Wednesday, November 12, 2008

J. Douglas Browne Memorial Grove

Doug & I met back in 1987 at Duke right before school got out for the summer, and that was half of his life ago. I was a DJ, who played awful New Wave music, & he listened to my show on the radio. During that summer, I went to California to visit him in Berkeley, where I think I first met Paul, Doug's buddy from Kent, then La Jolla where he met my family.

I guess we really hit it off because he showed up the next fall in Paris on my doorstep, and as they say, the rest was history. We explored Paris- eating nutella & banana crepes while walking around fun & funky areas- parks, cemeteries, cathedrals, squares with cobbled streets & open air markets with game vendors (we didn't have bunnies, deer, pheasant, among others in our markets!) & lots of stinky cheese. Quiet Doug was talking & talking...telling me about his past, his hopes for his future. He had a quirky ironic & quick witted sense of humor despite his laid back facade...I saw a shining, gentle intellectual but spiritual soul who I wanted to love & support. We were so different, but I thought we were good for each other, at least for quite a time. I'm an "outward" type, Doug was, as we know, quite "inward".

From his reflective nature, I learned to look inside myself to find the answer to my problems instead of blaming others. I learned that I could find peace within myself from his example. Following him to beautiful Santa Cruz after I graduated also helped with that peaceful influence. There we felt more deeply committed to each other amongst the big redwood trees & the wild Pacific; we plotted to homestead together- to find a piece of land where we could live more simply. We were growing up, growing together, making our dreams into reality.

Vacations found us camping & hiking in Oregon; we decided to look for land to farm there. We lived with Doug's brother, Harry, & his girlfriend Petra for about a year before we found our land. I dreamed of our land the night before we drove up its driveway for the first time, seeing the old farmhouse completely encircled by a meadow encased by old trees & a creek unfold before me; it's the place I still call home. I am so grateful to Doug for this sense of home, this warm place where I belong, where so many creative misfits from the rest of the country gather, here, in Cottage Grove, Oregon.

It was at this special spot on earth where we married, grew food & grew as individuals. Our place became a hub of community - a place to eat delicious home grown food, gather with others to discuss politics, alternative technologies, culture, spiritual beliefs & enjoy the good life, laugh & sometimes dance, howl with the coyotes & burn a bonfire...We loved each other immensely during those years & our 2 dogs, Yoka & Nishu, completed our little family. Walking in Grandpa's Park in the mud, seeing the spotted owls with their babies in the Old Growth next to our land, dealing with the EMUS (a whole other chapter!), planting, weeding & harvesting gardens & orchards, building, tinkering & creating art- this was our life. We felt our love eternal.

Exploring new places & ideas, seeing how other people lived & viewed the world & seeking alternatives to the status quo interested us. During this time, Doug undertook a big sailing trip down the coast of Oregon with his brother, Harry, & Petra, where they were bashed by giant waves & had to strap themselves onto the boat- no kidding! This was one of the first times that I realized despite Doug's mellow exterior, he was incredibly brave, a quality that would become even stronger at the end of his life. He had a very special relationship with his younger brother. Doug loved spending time with Harry- flying in small airplanes, sailing, usually doing something exciting- usually enjoying each other's company, joking, occasionally bickering (which was sometimes amusing!). Doug was also a treasured part of my family and was seen as a peacemaker and an understated comic in our ebullient gatherings.

We both liked to make things. My creations were more decorative, Doug's more practical. He met folks from Aprovecho Research Center & started building solar cookers & rocket stoves & set up a solar irrigation system for our garden. He met Moth & the projects started getting bigger. First it was a wood-fired bread oven, then an electric car, & at one point, a steam engine (which blew up). Then the concept for the chocolate factory grew after we had visited Moth in Grenada. The guys figured they could make a bunch of the machinery & be able to make a product that would make the villagers a good wage...well, i saw lots of prototypes & witnessed many sleepless nights of Doug & Moth trying to figure out how to make some contraption work.

Funny thing with geniuses & inventors though, they tend to get a little obsessed. As proud as I am of Doug & Moth accomplishing the feat which is Grenada Chocolate, it was really the birth of the chocolate company that was the death of our marriage. I put up a significant chunk of the start up money for the company. Doug had told me for years that I would be involved with marketing, accounting & publicity. Doug was well aware of the contributions I could make with the business skills I acquired from running my own business. Although I had supported them & the project in so many ways (cooking, cleaning, financially, emotionally) for years, when the time came to move to Grenada, Moth made it clear that he did not want me to be part of the business. By this point, Doug was completely invested in the project & realized that it would have been very difficult to make things work between Moth & me. There seemed to be no room left in the equation for "Doug & Sue" anymore. Anyhow, I guess it was not meant to be & we all eventually moved on. Doug, Moth & Brown worked tirelessly to achieve the gem that is Grenada Chocolate- that has provided so many good people with decent jobs, stood up to the post-colonial Cocoa board, uses alternative energy, has an inspirational business model and produces an excellent, if bittersweet, chocolate that still lingers on my palate.

We did come around to being good friends again, although it took a while. I look up to Doug for his creative thinking, wisdom, perserverence, strength of character and bottomless love, yes, and also his forgiveness. We admitted we had wished we had been able to have healthy boundaries within our relationship & in relation to others. I also learned from Doug how challenging it can be for a tall person in this world (ouch, those doorways!) & I will integrate those lessons into bringing up & helping to instill my extra tall 5 yr old son Shambay with good self-esteem.

I think about Doug and the last year of pain & suffering he endured; I cry for him as the vibrant yellow leaves fall to the ground to become dirt which feeds new life. I think about his courage in facing his cancer & fighting for life & his greater courage in letting go. I am so grateful to Linda & Jim & their kids for being there for Doug, in literally his year of need. I think about rubbing his feet the last time I visited him in September & about hugging his frail frame; we still shared deep feelings for one another. I go down to our special cedar tree where the goddess statue we put there when we married is crumbling back into dirt...I look up. A couple hundred year fir tree right next to the cedar and the newly swollen creek has fallen down just a few days after Doug passed. Two giants will become dirt, will become life.

I love you Doug, your spirit is free. I've grown from knowing you. In your memory, I am creating a memorial grove granting the public access to the grove of ancient trees on the BLM land next to mine in the hopes of saving that Old Growth Forest from being cut. In the J. Douglas Browne Memorial Grove, I will invite all to place memorial plaques or remembrances of their loved ones or pets. Doug, you will be missed by so many you touched all over the world.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In Memory of Doug, by Joe Spivack

Doug Browne was my friend.  He was a kind, gentle and brilliant soul.  I met him over 15 years ago when we were both relative newcomers to the Cottage Grove - Lorane area.  I have many fond memories of Doug.  One lucky afternoon we filled buckets of morels together.  Another time Cathy and I completely unexpectedly ran into him at the market square in Oaxaca, Mexico.  We spotted him from 60 yards away with his long blonde hair sticking out like a sore thumb above the short dark Mayan people.  Yet another time Doug called me to look at this mammoth world war two food grinder he and moth had bought for their new chocolate business.  It seemed crazy to me but I knew if Doug put his mind to anything, something good would come of it.  When Doug put his mind to something, incredible things followed.  I was so impressed by  his divergent intelligence, and his ability to thoroughly absorb concepts and ideas so rapidly.  I was also so impressed by his selflessness and buddha like lack of ego.  What impressed me most about Doug was spending time with him after he was diagnosed with cancer.  Even though he wanted to live so dearly, he accepted death with incredible dignity and courage, and this I will alway remember, Joe.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Missing my little brother

I will miss my little brother, Doug. That of course is an understatement and it is of course, hard to think of him as “little”. He was so tall, so wise beyond his years, so big of heart. Who else could fit such a lifetime of love and accomplishment into so few years? I remember as a child, playing with Doug, camping out in the back yard, playing in the woods, swimming all day in the Tennessee heat, and just watching Doug and Harry wrestle. Siblings bicker, but to tell the truth, I can’t remember ever having an argument with Doug. Somehow he always knew what was important and could exude that to others. No need to fight.

As we got older we saw each other less, but Doug always made an effort to visit in both Boston and California. It was wonderful to have him visit as a brother and an uncle. He could breeze in and out unencumbered by all the possessions that weigh most of us down. In the later years he would bring “Doug Chocolate” and we could all enjoy the sweet manifestation of his social conscience and environmental awareness. He was able to put into action the kind of business that we all want to see, one in harmony with the world. What a wonderful example to his nieces and nephews and to us all.

Doug would always respond to a family member in need, helping both my mother and father when they were ill or injured. When it was his turn to ask for help, I know it was hard for him. He expressed to me his great gratitude to Linda, Jim and their family for their support this past year and I cannot fully express my thanks. It was wonderful that he was surrounded by love, family, children and the joyous buzz of the Snook family home this last year of his life. I know Doug will be missed there in Santa Cruz, here in El Cerrito, in Grenada, in Oregon, in Reno and in every other place and heart he touched.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Called Home Early

There is a saying that God calls home early those whom he loves the most. When this happens in the midst of the life of a great person, who has already accomplished great good, the essence human tragedy occurs. It amounts to the loss of someone loved deeply and the loss of the promise of his high accomplishment in the future.

Before his illness overcame him, Doug was pursuing a degree in Liberal Arts at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. I was honored to be one of those asked to write a letter of recommendation for him to the Director of Admissions. What follows are excerpts from that letter:

"You willl understand by reading his letter to me that he takes the responsibility for such an application with a good measure of wisdom and sense of responsibility. He has visited the college many times, read Escape from Skepticism and has a good knowledge of he College's program.

"Of our six children it can be said that I have been closest to my son Douglas. He has accompanied me on trips to China, France, Spain, Argentina and Mexico. He has joined me at more Thomas Aquinas seminars that my other children. At these he has shown a lively interest in history, philosophy, theology and religion.

"Like me, he is an entrepreneur. He was chosen by his brothers and sisters to be the one who accompanied me to board meetings and semi-annual conferences for Gray family enterprises in Indiana.

"He continues to have a keen interest in intellectual pursuits. We have taken Spanish lessons together in recent years. Although he lacks my level of fluency, he has even better skill than mine in acquiring vocabulary.

"Doug was always a good student. He attended Kent school in Connecticut and graduated cum laude near the top of his class. He shared my interest in the exotic, visited China and began the study of Mandarin. He emerged from school with a deep respect for religion and high ethical standards, but minus the Catholic Faith.
"The most outstanding aspects of his character are his friendliness, deep concern, empathy
and compassion for others. These qualities are profound, impressive and spontaneous. I find myself wishing and praying that such qualities, to the extent that he possesses them, would become mine as well.

"Doug was in no way responsible for certain misfortunes that occurred in his life, but they affected him profoundly.

"After leaving Duke, Doug had a successful, productive and happy life as an inventor and organic farmer in Oregon. He gained skills and knowledge, largely self-taught, in construction and electrical and mechanical engineering. His friend Mott was a strong positive force in his life.

"He lived in France for perhaps a year. I visited Paris. At that time despair had driven me to loss of my own faith. Doug perceived this and in a very wise, quiet and unassuming way invited me to come with him to visit Sacre Coeur. That visit and some prayers miraculously restored my faith.

On returning to Oregon Doug continued to pursue his career as organic farmer and inventor. Several projects were pursued with his eccentric and close friend Mott, son of David Friedman, New York physician and professor, who directed the clinical training program for the medical students from the Caribean island of Grenada.

Together with a third partner, a native Grenadian high school graduate, they successfully implemented a plan to build a vertically integrated, profitable chocalte business in Grenada. Their humanitarian objectives were very clearly spelt out: good wages for the employees, fair trade compensation for the cocoa growers, creation of jobs, restoration of a thriving cocoa industry in Grenada, concern for the environment through production of a product certified as organic, and use of solar power. The product was to be a dark chocolate, superior in all respects and made by classical methods that aree no longer employed. See: grenadachocolate.cnom.

The obstacles they had to overcome were as follows: 1. Neglected cocoa groves due to inadequate grower compensation by an exploitative and monopollistic
national buyers'association. 2. Normal xeophobia that is the lot of all foreigners. 3. Complex business and trade regulations. 4. A climate where chocolate bars melt at room temperature. 5. Huge energy costs for electricity produced by diesel fuel. 6. International competition from the likes of Hershey, Nestle and Ghirardelli. . Hurricanes that destroyed the cocoa crop and tore the roof off their factory two years in a row.

"Doug provided the capital for the enterprise. The partners paid twice the going wage rates to the workers and never more that the same wages to themselves. Farmers were paid well for their cocoa and met the high production standards they demanded. Last year they received the bronze medal for their product at the International Chocolate Fair in London. Their product is sold in North America, Europe, the Caribbean and on the internet. Their only problem is not having enough product to meet the demand.

"I tell you this story so that you will have some idea of his abilities, character, experience and determination to carrhy through on any commitment that he makes. He has sustained misfortunes in life with fortitude and without bitterness.

"I pray that he will be admitted and that this will start him on a path of return to the Faith. In any case he would receive and education superior to that which he could receive anywhere else. Because of his accomplishments, experience, genuine charity and wisdom he would be a source of inspiration and instruction to his fellow students."


Harry Gray Browne

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Doug and I were like brothers in some ways. We were the ultimate tinkering partners. We built solar steam engines, electric cars and then the chocolate factory, an on-going affair. In some ways we were opposites and I think that is part of why we worked so well together. It took us a while to get over the "sibling rivalry" as we worked on projects together (two know-it-all's). We did get to the point years ago where mutual respect and love took precedence over egos. I was the more adventurous one and Doug the more cautious one. I the hyper-motivated, emotional and frantic one and Doug the calm, steady stoic one. Together we made a winning team that created The Grenada Chocolate Company. I feel that now I need to do the work for both of us, a somewhat intimidating challenge which I will do the best I can at and always be thinking "what would have Doug said . . . . . "

The taste of a life

Instead of an animal totem, imagine a food associated with a person you love. With Doug, chocolate would be a logical association. The substantial depth of it. The complexity. With this news now, that he has left us, that his pain is over, the bittersweetness. A life melted upon the tongue, something that stays with you.

But I don’t think of chocolate. Instead I think of mushrooms when I think of Doug. He imprinted on me in the forest, when we walked through the Oregon woods looking for wild fungi. We were both enrolled in Joe’s mushroom identification class at LCC together. It was the fall of 1996. I was with Steve and Doug was with Sue, each of us paired up in something that felt eternal, and we were all young enough to still believe in eternity, to not consider the inevitability of death. Joe was our teacher, a man with so much energy that it rose him to his toes, where he bounced like a child eager for the next thing, letting us in on the mysteries of separating poison from pleasure. On field trips into the forest, Doug and I and the others fanned out through the trees, eyes focused, looking for chicken-of-the-woods growing from the remains of great snags, the wet shiny caps of russulas emerging from the leaf litter like little hulks, so many chanterelles that we learned to spot their distinct orange yellow from ten yards. Soon we ventured off together outside of class, letting the gravel logging roads lead us into new areas. Doug and Sue’s house became a refuge from the chaos at Aprovecho down the road, and soon their barn held more appeal than our cabin, and we joined them on the land. Chapters in a book of which we don’t know the ending.

But maybe even mushrooms are too decadent. Doug liked…there. the past tense for the first time. It is written….Doug liked simplicity. A mild lentil soup. A salad picked fresh from the garden. He didn’t need much to sustain his tall form, which seemed to survive on music and thought and stillness and ideas and heart. In Grenada, they likened him to Jesus. “Tin Tall Tess,” they said in the thick Caribbean accent, which maybe translated into Thin Tall Jesus, but now, thinking about it, I’m not really sure.

An accompanying beverage would be water. Pure. Lots of it, after we’d all sat together, our naked bodies burning from the heat, the air heavy with sweat and cedar, in the sauna he’d built over their creek. Near the cedar tree where he was married. Not far from where Yoka, or was in Nijou?, laid down to die in the blackberry bramble.

I appreciate that though I’ve moved far away from the forest where we once mushroom hunted, a self-imposed exile I don’t fully understand, that I was still able to see him often. Sometimes here in New York, where his Buddha-like ways heightened my self-awareness of my frenetic pace, of my inability to sit and be still. His metronome was set at a different cadence than mine. Twice I was able to visit him over the last year at Linda and Jim’s, a home by the sea, abundant with love and children and more music and him, still in his Buddha-state, his body refusing to cooperate with the plans he had for his life. Always, he was the opposite of a fighter. But in these short visits, I saw him fighting, quietly but hard, refusing to believe that this was it for him, remaining hopeful, maintaining peace, surprisingly – to me – free of anger.

Doug will stay with all of us, each of us holding a distinct set of memories that together form a tapestry of a life. I can see him still, leaning against the threshold of his house, watching Sue dance wildly at a party they were throwing, nodding with a smile and saying, “That’s my wife!” All of us around a bonfire, more times than I can count. Doug and Moth in the barn, conjuring up a chocolate factory. Sitting with a five-gallon bucket between us, processing cocoa beans before the thresher had been built. Doug returning from a long walk by the river in Grenada, sun hat upon his head. Doug in the coffee shop on Cottage Grove’s Main Street as I run in on my way somewhere, slapping up posters for some fundraiser on the bulletin board and about to run out again, when he says, “Sometimes I feel like I’m living on a movie set.” Doug and I in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden at the height of the lilac bloom, lying on our backs after a day of walking around the city, breathing in the intoxicating smell of purple. Doug looking out over the Pacific after walking the two long blocks from his sister’s house in Santa Cruz, his body betraying him.

I will miss his presence. The gentleness and calmness of his soul that is unparalleled. The way he connected with each landscape he was in. His love of Oregon. I am thankful to his family, their bottomless generosity and love that they have for him. I am thankful that my life got to overlap with his life, that the universe conspired in such a way to give me the memories that will remain even after his passing on to something unknown. I miss his presence.