Don Rogers: Grim reaper lurks close |

Don Rogers: Grim reaper lurks close

All this death on my mind, only beginning with the pandemic’s count closing in on cancer’s annual toll. Some flu.

But I’m thinking more of flames, gunfire, avalanches, sudden strokes, the vagaries of simple old age taking us right out of life as we knew it, these routines we assumed would march along forever.

I’m thinking of our networks extending beyond our daily contacts, of coworkers’ families, far-flung acquaintances, people I know mainly through email or conversations in passing, on a bench, at a brewery, the gym. Remember those?

I’m thinking of children I don’t know, will never know, and how life has changed irrevocably for them. These tragedies and sudden takings hit me hardest thinking about the kids. And guiltily, so glad these are not my children or my children’s children. Not today, though there are no guarantees for tomorrow. There’s a shiver.


The avalanche I’m thinking about was far away, on a mountainside above Silverton, Colorado. The dead, buried 20 feet deep, were acquaintances rather than best friends, though men I thought highly of.

I played noon pickup basketball with one, and we’d once been teammates in rec league. He started a brewery in our Colorado town, Eagle. The other was a news contact from back when I was editor of our local daily. Both joined the town council after I’d left. Both knew my son, too. Well, they knew pretty much everyone.

The news, an alert from my old paper, was a complete shocker. Them and another I didn’t know. Guys I knew to be athletic and of sound mind, two of them dads. Among the myriad things I felt was anger.

Snow sports grow ever more dangerous the better you get. This is an axiom. Intellectually at least, they knew better.

It also was chilling. Please, dear God, don’t let my son be so stupid. He’s good enough to get himself into the same kind of trouble. I pray for more wisdom, for more than I ever had, now that he has his own sons.

These same guys clucked at other avalanche deaths, I know. I’m sure we clucked together. This manner of death is a near staple in ski country. The next day after this news flash I read of another backcountry turn too many, another great Vail skier caught, tumbled and killed in a slide.

The Tahoe region is sure to take its own toll in the weeks to come. Count on it.


If we’re fortunate, we get to experience old age. Still, Wade Freedle’s passing at 86 was a blow when I read about it in January. We shared nothing in political viewpoint, and I found his thoughtlessly partisan in a straight ticket sort of way. Democrats are not really all bad and Republicans all good, nor the other way around, and shame on us for traveling down such dumb paths.

But that was his writing, and he was hardly the only ardent partisan I’ve ever encountered. I enjoyed our conversations in person.

He surprised me bringing up Fyodor Dostoevsky and asked if I’d read him.

Sure, “Crime and Punishment.” Hadn’t everyone?

He nodded. Good. How about “Notes from the Underground”?

I hadn’t. He said no other literary work captured looking into the abyss like this one. He said he’d confronted the abyss himself when he lived near Donner Lake, in the Serene Lakes area. He chuckled, a soft, warm if knowing chuckle.

I decided right then, between the treadmills and weight machines at the gym in Grass Valley where we both worked out, I liked Wade Freedle very much.


I had no such philosophical moments with Todd Juvinall, a former Nevada County supervisor I knew mainly by email. I don’t believe that bone existed in him. I found him vain, accusatory, irrational, at least when it came to anything political. He was the only one we threw a permanent ban from commenting on, having run out of patience for constantly taking his remarks down.

He fashioned himself a warrior — and to be fair, plenty of progressives suffer the same zany view at the other end of this funhouse. They’re all tiresome.

But as with Wade, I liked Todd when I met him in person a few years ago at Friar Tuck’s in Nevada City. Someone had nudged me. “There he is.” So I went to him and we talked. It was great.

There is something about person to person, the human touch. You and I, we’ll know it again soon enough.

In the end, we lifted our ban and weeks later Todd emailed me to let me know he was going in for a procedure. My uncle had something of the same, and I remarked how good he felt afterward, much more energy.

I looked forward to more fiery exchanges when he got back. But as we know, he’s not coming back, and here’s another void, kind of a hole in my heart, to tell the truth. Yeah, I miss him, too.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at or 530-477-4299.


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