by Joyce Johnson
New Jersey born, 39 year resident of Paradise Valley, and friend of hundreds, provider of 100s of jobs too, that helped support countless families over the years, and adored husband of artist, Norah, John has 5 sons, 2 daughters, and 4 step girls who love him; inventor, master builder, philosopher, Polarity healing facilitator and truth seeker,...just for a quick sketch of him that is. John and Norah several times a year rounded up their zany big fun mix of new and old friends and threw the most wonderful potlucks at the house he built for Norah, hands on, up on the hill overlooking the river at Black Diamond Quarry, a few miles south of Emigrant.
He built the beautiful structures at the river’s edge, on hwy 89 where he lived and established Golden Ratio Woodworks on the property, a massage table mfg. plant (which tables he designed and became top selling) It was also a Spa supply business and had quest rooms, convention and community gathering facility, etc. A very “John” sort of enterprise that thrived for many years and is now owned by his son, and named 7 Point Ranch. I wrote this below story back in …oh,… 2000 plus change. It’s a funny little true event that was such a “stitch,” that I had to write it down in word pictures.
On March 5, John simply checked out of Hotel Earth and continued his adventure. I gratefully and heart-fully share below my affection and respect for him in story. So many of us we miss him deeply, and yet feel quite sure that he is now celebrating with Friends in High Places.
Once upon a time there was a family-run business property south of Emigrant, in Paradise Valley overlooking a side channel of the Yellowstone River that flowed around a wooded island, with the most frequently painted and photographed mountain in Montana, Emigrant Peak, rising up beyond and supervising us all so it seemed. Often ducks were seen floating downstream, and deer on the beach just a few yards from my desk next to the window; a pretty spot to work. The side channel of the river was perhaps 30 feet wide that time of year. Karl, the plant manager swam upstream and floated down and swam back up, and down, for laps, during late summer lunch breaks, (and I did too once or twice.) Sometimes phone-callers had to wait more than 3 rings for me to hurry back to my desk from short hops outside to just look, or take pictures.
So, on that goofy day, someone in the office yelled, “Bears on the beach!” and was followed by employees rushed to the windows. An adult bear and two medium sized cubs were strolling northward along the shore of the island. They were pitch black against the sunlit white beach—a perfect punctuation to the lush colors of the island and sky reflected on the water. The cubs loped behind their mother, taking a few quick detours to snack on the wild berry bushes. I was so arrested by the sight that I forgot about my camera. But John’s son Chris remembered and carefully opened the door to the outside just enough to stick his throwaway camera in the approximate direction, and although he probably missed the bears altogether,... when he pulled his cam back in, the heavy office door closed with a loud metallic
“Clonk!” The bears stopped and looked up at us. (Oh no!) We sorta froze, and a collective sensation came over us that we were now the watched. The bears then picked up speed and sorta trotted out of sight behind a thick stand of trees blocking the view on our side. A few moments passed before we heard a coworker with a better view further south of my desk announce in a calm, but fateful low voice, “They’re swimming over here.”
We looked quickly at one another but I watched a few of my fellow seasoned valley residents shrug and drift back to work. Except me. I stood and stared and frowned. I envisioned the bears excitedly dog-paddling across the narrow channel. Bears can do whatever they want—real Montanans, top-of-the-food-chain, original locals are they not? But it doesn’t take a born-in-the-saddle Montanan to know that a sow and cubs can be a serious thing. Black bears are less dangerous than Grizzlies, true, but they
protect their young like all female species, with impressively serious devotion.
What occurred to me was the mundane reality of a large probably full garbage dumpster below the buildings that John had assigned his young sons to empty, but which I suspected was forgotten,...but had become a pungent and attractive fast food cafe for bears. But there was a worse possibility that the boss’s little kids were playing outside or near the river, so I dialed his extension. It was busy so I jogged across the parking lot and through the glass doors to the lobby of his office. I looked at him seriously and he put his call on hold. I raised my voice over the din of chattering visitors: “John! I think we have a sow and cubs on the property!” I then said, cutting to the chase: “Has the garbage been secured? And, where are the kids?”
He looked calm and thoughtful while my news was being weighed for level of seriousness and selection of the appropriate action. (I suspected also that real men don’t jump when bears are announced by receptionists). It was not cool of me to sound off about garbage runoff with visitors present, but I stood my ground and frowned at him. Just at that moment a guest walked in the door and said, “Guess what!?” (I held my breath in anticipation of bear sight confirmation)...“There are eagles circling above us outside!” John leaned back in his chair and broke out in his best big grin, and said, “Neat!” and I knew he saw the mystical synchronicity of it. Someone in the lobby laughed and said, “bears and eagles are a sign of, you know, ‘as above so below, right?’
I backed out the door unnoticed. I had performed my brave duty, upstaged even, by mystical circling eagles (which was rather woo timing, you think?)... but they were not visible when I trotted back across the parking lot, my eyes looking everywhere for bears...and eagles. As
it was almost closing time, though still distracted and a little worried, I cleared my desk, went to my car, and watched the buildings grow smaller in my rear view mirror and no black moving dots moving around—so I drove reluctantly away. But I had a hunch I was leaving the theater before the Curtain came down.
At home I stood staring at the phone until my husband asked me what the heck I was doing. I explained what happened and that I wondered if I should call Norah, John’s wife who might not know what's going on. He smiled patronizingly and said, “Sometimes you just have to let things happen, dear. Probably nothing will, and, there are intelligent adults on the property.” I said, “yeah, but…”
Next morning at work, I eagerly asked the first co-worker I saw, David, if anything happened regarding bears on the beach yesterday. His eyes squinted up in amusement, and he said “Bears?” and gave me his signature grin that looked like it was going to go off the sides of his face, and said: “Oh, yeah. Apparently three bears went up onto the deck in front of the lobby and stood looking in the glass doors.” (My jaw dropped!) He said, “Ask Norah what happened there, but first I want to show you something.” He led me to his desk and we stared at a post-it note stuck on his computer screen that said in a childish scrawl: “DONT GO OUT BARES IN FONT.” I went to take it off and David said, “Oh no no! please leave it there. I think it’s cute.” David is a poet/writer and got a kick out of it, but he was too busy to tell me more. I found Norah, and asked her what happened. She said her little girl came in to the kitchen where she was chopping carrots and asked her if she liked bears, Norah nodded and said, “I guess so, why?” The little one reached up for her hand and lead her to the lobby where she pointed to the bears looking in through the glass doors. Norah said she gasped and slapped her hand to her chest, and said OMG, which she said must have caused the little girl to get scared by example and the child screamed so perfectly and penetratingly that John jumped up in alarm in the next room, where he told me later at the end of a long day, he had just reached a peaceful space in meditation. He hurried towards the sound, knocking over some folding chairs between him and the door to the lobby where Norah was trying to calm the little girl. He saw the bears, and pulled a camera out of his desk drawer. I was told the bears were alarmed by the screaming and had disappeared quickly around the side of the building,... a second or two before the boss clicked the camera shudder. Ah shoot!
Then Norah remembered her older daughters were working in the gift store across the parking lot, and phoned them. She said, “You are to stay put! Do not leave the building! Go find David and tell him to call me. Why? because there are bears out front!” David was not in the building at the time, so the youngest child, left that carefully printed post-it note ”bares out font” on his computer screen.
When David returned and saw the note on his computer, he was amused, and suspected that the girls were the source so went directly to the store a few rooms away where they often worked. He found them hiding behind the counter next to the outside door that faced Hwy 89, and munching tortilla chips. They said “call mom.” David called Norah and she told him about the bears, and asked him to bring her daughters safely to the lobby. David smiled at me again and told me how it went: He said, “Sure, Norah, leave it to me.” He looked down at the girls and said,“Wait here and… I’ll see if….. it’s safe,” and he quietly opened the front door a crack, then a few inches, then slipped out and flattening himself against the outside wall with his hand holding the door open a couple inches, Saw no bears. He waited a half minute to build suspense and then whispered “Now!” for the girls to follow. The little huddle of kids and David quickly scurried across the parking lot and burst into the lobby with squeals and laughter. They were met by a stern-faced Norah, who said, “This is serious! Where did John disappear to? He has to do something!”She then called around to warn everyone. First, the guest from New York whose room was on the ground floor with a rather flimsy outside glass door leading to the short path to the beach. She told him to not leave his room and why. The guest of course immediately put the receiver down with a clatter, and she heard the flimsy glass door in his room open! Then she heard him yell, “Oh shit!” followed by the sound of running feet and a rattling glass door slamming closed. He yelled into the phone, “Oh my God! I nearly fell over the sow!” followed by, “where the hell is my camera!!??” and the dial tone.
Norah then said John was the hero of the day. He had simply gone outside with some kitchen pans, walked around and banged them together for the racket it made. Sorta anti-climatic I know, but it worked. Norah said that later that John and the guest from New York stood outside enjoying the beautiful twilight over the water while the guest got out his cell phone and was heard yelling into it excitedly about his Montana bear encounter.
Later in the evening, back on the island, the sow took note of the three eagles perched high above her in the brittle branches of the old cottonwood tree—great beaks tucked into their wings—dozing under the stars. The cubs were curled up together and alseep next to her. She stood up on her hind legs and scratched her back against the rough old tree trunk, nostrils twitching as she smelled the prevailing scents, and listened to the sounds of the night. One of the eagles opened an eye at Sister She-Bear who was gazing across the water at the buildings and heard her say: “They are unpredictable, jumpy and noisy creatures, those hoomans, but we will go back to their big square caves after the sun is long spent, when they sleep,...screamlessly,... and we will explore for food…when the moon is full...and its shining path lays across the water to guide us...as above so below.” And the eagle winked.