Lee Mercer

Teacher, Lover, Warrior, Magician

Lee Mercer
24 April 1958 ~ 4 July 2002

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 below treeline.

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

Ride the Wind

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

Chris Wylie
Hello Everyone,

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 July 2002.

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 were everywhere.

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 were dilated.

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.

Heather Kirk
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 my body.

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.

Mark Fink
Lee was wonderful - he will be sorely missed by the wild Rockies, grizzly bears, and all his friends.

I also remember Lee saying that we all need to find that wild place that we would die for.

Cynthia Sandoval
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 of life.

Katie Fite
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, someindefinable.

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 changed.

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 endure.

What will happen here? There are pieces of the Jarbidge story stillswirling.

Tom Woodbury
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 humandisturbances.

Salle Engelhardt
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 organization.

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 him.

Kevin Loughlin

Stroud Peak

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 waters.

Where does his spirit roam?

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 off trail.

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

Bob Beal
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 friends.

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 treasures.

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 fire.

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 walking.

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 breaks.

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, Maryland.

Martin Stephan
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 LeeMercer's life.

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 in Wyoming.

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 wasn't.

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 kid.

Darlene McMaster
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 friends.

Elizabeth Wasson
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 hopeful.

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 ahead.

C.J. Yarema
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.

Tom Vitrano
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 to me.

Trip Taylor
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 Abbey

Russ Woolsey
Things you could find our ol'friend Cactus Slim doing

Returning worn out gear to REI

Grazing on Huckleberries in the Fall

Eating a macrobiotic meal

Buying a computer, selling his computer, buying
another computer, finally resorting to a notepad.

Scrimping on everything, EXCEPT sporting gear

Listening to the bluegrass of Seldom Seen,

Drinking Strong Coffee with maple syrup.

Writing allegories, with pen names and witticism.
Getting them published.

You could find our friend Lee Mercer




To homeless, and observing meth addicts.
To ranchers rant about the Juniper Invasion.
Championing the underdog,
Stirring the pot.

Entertaining entire coffee houses
Gemland is a plantation, not a state!
The governor.s dirty little secret.
OR the irony of the Zygote Cult down in the Nephi
State Police Barracks.

You could find our old friend Cactus Slim

Popping iodine tablets into water bottles

Popping Ginseng

Renting the movie Plan 10 from outer space, again.

Watching a football game

Talking about the hypocrisy of Brigham Young or the
Democratic Party

Or how Gemland/Idaho isn.t a state, it.s a plantation.

You could find our friend Lee Mercer

Plotting for amusement

Conspiring monkey wrenched solutions for the cattle
scourge, the Nature Conspiracy or the next
Fundamentalists Plot.

Stirring the pot with spicy witticisms
Idaho Conservative League;
The Golden State Epidemic;
Or maybe the fascist elite.

You could 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 Desertification.

Waxing poetic about the curative powers of Miso, the
health in Garlic, Ginger, Peppers and Dried Seaweed,
in EVERY meal.

You could find our friend Cactus Slim

Cavorting with the denizens of Arizona;

Telling tall tales of Tucson

Settling Feuds, counseling

Teaching you how to loose your anxiety
And as a brother increase your virility.

Being your friend.

You could find our friend Lee Mercer

Strategizing eating patterns at local pot lucks

Listening to your last wilderness adventure,
telling you his.

Putting on his latest pair of boots,
showing you the ones he just wore out.

Driving perfectly too slow,
Talking your ears off.

Scrutinizing maps, tracing the way in,
and the way out.

Wandering when he wasn't lost,
telling you when he was.

Always Exploring

Exploring his non-physical while he still had a body.

Philipp Meyer
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 ourselves.

Daniel Cretser
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.

Goodbye Lee.

Park Lamerton
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.

Paige Jacques
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 him....

Obituary in the Idaho Statesman, 10 July 2002
E. Lee 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 .

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 feet.

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.

Ed Abbey
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.

Tom Woodbury
A Wake for ELM

A plague 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 mine?

Grizz Lee's still fierce presence
    dispelling heavenly teardrops
    with his upside down rainbow smile
    anticipating our response -

Which thoughts originate within?
    A lifetime's lessons?  Loves lost?
The laughter of a friend?

Lee's here first, on Schaeffer's Butte -
    heard it was a pot luck.  Karla's late,
Katie's scouted it out, leads the last hike-

You now reading this - your thought or mine?
    Whose minding Alaya?
When did you begin to remember?

A Eulogy of friends in life's circle of death -
    "It takes this many joined hands
    to contain Lee's disembodied poetics."

From whence this thing called mind,
    do you recall your first thought?
How does it end - as quick as a fall?

Stinky boots worn to ashes,
    the hub of Lee's turning wheel
Rasta-sized smudge stick talking blues,
    love laugh tears poetic HOWL!

"I've SEEN the best minds of my generation..."
    Who are Kerouac and Burroughs without
that crazy commie Buddhist Jew?
    Who was Lee Mercer
without friends like you and you too?

In my howling hurtling mind is a
    collection of thoughts labelled "Lee."
As he lays unconscious on dusty trail,
    a corner of his mind, thoughts labelled "me."

The alchemist smudges ashes with dejections' tears,
    amazed from this desert, a dragon appears,
ROARS overhead lie wind through the trees,
    breathes life into limbs,
with burning eyes, SEES...

I am empty of not being Lee.
Lee is empty of not being me.

A mind bursting at the seams
    can't be contained by a slab of prime rib,
fit only for hungry vultures,
    or a double scoop of mocha chip.

Liberated, hovering, looks down with furrowed brow,
    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."

Distant stars exploding
    in great sheets of thunderless light
on the far shore's horizon
    aflame in the night.

"But now I am free
    on this trail I NOW see
bushwhacking through the bardo
    of what was once known as me..."

Sparks spiral up into the firmament,
    shamanic drum waves emanating dreams,
beating a luminous light path of
    mirror-like wisdom into the
percussive darkness of our mind.

Life is not what is seems...

Chris Wylie
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.

Web Resources

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:

Back of Beyond - Burwell Pass

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