This past Tuesday, December 16, my step-father left a pot of tea steeping on his desk and went for a walk in the woods. He did not return. Out on the rocky path, under the white pines, he died of a sudden heart attack.
Nobody ever thought this would happen. I mean, who does? But, also, Ulrich was hardy and fit, full of vigour, always out raking the leaves in his green overalls or kayaking across the lake or cross-country skiing at Hardwood Hills. It was incomprehensible that his heart was wearing out.
But it was, and it failed him, and now he’s gone.
Nineteen years ago, in September, I met him in Vancouver. He was my mother’s new boyfriend and he had come out west on business. He took me out to a sushi restaurant and slipped a hundred dollar bill into my hand before we parted. He bought me a book of Pablo Neruda’s poetry and scrawled in it: to my newly-found daughter.
They had only been together for two months. At the time this seemed presumptious, a bit startling, but now I treasure that book, beaten and soiled from my road-trip to Mexico that fall and many, many moves. Before J. and I left The Pas in a mad rush to get home after the call came, after my sister told me in a trembling voice, Ulrich died, I grabbed it from the antique bookshelf that holds my most precious books and carried it with me.
I don’t really have many words right now. For five days, I’ve been at the new house of Mom and Ulrich’s, answering his email, sifting through his photographs, stumbling across the things that define him, grieving, cancelling bank accounts, helping my sorrowful mom.
Ulrich was a complicated man. He was a geologist, used to tromping the bush, staking claims, studying core samples; a lover of gemstones, as well as fine art and music and literature and travel, he was deeply concerned about climate change. He played the flute and reached out to artists he believed in and supported my own writing so strongly, my mom’s painting, his new family.
Every time I spoke with him on the phone, or saw him after a time, he’d ask, “Are you writing?” I will carry that question, in his voice, always in my head.
Over the past little while he had been working incredibly hard to complete his own book about lode gold, described as a treatise on the “discovery of a paradigm shifting geological process.”
“This book records a journey of trying to understand the metallogeny (ie genesis in time and space) of lode gold deposits,” he wrote on his blog. “For me this began in 1982 when I saw excellent sea-shore exposures in SE Nova Scotia, where ubiquitous quartz outcrops that is characteristic of Meguma turbidite-hosted gold deposits.”
Greek to me, but I’m told that this work of his has come from so many years seeing the same thing in the features of the rock. Most of all, my mother says, he wanted to remind his fellow geologists of the necessity of getting away from computer modelling and back to the observation and study of the physical earth. Back to walking the ground, he used to say.
There is much to do, and, oh, yeah, Christmas, and more tears and laughter and love to come, in the middle of my now-smaller family. We are planning a big party for Ulrich, a celebration of his life, for friends and family to take place in early July (a save-the-date will be sent out in January).
And then there is the grief, the sudden shock of loss, the strange adjusting to the alternate reality of a world without a person who you loved. We tell ourselves that the way he went is better than years of cancer, than a slow, long diminishing, which he, with his strong German spirit, would not have dealt well with.
If there is any consolation it is this, and the fact that I think, in a way, he died as he lived, and I am grateful for that.
As a seventeen-year-old kid, in 1959, he hitch-hiked 13,000 miles to California and back with his friend Gary, and that was the kind of guy he remained, the kind of man I knew him as: an adventurer, a person who saw the world as a place veined with glistening beauty and reached for it, no matter the risk.
So, in the end, with his hands swinging walking poles, out on a hike behind their house, his heart simply snapped. Mid-stride, he fell backwards onto the earth, beneath the trees, beneath the big sky.
I knew Ulrich from U of T, he was doing a PhD, I was doing a Master’s. Lost touch until I found his website of lode gold deposits through Researchgate.net just before he died.
Actually, I was writing back and forth with him on Researchgate.net the day he died! After years in gold exploration I came to agree with his ideas – which are a bit revolutionary – but I agreed with him totally. Probably because we had seen similar rock exposures or geological experience?
I learned of his death later and only ran through your Farewell, just now.
You certainly did a good job! Thank you!
Thank you for this comment, Michael. I’m not sure if you know that he was working on a book about his gold theories when he died. We were able to bring another geologist on board to finish and it was published. Here’s the link: https://www.elsevier.com/books/the-metallogeny-of-lode-gold-deposits/kretschmar/978-0-12-803222-0
I received this notice and although I never met Ulrich, your tribute is so touching. I`m a prospector (as my career) and very much agree with Ulrich`s idea of “Back to walking the ground“ We call it `boots on the ground` – same thing. I hope Ulrich`s book will be published and would be interested in reading it.
May you be comforted in your loss,
Thank you so much, Jess.
Lauren. We knew Ulrich when he was at U of T and long before he remarried. I divorced and lost track of him. All you write is so befitting and so Ulrich. Our condolences to your mother and the rest of the family.
As we spend much time around Oreillia I would be most gratefull you could let us know when the celebration of life will take place.
A life lost much too young.
Our thought are with you
Thanks, Lone. I will pass this on to my mom. The celebration will be held on July 11th, if you’d like to save the date. More info to come.
So beautiful Lauren! Really poignant and heartfelt. My eyes were welling up as I read! I never knew a thing about Ulrich until I read this (which I got to via your post about the crematorium – so wild!), and I got such a sense of him and your connection by reading it. What a tough time for you all. Best wishes as you mourn and miss him. <3
Thanks so much, Kellie! Yes, it’s been a crazy couple weeks… xo 🙂
Lauren, it was a shock to many in Orillia, I’m sure, to learn of Ulrich’s sudden passing, i know him best as a member of the Wind Ensemble, whose concerts my husband and I have often attended. Your beautifully crafted tribute illuminated his whole self in a moving way. I feel your loss and send condolences to you and your mom and sister.
Thanks, Catherine. Really appreciate that 🙂
I wash shocked to hear that Mr. Kretschmar passed away at such a young age. Since the 80’s I have done quite a lot of typing for Mr. Kretschmar re his geology reports, many articles, etc. I knew of his many cross country skiing events, and the many other things he did in life. He certainly was a very active man. My condolences go out to his wife, his new family and his son. Your story was very nice about him and so true.
Thanks, Barbara. We appreciate your condolences.
So beautiful. Your writing is amazing. I can picture Ulrich. I did meet him a few times however you have portrayed him well
Thinking of you and family at this time.
Thanks, Laura. I’ve been thinking of you and your family as well. Xo
This is so beautiful, Lauren. I’m so sorry for your loss, and for that of our parents’ music community. He will be missed.
Lauren, that is a beautiful tribute. I remember Ulrich from high school days … he always struck me as one of the brightest among us. In a day when he might have been seen as be a “brainer”, which usually meant unskilled in other youthful arts, Ulrich stood out as a good hearted chap, with a lovely sense of humour and very talented in so many ways. I know a good many of us from Hill Park are sad at his passing but are delighted that his accomplishments were many. Knowing that he was so loved is the most outstanding tribute.
Thank you so much, Mike.
Such sadness in and around this news.
Many will miss his dedication and generosity on so many fronts.
Intellect, passion, commitment, and humour.
He enriched the lives of people around him…..
Paul and Nancy
Thank you, Paul and Nancy.
Lauren you have so beautifully described the man that I was privileged to call my “best buddy” through high school, on our two month hitchhiking trip across the US in 1959, our rock hunting in the quarries around Dundas as teenagers, our shared concern for the Earth and its threatened natural environment, and our pursuit of that “great photograph” or special mineral sample.
Like you, I am finding it very hard to think of a world without those emails, phone calls, get togethers, and shared experiences that characterized our long friendship.
We all will miss him so very much.
Thanks, Gary, and for the photo. It’s great to see Ulrich from earlier days, and hear the stories.
I, unlike the others before me today, did not know Ulrich. I do however, know Carrie very well as friend and collegue. Thanks to your words Lauren, I now have greater insight into the man you, your sister, and your mom are missing so very badly. Take comfort in the love this great man had for each of you. That, my dear is a blessing. My sincere condolences to you all.
Thanks, Nancy. You are right. 🙂
Thank you Nancy.
A beautiful post, Lauren.
I especially treasure that phrase…. “walking the ground”
May we all spend more time walking the ground.
Wishing you and your family peace.
Thanks, Pam. Yes, it’s things like this that make you realize the important things like enjoying our time on this earth.
Sorry for your loss, from Michael and I
So very sorry for yor family’s loss. Truly a beautiful and moving tribute to a fine fellow.
Thank you so much every one, for your kind words, and love, and stories and memories. They mean so much. Xo.
What a beautiul tribute to a TRUE GENTLEMAN,
We loved Ulrich very much. He has left a big hole in our hearts.
Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you.
Jacquie and Ross
Thank you, Jacquie and Ross. Xo
Lauren, my deepest sympathy to you and Jason and, of course, your mom. I had the pleasure of meeting Ulrich several times. The most memorable was when Ulrich played the flute with Lyrica Chamber Choir. Ulrich commissioned a work for Lyrica in memory of Nayalyia Gurin (the founder of the choir). It is a beautiful piece of music for choir and flute.
Your words describe Ulrich beautifully. Thank you for sharing them.
Thanks, Suzanne. Ulrich commissioned several pieces – such wonderful gifts and now part of his legacy.
My husband, also a geologist, agrees fully with Ulrich that there is always the need for getting out and with rocks in the field. You have described a fine human being who lived life with curiosity and appreciation. What al loss. My heart goes out to you and your family.
Thanks, Sarah. I had thought when we met that you and your husband would have much in common with my mom (who is a visual artist) and my stepdad. Thanks for your condolences.
A beautiful tribute Lauren, in your poetic style. Please pass on our condolences to your family. It is always difficult to face the holidays with cheer and joy when dealing with the loss of a loved one. Please know you and yours are in our prayers and thoughts. <3 Jen Bow and family.
Thank you, my friend. Xo
I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, Lauren. This is a beautiful tribute.
Thanks, Libby 🙂
Think of a warm comforting hug that really feels good and really helps.
That’s what I’d give if I could.
I can feel it, Jayne! Thank you.
Beautiful Lauren. Blessings to all. Our life is but a brief visit into this reality. And then we transform into everything, the land, the sky, the water embracing it all and enhancing its beauty
So true. Xo
So sorry to hear of your loss. Will be thinking of you and yours this week.