October 25, 2012
Our first snow of the season. Wet flakes, barely covering the ground. I woke up, peered out the window and glanced at the date on my watch. With a start, I realized it was my father’s birthday. One-hundred years ago.
He passed away in 1993 at the age of eighty. A terrible lung fibrosis stilled his great heart. During the nearly twenty years of his long decline, he never complained. He kept plugging away at his dreams and projects at Sylvan Dale, the place he loved, even when he had a hard time moving from his chair to his desk.
We still experience the beauty of the place he and my mom developed and nurtured. A great privilege. My sister, Susan, delved into the files and pullout out the “Remembrances” book for his memorial service. I thought I’d share what we wrote about him:
Our Dad was many things, and one of them was what I call a land sculptor. Where others looked and saw only rocks and swamps and limitations, his eyes saw building stones and lakes and possibilities. He worked with nature to create beauty. He planted trees, pooled water, sculpted the land, and created works of art. Larry McMurtry, the author of Lonesome Dove, once wrote an article criticizing the revisionist historians who seek to dismantle the grand myths of the Old West. These historians, McMurtry said, don’t have a clue when it comes to comprehending the spark that inspired the fur trappers, cattle barons, gold kings and simple cowboys and drove them forward despite their failures and hardships—they saw creative possibilities where others could not. In McMurtry’s words, ,”these people had callings and were sustained by them. Others had only jobs.” Our dad lived his callings and shared them enthusiastically with us. We miss him.
I will never forget the afternoon of May 12. The Sylvan Dale valley was incredibly beautiful clad in a spring robe of lush green sprinkled with the magic of wildflowers. We gathered on the lawn of the J-house facing to the west. The hills of home embraced us as we sat close sharing the memories of our dad—Maurice Jessup, a man who lived his values, patiently endured his long illness, unselfishly gave opportunity to troubled youth, and shared his dream with literally thousands of people. We said good-bye to him that afternoon as his ashes drifted into the Valley from Green Ridge. Our family standing above on the rocky ledge of Echo Rock, our dear friends cradled below at Echo Lake. A few deer stood motionless on the hillside…watching. A meaningful tribute to a man with incredible vision and faith. My dad lived in the present moment, he was a “doer,” a risk-taker, a dreamer. What he left behind was precious…his vision. My strength comes from my commitment to keep it alive and well.