3
miles N on Forest Rd. 374; 1.5 miles E on Shafer Butte Rd. For
more information about the service and remembrances about Lee,
please visit www.ecozoic.com .
Lee was born April 24, 1958 in Baltimore, Md. where he began
his life-long activism as the outings coordinator for the Potomac
Appalachian Trail Club and the Chesapeake Chapter of the Sierra
Club. In 1992 he began his company, Back to the Source, leading
clients from all over the world on trips into remote areas from
Arizona to Idaho and Wyoming. Clients and friends could look
forward to his holding forth along the trail or around the fire.
Lee moved to Pocatello, Idaho in 1994, where he spent a few
enjoyable years before moving to Boise. While in Pocatello, he
worked with his mentor, Ralph Maughan, and co-authored the Falcon
Guide Hiking Wyomings Teton and Washakie Wilderness Areas in which
he provides first-foot knowledge of the treasures of some of the
most wild country left in the United States. Equally beloved by
Lee were his annual winter excursions to the southwestern deserts.
Lee logged countless miles of hiking in his lifetime wearing out
many a pair of good boots and wearing the arches right out of his
Lee recently earned a degree in English with a writing emphasis
and a certificate in technical communications from Boise State
University. Lee was in the process of working on a collection of
essays titled This Plantation Idaho. Friends hope to see that this
and his prolific body of writing are published. Lee generously
shared his love for wildlife and wilderness through his
involvement and volunteer work with Protect Appalachian
Wilderness, the Northern Rockies Chapter of the Sierra Club, the
Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and most recently, in his
passionate involvement with the Idaho Greens. Lee was the champion
of grizzly bears and the Owyhee Canyonlands.
Because Lee was both outspoken and a writer, his
uncompromising, prophetic voice will survive him. He died with his
boots on instantly, surrounded by friends, on a beautiful day in
the high country. Widely read, deeply informed, articulate,
passionate, and active, Lee will be sorely missed by his family,
friends, and the many he served and inspired in our community. He
is survived by his parents, Edgar and Harriet Mercer of Hampstead,
Md., and by his younger sister, Lynn Zeher of Westminister, Md.
The love of wilderness is more than
a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression
of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us,
the only paradise we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever
need -- if only we had the eyes to see.
|A Wake for ELM|
of Mormon Crickets
splattered like so
much road lice
on the road to Valhalla
This thing called my mind,
where can I find it now?
Which of these thoughts are
Grizz Lee's still fierce
with his upside down rainbow
anticipating our response
Which thoughts originate
A lifetime's lessons?
The laughter of a friend?
first, on Schaeffer's Butte -
was a pot luck. Karla's late,
Katie's scouted it
out, leads the last hike-
You now reading this - your
thought or mine?
When did you begin to remember?
A Eulogy of
friends in life's circle of death -
"It takes this many joined hands
contain Lee's disembodied poetics."
From whence this
thing called mind,
do you recall your
How does it end - as quick as a
Stinky boots worn to
the hub of Lee's turning
Rasta-sized smudge stick talking
love laugh tears poetic
"I've SEEN the best minds of my
Who are Kerouac and
that crazy commie Buddhist
Who was Lee Mercer
friends like you and you too?
In my howling hurtling
mind is a
collection of thoughts
As he lays unconscious on dusty
a corner of his mind, thoughts
The alchemist smudges ashes with
amazed from this
desert, a dragon appears,
ROARS overhead lie wind through
breathes life into
with burning eyes, SEES...
I am empty of
not being Lee.
Lee is empty of not being me.
mind bursting at the seams
contained by a slab of prime rib,
fit only for hungry
or a double scoop of mocha
Liberated, hovering, looks down with furrowed
at the frantic synchroactivity
triggered by his fall.
"Hmm... this must be what is
labelled 'my death.'
But what goes up
don't always come down,
the universe keeps expanding into
a still larger round."
in great sheets of
on the far shore's
aflame in the
"But now I am free
this trail I NOW see
bushwhacking through the
of what was once known as
Sparks spiral up into the
shamanic drum waves
beating a luminous light path
mirror-like wisdom into the
percussive darkness of our mind.
Life is not what
I dreamt I was in an ancient
marketplace. It is hot and dusty. My wife, Helene, and I are in a
crowd of people. The throng parts to let Lee pass through. I can
see he is laboring with an onerous load. I leave Helene to help
Lee on his way.
We make it to the countryside. There are rolling hills. No one
is around. The air is fresh and clear.
My bare feet are begining to hurt from the rough trail. I
decide to go back to the city to get my shoes. As soon as I turn
towards the city, I know that Lee has gone.
Hiking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness
Areas. Published by Falcon Press in June 2000.
Co-authored by Lee Mercer and Ralph Maughn. A sample hike from the
book in PDF format: Huckleberry Ridge.
The Payette Crest: Last Stand for Idaho's
"Unprotected" Wildlands? By Don Smith and Lee Mercer
Some Musings from the Bard himself: The Teton and Washakie Wilderness.
Don't believe that grizzlies are doing just
fine by Lee Mercer
Some rough notes and ideas for a manuscript Lee was working on This Plantation Idaho.
National Public Radio Interviews with Jyl Hoyt:
Beyond - Burwell Pass
©2010 Ecozoic. All