Eulogies and Readings

Here are the words read at Bill’s memorial service on Sat. October 8, 2011. (More to be added)

Thank you to those who could come and especially those of you who shared your memories – either in front of the church or more casually one-on-one. There was a large group gathered from many areas of Bill’s life including long time friends from the 60’s as well as people he’d gotten to know only fairly recently. Others may want to share here as well.

Eulogy: from Ontario to Vancouver by way of Saskatchewan

My name is Jim Kinzel.  Bill was my friend.  More than that.  Kind of like a brother.  I met Bill over 45 years ago in Regina.

Later I got to know him best in construction.  Working in construction you often get into a brotherly relationship with your partners.  There is physicality and a tangibility.  I think that is one of the things that attracted Bill into construction.  Me too.

He was an accomplished carpenter.  Good with his hands.  Dependable on the detail work.  He was a good problem solver.  He usually started it out with words, talking.  Then he would pull out his pencil and sketch it on anything that was handy. And when he got around to it, his execution was usually excellent and elegant.  In my many, many years of working beside him I never once took issue with the quality of his work.

Bill suffered losses.  Some of them major.  He lost his faith.  He lost his left eye to cancer at a young age.  His first marriage came apart after that.  He son died.

I didn’t know that much about Bill’s childhood.  His cousin Norm and his sister Margie helped fill me in.

Bill was born in Port Colborne Ontario, a port city on the Great Lakes.  Bill spent his growing up years there.

Bill was Billy to his family and community during his growing up years.  He was one of two kids. Margie, his sister (still living) is a couple of years older than Bill. Bill’s mother Marie was the oldest of 7 kids.  Her father (Bill’s grandfather) died when she was 14 and she was cast in the role of caregiver of her younger siblings, while her mother (Bill’s grandmother) scrambled to raise the kids without a husband.  Bill told me, “She suffered from migraines and it was very common for me to come home and find her lying down, mentholatum on her forehead and hand shielding her eyes.  And in this state of pain, she was not available to me emotionally”.

His father (also Bill) had been an up and coming hockey player of big league calibre but he hadn’t been able to pursue it because of the Depression.  His father started out sweeping floors at the grain elevator at Port Colborne and ended up as the manager.  Speaking of her brother, Margie related, “Billy was the top rated all round athlete in his high school for each of his 5 years”. Bill was a very good hockey player too in his younger days.  But his involvement in hockey had two edges to it.  On one side he really liked the physicality and competitiveness of it.  He said “one of my life’s moments of pure joy was when I scored the winning goal in the hockey tournament”.  His father’s philosophy was that competition was the way to get ahead and he modelled that for Bill.  And although as a young person Bill had a genuine love of competitive sports it was tainted in his own mind wondering whether he was playing sports to emulate and please his old man.

Margie also said, “In high school Billy was a highly respected academic, honours student  and school politician.  He was elected the school president for 4 of his 5 years and he was chosen to be the valedictorian for his graduating class.

According to Norm, Bill’s cousin – Billy was the king of cousins, intelligent, well put together, well liked by everyone, super intelligent, polite and well spoken, doing everything a kid should do, first line baseball player, a hockey star.  He even had a paper route.

So now you’ve got a picture of him at home.

Bill was involved with the Anglican Church.  He told me that when he was 13, at church camp he had an experience, a religious experience, in which he felt like he was called to serve.  It was during a sermon in an outdoor chapel.  When I asked him, “you mean like clergy?”  he said “yeah,  a turn-my-collar-around minster”.

I think that he announced that intention and incorporated it into his persona through his adolescent years but he admitted to his journal that there was a niggly voice that would periodically quietly say “don’t do this.”  He followed his calling, went off to Trinity College at the University of Toronto to study theology.  And he lost his faith. There was a simple sentence in one of his journals that said, “I lost my faith during a service in the chapel”.  He told me about it almost in passing and I am sorry that I never asked him to elaborate because I know the loss of his faith was a very significant turn in his life.

Norm (his cousin) describes the family experience of this.  Billy went off to college, apparently bright and hopeful, got his picture taken for the college year book, smiling, clean shaven with trimmed hair.  A picture that was proudly circulated around the family and community.

And Norm added, “Then something happened.  He disconnected.  Just stopped communicating.  We didn’t get any response back.  Things turned out so differently. It just shocked the family.  His sister said, “the family never withdrew their support for him.  Dad paid his way through university and later gave or lent him money to buy land in Grand Forks.”

Bill’s cousin Norm who knew Bill as top notch hockey player, said that after Bill left home for university, he never seriously played hockey or any sports again.

I am kind of speculating but maybe there was some kind of clash in the interior personal area that housed both his faith and his competitive impulses.  And his sister also relates that at different times in his high school days, when his excellence in these different arenas were noted, recognized and even written up in the local newspaper, he down played it, shrugged it off almost like he couldn’t take the credit for his achievements.

Although his unassuming quality of not blowing his own horn was familiar to me, a lot of the rest of it what I am relating was news to me.  I didn’t meet him until after a lot of this had played out.  So I never saw that side of him, either the Christian or the tuned up athletic.  I would never have characterized Bill as being competitive.  Except perhaps in debate when he could get animated, excited and intense.

Bill was a born seeker.  And whatever this loss of faith entailed, it propelled him into a quest that didn’t end until he died.  When he lost his faith, I think that he gave up a kind of certainty about who he was and what he should be doing.

Bill was a progressive thinker.  Around the time he left the Anglican Church he was actually hired by the church, his first full time job.  He edited a newspaper in Toronto (Scope, a youth organ of the Anglican church).  Under his direction as editor this newspaper covered all of the issues bearing down on his generation (racism, war, imperialism, nuclear weapons, student power, emerging sexual freedom, drug prohibition, any form of social injustice).  He was active in SCM, the Student Christian Movement.  But he was still in his head (words, ideas dominating) with his heart and hands playing second fiddle. Although he was comfortable when he was in his head, thinking about things, he was longing for action, physicality, physical manifestation.  In his journals he self criticized himself brutally, punished himself for his tendency to procrastinate, hesitate before committing to action, and failure to complete.

He was also moving from his religious theological underpinning to a more secular point of view.  Reading less of the bible and more of Marx and Jung.

Although we didn’t know each other at the time we were on parallel courses.  He was in his mid 20’s and I was 4 years his junior.  Bill was ripe for the movement.  As was I in 1964 and 65.

Let me tell you about the times.

To the south in the United States, it had been almost a hundred years since slavery had ended, and finally despite horrible repression black people were demonstrating for and demanding their rightful place and civil rights. And a lot of them were getting lynched and dying for it.  Students, some of them from Bill’s community,  flooded the South in the summer of 1964 to support their black brothers in voter registration campaigns.

The War in Vietnam was in our faces. I mean me and Bill and our whole community.  In its efforts to ramp up the War in Vietnam the US government began drafting students. Within a year or 2 the Americans had over half a million young men under arms.  Young men Bill’s age, my age.  Most of these men didn’t volunteer to go fight in Asia, they were drafted.  A large number of these draftee’s crossed the border into Canada and they were welcomed and received into Bill’s community.  They were referred to disparagingly by the US authorities as “draft dodgers” but a lot of them were progressive thinkers and activists.

Like a lot of us, Bill tried the mainstay legal drugs: tobacco and alcohol.  He was hooked on tobacco for most of his life. In those earlier years he also introduced himself to prohibited substances that were illegal, the psychotropics: marijuana, peyote, hash, psilocybin, LSD.  My mother once said to me, Prohibition (she was talking about alcohol prohibition during the 1930’s, you know the Untouchables)  that prohibition turned her parents (my grandparents) into outlaws and although the  prohibition against alcohol ended, her parents continued to be outlaws.  All this was outlaw activity.  Sit down demonstrations.  Supporting the breaking of segregation laws in the United States.  Resisting the Vietnam War and Canadian complicity in it. Trying out the prohibited substances.  Sex outside of marriage.

In this sense Bill was an outlaw pretty well all of time that I knew him.  It was something that we shared.  In another time and age he might have found a home in Sherwood Forest.

Bill said, “my mother taught me that I could get what I needed by pleasing and my Dad taught me that I could only get ahead by competing”.   Then Bill himself overlaid that with his calling to the Christian ministry.  In those formative years I wonder what other strictures did he impose on himself trying to be “good enough”  to become clergy.  After he lost his faith, he seemed to give up both competition and desire to please.  Someone related that Bill was very generous except when he was asked to commit.  That if it came from his heart it was clean and free flowing.  But if it was burdened with obligation it was halting and uncertain.

In the Spring of 1965 there were huge student led demonstrations in Toronto and Ottawa to provide international support from Canada for the Civil Rights marches led by Martin Luther King.  I don’t know whether Bill participated directly in that.  I suspect that he did because Scope, the youth newspaper that Bill edited covered these events extensively. Even if he didn’t he was sorely affected by this.  It was in his nature to want to fix things that weren’t right and to work for social justice.

Although I didn’t meet Bill at this time, as a student at Carleton I was involved with all of this as were all of my friends.

And as he moved away from the church he wanted to actualize, his commitment to affect and change things that were wrong.  He became a member of the SUPA (Student Union for Peace Action) which was committed to social activism.  He came west to Saskatchewan to work on the Neestow Project.

Neestow is a Cree word meaning “brother” or brotherhood.  Bill along with a group of activists went to live on an Indian Reservation north of Regina.  Bill put it this way, “we came out to save the Indians but someone forgot to ask them if they wanted to be saved.” While he allowed that the Neestow project was kind of naive, it did move him further from the religious roots that no longer served him.  As the project wound down, the group gravitated to Regina.   Regina was my home town. At the same time that Bill was at Neestow, I was at the other end of the country on another SUPA project “saving black people in Halifax.”  I came home to Regina to take a break and earn some money.  That’s when I first met Bill but only really in passing.  But long enough to compare notes and agree that as misplaced middle class white guys, we were the ones that needed saving. I didn’t stay long in Regina.  Although we wouldn’t meet again for another 10 years we continued to move along parallel paths.

After the Neestow experience he married Cathy and they settled in Regina.  Cathy already had Lisa an infant girl whom Bill took on as his daughter.  Their son Owen was born in Regina.  Both of them were attending university working on post graduate degrees and teaching when in the last  months of 1969, Bill experienced a rapidly developing loss of vision in one of his eyes.  It was diagnosed as ocular melanoma which the doctors feared was either on the move or would be soon.  The only option they gave him was to have the eye removed.  With a week’s notice he had his left eye cut out.

It changed him.  Intensified his sense of dissatisfaction and fuelled his search with more urgency.  A search I think for place and purpose. He abandoned his academic aspirations.  He taught high school briefly but didn’t like it because of the emphasis on policing behaviour.

He, Cathy and the two kids hit the road looking for a new place.  They settled in Grand Forks.

Bill found something in Grand Forks.  A place literally.  A small subsistence farm.  He also found himself among ordinary people.  There was an absence of the pretensions of righteousness that he had found and rejected in the church, academia and the social action movement.  There was simplicity as opposed to complexity.  Physicality as opposed to abstraction.  When you are trying to move a rock, the physical qualities of it are easy to agree upon with whoever is working on it with you.  When you bark your knuckles and strain your back, you don’t have to argue whether it is hard or heavy. I think that he found something more to his liking in negotiating  with his neighbours about moving a rock than there was in discussing a concept with his thesis advisor.  In Grand Forks he learned how to work with his hands.  He renovated a falling down house. He took charge of where his food came from.  He learned how to grow things.  He discovered he had a touch in relationship to animals.  He raised goats and chickens.  He got dirt under his nails.  He picked up a slow drawl and a twang that came to fore whenever he was really animated.

Cathy on the other hand hated life in Grand Forks.  She didn’t take to being a farm wife.  She felt isolated and starved for what she needed.  Distance between them grew.  She left.  They split the kids up.  She took Lisa.  He took Owen.  He wasn’t surprised by her response.  He was kind of expecting and waiting for it. He was torn.  He had found something that worked for him: a place and a life style, long sought for connection with his heart and hands and place.  But he lost his family and marriage.  And I harken back to his loss of faith which resulted in his separation from his family and rejection of his competitive athletic vigour.  This was another  major loss.

After that he slowly came to feel that his life in Grand Forks wasn’t viable for a single parent.  He needed paying work and it wasn’t to be had there.  By this time Bill was a fairly accomplished self taught carpenter.

It was in 1979 that he called me in Vancouver.  Out of the blue.  Out of the past.  Said he had come to town, was moving to Vancouver and looking for work as a carpenter.  I think I already mentioned parallel courses.  I was also a carpenter by then and had had some good experience working with Bruce Inglis.  I steered him to Bruce.

He hooked up with Bruce, formed a working relationship in construction that evolved into a friendship that deepened and endured to the end.  32 years later it was Bruce with Natalie, Mary and Norm who sat with him when he died.

I was also working in construction and Bill and I worked on a number of projects together.  We connected.  I am a dreamer too but  like Bill, distrustful of people or situations where abstraction, ideas, words are the main currency in a relationship.  In construction though, there was a tangibility that we were able to agree upon and with that base of communality  we were able to pursue our respective searches in company one with the other.  Bill and I got close.  Bill was generous to me.  That includes me.  My family.  Even my dog and cat.  He was kin to me.  He became my brother by a different mother.

He was always there when I needed him.  He gave me a couple of months of his carpenter time to help me build a workshop. I have a summer place up the Sechelt Inlet.  He and Owen paddled up there a couple of times.  My house up there needed a new roof. This is a difficult roof.  Steep.  Complicated.  Technical.  30 feet off the ground.  He cut me out a month to 6 weeks of his life and we did it.  We hung in the air together and in the course of that we talked, smoked cigarettes and we talked.

Me for my part.  I didn’t have faith to begin with.  So unlike Bill I hadn’t  lost my faith.  My crisis was that I just didn’t have any.  My parents and grandparents had lost their faith so I was dealing with a void rather than something that I had lost like Bill.  Bill and I discussed this continuously through the years, standing in mud in our raingear, perched on scaffolding, over coffee, cigarettes and food.  Politics, theology, how the world works.

Me, over the years I kind of constructed a philosophy that worked for me but I don’t think that Bill ever filled his spiritual void.  Which made it harder for him to deal with his losses.

What with losing faith, then his eye, his family and marriage, and then the final big loss when his son Owen died.

I got real close to Bill when his son Owen died.

Bill’s son Owen was the apple of his eye.  He was super bright, effervescent.  He was a brilliant musician.  Owen and Bill used to come over to our house for family dinners.  Someone had given me a Rubik’s cube.  I think it was one my kids.  It was a cruel thing to do to me. I hated the thing.  I spent hours and never did get it straightened out.  It sat on the mantle and kind of taunted me.  On one of his visits Owen casually picked this thing up and twisted it into shape while he was relating a story about something that happened to him at school.  And then just as casually replaced it on the mantle.  After that whenever Bill and Owen were due to arrive I’d disorganize that cube and leave it on the mantle in plain view.  He never disappointed me.  Owen’s bright light dimmed with the early onset of schizophrenia, probably at the age of 16 or so.  It was episodic.  Over the next half dozen years he was hospitalized  a number of times with each time being more extreme, causing him to falter academically and socially.  That was extra hard on Bill because it was just the two of them.  He re-organized his life so he could be on standby for whatever was going to happen next.   Once Owen stepped off the curb into the traffic and got knocked down.  Another time he jumped off the cliff at UBC and broke his leg.

Then one summer day Bill called me.

“Jim,” he said.  He was sobbing.

I said “Bill.  What? Tell me.”

He gathered his breath. “He has finally done it.  Owen just killed himself”.

Owen had been with Cathy, his Mom, out on a day pass from the hospital.  He jumped in front of the Skytrain as it was coming into Stadium Station.  It took them 2 hours to take the train apart and cut him out.  They had to bring in a crane.  He was really badly chewed up and died in the OR at St. Paul’s.

My friend Bill was living my worst nightmare.  His kid had just died.  In my mind there is no greater grief imaginable.

I stuck to him, close, for the next couple of weeks.  Through the autopsy.  What to do for a memorial.  Bill and Cathy decided to leave his coffin open.  It was right out there in the foyer with his dead boy in it.  Bill said he wanted to make it real for people.  So they could see the horror of it.

A week later, at Mountainview Cemetery  Bill was on his knees holding the urn.  Holding Owen’s ashes.  He lowered the urn into the ground and still on his knees raised his arms skyward and asked, “is that all there is?”  I don’t know who he was asking that of.

It was heart rending for me.

I am about finished.

I would like to sum up my feelings about Bill.   Although he was self critical to a punishing extent, he lived in truthful relationship to his values.  While he rejected the Christian Church, he indeed lived by the teachings of the Christ: Charity. Generosity. Humour, Compassion, Humbleness, Simplicity.  He was a decent man, a loving man, who lived a decent life.  And he was my friend.

Bill Mountain (Eulogy by Bruce Inglis Oct 8, 2011)
September has been filled with many remembrances associated with the 32 years I have known and worked with Bill. This past month has been rather busy for me, so looking over his many years of notes and journals will have to wait, but I have scanned a collection of photographs of Bill… and his life of friends, these you can see in the slideshow later.
A picture of Bill; he is/was and will be for me much more than a 1000 words.
Intelligent, calm, gentle, Bill was a reader of many books, a scholar, a talker, thinker and coffee drinker. We shared many good and hard times together. We made time for long walks with conversations of the heart or the soul. Frustrated by a lack of money, or lack of work he could be upset and angry and often felt lonely unless he could hear others stories or share his. He was a thoughtful and attentive listener and showed respect of another’s own journey in thought, but only as long as they were on a journey of learning. He suffered foolish ideas lightly. He was a keen critic of faith without substance. Lover, lover of books, hungry for more, not sure of himself yet
competent in numerous ways.
Only in his last week did we have a long hug and cried together. Emotions weren’t expressed easily between us, he/we thought too much kept our feeling inside. But he was as close to me as a brother could be.
In the late summer of 1978 Bill first called me looking for work.
He called Jim and was directed to call, as I was a small contractor and needed more carpenters.
Bill started to work for me as he settled in Kits with his son, Owen. We worked on a house I was building at Sunset Marina in West Van.
Bill has been many things to me over the intervening 32 years; work colleague friend, mentor, business partner, counselor and coffee companion. In the early days it was Café Madeline’s, and many venues since from which Bill took his daily cuppa. Once you knew where he liked to go, you could seek him out and more than likely he would be there for a couple of hours reading, and smoking and if he had work if was where he might go at the end of the day.
Throughout the 70s and 80s work was always an issue for both Bill and I, and as I moved from construction into farming and then on to teaching. He moved from union carpentry to local handyman and then a life with Mary and Mary Bennett’s Learning Exchange. But through it all he and I would keep in touch, arrange for long walks, talking over problems, politics, spiritual ideas, philosophy, organic farming and sharing books we were reading.
My small business didn’t last long but it was responsible for the small amounts of work and developed the friendships between Jim Kinzel, Adrian Smith, Barry Cole, Nick Aplin, Peter Cumberbirch and numerous others. Not to mention membership in the Agora food coop.
Cooperatives: …  well that would take at least 2 long walks to talk about fully…
Bill and I were members of Agora and its several locations. That is where we received our apprenticeship in volunteer committee work. Later we both lived at different housing coops and more walks and coffee were necessary to unravel each of our own dilemmas of volunteering for yet more maintenance work.
I became busy with university and a new family and Bill moved to the Trafalgar Coop. Owen was off to Simon Fraser University and as has been told the tragedy of Owen’s schizophrenia. I was not
able to find steady teaching work so I continued with woodworking. For a time Bill and I were a team doing house finishing; hanging doors, installing trim and baseboard and putting up the dreaded bi-folds. I may have been the business organizer, but Bill was the more practical one. He kept better track of our work time and reminded me when we were working for less rather than more per hour than I thought we were.
As my family grew and my career in teaching progressed Bill always took an interest in hearing of my life and was always willing to hear what might be happening with my family, at my schools or with my graduate studies. I heard about his adventures in the Men’s group, the Dream work, the Jungians or service for the Unitarian Church. Meditation and Buddhist thought caught his attention in the last decade. He continued to monitor my progress in the schools and my move into Vice-Principalship. Coffee had now moved from Teds Café on Broadway to the Wired Monk just around the corner from his apartment.
In his last decade Bill was a dear and close friend. I could see that in his retirement he was slowing down more and our walks became brief and the coffee talks shorter as he needed to rest.
Bill suffered a heart attack in 2008 when he was 70 and had started an exercise and diet regime and finally was forced to give up cigarettes. Just recently he suffered hearing of the loss of his daughter Lisa due to uterine cancer last November but the news of her passing did not reach him until just this past spring. He was stoical about the sad news, but it was obvious he suffered over yet another loss.
This year on more than one occasion be expressed an interest in possibly travelling. His older sister Margie lives in Florida and he was interested in his mothers’ family region of Brittany France.
I insisted he get his passport and we travelled one weekend to Washington State in July. It became clear on that trip that he easily tired and had low energies just sitting riding in the car.
Bottling wine a week later he felt unwell and I took him to the hospital, from the scans and tests he was diagnosed with liver cancer. This was the second time he faced this pronouncement.
The cancer was in fact a return of his eye melanoma. He and I met the doctors at the Cancer Agency who explained that cancer cells from eye melanomas migrate to the liver and often become active later in a person’s life. And in Bill’s case 42 years after having the disease and losing his eye.
The last months of Bill’s life went by too quickly for all of us. I made more effort this summer to visit him and to help him get his affairs in order. I know many others did too and these were important visits for him. He took the time to record in his diary the names of those leaving food or dropping by for chat. The end came suddenly, but painfully for Bill. Three of us — Mary, Natalie and I — were with him and once the pain was medicated he died peacefully.
Since his death, I have had some time to go through and scan his photographs. This photo narrative of his 72 years of life is a memorable legacy that he rarely shared. Bill is/was defined by how he knew and loved working with people. While there are many things he did and countless things he wished he had done he has been shaped by the people he met, the people he worked with and those who were his community.

October 8, 2011

Memories, Dreams and Reflections of Bill Mountain

By Mary Bennett

I first met Bill here at the Unitarian Church over 20 years ago. We were attracted because of shared interests in dreams, religion, psychology and community.

The first conversation I recall with him was after church in the Hall about a dream I’d had. I’ve been a prolific dreamer from an early age, but Bill was the first person I’d ever met who was genuinely interested in hearing me recount my dreams.

We moved in together in his apartment in Trafalgar co-op within about a year and enjoyed both our shared interests and what Carl Jung calls the “tension of opposites.”

At the time, he was wanting to leave carpentry and got the opportunity to do retraining through a government grant. He worked with my consulting company for a few years. He edited workshop materials, co-led workshops on personality type and… built shelves in the office.

Bill and I would sometimes do writing meditations together where we’d start by generating a shared list of topics to write about. We’d write for 10 minutes and then read aloud what we’d written. In amongst his 40 years’ worth of writings I found one I had to smile at.

One of the topics at the top of the page was “Why I like Mary”.  I’m sure that it was me who suggested that topic.

His responses included, “because she has less of a tidiness urge than I do.” – Any of you who have seen our respective apartments will know that that was a very kind understatement of the differences in our housekeeping. Indeed when I think back to the 6 years we lived together, I am struck that staying together in a 550 sq ft apartment for six years was a truly heroic effort.

On the same list, he’d written, “because she’s smart, witty, open and generous… when she’s not bitchy.”

Bill sometimes referred to us as “worthy opponents.” Carl Jung believed that mental energy is created through the conflict of opposites. Bill and I managed to create a fair bit of “mental energy” together over the years. :>)

In 1997, I moved out – the tension being greater than we could handle. But after a few months, there was a vacancy and I moved back into the co-op to become Bill’s upstairs neighbour and good friend. We continued to talk about ideas and books, the foundation of our connection, but some of my fondest memories are about the day-to-day routines of sharing meals, working in the co-op yard together and going for walks in the neighbourhood.

We enjoyed hosting dinner parties and co-op gatherings together – in his tidy apartment and with me doing the initiating and cooking and he the dishes).

The most enduring “religious” influence on Bill was the work of Carl Jung. (Here’s the finger puppet from the Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild series I gave him only a couple of days before his death.) Carl here has a magnet in his head and Bill put him on the lamp behind his favourite chair so Jung kind of watched over Bill in the last few days of his life.

I’d like to read an excerpt from Jung’s autobiography written at age 83.

We are a psychic process which we do not control, or only partly direct. Consequently, we cannot have any final judgment about ourselves or our lives. If we had, we would know everything—but at most that is only a pretence.  At bottom we never know how it has all come about. The story of a life begins somewhere, at some particular point we happen to remember…. We do not know how life is going to turn out. Therefore the story has no beginning, and the end can only be vaguely hinted at. ….

Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away – an ephemeral apparition. ..

What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.

Song: Return again, return again, return to the land of your soul.
Return to who you are, return to what you are,
Return to where you are born and reborn again

Bill Mountain’s Book Club

Keith Wilkinson, October 2011

Our book club began in January, 2009. It was comprised of six regular members, sometimes swelling to eight, sometimes drifting lower. It was mixed gender. Mary Bennett set it up with a mix of friends from the Unitarian Church, Trafalgar Housing Co-op and other dimensions of her life. Bill, of course, was one of the members. Initially we met in the common room of the Co-op and then drifted into meeting regularly once a month at Bill’s apartment.

Sometimes all of us read the books, sometimes only some of us read the books. We forgave each other and marveled at how different our perspectives on the same book could be. We had a few guidelines, or rules. Some liked to follow them; some didn’t like to. Bill mostly didn’t like to, but did anyway, sort of, in his kind, curmudgeonly way. Eventually we settled into a pattern of friendship. We read or failed to read about 16 books together – mostly fiction, some non-fiction. Our reads included:

Margaret Atwood, Penelopiad
Maggie Devries, Missing Sarah
Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Ian McEwan, Saturday
Nick Hornby, How to be Good
Stéphane Audeguy, The Theory of Clouds
Peter Carey, The True History of the Kelly Gang
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 
Douglas Copeland, Marshall McLuhan
Peter Carey, Parrot & Olivier in America.
Fred Vargas, Chalk Circle Man.
Sebastian Haffner, Defying Hitler: A Memoir
Herman Melville, Moby Dick
David Stephen Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.
Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss
Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s children: A novel
Tim Flannery Here on earth – A natural history of the planet

Since the meetings were at his home, Bill usually attended. He also usually read the books, and I always anticipated with pleasure what Bill would have to say about them. His comments were always articulate, thoughtfully considered, insightful and invariably intelligent. When selecting books to read Bill was typically accommodating and deferential, generously accepting the choices of others. In analyzing the books he was far less deferential and accommodating and not always generous. Moby Dick was one of Bill’s selections. Another we didn’t get to was Tim Flannery’s Here on earth—A natural history of the planet.

We didn’t read any books of poetry in our club. (What percentage of book clubs read poetry?) To help offset that imbalance I’ve written for today one short poem in memory of Bill. It doesn’t really have much to do with our book club, except perhaps to comment on Bill’s nature as I saw it revealed there.

Bill Mountain

The name—iconic,

like Joan Rivers, Tom Vancouver,

Thompson Highway, Neville Scarfe,

Joe Montana, Cassius Clay,

Benny Hill, John Denver,

Hank Snow, Rock Hudson,

Ringo Starr, Sun Yat Sen—

perhaps even Mother Earth.

The lifestyle—iconic too,

like that of reclusive Chinese poet,

Han Shan, or Cold Mountain,

who wrote poems

on stones in the wilderness.

The face—iconic,

intense, like Leonard Cohen

singing “Dance me to the end of time”,

and serious, like Abraham Lincoln on the penny,

and also like the person whose face

appears in the mirror

and who says,

“He wasn’t so different from me.”

and also, “He was so very different from me.”

Bill Mountain. Han Shan.

Hank Snow. Bill Mountain.

—Keith Wilkinson, October 2011

Bill Mountain was, in many ways, a private man.  And so when we were asked to talk about Bill at this memorial, I understood that we could only talk about some parts of the man not the whole.  Like the five blind men asked to describe an elephant, each man`s answer depended on which part of the elephant he was touching.

The part of Bill that he showed me was that of a man with a searching mind.  You only needed to look at his book shelves to know this.

Some of this need to question and probe and learn was natural, some, I think, was an attempt to make sense of the troubles he had experienced in his life.  When I asked him what would be his picture of the good life, he replied sitting in a coffee shop shooting the bull with his cronies.  It was the reason, every year on his birthday, I would phone him up and take him out for coffee, and we would discuss the nature of the world and whatever else came to mind.

In recent years, Bill followed our lead into exploring Vipassana Buddhism and coming to our weekly Sangha sessions.  Perhaps characteristically he stopped coming to the group after a while, but kept exploring on his own.

The teachings of the Buddha would be a natural for Bill.  From his discourses you get the impression that the Buddha was also a rational, enquiring kind of guy.  “Don’t believe me,” he writes.  “Try out what I am saying for yourself.  Make up your own mind.  But realize, you are going to need real commitment for the long haul.”

A Buddhist Abbott who was recently in town said it this way: “Three qualities underlie every attempt to master a skill: desire, persistence, and intent.” The skill he was talking about here was the skill of choosing, of choosing correct desires and actions, of blending the heart and the mind into a pathway that leads to inherent and lasting happiness.

I think Bill Mountain was a searcher of mind and spirit.  A searcher for that something just beyond.  I think this recognition of the need for desire, persistence and intent was one that Bill understood and was trying to practice.  On the wall of his room was a quote from that other famous Buddhist, the 14th Dalai Lama.  Bill had cut out the quote and framed it.  It reads as follows:


Never give up

No matter what is going on

Never give up

Develop the heart

Too much energy in your country

Is spent developing the mind

Instead of the heart

Develop the heart

Be compassionate

Not just with your friends

But with everyone

Be compassionate

Work for peace

In your heart

And in the world

Work for peace

And I say again

GLENN: Never give up

ALEX:  No matter what is going on around you

GLENN:  Never give up

And Bill Mountain never did..


1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Carolyn Knight said,

    Unable to sleep, and casting about, I came upon your writing on your significant friend, Bill.
    Glad for Bill you were there in his life. It seemed a rich and rewarding relatedness you shared.
    Glad to have had a chance to read a nice reflection of a friend who’s passed and remembered well.

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