Funeral for a Friend

Kevin Honness died on Sat. Drowned in a kayaking accident in S. Dakota. Kevin, Huy, Andrea, Tom, Sarah, Joe, and Luben trained together in 1986 at the Univ. of Oklahoma to become fisheries officers in the Peace Corps. 7 of us chosen from who knows how large a pool. Incredibly, Kevin and I had gone to tiny SUNY Cobleskill a year apart. He was roommates with dudes who would become good friends of mine a year later when I transferred there. He had gone on to Ithaca. Joe attended Cornell, also in Ithaca, although a Kansas boy. Andrea was also raised in Kansas. Years later, I was to attend Mississippi State with a fellow grad student who was on the same floor at Michigan State with Tom. Likewise, when we returned from Africa, Andrea and I were to follow each other to similar parts of the country. The world is so small, it seems.

My favorite memory of Kevin was in our final hours in Norman, OK. He and Andrea decided the best thing they could do after we had completed our rigourous 10 weeks of training was to finish a 1/5 of Cutty Sark. Afterwhich, we all went to the movies. I remember the flick: Stand By Me. When we went in, Joe and I could not find seats together with Andrea, Tom, Sarah and Huy. We sat near the back. After the movie, we exited to the parking lot, where our trainer was waiting for us with the van. There were also police and/or an ambulance there, and we wondered what had happened. When none of our friends showed up, we decided we’d walk to O’Malleys Bar, and the trainer would bring the rest when they came out.

Joe and I walked to O’Malleys, where we had several beers. I remember the waitress asking if we needed glasses, and I said no, I could see fine. She turned to get the beers, got the remark, and gave us a look. I had it, even back then. The rest of the crew never showed, and Joe and I walked home hours later. When we got to our campus housing, Huy was wired, smoking cigarettes with golf ball eyes. “Where were you guys? Don’t you know what happened? Kevin and Pandy passed out as soon as the movie started. Then they started throwing up. They threw up on themselves. They threw up on each other. Great!!!!!. The theatre owners called for medical help and said they’d press charges if we didn’t clean up the mess.” That was a freakin’ classic.

When I returned to Alaska from Sierra Leone, my first year round job was in Kodiak. One day I got a call which said a friend of mine was here to see me in the Kodiak office. I saw a man with a long pony tail, with his back to me, looking at a chart. I thought it was a fish and gamer I’d known. However, when the dude turned around, it was Kevin. No mistaking those piercing blue eyes and million dollar smile. When Kevin was in the Peace Corps, he had short cropped hair and a starch white collared shirt. Just the opposite of expectations. Back in the states, he grew his hair long and came to Kodiak as an observer on a foreign fishing vessel. He’d found a cause in Greenpeace then.

Although at the time, he swore off most animal protein as a vegetarian, one taste of my canned coho salmon altered that. After we ate some coho, and then caught some, Kevin had to know how to can them. I showed him, and he stayed on with me in Kodiak for a week or two. I remember not wanting him to leave. It was good to have a brother again.

Kevin went on to wolf work in Yellowstone. We met once with Joe back in Trumansburg at this parents house. He had a local female friend there, and I think Joe was there too, as he got some short term contract work back near Cornell. Andrea was in NY City at the time, and I can’t, for the life of me, remember if she was there or we called her in her tiny NY apartment.

A few years later, I found myself in Juneau as a fishery biologist for Fish and Game. Kevin’s folks came through town on a cruise ship. I asked what they wanted to do, and it was unanimous- they wanted to fish. So we loaded up the skiff and headed north to Hand Trollers Cove. We fished all day but no luck. I at least wanted to get them semi-near some humpback whales, but they always seemed to stay in the distance. Just as we had to get back, we got a salmon on the line. As we landed it in the net, a group of humpback whales blew right near the skiff. We headed back to the house, grilled the salmon for dinner, and then put Gay and Howard back on their ship. A perfect day.

I happened to go to Minnesota a couple years ago. When Kevin saw my schedule of towns I was going to visit peddling our salmon, he said I was “in striking distance” of where he was in S. Dakota, working to reintroduce swift fox on Ted Turners Ranch. I couldn’t resist. I drove all day and arrived in the state capital late in the evening. Kevin was there waiting. We parked my rental car, and drove in his truck the 40 odd miles out into the prairie to his cabin on the ranch. He put me up in a pop-up camper, and it was so quiet out there on the prairie.

The next day, we went and tracked some of his swift fox. One had been taken by a predator. We found some entrails and the collar, and Kevin thought a hawk had taken it. This didn’t bother him much. That’s part of what swift foxes were in the food chain.

When we got back to the cabin, Kevin put on some bison ribs. The ranch had to take a cow bison which broke it’s leg, I think, in the process of a round up. Kevin got the meat. The ribs were one of the best meals I’ve ever had. The only disappointment of the whole trip was I never did get to meet his wife, who was off at grad school.

We talked annually or more on the phone or email. He took great pride in putting together several salmon orders with his graduate student family at U. S. Dakota, where he’d entered a MS/PhD program.

Kevin died on Sat. His wife called me today. I said I’d call Andrea, Joe, Tom and Sara. Huy is back in his homeland of Vietnam, and Kristy said she’d try to email him. We’ve lost contact with Luben. As I called each person, we shared shock together, made small talk of other things in our lives – Andrea pregnant with twins at 44, Tom trying to pass his medical exams at 45, me heading to Prudhoe Bay at 44, and Joe heading to his field work in Canada at 43. Pretty tough for all of us to take. I was in the middle of the bearing on the boat I was driving to put on the ferry to the buyer in Washington State thinking things couldn’t get worse. But it did get worse.