Ruth Shilling

Ruth-Jim

Ruth & Jim Shilling


Story & Poem By Frank Keim


Ruth Shilling was my aunt by marriage. Even though she and my uncle George Morse divorced in the late 1950’s my parents and I continued to stay in touch with her. When my parents died, my wife Jennifer and I kept up the deep and abiding friendship with her that for me began back in 1954 in Willcox, Arizona.


Although she was originally from England, she absolutely loved the Chiricahua and Dragoon Mountains in S.E. Arizona. She worked as Assistant To The Director at the Southwest Research Station, located in the heart of the Chiricahuas, for almost 20 years, and our family hiked and bird-watched countless times with her in those mountains when we were there in the spring. After she settled in Cochise with her husband Jim Shilling, my parents, then Jennifer and I, visited with her and Jim on their back porch and watched their backyard birds over tea and biscuits.


I wrote a story poem about her in 2015 that best expresses my feelings about my aunt Ruth.


Ruth


I read your note today

about the magical time you had with Pam

over at White Water Draw

where you saw so many Sandhill cranes,

a veritable multitude that

filled the marsh and the diaphanous blue sky,

reminding you of other times

when you went there with your husband Jim

to watch the cranes and other birds

like the Vermillion flycatcher,

so radiantly red in the bright sun

that it dazzled you both and made you smile…


I remember when Jen and I sat with you and Jim

on your back stoop in Cochise

and counted the birds,

sometimes scores of them feeding on the ground,

and all around us the low cooing and chatter

of White-winged doves and House finches

and sometimes a Pyrrhuloxia or two,

or a Curve-billed thrasher singing its song-without-end

in the springtime as though it would live forever…


So many memories of the past,

of when I first met you as a callow teen in Wilcox, Arizona,

when you were with my enigmatic uncle George,

and the time we teased the diamondback rattler

with a long prickly sotol stick

while hiking on a once wild trail in Cochise’s Stronghold,

and later so many times bird watching

with my parents at the ranch in Portal,

and again with them at your little house by the playa

in Cochise…


How we all loved to visit the Sandhill cranes

wherever they were,

and ogle them for hours with our binoculars,

along with Harris’s hawks and Golden eagles,

and desert Great-horned owls

that dad and mom used to so enjoy, too…


And now more recently,

you delight in going with me and Jen

to the San Pedro River to see the cottonwoods

when they bloom with emerald leaves in Spring,

and when they bloom again as yellow as lemons in Autumn,

over and over, year after year,

according to the infinite rhythms

of the great cosmic wheel

that we all share on this blue green Earth…


So Ruth,

in these fleeting words,

to be read and remembered

by only me and you and a few others

in this handful of hasty years that remain

for any of us

here

under the sun,

I want to say

that you were loved.


You were loved.


Fairbanks, Alaska

January, 2015

Howard Topoff 2011