January 5, 2013


I like my dictionary's second definition of the word "hero":

"2. any person who has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal."

There are, in my view, two types of heroes. Ones of the first type are regarded as such by the masses: Horatio on the bridge, Florence Nightingale, Nathan Hale, Mother Teresa. Those of the second type are usually heroes to only a few, models to emulate.

Heroes should not be confused with friends or companions although they're not mutually exclusive). True, friends may be influential and one might learn a bunch from
companions. But heroes rise above that level. And to figuratively sit at the feet of your hero, listening and thinking and blossoming is a trenchant experience.

Five individuals have so influenced my life as an outdoorsman that I consider them my heroes. I plan to share those heroes with you in the future. So let's begin:

Shortly after Jane and I married (1954), John Brooke was an across-the-creek neighbor. An unassuming man, John seemed to have a rare confidence that precluded the second-guessing I found common to myself--my inclination to worry over every decision.

Our neighbor was a night custodian at the same local newspaper where his wife labored as their Society columnist. John was tall, thin, in his late 40s, had a face filled with laugh wrinkles, and was blessed with a mild disposition. He was also extremely well read, thoughtful, soft-spoken, and felt no need to argue points. All the above may have served John well during the 39 months he spent in enemy prison camps.

Taken on Corregidor in May of 1942, John talked freely of his experiences--a distinction I found rare in other former prisoners of war. In addition, John Brooke proved analytical about his fellow prisoners and their prison guards. For instance, he said the Japanese broke every Geneva Convention rule in their treatment of prisoners, save one (each prisoner was provided a coldwater bath every day). But John felt the Japanese people he observed while marching daily to forced labor in a coal mine fared but little better.

John Brooke was an accomplished outdoorsman. For a decade, the man had prospected for gold in Northern California and was an accomplished placer miner. The 30-something-year-old joined the U.S. Army in Oakland in 1938 when he heard that particular unit was to be sent to Alaska. John's plan, so he told me, was to stay in for four years, then muster out in the Far North where he expected to make a living placer mining. He wound up in the Phillipines instead.

John showed me how to fish for big rainbow trout in a small lake. He taught Jane and me about watercress, how to gather it, how it tastes. He also taught me about endurance and how to look beneath the surface of everything for a truth that may lie hidden. John was the best I've known at rolling with the punches, taking life one day at a time. He was my first hero.

John Brooke died at age 50 of a massive coronary, maybe brought on by his years of prison camp suffering.

He's remembered.

By me.

If you can't recall a hero or two in your own life, then reader you're not listening.


Next week? Another walk on the wild side.


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