Remembering Bill Knox

May 03, 2012 01:15 pm

I first met Bill Knox on the porch at Terminal Gravity Brewing. It was a late summer afternoon and I asked him if he had been golfing. It was “Men’s Day” at Alpine Meadows and much of the clientele had just gotten off the links.

“No, I had to work,” he growled.

Everyone I’ve talked to in the week since his death would agree that Bill worked because he loved it. His gruffness couldn’t fool anyone.

A few months after making his acquaintance I began seeing him at the Wallowa County Natural Resource Advisory Committee’s technical meetings. Over the past three years I grew to know him as both friend and story source.

In 2010, record-breaking kokanee (land-locked, sockeye salmon) were being landed at Wallowa Lake. If memory serves, the record was broken four times in as many months. Little did I know at the time how much of an expert Bill was on the Wallowa Lake kokanee.

In a technical meeting that spring Bill mentioned spring Chinook numbers were looking good and there would be a good fishing season. A few months later he supplied wading boots and polarized glasses for a chinook carcass and redds (fish egg nests) survey I covered on the Lostine River.

For the past couple years, I’ve tagged along with my neighbors to barbecues at the Knox house. To give you any indication of how good the food is, Bill’s wife, Diane, once tempted me to a picnic with the words, “There’ll be smoked salmon!”

During Chief Joseph Days Rodeo the dogs and I stayed with Bill and Diane so I wouldn’t have to commute to Lostine. In the morning the Observer was spread across the kitchen table, Bill cooked bacon, and NPR news played in the background.

What I will miss most about Bill is talking politics with him at the edge of the TG porch, his cigar smoke swirling overhead. Bill told me many times he had delivered the Des Moines Register as a kid and liked to read the newspaper in the morning.

He was the one person I knew who would give me feedback on my work and on my paper. In return, I could always ask his opinion, which he would gratefully supply.

Last Wednesday I was writing Wallowa Life when I received the call that Bill had died. I paced around awhile and made many phone calls. Then I brewed another pot of coffee and tried to focus on my work.

I ground out my stories thinking all I wanted to do was write about Bill, but I knew I needed to wait. Over the past week I absorbed his essence through his friends and colleagues who gathered to grieve his loss.

Bill represented the spirit that draws people to Wallowa County — a no-nonsense attitude, a musical spirit, and the love of creation.

The afternoon of his death friends met on Terminal Gravity’s porch. An iPod with three hours of John Prine music was plugged into the pub’s stereo and the lyrics of Prine’s “Whistle and Fish” were distributed so impromptu, a cappella renditions could be sung.

I’ve never seen so much crying and hugging. A fixture was gone. A constant, something reliable was never coming back. Who will answer the last three clues of the pub’s nightly crossword puzzle from now on?

A force of nature such as Bill cannot but live on in our hearts, our memories and through the songs that he played. Tight lines, my friend.

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