Finding friends where once
our nations had been enemies
|Ava and Gernot at home in Colorado Springs|
GERNOT HEINRICHSDORFF … I met Gernot through his wife, Ava, back in the early ‘80s, when I was a TCAH (Telluride Council on the Arts & Humanities) director. She was a folk dance teacher and we hit it off immediately. Her father had been a well-known Hungarian violinist in San Francisco, and we had that West Coast connection from the start, plus a shared cosmopolitan perspective rare to find in America. Plus, she was (and is) one of the wisest, most vibrant elders I have ever met – a writer, poet, world traveler, teacher, student, dancer. I hope I keep that precious gift of curiosity all my life, as she has … At first I knew Gernot as a landscape architect – one of those sturdy, get-it-done kind of fellows who could lift impossible loads, move giant rocks, and make creative spaces outdoors for everyone to see, admire and use. He reminded me of my Norwood buddy Jim Rosenthal – that kind of German-American laborer who could do twice the work of anyone else, and do it faster and better … It was only gradually, over the years, that I learned that Gernot had been born in Germany, and had served in the German army in World War II. That was a bit of a shock. My dad had served in the Army Air Corps. And Gernot in the Luftwaffe, although a lack of gas towards the end of the war had prevented him from any combat missions. Here was a man I’d become good friends with, and yet he had been “the enemy” of my father. It was fascinating, and confusing … Gradually I learned his story. He had been drafted into military service, like so many Germans -- loyal to their country, if not the Nazis. In fact, many Germans did not follow Nazi rules. His mother risked her life to harbor two Jewish boys from the ghetto all through the war -- saving them from certain death – his mom treating them as his brothers … Not being political, Gernot hadn’t realized that mandatory participation in Hitlerjugend as a youth, where he learned gliding, had automatically registered him with the Nazi party. It wasn’t until he was wounded and then captured by the Americans that he learned he was a “Nazi.” That he was eventually able to make a new life in the country of his “enemies” was a true blessing … Over the years the three of us had had many a meal and shared many stories, since I had to visit Colorado Springs, where Ava and Gernot live, annually for political meetings. They’d often let me stay with them in a spare bedroom. Once I joined Gernot for his morning walk in the Garden of the Gods, his daily ritual for many years. It was a marvelous, delightful amble, admiring the spring flowers, the chill air, the glimmer of light on the fantastical rock formations. It was the kind of walk I would have liked to have taken with my dad. One of those bonding moments you remember fondly the rest of your life … This last time I went to the Springs, Gernot was not walking any more. He’s 93. Things aren’t working very well. He needs oxygen. And even a walker is of no use. Ava, of course, is there to take care of him. But we still managed a delightful visit, sharing stories, and memories, and laughs … And Gernot and Ava gave me a book – a collection of tales about Germans who survived the war and mostly immigrated to the United States: Voices From The Other Side by Jean Goodwin Messenger (White Pelican Press, 2014), which includes Gernot’s own story. The biggest surprise was how tragic and terrible the war had been for the German people, as it had been genocidal for European Jews. But then, that is the reality of war. It’s the leaders who champion war and the people who suffer – at least when the war overruns your home and you lose family members, friends, belongings – sometimes everything … The stories in the book break your heart. Enemies or allies, it’s horrific to understand what war does to people caught up in it. Like what is happening in Syria, or Iraq, or the Sudan today. It brings home to me how important it is to avoid war at all costs. To exercise restraint, and favor diplomacy. To protect civilians … I feel so lucky to have met Gernot and Ava and come to understand how nations make enemies of people who could easily be our friends, if only we have the opportunity to get to know one another. As we have done.
DR. GUSTÓN GUZMÁN … The world fungal community mourned the death early this year of world expert on Psilocybe mushrooms, Gustón Guzmán. A co-founder and former president of the Mexican Mycological Society (1965), he was also founder (1990) and president of the Latin American Mycological Association (2000–2002) … I had the great good fortune to meet Dr. Guzmán, while attending the Third International Medicinal Mushroom Conference at Port Townsend in 2005, through the kindness of Shroomfest myco-guru Paul Stamets. I worked the lights in the meeting hall where Dr. Guzmán lectured. Afterwards, a clutch of us followed him off-stage and out back of the hall on the grounds of Fr. Worden, a converted military base. We peppered him with questions, and got wonderful answers. He quickly led us – at the prompting of a local -- about a hundred yards into a forested area, knelt down and picked several nondescript brown mushrooms from the ground, and declared them Psilocybes. Several of us volunteered to bio-assay them. And for the rest of the day I was entheogenically absorbed, having been given them from the hand of the legendary Dr. Guzmán. An honor I will treasure all my days.
THE TALKING GOURD
One Lesson in Generosity
from another room
white scent of lilies—
like that, says the heart, like that
-Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer
Western Slope Poet Laureate