Funny, what triggers a memory, and what rabbit holes you go down from there.
This morning on NPR I listened to a story about the 100-year anniversary of Holst’s “symphonic blockbuster” The Planets. It’s been a few years since I listened to the entire symphony. I was first introduced to The Planets by a man I dated in the mid-80s, Ron Gregg. Ron was one-of-a-kind; everyone who met him agreed. We met in 1986 after I placed a personals ad in the Seattle Weekly to which he responded. I was 29 and had just returned to Seattle after living and practicing law in small-town eastern Washington for a couple years. Ron was 38, had a PhD is Applied Physics (nuclear physics) from Cal Tec, and was an accomplished mountaineer, white water kayaker, backcountry skier, cyclist and sometime runner. In some sports I couldn’t keep up with him, in others, he couldn’t keep up with me, so we were a good match.
Ron was running the business he created in 1980 – Outdoor Research, better known as OR – out of the basement of a rental house, designing and making clothing and supplies for outdoor recreation – gators, hats, gloves, first aid kits. I was given, and still have, lots of great Gore-Tex gear. When Ron designed the Gore-Tex rain hat dubbed the Seattle Sombrero and asked my opinion, I told him it was the ugliest thing I’d seen and I’d never wear one. Good thing he didn’t listen; it went on to be one of the most successful products OR produced and still sells well to this day. (I have – and wear – two!)
Ron and I had a memorable first date. He picked me up at my mother’s townhouse, on crutches with his foot in a cast, a canoe strapped to the top of his beat-up 1964 Dodge Dart. He was going to take me boating on a mountain lake in eastern Washington, an all-day excursion. Because it was his right foot in a cast, he drove by using his left foot for both gas and brake. I fought with myself about getting in that car, with a stranger, thoughts of Ted Bundy flashing through my mind, but Ron was charming and so seemingly trustworthy that I went. So glad I did.
Eclectic in his interests, Ron regularly attended the Seattle Symphony. (He played violin as a kid but the only instrument I saw him play as an adult was the kazoo.) It was on one of those dates that I first heard The Planets and finally found classical music I could love. In the five years Ron and I dated, I heard the Seattle symphony play The Planets twice, and Ron gave me a cassette tape of the symphony. When we listened to The Planets in the car, he’d pretend to conduct with his right hand and arm, always with lots of gusto during the dramatic parts. I learned to lean toward the passenger window. I upgraded to a CD version of The Planets years later. (I’m listening to it as I type this.)
Ron had boundless energy, was incredibly strong, and a natural athlete. He taught me to white water kayak and telemark/backcountry ski. My first introduction to Idaho was thanks to Ron, a kayaking trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River around 1988. We came back twice more and also boated some of Idaho’s other rivers. We skied at Brundage during Winter Carnival one winter. Even though we broke up in 1991, we always remained friends. In the early 2000s, when I shared with Ron my dream of leaving the noise and traffic of Seattle behind and creating a dog boarding and training facility in rural Idaho, he – by then very successful with OR – was enthusiastic and willing to buy the land on which I could do that. We talked about it again in January 2003 as I planned my first scouting trip to Idaho. Two months later, on March 17, Ron was killed in an avalanche in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, B.C., just shy of his 55th birthday.
One key paragraph from his obituary gives a sense of who Ron Gregg was: “Ron was a life-long learner and self-proclaimed expert on all subjects, whose enthusiasm for life and whose keen fashion sense set him apart. His generous nature, his dependable, loyal friendship, his dance moves, obfuscating verbiage, puns and smirking countenance will be missed by family and friends too numerous to count. Knowing him has made the world a more colorful place.”
The “keen fashion sense” = gawd-awful velour pullover shirts and other unusual choices. Ron did not follow trends. Anyone watching him dance dissolved into laughter, which seemed to egg him on; he loved making people laugh. He was wicked smart, but never made anyone else feel stupid. He wasn’t about being better than anyone else; he was all about helping you reach your potential and hoping you might enjoy tagging along with him.
I’ve spent much of today listening to The Planets, thinking about Ron and all the adventures we went on together, and about how much I’ve missed his friendship and support over these past 15 years. Ron and The Planets will always be inextricably tied in my memory. Thanks, NPR and Gustav Holst, for sending me down this nostalgic rabbit hole.