Twenty-three years ago, we became friends with a graduate student from New Zealand, who was in Salt Lake for two years doing research. Ian grew to be a best friend to our family of four. Our kids were ten and eleven at the time, and at twenty-seven, Ian was like an uncle or big brother. Sometimes, he was just a big kid.
We all loved the way Ian spoke, his accent, and the funny terms he had for everyday items. He was so full of life, so eager to learn and explore. He made little, inconsequential events fun. Some nights we would laugh so hard our ribs hurt the next day.
We took Ian with us on a camping trip to the Tetons and Yellowstone in 1985. So many things about that trip stand out, it seems like it was just last year.
To give Ian an authentic taste of the American West, we took him to the Bar J Ranch in Jackson Hole for a night of BBQ and Cowboy music. As it turns out, Ian is vegetarian. The BBQ steaks and chicken didn't tempt him and he stuck to the baked potatoes, salad and rolls. We encouraged him to return to the buffet often to fill up. He'd return with a potato and roll. When we'd return for extras, we would get Ian another potato and roll. He ended up with seven extra potatoes and rolls, so he filled his backpack and we had fried potatoes and rolls for several mornings for breakfast.
At night we'd drive around the park to spot wildlife. Ian was thrilled to see a magpie, a raven, or a squirrel, animals we take for granted. One night as we drove around a curve, our headlights shined on a herd of elk in a meadow. Ian was bouncing up and down in his seat, shouting, "Oh, oh, oh, look! A flock of elk! A flock of elk!" We all laughed so hard, it was impossible to tell Ian that it was a herd, not flock.
Our hikes in the Tetons took us into bear territory. As we approached the trail head to the Taggart Lake and Death Canyon, we found a sign posted on a paper plate. It was strategically placed above a pile of fresh bear skat (i.e. poop). The sign was a warning, saying "Bear on trail. Skat left 9:30 AM." We arrived at the spot at 10:10 AM. In spite of the warning, we trekked on, being seasoned hikers and campers, we knew how to avoid bears. Ian was excited because he WANTED to encounter a bear, something he'd never seen.
As we hiked, we kept talking and laughing, explaining to Ian that the noise would keep the bear away. Eventually we came to the head of the Death Canyon trail without meeting the bear and decided to take an appropriate photo to commemorate our experience.
Two years of friendship passed much too quickly. Ian returned to New Zealand, finished his PhD, married and had a family. Our lives moved on, also.
Recently, Bill came home from work and asked me to guess who showed up in his office unexpectedly. Of course, it was Ian. He is now a tenured Senior Lecturer (full Professor) of Anthropology at a college in New Zealand. He was invited to present a paper at Princeton University and decided to pay a visit to his friends in Utah on his way back to NZ. We were so happy to see him!
Ian and Bill - Olympic Park - 2008
Ruth's Diner - Bill, Ian, Danielle
A dinner at Ruth's, a ride up the canyon, an evening too quickly spent. Ian was just the same. The years and miles melted away. We laughed until we cried. He was very good medicine.
Everyone needs an Ian in her lifes.