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Field Notebook

December 22, 2014
The Ghost of Mr. Cocker

(photo of Mr. Cocker at home pillaged from the internet)
(photo of Mr. Cocker at home pillaged from the internet)
Up until his death yesterday, Joe Cocker lived in my same neighborhood. I use the term neighborhood loosely. It consists of a handful of dirt road and two-track residences up against the West Elk Mountains on the Utah-side of Colorado. This is no Telluride, no star-haven. It is more of a hermitage. The fact that he chose relative solitude along this broad, steepening valley a two-hour drive from the nearest puddle-jumper airport made him the first celebrity I ever liked.

I never knew Mr. Cocker personally, but with a towering volcanic rock standing between us, we at least had a shared landmark. He lived on one side with his wife in a Tudor mansion, and I was on the other with my family in a slapdash off-grid house. When I first met him on the road in the late 90s, he was under a mountainous coat and his furry, well-mannered dogs were off their leashes. I just thought he was some whiskered older guy with an accent and a pleasant hello.

I once followed him through the woods without his knowing. I realize that sounds improper, but I'd see people walking the trails so infrequently that I'd often hone my stalking skills by following them a little ways, seeing if I could figure out what they were up to. This is BLM property, public land, but it is also my back yard. Practicing quiet steps on fallen oak leaves, I got to within a hundred feet him. If he'd spotted me, I'd have waved and come over, introducing myself, and somehow explained what I was doing. But he didn't see me, and I slipped away mortified that I'd been stalking Joe Cocker.

In the winter, we'd sled down our driveway to the road. One Saturday afternoon we came tumbling to the bottom in a snowball of laughter, children plowed into each other. Standing before us was Mr. Cocker in the same mountainous coat, his dogs older and shaggier. My wife invited him up for a run. He gave us a wrinkled, kind smile and thanked us before going on.

Though I encountered Mr. Cocker a number of times, I never introduced myself. It seemed better to leave him to his quiet and his dogs, a slow, ambling pleasure I can more than appreciate.

I believe there is now another kind-hearted ghost in the world, the shade of a man walking alone up this road and into the woods, his dogs out in front sniffing the way ahead.

Rest in peace, neighbor.

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