Saturday, July 23, 2011

In Loving Memory -- John Andrew Gamble, 1962-2011

I rarely discuss my private life on my blog, but I wanted to take a moment to pay tribute to my brother who passed unexpectedly sometime in July in Wasilla, Alaska.

John was a true mountain man. He wasn't the least bit materialistic and never cared about worldly possessions. In the last 20 years after he moved to Alaska, I saw him three times, so we were not close; but I admire that he decided to live life his way up in the wilderness fishing for endless numbers of day. I always wondered how he seemed to never bore of it. He would catch so many salmon, he would live off fresh fish year round. He loved to cook, and I honestly have no idea why he got a degree in marketing from Sacramento State. Looking back on it, I think he would have made a terrific ranger.

From an early age, he loved nature. He used to catch trout with his hands up at our family cabin. We would wander the forest together. When we were little, we spent sometimes two to three weeks up there, hiking around the wilderness area, playing with our toys, and exploring. We would jump from big rock to big rock and play tag. Later, in the winter time when we snowmobiled, we would sled down the big mountain behind the cabin with our cousins Tim and Casey. I was always the only girl even in our neighborhood and family, so I became the sidekick that no one really wanted around. After all, I was the girl. We also tied the sleds behind the snowmobiles and got dragged around the back meadow. It was a lot of fun. In the summer months, John and I would follow the creeks all the way to the spring mostly out of curiosity. Once we hiked for what seemed like miles to find the source of the cabin water supply all the way up the mountain. Since the cabin was already at some the 8,500-foot elevation, we tired easily but trudged to the top to find the little trickle of the source of the water. It was anticlimactic, but interesting. We hiked everywhere and got to the know the countryside as well as anyone might know every inch of their backyards. He would tirelessly hike down the front of the mountain and into the meadows below. Once we ran into a porcupine, and I don't know why it stands out, but it does.

My family also named a small mountain in front of the cabin, "Scroungy," and it became an annual obsession to plead and beg to hike to the top of it. After all, it sat right in our view from the deck, calling to us like a true siren to the real "rocks." So when we were older probably around ages 10 and 12 respectively, we tackled the Scroungy climb, which was so strange to me. The mountain looked really rugged and just crumbling even from through the binoculars, but when you actually climbed it, it was huge boulders mixed with big rocks and rocky soil. It didn't look at all the same up close. We also hiked to Lower Relief Reservoir any number of times. John didn't mind the cold water at all and would plunge right in for a swim. In fact, cold never bothered him the same way it did me; hence, the ruggedness and fortitude that drew him up to Alaska. I could never get through a cold winter up in Alaska, but never once did I hear a single complaint from him.

When we became teenagers, he loved to swim and ran long-distance track. I don't know if he was good at it or not, but when he passed his friend Nord reflected how fast he could run. No surprise. He was 6'5" -- a tall, tall guy. My son Cole will be as tall as his uncle. In his teens, he was lanky and grew so fast his poor body couldn't begin to keep up. And then he started eating to maintain. Oh, man he could put the food down and want more just seconds later. I was never a big eater, so it wasn't a competition to get food before he ate it all.

The teenage years became more difficult, and eventually we became estranged, but not after spending a few good years, playing around together. He didn't like his friends flirting with me, and I saw his protective instincts come out. We would also go to the midnight movies together and see Rocky Horror Picture Show and sometimes go out dancing. But over time, our lives and interests parted us. If you would have met him as an adult and met me you wouldn't make the connection. We couldn't have been more different. He never married and he left behind no children, which I suppose is good in the way that he didn't leave a widow and fatherless children. I understand he ended up as a manager of seafood and meat in Safeway. I don't know if he liked his job; but I do know he loved the great outdoors more than he loved anything else. He died in the great outdoors, and I feel some comfort in knowing at least he died in the place that he spent all of his adult life, and for that, I am grateful.

I don't want to reflect on "the why" anymore. It's too painful to think about. I just like the idea that now he is the great mountain man, exploring the vast land of the Universe and fishing for endless salmon, trout, and blue gill (his "starter" fish). Here's to you mountain man! May you rest in peace!


  1. Michelle, So glad that you departed from protocal and shared about your brother's passing on your newsletter, as well as this beautiful tribute to him here. It is good for our hearts and souls to acknowledge those who have been so much a part of our lives, even though our paths have taken us into different worlds. I'm sure John would smile in reading your description of his passions and connection to nature. And perhaps he is!
    Take care of yourself, my friend.

  2. Loved your post. Made me think of how we can be so close to our siblings in our early lives and grow apart from them as we age--not good, not bad, just is.
    Yours, Heidi

  3. Hi Michelle, John lived one house down from me. He was a nice person. So sorry for your loss as well as the loss of my neighbor. He had chickens and I wake to his rooster crowing each morning.

  4. Thinking of you and your whole family during this difficult time. I'm really sorry to hear about your loss. Loved your post.

  5. I've known John for a long time, probably 15-20 years, since I was in my teens. He became a part of our Alaska Family, a group of friends (my parents) that met in the 70s, and shared holidays, special occasions, and family outings with one another. He was an eccetric character that lived life his own way, regardless of what anyone thought. I always admired that, especially as I grew up, established my career, and started my family. My entrance into the stereotypical "corporate grind" made me envious of his freedom. My wife and kids had just as much fun as I did with him around.

    He was an avid outdoorsman, and extremely intelligent. If there was anything that he ever wanted to know about, he would study it until he was an expert.

    We both moved to Wasilla around the same time, and we were able to have some good times together. Whether ice fishing, bringing over his latest vehicle aquisition for me to check out, or just hanging out, I always enjoyed his company. He was extremely spontaneous, incredibly witty and very funny.

    He will be greatly missed.

  6. WOW.
    I was doing a search about properties in Sacramento and typed John's full name, at some point, in trying to tie him to a street I was curious about(Tioga). I remember John from our Sacramento days - playing video games at "The Odyssey" on Marconi ave. and other gaming destinations(1981-1982). And to be sure, going on an outdoors trip with him was an adventure whether it be to swim down the American River or fish for shad. In 1981, My father and I took him with us on a camping trip to Fall River Camp ground, in the Sierra Nevada range, east of Lake Oroville. During most of the trip, I did my "gold mining" and John mostly fished. He commented on how elaborate our camp setup was - it was a home away from home, complete with various amenities built by my father(in addition to being a musician/artist, he was a bit of an engineer). After we returned to Sacramento, he implied to me that that wasn't his style of camping! Exchanging trips in turn, he and his mother and myself and Michelle went on a skiing trip to Heavenly Valley, in early 1982. Now looking back in hindsite, it makes sense that he would spend his days in the rugged Alaskan wilderness. Our friendship was brief, spanning a couple of years. But occasionally I would see him in passing for a few years, while in Sacramento.

    Sorry about your loss and my regards