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The Red-tailed hawk from Sunday.
On Sunday, as we all worked on creating this website  and writing the obituary, a Red-tailed hawk landed in a tree outside the house.  For about an hour he stayed put, watching over us before he flew off. 

Oyster Mushroom
 Ya'll got your red-tails, how 'bout this...
 Read Sam Walmer's post from 1/31 and wonder at the coincidence.  Those who know Sam and Bil will not be surprised.

1/29/2012 02:19:09 am

The first time I met Bil Gilbert, I wasn’t his son-in-law, or even his future son-in-law. I was simply a college boyfriend (the “paramour” but more on that later) of Lee’s meeting the family for the first time. I was coming to Iron Springs from Long Island, New York to visit the Gilbert homestead and in my honor, Ann had prepared duck (Long Island ducks are renowned, though not something I was used to eating on a regular basis). Time ticked by and my estimated arrival was delayed long enough that by the time I arrived, the family had finished the meal, and I was left with one (or maybe two) duck wings for my repast. It was the start of a whimsical and cherished relationship with Bil and the Gilbert clan. Subsequently, I DID become the son-in-law and was welcomed into the family as one of their own, for which I am forever grateful.
I went on to spend many lovely days in the greenery of Pennsylvania, and Bil happened to reference one of those days in an article for one of the major magazines for which he wrote regularly. The draft sent to his editors referenced an idyllic vision of Lee and her “paramour” picking blackberries. Those were more gentile times, apparently, because Bil’s editor was unable to bring himself to use that term in a national magazine. I ended up as Lee’s “friend” in the published version of the article. Again, good for a chuckle around the picnic table that served as the focal point of their kitchen.
When Bil and Ann spent some time in the Huachuca Mountains while he was working on another book, Lee and I traveled the mountain passes almost every weekend to spend time in that rustic setting. With no TV, poor radio reception and electricity by generator, the simple pleasures of long walks, deep conversations and table games (cards, board games, etc.) were the norm. I recall this as one of the most pleasurable periods of my life.
Somewhere along the way, Bil decided to teach me to play cribbage. I should note that the entire Gilbert clan are fiercely competitive, and Bil was the fiercest. After learning the basics of the game, and observing many a match with other players, I sat down to what turned out to be an epic game of cribbage. Through what only can be described as pure and simple blind beginners’ luck, I won! Of course, I declined a re-match, so that though the years I was able to say that I had beat Bil in every game of cribbage we’d ever played.
There are a million more stories over the course of the thirty-plus years I’ve had the honor and pleasure to get to know Bil and Ann. The visits, the phone calls, letters, working on projects with Bil, debating the merits of technology (Bil was a charter member of the #2 pencil club and rarely touched anything more technical than the TV remote) or just shooting the breeze.
This morning a crow flew over our house in Tucson, cawing loudly and causing our dogs to start madly barking. I like to think it was Bil causing a ruckus, and letting us know that his spirit stays with us. It made my smile. Bil, you’ll be missed, but never forgotten.

Sheila and Tom Dowsland
1/30/2012 05:56:33 am

What a great friend Bill was. And so so smart. He will be greatly missed. Bill you will always be in our hearts. Love you bunches.

pat ryan
1/29/2012 11:41:41 pm

The dawn after Bil died it seemed that every corvi in Maine was on the river outside our house. The crows had left us maybe 2 years ago after having a roost across the Damariscotta on Fort Island. But Saturday they were back for about an hour. As somebody put it, a murder of crows. And since then¸it’s been quiet.
I don’t know about hereafters, but I really hope there is one for Bil to shamble through and drop matches and ashes on. To size up, prick conventional wisdom and spend forever viewing as a curiosity. The man is not complacent, he tweaks and prods and puts more kindling and fire into any conversation. In those thick letters that arrive irregularly.
It’s 40 years now since we met at Sports Illustrated. He usually wanted to go off on a wild-goose chase and I don’t remember ever denying him the opportunity. You were never really sure what the assignment was about, what you would get back. Bil probably didn’t know either. But some of the most noteworthy articles published in that era were the result.
It is easy to mention the award winners, the series on women in sport that prodded Congress and the country to get on with Title IX. But more significant in personal ways to Sports Illustrated readers were his contrarian essays and his features on unusual critters and the natural world. Bil never needed to go far to find a story. If you visited him in Fairfield, PA, you would meet, just going round town, many of the characters in his articles.
Everyone mattered to Bil, was worth a second look. He was a teacher, to old and young, but not in any pedantic way. Some important things just stuck with us. I wish I’d paid more attention on many of those early days when he hung around, trying to get through good sense.

Bob Fader
1/30/2012 01:24:29 am

I first met Bil at their home in Glen Echo in 1955/6. After looking around outside, we all went in and I selected a Victorian style chair, tall back, and settled in. Bil left the room for a back part of the house and all was quiet. Suddenly a very large winged thing flew into the room, circled once, came to a landing on the back of my chair. My intro to Lucy,the barred owl, a family friend.

During one of our early trips to Iron Springs, Bil right away asked if I knew the board game Carom. I said yes, I did. (We had each received the game from mom-in-law Helen, kind of like finger hockey) I agreed to accept cha llenge and proceeded to win handily. We never played another game of Carom, to my recollection.
Even though I did not meet Bil before he was in his twenties, I feel as if we were life-long friends.

I miss him and will hold memories closely.

Ruth and I searched some time for a suitable house when the decision to move back to Michigan was made. The best choice was easy to see, backing to a trout stream, trees, room for planting, large barn with room to construct office space, it all worked out.

And, we were able to resume our sometimes spirited pinochle games, Ann and I vs. Ruth and Bil. Oh God, we are going to miss those. I think they won that last game....

Ray Cave
1/30/2012 04:22:00 am

I edited Bil for years, many, at Sports Illustrated. It was a joy because you never had to worry if the story was there. It would be there. Original? It would be. Lead the reader down surprising paths? Always. Surprise the editor too? Often. The joy of convincing Bil to do a story was that you would get back so much more than you had bargained for. Or even had the sense to ask for.

As do all serious writers, and he was a very serious writer, he saw the world through different eyes. He would not burden you with the idea that what he was writing mattered, any more than he burdened the reader with that prospect. But it did matter, and he knew it.

I have admired him for decades, can hear him declaiming now, can see the small typeface on that ancient typewewriter. (He might at least have learned to double-space. Well, set the letter aside. Read it tonight when there is the quiet it demands.) And of course I can hear him caw at these words. It's the corvi in him.

1/30/2012 04:56:32 am

I first met Bil a couple years ago when he walked into Pierce Cedar Creek Institute and said, “So what’s this place all about?” This was the beginning of a journey that has ended too quickly.

I will miss Bil’s questions that forced me to think through things, and think through things deeply. I will miss his observations and his stories. Bil was a generous man with such a good heart; he shared his experiences and knowledge with me for the good of the Institute. He saw potential in the Institute and in me, and that was inspiring. He called things the way he saw them. He really called things the way he saw them, and that was just plain fun.

I always looked forward to Bil’s visits, our talks, and knew I’d come away with something more to think about. He was someone who I felt blessed to know – a real treat. When I think of Bil, I smile, and I wondered what questions he continues to ask.

Lyn Gilbert
1/30/2012 05:58:45 am

Trying to link in some comments from Lyn's Facebook page and decided to just copy and paste them here.

Your father was a fascinating man. In high school he was the most famous person I knew and I read lots of his articles. He was larger than life, always seemed sort of unshaven, talked to the animals, talked about his adventures in exotic places, and he passionately yelled at us when we were playing basketball games. I think he was a grizzly bear in a previous life and to tell you the truth he made me nervous. I will miss him greatly. It sounds like he may be a red-tailed hawk in his next life and I hope he comes to visit me. Lots of Love, Tess (Beckman) Olson

Bil built a pigeon loft for me when I was 6 and he taught me how to catch minnows and how to make food to raise a young crow and how to trap and band a hawk on a rocky mountain top and how to cook Day Lilly buds and how to tap maple trees and make syrup and he told me stories of spirits and places and not to eat salad and how to cook sloppy joes and he once woke me up in the morning for a canoe trip by pouring a jar of water on my head and he showed me how to catch turtles sunning on logs in rivers and he hiked me to the reservoir and old Buzzy's on the mountain above Iron Springs and he taught me that strawberry mousse is delicious and that dogs will eat raspberries from the bush and he (and Ann and Ky) took care of my pet turkey for years after we moved and he showed me that raw scallions are delicious to munch on in the summer and he filled pages with words i love to read and he took my father on great journeys that filled me with wonder and he was like a father and a mentor to my father and a grandfather to me and he filled my mind and my heart and he listened even as he held forth and he and Ann always opened their home to me and my family and the laughter was abundant and there is still so much more I could fondly recount... Love to all the Gilberts. You are in our hearts and thoughts. (Benjamin Walmer, honorary grandson)

I have so very many fond memories of your dad. Even as a stupid teenager, I got the fact that it was not only about track; he taught us so many life lessons as well. I have kept those with me all these years. I will never forget him. ( Kathy Weikart Stahl, Fairfield Strider)

I will always remember him for making me feel confident and that I mattered. He was a terrific person and coach! I am thankful for his vision in bringing the Striders to Fairfield. Those are some of my most treasured childhood memories. (Cande (Sites) Walter, Fairfield Strider)

He was one of the best and I wouldn't be the same person I am today with out his influence. You rocked Bil, Thank you! (Ann Shriner Wright, Fairfield Strider)

your dad was an inspiration to many. He saw potential from every walk of life. His foresight lead to tremendous articles in "Sports Illustrated" to the Fairfield Striders track team. He will always be remembered as a pioneer of girls track and a great person. His life was full and I'm sure he enjoyed all of you so much. (Richard Fitez, Fairfield friend)

Good memories all around (for me) about your Dad. What a good man to have had the opportunity to have known, and learned a few things about life from. Thinking about the trips to Michigan. Lots of good life experiences through our times with the Fairfield Striders which was made possible through your Dad. That club took some of us to places we would not have otherwise gone. I experienced so much from something as simple as my first serving of "whipped butter", "first turbulent on an airplane ride", the "Colorado rockies", my one and only one-mile cross-country race, and so much more while being a part of that team. Your Dad and Mom both were the perfect hosts anytime I visited the Iron Springs homestead ... I remember so many good times through our teen years at your home.(Judith (Kint) Hartman, Fairfield Striders)

Your dad was a great guy. He will be missed. I have great memories of you dad and Mr.Straup at all the track meets.Wonderful memories! (Tammy Weikert, Fairfield Striders super sprinter!)

My dear friend, Bil, who taught me to think and to write left Earth today. Sometimes he needled me and I went into a snit but he enriched my life as few people have ever done. I can him laughing now. I was fortunate to have met and known him and his family. (Mary Jane Dunlap, honorary Gilbert)

A sad farewell to the man who, over the past 33 years, taught me more than I'll ever realize. Who was a unique and powerful and bigger-than-life spirit, inspiring great joy, laughter, pain, sorrow, and reflection. Also the only other person I've known who gets seasick reading microfilm. I, too, took note and allowed myself a moment of hope when I heard a red-tailed hawk screech the other day during a walk in the woods. (Tracy Frish, another honorary Gilbert)

Tracy Frish
1/30/2012 10:20:22 am

Lyn, thank you. You'll never know how much . . . just, thank you. Love to all of you.

Sally Thomas
1/30/2012 11:55:23 am

My memories of Bil cover a lifetime, but most take place when I was in grade school. Living on the Iron Springs Road, with Lyn as my best friend, I spent countless hours at the house across the creek. To an asthmatic kid with protective parents, that place was magic! Bil was, to me, a big man who loved to tease me, gave me the silly nickname of Woody, ("Come on, Woody, let's hear you laugh again. You sound just like Woody Woodpecker!"), showed me that monkeys can live in the house, and taught me, by example, that the world is big, very big.
I remember the VW Beetle, Bil cramming us all in, then hitting road bumps so we'd fly up off our seats. Giggling and screaming, we'd beg him to do it again. And he did. I remember Lyn stealing his camera, us taking awful pictures of anything we thought was bad, and Bil never saying a word about it. I often wondered, in later years, what he thought when he developed those pictures in his darkroom....
I remember a man who, when putting together the Striders track team, looked at this wheezy, unathletic-as-hell little girl who couldn't run, couldn't throw, couldn't jump very far, and said, "I have a place for you. You can be our manager." I adored him for that.
I knew he was a writer, and that he was famous. I knew that because my dad read everything he wrote, and his one claim to fame was that he beat Bil Gilbert in cribbage (my apologies to Lee's husband for that). But I didn't know he was famous from his demeanor, the clothes he wore, or his interaction with us kids. In old sweatshirts and wrinkled pants, he was, to me, simply the funny, incredibly magical dad of my friend Lyn, who built a pulley-line from the side of the mountain all the way down to the creek, who teased me, talked to me, and showed me by example that life is large.
In later years, when I began my own little foray into writing, I went to him for advice. That he took me seriously, and talked to me honestly and earnestly, I will treasure always.
People come and go throughout our lives. All have value in one way or another. Bil Gilbert, in ways too many to count, made my life better. I love him for that, and I will remember him always.

Penny Briscoe
1/30/2012 10:55:49 pm

I just met Bil last week; he was kind enough to attend a crow roost field trip with the Audubon Society of Kalamazoo. I was impressed with his knowledge and willingness to share it with those who were present. He will be greatly missed throughout the world of birding. I feel fortunate that I was able to meet him and learn from him.

Luann (Tunison) Battersby
1/30/2012 11:05:46 pm

I sent this to the Gettysburg Times, Letters to the Editor. It had a 250-word limit, not nearly enough for a character like Bil!

Not everyone has taken a bath with a crow. As a sleepover guest and classmate of Bil's daughter, I have had that dubious privilege.

Bil believed his daughter Lyn, athlete and 1973 Fairfield valedictorian, was being shortchanged by women’s sports by Fairfield, where $1 was spent for girls’ sports compared to $125 spent for the boys. Bil initiated a private track team, and wrote about it. Track coach Bil: Discouraged that I always brought up the rear, I wondered to Bil whether it was worth it to continue. His response, “The teams have great runners. Without you, how would anyone see the difference and know it?” I now was free to be an also-ran, freed from worry about competition. Coach Bil welcomed all, not just winners.

In 1972 I was to be a delegate to 4-H Congress in Chicago. Bil asked me to interview both boys and girls regarding their attitudes toward females in sports. I complied with enthusiasm, offering via public address a ‘Pennsylvania kiss’ to anyone who visited the Pennsylvania suite. Armed with bags of Hershey’s kisses, I asked a lot of questions and got answers like, “I love girls’ basketball. They’re so funny to watch.” Bil overpaid me ridiculously ($50), wrote an article for Sports Illustrated, which won the Pulitzer in that slow news year of Watergate, and testified before Congress regarding inequities in women’s sports. His testimony was the basis for Title IX, equal funding for women’s sports.

#1 of 3 articles:

Ellyn Sechrest Whitt
1/31/2012 04:20:50 am

I remember many good times sharing with the Gilberts, the cabin, the fun times and the monkey. Bil was a wonderful man that will be fondly remembered for many years. My thoughts are with his family.

Sandy Merz
1/31/2012 05:25:30 am

I never met Bil, but have two memories anyway. Kate had a world class student named Natalie Zbonack. Natalie wrote a report for and Kate was so impressed that she sent it on to Bil for feedback. Bil wrote Natalie a lengthy letter about history and writing. I always thought that was a kind act, and know it affected Natalie because she showed me the letter and was moved that Bil would make an effort like that for a student he would never meet.

Kate also tells the story about the time that Bil was on "What's My Line?" - at least I think that's the right. Kate relates how her mom got her out of school to see the show. That must have been in the 60's so they couldn't tape the show on a vcr - it'd be a hoot to see.

But the airwaves from the broadcast travel eternally at the speed of light into the stars. It's fun to imagine that the show is now about 300,000,000,000,000 miles into space and maybe some advanced alien civilization is tuning into watch Bil stump the chumps on the panel.

Travelling to other stars is Bil's love of knowledge and words, as that love is broadcast daily, and no less eternally, through Kate's teaching, into the hearts and minds of each of her students.

God bless the Gilbert family. You're in my thoughts and prayers.
Sandy Merz

Regan Fader
1/31/2012 06:31:00 am

All I know is “it’s early”. I’ve been piled into the car and am still sleeping. Somewhere in Ohio the sun comes up, and we’ll stop for breakfast at an ‘oasis’. It’s the annual trek to Iron Springs for hawk trapping, an excruciatingly boring activity broken up by brief flurries of activities. Did people really sit on the side of mountains, so still that they could hear themselves think? Waiting, waiting, and more waiting. One of Uncle Bil’s avocations. I probably was only there once, and the adults probably took me home after 15 minutes of complaining, but the experience became a part of who I am, not what I do.

I knew my uncle wrote, and that it was his ‘work’. It involved lots of travel, followed by lots of time in the ‘furnace room’. That’s where the typewriter was. Work. Bil’s work took Kate and me to Minneapolis for the 1976 AIAW basketball championship. Lucy Harris, Debbie Brock, Nancy Lieberman – pretty heady company for an aspiring ‘girl’ b-ball player. That experience became a part of what I do.

After the chainsaw incident, Bil and I played racquetball. I was pretty sure I could win, as he couldn’t really hold the racquet properly. Plus, I was much younger, in better shape, and had taken lessons! The oft mentioned competitiveness can make up for many other ‘shortcomings’. Bil would ‘hold court’ in the center, and send me racing and diving into the corners. Those games taught me all about efficiency, and became a part of who I am.

When Ann and Bil moved back to Michigan we were able to spend some quality time discussing life and its nuances. I remember him telling me that I’d turned out ‘alright’, and had become an interesting person. I took it as a compliment. Once we’d established that, we went on to search for roosts, study osprey nests, and carry on about the Tigers. Those experiences are still becoming a part of what I do, and who I am.

I’ll miss you, Uncle Bil. Thanks for all of it.

Carolyn Flohr
1/31/2012 07:33:31 am

To a wonderful man that I was able to work for as far as keeping the children and cleaning the house. I will miss you a so many things about you. Dam she took my coffee cup again.

Loved you Bil and Ann

Sam Walmer
1/31/2012 07:44:28 am

1/31/12 gmail to Gilbert Kith and Kin:

Subject: Ya'll got yer bout this?


I was reading the SI piece from 1976 on Foraging ( which I am pretty sure was written in response to the Ann buying the Euell Gibbons Wild Asparagus book), and got to this passage on pg. 3:

"Choosing among these three species [morels, chantrells and oyster mushrooms] solely on gastronomical grounds is silly, like trying to rate ambrosia, nectar and manna. But for a variety of practical foraging reasons I am inclined, especially after last year, to give oysters the nod. They are cosmopolitan, being distributed across much of the country, and have a long fruiting season, appearing in the spring, slacking off in the hot weather, but coming on again strong in the fall and lasting until early winter. Last year had a lot of cool, moist weather, which they like, and oysters were there for the foraging in all but three months—January, February and July."

This got me to thinking. I looked thru past text messages and found the attached picture I had sent to son Ben. It is a prime cluster of Oyster Mushrooms that appeared suddenly on a stump along my driveway. Very rare or never found in late January. Checking the date and time, it was sent Jan. 27, around 11:30a.

Isn't this about when Bil left us?

Ben and I are planning a big Memorial Highland Dinner Club Test Kitchen feast tonight, with the Winter Oysters as the centerpiece.



[much, much more to come....]

Karen (Stultz) Wilson
1/31/2012 11:07:30 am

As a young child I grew up right next to the Gilberts, I remember their children along with Bill & Ann. Mostly what I remember the most as about their monkey Bo Bo wearing a diaper & I was so astounded how this monkey behaved just like a child. Thank you for the fond memories.

Linda (Shriner) Kranias
1/31/2012 06:43:32 pm

Bil was one of a kind . He was one of the most interesting people I have ever met. The wonderful memories of being a Fairfield Strider will remain with me forever. Thank you Bil for believing in us! You will always be in our hearts.

Bob Sullivan
1/31/2012 10:23:17 pm

Just wanted to add a thought I couldn't write earlier: When I did the SI obit something that didn't fit at all was Bil's thoughts on marriage and family. He was invited to our wedding although we knew he and Ann couldn't make it. He nevertheless sent as good a gift as we received—one of his typed ruminations, with corrections penciled in, that went on for more than a page or two. It was quite as good as anything he published, and it surely took him some time to compose out in the shack. Maybe a full day. I don't have to remember that I read excerpts from it at our rehearsal dinner because Craig Neff made a VCR tape that evening at the Colonial Inn, and we watch it annually on March 4. What Bil wrote, as he sent us off into marriage and whatever might follow, was clearly and entirely informed by Ann, their relationship, his own earlier family, and his and Ann's own kids. That's just a postscript to the stuff meant for others who didn't know Bil. And of course it's no surprise to those who knew him well or even marginally.

Todd Stevenson
1/31/2012 11:09:24 pm

Bil taught me so much. In the 60's and 70's it was through reading his articles in Sports Illustrated. Some of his wisdom I incorporated into my lessons as a social studies teacher. Later on I learned from Bil through his books. Growing up, my Mom told me her family was Scotch Irish, but she was never able to explain to my satisfaction what that meant. It wasn't until I read "Westering Man" that I finally discovered the wonderful heritage of my family. Thanks Bil.

Susan Polley Reinsch
2/1/2012 12:09:15 am

These wonderful memories that other have posted have fascinated me. I go to the website and plan to write my thoughts and instead get swept up in reading and rereading what others have written. So many events that I had forgotten rush to the front of my memory.

I think I can almost remember the first time I met Bil through my father, as I picture the never before seen in person VW bug at the farm. Daddy and Bil were certainly an odd couple, who had the greatest respect for each other. They even went to PTA meetings together, probably in the late 1950’s, but certainly early 60’s. Bil was somewhat less respectful of Daddy’s overfeeding the hawk so it could not fly, but a farmer does want animals well fed!

Memories of the adventures with Bil—canoeing; hiking; playing ice hockey with the Striders on the reservoir just before my wedding when my mother made me stop because she was sure I would get a black eye from those fearless girls; sledding down the mountain at one of the memorable New Year’s Eve parties, two days before my wedding, and hearing the guns go off at midnight; have come rushing back to me. One of the biggest regrets of my life was not being able to go spelunking with Bil because I had to take some stupid Latin test. Although I suspect I would have been claustrophobic in a cave, I wanted to try it. He certainly could challenge a person.

Bil was one of the very few people allowed to call me Susie—or maybe I was just afraid to correct him. As others remembered, Bil competed fearsomely. Once he dragged me along to play tennis doubles with him, since he needed someone else on his side of the court. I never could play tennis, but when he yelled, “Hit the ball, Susie,” I did and it went pretty much in the right direction.

I know how lucky we were to have Bil and Ann who widened our horizons. He just seemed to love kids, or most of them, and even teenagers. Maybe that is what can take away from these memories. Even kids from happy homes can use an extra set of adults who listen to them, make them feel special, and dream. We cannot be as fascinating as Bil, but we can take time to listen to the kids.

Ann, Ky, Lyn, Lee, and Kate, thank you for sharing so much with all of us.

Susan Polley Reinsch

Ruth Fader
2/1/2012 04:19:19 am

Bil had the knack of amassing people. He'd draw them in, and once in, very few left. From the sojourn to Mexico when I was fifteen to the recent games of pinochle where my partner would occasionally "miscount", Bil's presence in my life has been HUGE. And thus it shall ever be. I'm not leaving either, dear friend.

Tracy Frish
2/1/2012 08:56:29 am

Ruth, about Bil amassing people ………. a few years ago (maybe 1981 or so? Sam might remember . . .) we went on another Gilbert canoe trip with Bob and Margaret Creamer on the Shenandoah. I believe it was the first time the Creamers had been in a canoe (seems Bil did that to an awful lot of folks) but Bil reassured them that this would be an easy float, no problem for the novices.

As bad luck would have it, when we were paddling through a fun-but-fast part of the river called the staircase, Bob and Margaret capsized, losing their paddles. They were such good sports – I remember Bob mock-paddling the rest of the way with a crooked stick and a big grin.

When we finally got to our designated end spot, we all hauled our wet selves onto the river bank and for some reason (I don’t even want to speculate why) I had extra, clean, dry underwear in the car, which I gave to Margaret as she was trying to dry out from the spill. I didn’t think about it again until a little package arrived in the mail from Tuckahoe, NY – a pair of very fancy panties wrapped in tissue paper in a box from the very fancy Macy’s in NYC. Really, I thought Margaret must be quite the glamorous New Yorker until we met again a couple of years later and she welcomed me by serving bologna sandwiches on white balloon bread on their pretty front porch in Tuckahoe. A woman after my spam-and-bologna-Midwestern heart.

Ruth’s right. Bil collected people. Good and interesting people. My life is so much richer for having met some of Glbert’s menagerie.

Jessi (Elworth) Grass
2/1/2012 11:04:52 am

Speaking of Red-tailed Hawks...

Bil used a Red-tailed Hawk to teach me how to identify birds. He didn't want me to just use color, which can easily be skewed by the sunlight. Instead, he taught me tail and wing shape, underside markings and variations in flight to identify birds. This was then added to the variety of wildlife quizzes I received from Bil, spending much of my childhood at the Gilbert home.

- Jessi Grass, "Iron Springs Road kid" (second generation)

Toni Morcelle
2/2/2012 11:49:43 pm

What a nice tribute for your loved one, Bil Gilbert. My name is Antonina (Toni) Morcelle. My grandparents were, Patricia & William Cox. Patricia was Bil's cousin and Bill was Bil's friend. We just saw Bil at my grandfather's memorial this past September. I remember visiting my Great Aunt Marjorie (Bil's mom) with my Great Grandmother Arlene. I loved Aunt Marjorie's house, the two big beds on the sun porch looking out at the lake. I wanted to thank Bil for being a good friend to my grandfather, and for letting me get reacquainted with my childhood memories. Love, Toni.

Ace (Adrienne Claire Elworth)
2/3/2012 02:46:17 am

Last Friday evening while I was at work I felt very out of my body, particularly quiet, and self conscious for simply not having anything to say to clients, and just not having the words. After I got home Mary Jane called me. It was the first time I had talked to her since I was a kid back in my not talking days. After she told me, almost immediately I was back, and my heart felt so open, and memories of Bil just flooded in. Since Ann and Bill and Ky moved to Michigan, it's been frustrating being so far away, but now it's ok because I know Bil is with us everywhere. I think the saddest part for me is that our kids will not have gotten to be in the presence of such wisdom, like Jessi and I had with Bil, who was more a Grandpa than just a Godfather.

I guess that's the way it goes, it's now our job to make sure the next generation has experiences like we had. With Creasy, Hillary, and Elley the crows, crow conventions with everyone together, canoeing down the Susquehanna, Bill and Ann in Chinklacamoose, Jess and Mandy in another, me with my miniature paddle, and when I was a baby in a papoose with a bonnet. Nursing with Hannah the beaver, Bocce ball, bamboo shoots with butter, playing in the creek and feeling the slick under my feel and the cool wrap around my ankles, catching minnows and tadpoles and putting them in the fish tank, hiking with my walking stick just like Ann and Bil, identifying trees, chewing on Sassafrass, calling for owls. And just listening. Hearing plants grow, and rocks move. And Just Why stories. Saturday lunches and bets with Bil, Zeek, and my dad at Four Seasons, with a grilled cheese and breakfast mints. (The only reason bars and cigarette smoke are familiar and comforting to me.) Sitting up in the living room with Ann and Bil while he read and I pet Rosie and Smokey. Bil's laugh, sitting cross legged, t-shirt pocket bulging, one arm off the plastic rest, the other hand just so, holding a cigarette. Me sitting on the ground while the grown ups laughed, and the smell of my hand after petting Cokie.

After reminiscing, more than all of that, I'm grateful for Bil always accepting my quietness. It's a great thing for someone to always have faith and no questions. One time Bil took me on a treat run, he asked me what I wanted, I often could not find the words to answer, so I most likely said, "I don't care," he said, "How bout some gummy bears." I loved gummy bears. Supposedly I ate the whole bag just on the ride home, quietly munching. I don't know why I ever went through a phase of not wanting to be called Ace, I never heard Bil call me anything else.

There is no sadness, just an open heart full of gratitude. So with Great Love for Bil and all the wisdom he instilled in me, here is a poem I wrote Saturday morning while crows cackled outside:

Thank You

It’s nice when I’m not questioned,
when I’m not judged for being quiet.

When it’s not taken personally,
and no offense is taken.

No suspicion,
or immediate dislike.

No questioning,
just acceptance of what is.

You didn’t make me feel obligated to speak,
because with you I had no expectations to fulfill.

I didn’t need to please you,
because you accepted me just as I am,

a little girl who needed gummy bears.

Thank you for having faith in us,
even when we chose not to speak.

2/3/2012 12:46:04 pm

Beautiful, Ace. Thank you!

Dick Polley
2/3/2012 05:37:03 am

Getting a chance to reflect on a lifetime of memories with Bil has been great. Bil and Ann came into my life early, I couldn't imagine growing up without them. Like Susan said it was like 2 set of parents. What a time to young in the sixties with Bil taking us along on all kind of adventures. The canoe trips, the mushroom hunts, the hikes, the New Year Eve lobsters, the trips to the hospital for stitches. Bil was the commissioner of all things exciting. How many other people had hawks, crows ,flying squirrels to train and play with and learn from. Mom was always able to talk Glenn into letting me go along with him and we still got the hay in anyway. Mom also made me go to church the day Bil caught the golden eagle. Thanks Mom. Thanks to Bil I was able to go from the Equator to the Arctic Circle with many places in between and meet many many really interesting people form a hermit in Maine to a world class photogragher. I can still smell the Kent cigarettes and see the overflowing ashtrays as we sat and planned new adventures , or playing Yahtzee at the kitchen table. Pop was sure I was there more than home. Bil brought people together. I hope that we can stay in touch and share what Bil meant to us all. Ky Kate Lyn Lee and Ann thank you and I love you all

2/3/2012 12:49:01 pm

Thanks Dick! And do you remember all the dirty jokes you told us when you babysat us? They are the only jokes we all remember. "One, two, three, four, over the shoulder, and under the door!". You were our favorite babysitter of course!

Dicck polley
2/3/2012 02:40:31 pm

Between you and I there ws a man from Nantuckette

Regan Fader
2/4/2012 09:29:18 am

I know that one!!!!

2/4/2012 12:44:39 pm

and then there is "Bowels no move, teepee full of ....." :)

John Thomson
2/4/2012 06:07:20 am

Crow-Magnon Man; late modern human, in the lineage of free thinkers, versed in the linkage of family, friends and other bloods.

Part1 What’s the verdict?
There are many questions that have gone unanswered regarding crows. Now that Bil has been claimed by them, he will get some answers. They lifted him by the shoulders and several of them took him out of sight amongst tall trees and there is no sign of him. I can hear the crows giving up their secrets to him. But what are they saying? I’ll have to be patient, watching and listening, something I learned how to do very well from Bil.

Bil and I spent a good deal of time together, mostly on expeditions, in search of secrets. Secrets of the lives of coatis, re-following Franklin’s canoe route in his search for the fabled Northwest Passage, seeking out tractor pulling gurus, swimming on our backs in northern boundary waters in search of mysterious pictographs, traveling thousands of miles to investigate an illusive Scented Grass, trekking up Sierra trails on the heels of Joe Walker, to walking Forestier’s underground gardens or searching out Erlandson’s circus trees. And constantly we were on the lookout for phantom crypto zoology. We got very close to each of these things and uncovered some of their secrets, enduring days in blistering heat of the Sonoran desert and biting cold in the sub arctic rivers of Canada’s NWT. Together in the absolute darkness of a crystal lined cave to the midnight sun above the 60th parallel.

Every expedition was as joyous as it was unique. Yet, my first expedition with Bil in 1970 was to become one of the greatest curiosities of our lives. That year in Arizona’s Huachuca Mts. was as Bil put it, ‘our Camelot’. It was just magic playing out in front of us. There, an unlikely community of restless youth, Ky, Terry and hippie me, a thoughtful writer, rough miners, hermits, evangelical zealots, red necked hill folk, park bureaucrats and a very social group of special animals came together supported by a network of family and friends. Those coatis provided us limitless opportunities to get access into many camps and homes during a weird and wonderful time. That year together became my vision quest. And it shaped me into who I am today. When it came time for us to leave our adopted mountain cabin home and head back east, we left some offerings for all that had happened to us that year. In the cabin we left behind my guitar and Bil a poignant message scrawled onto a table. I wish I had those exact words right now…something like, play the guitar and have a good time, we surely had many in this place.

Part 2 The ‘busy busy’
Bil had a cosmological view of the world and that ‘crossing over’ that went something like this.
Surrounding our planet is an invisible rubber sheet. The terrestrials go about their business without awareness of the fact that, all those who have crossed over, find themselves outside the rubber sheet. Like a spirit condom. Now what’s interesting is that there are small holes in the sheet that one could pass through to get back on the other side and get back into that game on earth, what Kurt Vonnegut call the ‘busy busy’. There is one big problem. These holes are few, and they pop into and out of existence and so it’s hard to get through them. And the competition for these holes is something fierce! Oh, and there’s one more thing. Along this rubber sheet is an incredibly humongous squeegee that is continually passing by and stripping off beings trying to get through the holes. Now occasionally someone gets through, and they get to partake in the ‘busy busy’ again. I’m not sure you can tell who came back through because the ‘busy busy’ is so engrossing, so consuming that one quickly forgets about the rubber sheet and the squeegee. In the game of ‘busy busy’ like tennis, everyone is constantly serving and volleying. You gotta be on your toes. I’m now in physics and I really like this cosmology. It’s easy for me to picture and relate to. The drag is those twitchy holes and that squeegee hassling about. Just think of all those cats and kittens, like Genghis Kahn, Cleopatra, J.Edgar Hoover, Satchel Paige, all those do gooders and blue meanies searching for an opening. Bil has some formidable competition and I’m pretty sure he’s enjoying it.

Part 3 Chasing ghosts
Bil regarded ghosts with curiosity, though they frustrated him at times. They sometimes visited him in his dreams. One night while we camped on the high Sierra crest, Bil was visited by a Major Montgomery, and Bil quickly discovered a clue to Joe Walker’s whereabouts along a timeline Bil was researching for Joe’s biography, Westering Man. Within this conversation with the Major, a cryptic revelation erupted, that nearly solved one mystery of Walker. He woke me

2/4/2012 10:30:57 am

Oh sheesh, John. Don't stop NOW! I have been soooooooo hoping somebody would write about these things. The ghosts ..... many conversations with Bil about them, but it isn't my story to tell. It is yours, though.

Dick Polley
2/6/2012 04:59:40 am

Hey John, the last time I saw you we were leaving Yellowknife and you took all my pictures to develop. You never gave them back. And I haven't seen you since. I'd sure like to have them. Try to find them and send them to me. Please I have no pictures from the trip.
That's sad. Stay in touch from where ever you are

Jim Bigelow
2/4/2012 11:41:31 pm

Perhaps Bil's earliest writing and publishing was a one of the co-conspirators publishing The Voice, and underground scandal sheet covering events and people (both faculty and students) while Bil was in high school. The paper was produced on the mimeograph machine for the official high school newspaper, and the subject of a great effort to determine who was doing this scandalous thing by the school's officals, however the truth was never discovered. As I recall the story, Bil never admitted to involvement, but never denied it either. We knew then he was intended for greater things.

2/6/2012 03:34:49 am

Jim...I am so glad you wrote about The Voice, few will remember it but it was surely a portent of things to come. A few years ago while visiting Kalamazoo, Bil spent an afternoon visiting Leonard Gernaat and they reminisced about that scandal sheet and Mr. Gernaat claimed of course they knew who was behind it. Bil so enjoyed seeing him again.

Dave Morine
2/5/2012 06:57:13 am

Bil the Radio Star
In 1991, I had a national public radio talk show called Good Dirt. The show came on for an hour once a week and people from all over the country would call in with questions or opinions about certain conservation issues. Doug Wheeler, my co-host, and I would banter back and forth with them answering their questions and critiquing their opinions. I was okay as a host, but Doug was a star: quick, witty, unflappable, with a voice that was made for radio. Everything was going great until Pete Wilson, the newly elected governor of California, asked Doug to become the State’s Secretary of Natural Resources. There was no way Doug could say no, which meant I had to find a new co-host.
I was sitting there wondering who I could get when the phone rang. It was Bil. “I hear you’re looking for a co-host,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said, “know anybody?”
“I’ve got just the guy for you,” Bil said.
“Who’s that?” I said.
“Me,” Bil said, and he meant it.
I first met Bil in 1986 when he was writing a story on The Nature Conservancy for Sports Illustrated. Right away I could tell he was like nobody I’d ever met before. He came into my office, plopped himself down in a chair, pulled out a pencil and little pad of paper, lit up a cigarette, and said, “So, what do you guys think you’re doing?”: no handshake, no small talk, no tape recorder, no no-smoking, and no second L in Bil.
I liked him immediately. As the interview wore on, I got the impression that Bil didn’t have much time for people who took themselves too seriously and he thought in general, environmentalists tended to take themselves very seriously. When Bil left, I thought to myself, “This is a guy I wouldn’t mind knowing,” and over the next few years I did get to know him. He’d drop by the office when he was in DC, and every now and then I’d go up to his house in Pennsylvania. There was always something going on at Bil and Ann’s place. One time he was nursing “Hanna”, an orphaned baby beaver he’d found after the Susquehanna had flooded. Another time, it was huge black snake he’d befriended. Then, of course, there was always a family of crows flying around cawing with Bil about something.
Given the fact that I don’t know squat about nature and Bil was a great naturalist, I decided that maybe he was just the guy for me, Good Dirt, and WAMU, our home station. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I had a show to get out that week and Doug was already gone, so I told Bil, “Okay, you’re on.”
Our first show was a disaster, at least from a production standpoint. Bil did everything wrong. By constantly tapping his fingers on the table, he created what sounded like a drumbeat in the background. Then he didn’t talk into the mike, which made it sound like he was in the next room. When he finally did start talking into the mike, he was always hacking, coughing and wheezing. Richard Paul, our producer, was pulling his hair out and shouting instructions into our earphones. Bil was totally unfazed. “It’s all fluff,” he said, “what does it matter?”
And Bil was right, it didn’t matter, mainly because what he was saying was so good. Over the next few months the whole tone of the show changed. Instead of talking about issues, we started talking about nature: plants, gardens, trees, and all types of animals, or “different bloods” as Bil called them. Instead of mainline conservationists wanting to talk about things like federal funding for conservation and what they were doing to get more members, we started hearing from people who actually were interested in nature and the weirder the call, the better Bil liked it. One of his favorites was the worm lady. She told us how she was recycling by using worms. Bil thought having a big tub of worms sitting in her kitchen was a swell idea. He told her he’d always thought the best way to get rid of trash was to throw it out the window and let nature deal with it. Then there was the kid from Grosse Point who was being sued by the citizens association because he refused to cut his lawn. He said he thought it would be better for the birds and animals if he let it go natural. Bil told him he was absolutely right and to ignore the association. I think that’s when the Grosse Point station dropped us.
True to form, Bil didn’t have much time for callers who took themselves too seriously. When Noel from Boulder, Colorado called to tell us how he organized a trip to the Himalayas to pick up all the trash left by hikers, Bil said, “Noel, you really want to do something to help protect the Himalayas, stay home.” When Larry, a student at the University of Delaware, called to tell us he was the President of the Conservation Club, Bil said, &ldqu

Dave Morine Cont.
3/1/2012 10:58:05 am

"Say, Larry, you're right between the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers, you ever get out and canoe them?"

"Of no, Bil," Larry said. "I don't have any time for that. I'm right in the middle of organizing a big rally to make the University more environmentally friendly."

"Larry," Bil said (hack, hack, cough, wheeze), "forget all that stuff. Get out and mess around on rivers for awhile. You'll be better off for it."

Messing around with nature was one of Bil's big themes. Once we had the head of a local Audubon nature center on the show and she was telling us about all the programs they had for kids. After about the fifth program, Bil (tap, tap, tap) said, "Here's an idea for you. You should get all the adults out of there for an afternoon and just turn the kids loose. What kids need is more messing around time. So you lose a few turtles and a couple of frogs, that's how kids should learn about nature, and they'll have a heck of a lot more fun doing it."

Thanks to Bil, we developed quite a following and while they definitely were not mainstream, they were always interesting and fun. People used to tell me that listening to Good Dirt was like sitting around a campfire shooting the breeze with a bunch of old friends. And it was. Of course, every show had a few calls about crows. These were the ones Bil liked best, and were always the most entertaining. While mainstream environmentalists might label crow aficionados as a bunch of screwballs, they all had a great appreciation of nature and definitely did not take themselves too seriously. In other words, they were Bil's type of people.

As Good Dirt gained in popularity, we had to add a technician and a researcher to go along with our producer. As our expenses kept growing the station naturally wanted us to do more fundraising. Bil didn't give a fig about fundraising. He didn't give a fig about money. "If you need money," he told me, "you go to the mailbox and there'll be a check. If it isn't, you go do something else."

One day, we went to the mailbox and there was no check. "Well," Bil said, taking a long drag on his cigarette, "I guess it's time to go do something else."

That was the end of Good Dirt. We'd had a good run and looking back on it, the bulk of what I know about our natural world, which still isn't a lot, came from listening to Bil hack, cough, and wheeze his way through Good Dirt. Bil was just the guy for me, Good Dirt, and WAMU. He was a radio star. Now, like the rest of ASCAR, I'm waiting to see a crow sitting in a tree hacking, cawing, and wheezing while puffing on a cigarette. Even though I wouldn't take it too seriously, it would make me very happy.

David Ratchford
2/5/2012 11:59:39 am

As long as I can remember, our family has known of Bil. My father, Bill Ratchford, was a college roommate of Bil at Georgetown University. My dad always enjoyed retelling the tall tales of their Washington days.

And as a long time Sports Illustrated subscriber, I always relished an issue with a Bil Gilbert article.

But my favorite personal recollection of Bil is from the summer of 1971. My dad, my brother and I spent a couple of weeks with Bil, Ky and the rest of the crew in the Huachuca Mountain cabin in Arizona as they chased coatis. I was a wide eyed 13 year old and received my introduction to Bil Gilbert's Rules for Living. (e.g. "If you see food, eat it.") His love of the outdoors and keen eye for life made quite an impression on me. I have always felt fortunate that he shared some of that year in Arizona with us.

It was an honor to have known him.

Riley Serres
2/5/2012 01:10:23 pm

Most of my summers were spent in Pennsylvania (and later Michigan) with my Papa Bil and Nana Ann. I have so many fond memories, some of which were not fond at the time, but have since grown on me.

I didn't always get along with Papa, we were very similar in many regards, (both stubborn and a little crass at times) which is probably what made us butt heads. But despite the arguments I loved him, and he had a profound impact on my life. He shared so much with me, his love of nature, his thoughts (and there were many) and his stories. I used to listen to his Just Why stories every night before I feel asleep (you can find them under Audio &Books) and his Man Who Made Pink stories absolutely delighted me.

One Christmas when I was younger I got a typewriter. In it was a letter from my typewriter (her name was Tammy) that Papa had written. I recently came across it and it reminded me of the creativity and youth that he put into each of his projects, no matter the size.

He inspired and encouraged my creativity. I knew that I had done a good job when Papa praised it (whether it be art or a story) because I knew that he wouldn't lie, or try to soften the truth. One of my last art projects was inspired by him, a series of close up skull drawings, and I had planned to bring them with me in March to show him. I regret that I never got the chance, because I have a feeling he would have loved them.

As I got older, especially during this last year I started to call Nana and Papa more often, just to talk. I feel so grateful to have spent this last year improving my relationship with him, and I cherish every one of those calls.

It hasn't truly settled in yet that he's gone, but I know that he will always be with me.

I love you Papa, I hope wherever you are is filled with creative juice and animals!

Doug Ratchford
2/5/2012 08:01:25 pm

Ann, and Family, sorry to hear about Bil's passing. He was a unique individual and one of those people who make life so much more interesting. Daddy always spoke highly of him as a friend and he and David and I often shared tales of the adventures we shared with y'all, especially in the Huachuca mtn's in Az. As a dog lover myself, I always think of Bil with that big brown dog by his side.
God Bless

Doug Ratchford, Brenham, Tx.

Carol Squire
2/6/2012 05:14:26 am

They say there is one adult who makes a profound difference in a kid's life. I suspect Bil was that person for many kids, and that is his legacy. I know he was that person for John Thomson, and I am forever grateful to Bil for that. John loved Bil, and Bil loved John.

I first met Bil sometime around 1971 when I was in high school. I had just met John, who had recently returned from his year in the Huachuca Mountains with Bil. John and I were two lost souls who found each other and spent the next 12 years growing up together. John wanted me to meet Bil and Ann and the whole Gilbert family. The Gilberts were the family John wished was his own, and John was anxious to introduce them to me.
John took me to the Gilbert's house in Pennsylvania, where I met the family, along with a monkey and two chulos. Bil teased me mercilessly and I, only seventeen years old, wasn't sure how to react.

Over the next decade, I saw Bil (and sometimes Ann) periodically, usually when John was about to embark on, or return from, another "expedition."
I have vivid memories of visiting Bil and Ann at the old ranch in Arizona (around 1975?). Bil was disciplined, and would disappear into a little room each morning to write. He had started making his metal sculptures there, too. I remember watching Bil get gussied up for a meeting in Tucson with a publisher of some type. He showered and put on clean clothes, and headed down the long mountain road into town in his car with us in tow. He left the car window rolled down. By the time we arrived in Tucson, Bil was covered with dust. He didn't notice or care, and he went off to the meeting. I still smile when I think of that.
Bil was larger than life, that's for sure. It seemed he was born of a different time. But apart from his many talents as a writer, his biggest gift was his ability to touch others' lives in a special way just by being himself. His love of nature was contagious, and he taught many of us to open our eyes and use all our senses to appreciate the beauty around us. He will be sorely missed.

Amanda Markovich
2/9/2012 09:06:08 am

I have so many great memories from my childhood going up with Papa Bil. The canoe trips, walks in the woods teaching me about animal tracks, softball tournaments, the man how made pink stories, all the cool pets, introducing me to my imaginery friend Anthony Ralee and kicking my stuff bear through the Chicago airport saying stupid bear. Papa Bil was more then my grandfather he was my second dad. He taught me so much about myself and others around me. When I was growing up I hated "the talks" but as I grew older I valued his advice and wisdom more and more. Everything he taught me I hope to pass on because he made me a better person and I feel so lucky to have had him as my papa and that Sean got to know such a great man. Thank you Papa Bil for everything you will be greatly missed but never forgotten. Whenever a crow flies by I will smile and think of you. Love you Papa!

2/10/2012 01:00:20 pm

Ah, yes.... the "talks"...... and "the look!"

Bob Waldrop
2/12/2012 12:37:46 pm

In his death, Bil is doing what he’s always done; stir up the sediment. Throughout, he aggressively challenged hackneyed thinking just as he was infinitely curious about things. In this manner, Bil created an important fork in my life. By example, he pointed out how much is available if we’d just show a little gumption.

While it may not have looked like it, as all of us on this page well know, he had gumption by the gallon; was persistent and hard working. He also relaxed hard.

Once latching on to a friend, he rarely let go. And his influence on us never abated. When circumstances required that he not continue his program of shock training Peace Corp volunteers, he thrust that opportunity on my skinny underachieving 23 year-old shoulders. In his kindly-yet-forceful way, he “encouraged” me to reveal something he saw. In a hundred similar ways and along dozens of adventures, he continued to help open my eyes and mind. He did this, and more, for herds of others.

And now, nearly fifty years later, his hand is still on me and on us all. Especially so now that he has, yet again, stirred up so much sediment - and sentiment.

Steve Cox
2/22/2012 02:20:06 am

When I moved to Tucson a few years ago, Bil and Ann were renting a place--a plain 1950s one-story brick house--on a ranch on the south side of the Huachuca Mountains, down on the Border, and I had many good times visiting them.

As you may know, birders get their tickets punched if, on visiting southern Arizona, they view the elegant trogon. The first time I visited Bil and Ann on the Border, Bil walked me up into the woods a couple of hundred yards, sat me down on an old railroad tie from the mining days, handed me two sticks and said, "Rap these together." Then he shuffled back down to the house.

I began tapping the sticks together, and within minutes a large red and green bird approached, flying from tree to tree, and landed on a branch directly overhead. An elegant trogon, no doubt about it. I ambled back to the house, Bil punched my ticket, and pretty soon thereafter Ann set dinner on the table.

Don McKinney
2/27/2012 05:55:44 am

I first met Bil about 40 years ago when he submitted an article to The Saturday Evening Post, where I was Articles editor. The story explainedhow his daughter (Lyn?) had been raised by an owl. I loved it and took it in to Otto Friedrich, the ME, who also liked it and we began using Bil whenever he had an idea for us. Mostly they were his ideasm but I once talked him into going to spring training and doing a piece on Mickey Mantle. He looked on Mantle as an unusual sort of animal and werote a somewhat strange bit delightful piece. I saw him whenever he was in NY and one day he called and asked if I'd ever been n an overnight canoe trip. I hadn't, and neither had my 12-year-old son, so bil lined up about a dozen similarly underprivileged folks and we convened in Fairfield, Pa., where canoes and tents and such like had been readied for us and we took offf. I won't take the time to describe the trip, except to say that when he organized another trip a few years later, we couldn't wait to do it again. It rained all of Saturday on that trip, and I remember Bil holding a poncho over a stack of kindling andgeting a welcome fire going so we could dry our clothes, and Bil saying "I think that if there was ever a time when I couldn't get a fire started, I'd..." he paused, shaking his head, "It would just blow my mind."
A year or so ago I wrote up the journal I'd kept on the trip for my son's birthday, and sent a copy to Bil. He responded with a long explanation of everybody who'd been on the trip, some pieces he'd written about his life, including a marvelous memory of his first writing teacher. He also sent some of his definitions and "animalisms" which I printed in the newsletter I o=put out for the retiirement place I live in. We started a regular correspondence--Bil wrote just the way he talked, so it was almost as good as being with him. Then I got Ann's letter. I'm just grateful for the work his children and grandchild put into this website, which I will read from whenever I miss him, which is a lot. It gives us a rare chance to visit him anytime, and while it's not Bil, it's as close as we can get--and a lot closer than I imagined was possible. Bil was that rare writer who managed to support himself and his family by writing whatever he wanted to. Few writers can make that claim..

Kim Carlton
3/1/2012 10:41:32 am

I have cleaned for the Gilberts for about 5 years,Wow what wonderful people.I will miss Mr.Gilbert I reallyenjoyed our talks he had so much knowledge I learned alot from him in the time I knew him his family was very lucky to have such a wonderful husband and father.Mrs.Gilbert please know i"m not far if you need help with anything.

Corinne Ovadia
3/1/2012 11:02:46 am

“Words are important Corinne,” Bil laughed, “When you said the injured crow we found was shot, & had a hole in his side, ‘the size of a potato’, what kind of word is “potato” to describe the size of something? How am I supposed to know you’re not talking about a large baking potato, and you really meant the marble-size potatoes clinging to new red potatoes you dig in the spring? You must be specific with words!” With daily washings of the marble-sized hole, the crow survived, and Bil taught me, a person who thinks in pictures, how to communicate more clearly with words.

I met Bil & Ann at age 17. In our first conversation, I spoke of my time working in a morgue, before coming to PA to work year-round in an apple orchard. Our conversations began there and continued for the next 36 years. Hopefully more, since he promised to haunt me if he could figure out how to get past the squeegee. (Thank you John T. for describing Bil’s squeegee theory, and his preoccupation with dreams & ghosts.)

I once dreamed that I was a given a crow that spoke, from the King of the White Hawks. Bil took it upon himself to fulfill destiny. He showed up with a baby crow the week my daughter, Ace, was born, so I could raise them together. When Ace finally decided to speak, he seemed pleased her first word was: “Caw”.

Bil & Ann helped raise my daughters, Jessi & Adrienne (Ace), and I helped Ky & them with Amanda. “A parent must be a rock, you must give your kids something to push against,” Bil advised. With their love, support & faith behind me, I did my best. What would I have done without the canoe trips, hikes, expeditions, the Cold Springs, wild pawpaws & persimmons, crabfeeds, and all our fondest memories? Or all the creatures we raised and rehabbed together? Or fishing for hawks in the sky with a pigeon? I am forever grateful for, inspired by, and filled with love for the two of them.

And what was Bil without Ann? Like two trees growing close, their branches filling in each others’ gaps, they taught me of respect, patience, balance, & teamwork. Bil adored Ann, her‘s was the only opinion that seemed to matter to him. Together they raised an amazing family. The time and attention they put into their kids & grandkids was extraordinary, and Bil was so proud of each of their accomplishments.

I’ll miss Bil immensely, and feel so lucky our paths crossed for so long... Thank you all for this website, our shared memories, and knowing, as Bil always said, “We are not alone”.

Bob Kistler
3/1/2012 10:21:34 pm

There were 12 of us in highschool that formed a loose confederation we called the "Harries:. We all palled around together and often got together in Bil's basement for penny ante poker and usually beer.

We all l\knew that Bil marched to a different drummer. t Ther were all kinds of animals around the house. A pet flying squirrel, a Great Dane that thought it was a horse and kept company with a couple of ex Polo ponies.

We all have maintained contact over the years and several Harry reunions which most of us managed to attend although we were widely separated geographically.

We all kidded Bil about someday writing the "Great American Novel". The last time I saw him he said he was writing a book that included all the names of the Harries but I don't think he ever finished it.

Bil was a man apart and will be missed. I Have many fond memories to sustain me.


3/2/2012 11:31:00 am

I attended Fairfield School in the 1960's and was in Lyn's class. In I believe second grade Bil brought in a film about going down the Colorado River and I never forgot it. The man in the film was the same man who was talking to us in front of the classroom and the father of a classmate, unbelievable! I have read different books and articles of Bil's over the years and enjoyed them all. Sorry for your loss of a special man.

Barbara Reindollar Kerstetter
3/4/2012 09:31:47 am

Bil was my track coach for the two years I was involved in the sport at Fairfield. While he was dedicated and encouraging, I was slow and rather lumbering. Finally one day he told me I ran like a Sherman tank! Well, I wasn't too happy about that at the time, but for 45+ years I've laughed about it hundreds of times. He was soo right! He will be greatly missed. My prayers and thoughts go out to his family.

Rich & Vic
3/18/2012 02:56:05 pm

What a remarkable man Kate. We are so sorry for your loss.

Susan Haedtler Ruth
5/21/2012 11:41:10 pm

A love of nature, family, and friends and a talent for writing seem to run in the Gilbert family. I have copies of six short stories written by Bil Gilbert's and Sue Hubbell's mother, Majorie Gilbert, who was a childhood friend of my great aunt, Dode Peck Schumacker. I would very much like to share these stories with Bil's family. Please contact me to I can send them. Thank you. Susan Haedtler Ruth

Kent Barnekov
6/15/2012 11:20:46 am


Bil has always been a special person in my heart. He was there when my sister died and took me away from that tragedy, even if for awhile. I will never forget our trip to NJ and Ky climbing the tree for the fish crow fledglings; when he handed me one Bil was smiling from ear to ear. I remember the canoe trip when you got so sick; even at my age then, I remember Bil was so worried. Do you remember who was in the front of the canoe that rushed you down river that day? I often think of all of your family, your Fairfield home, and I have the best memories...


Lyn GIlbert
6/18/2012 12:04:11 am

Thank you so much Kent! I remember that canoe ride-Dad and I revisited the area where that happened last year-about a year ago-for his birthday present from me we drove from Michigan back to Pennsylvania and drove all along the West Branch and through the tiny town of Karthaus where I saw the doctor. And of course we all remember your crow and the story behind it-the most important of many crows! Did you also know I was in love with you? :) You were my first crush- as a maybe 10 year old. :) :) Hope you are doing well! HI from all us Gilberts

Grant Dinsmore
7/25/2012 10:10:57 am

I encountered Bil and Ann at "Miss Thompsons School" day camp in the summer of 1951. It was located in the open country just south of Falls Church, Virginia. They were counselors for at least that summer. Bil would drive around in the morning in a van with wooden benches in the back and drop us back home in the late afternoon. I was somewhat precocious (and sometimes obnoxious)
but he tolerated it all and made things great fun as we dammed streams, built shelters, played competitve woodland games and learned nature lore. It was a great experience all around.
I remember their pet skunk which slept most of the day in their closet. At the end of the summer they conferred upon me the honor of "Best Camper" with an engraved trophy that I still treasure. It gave me a big boost in self-confidence. Later, I encountered an article by him: "Hunting is a Dirty Business" .....[amen]. Bil's influence established in me a a life-long emotional and intellectual
interest in the natural world that persists to this day. I am glad to read that he had such a rich and fruitful life. RIP Bil, and thanks.

Tracy Frish
8/8/2012 03:58:52 pm

I've been thinking a lot today about how Bil's writing is both elegant and accessible. And that it is rare for both to shine so brightly at the same time . . . in a single story. More of that Gilbert magic. :-)

1/27/2013 08:37:01 am

Streaming through memories. Lots of crows around today.

Mary Jane Dunlap
1/27/2013 09:05:52 am

Like, Ruth, streaming through memories this week.

1/27/2013 09:12:20 am

Thanks Mary Jane and Ruth, for the company.

4/19/2013 11:35:03 am

I discovered Bil Gilbert as a pre-teen in the public library of a small town in Texas, and began a life-long habit of readership. I read Bears in the Ladies Room and Other Beastly Pursuits so many times I practically memorized it. He opened up a whole world to me that I had no other way of reaching. Thanks to him (and very tolerant parents), I owned a series of ferrets for 15 years and learned to talk to crows. Birds flew more or less freely around the house, and I was always sorry that I was never able to raise an owl of my own. I have managed many river trips, however.

I didn't need the byline to know his writing; his voice and style were uniquely his own. I know I'm not the only reader whose life was affected, and I have passed his words down to my own children now. Thank you for the memorial site to tell you how much he meant to someone who never even met him.

Dick Polley
4/24/2013 04:38:56 am

Bil rocked!

Dick Polley
6/23/2013 01:55:25 pm

40 years ago today Bil led Ky ,Terry, John, Sam and I on an adventure of a lifetime. June 23, 1973 we left Yellowknife headed north. Quite the trek; but that's what Bil did best. I guess I better read the story again and see how it came out. Thanks Bil. Thank you Ann for sharing him with us.

Tracy Frish
5/25/2014 04:38:14 pm

I'm reading (again) Bil's 1982 article, Streams of Contentiousness, about the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. I was one of the group that paddled down the Jacks Fork w/Gilbert. This year is the 50th anniversary of the ONSR and all that contentiousness is coming to a head yet again as a long-awaited management plan is expected in the next few months.

Things got so crazy that the nutty politicians running things for the state in Jeff City actually introduced legislation to take the rivers away from the feds. (Don't ask me. I dunno.)

Anyway, back to Bil's article. It is so damn good. He weaves his story in and out, back and forth, from rivers to politics to high jumpers to mexico to hawks to kids skipping school. It kinda burbles and flicks around like the river. I'm thinking perhaps one of his best. Though I tend to think that whenever I read one of his pieces.

I miss the river. I miss Bil. Read this one in the SI Vault if you haven't already!

Mary Dunlap
5/31/2014 06:24:26 am

Remembering all the good times ... and some of the less than good times too ... and missing Bil's perspective on anything and everything.

Tracy Frish
5/31/2014 09:31:36 am

Yep, Mary Jane. I'm wondering if Ann made strawberry mousse. Or maybe she's enjoying NOT having to make it every single year. :-)

9/10/2014 03:56:13 am

Surely Bil knew about this before the rest of us. Probably claims it wasn't even news. Important nonetheless as background info to some of the biggest expeditions. Still exploring Big Guy?

The History Blog

Ship from doomed 1845 Franklin Expedition found

One of two ships from British explorer Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 expedition to find the fabled Northwest Passage has been discovered off King William Island in northern Canada. The ship appears to be in excellent condition. It’s standing straight up, with the bow five meters (16’4″) off the sea and the stern four meters (13’1″). The sonar image indicates that the deck is largely intact. Even some of its structures are visible, including the stumps of the masts that were sliced off by ice when the ship went down. With the deck still in place in the frigid Arctic waters, archaeologists are optimistic that there will be well-preserved artifacts still inside the ship.

It’s the sixth time since 2008 that Parks Canada has led a search of the Arctic seabed for the Franklin ships. This year the search area was the Victoria Strait, between Victoria Island and King William Island in the Nunavut territory. It was the largest search yet, a partnership between private and public organizations including Parks Canada, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the Arctic Research Foundation, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Royal Canadian Navy and the government of Nunavut. They also had new technology on their side. Parks Canada recently acquired a remotely operated underwater vehicle which played a key role in identifying and documenting the wreck.

A team of Government of Nunavut archaeologists surveying a small island southwest of King William as part of the expedition has also made significant discoveries: an iron davit (part of the boat-launching mechanism) from a Royal Navy ship and a wooden object that archaeologists believe could be a plug for a deck hawse (the pipe through which the chain cable was threaded). The davit bears the telltale “broad arrow” marks of the Royal Navy and the number 12. These artifacts were found on September 1st, six days before the sonar encountered the ship. The discovery reinforced that the marine search was in the right area.

It’s not clear at this point which of Franklin’s ships it is. Sir John and 128 crewmen set out on his fourth Arctic expedition with two ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. He was 59 years old and it had been 20 years since his last trip to the Arctic. The ships were provisioned with enough tinned foods to last three years (unfortunately the cans were poorly soldered and lead leached into the food) and outfitted with steam engines and iron cladding to help the ships break through the year-round ice.

European witnesses — crew from the whaler Prince of Wales — last spotted the ships moored to an iceberg off Baffin Island on July 26th, 1845. Historians believe Franklin wintered on Beechey Island only to become trapped by the ice off King William Island in September of 1846. The crew left the icebound ships and tried to make their way south on foot, but disease, starvation and lead poisoning ultimately claimed all of their lives.

Finding out what happened to Franklin and his crew became a cause célèbre. Thirty-nine expeditions were launched over the next 50 years to find some trace of Franklin’s expedition. The first clues were found in 1850 on Beechey Island, including the graves of three crewmen. A later expedition found a letter on King William Island noting that Franklin had died there on June 11th, 1847. In 1854, Inuit hunters told Scottish explorer Dr. John Rae that they had witnessed Franklin crewmen dying while walking on the ice and that the few survivors had resorted to cannibalism. Osteological analysis of remains found on King William Island in 1997 confirmed that they had indeed been cannibalized. Franklin’s body was never found.

The search for the ships has taken on new urgency in the past few years as melting ice has increasingly opened the Northwest Passage to shipping. The statement on the find from Prime Minister Stephen Harper emphasizes the significance of the find as the historical foundation of “Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.”

This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 at 11:42 PM

9/10/2014 04:02:26 am

Link for above:

10/20/2014 02:09:24 am

Bil had the best ladders.

10/20/2014 02:09:49 am

Yes he did.

1/31/2015 12:12:11 pm

Missing my go to guy for large bird identifying. Bil, we've had two very large birds pass gray back, the other brown back. Whitish underneath, really big... Send me your answer (I know you'll know!)

susan reinsch
7/25/2015 08:43:26 am

I randomly found this little video of a crow using tools and ingenuity. Bil would have been fascinated, but not surprised.

1/27/2017 05:48:22 pm

I miss you!!

Steven Hodges
4/5/2017 06:45:26 am

I was just reading the local zoo news letter and a mention of coatis immediately popped Bil Gilbert's name to mind and a google brought this site. I read Bil's coati year book in the '80s and recall always reading essays of his where ever they popped up. No matter the subject he always made it interesting. Did not know of his demise
but time waits for no man. Thanks for the site....


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