Goodbye Bill…

I had a post partway written about our last visit to Bill Coperthwaite’s, about how we bundled sticks together and tied them with twine for kindling, something Scott Nearing had always done and Bill was curious to see how well it worked.  About how we’d discussed moving our first yurt building workshop up to June, so soon!  About how his new yurt is almost done and a sight to see, one that I didn’t take pictures of because it should really be visited, both the yurt and Bill, to be fully appreciated.

But I can’t write that. Because Bill won’t be there to greet you in a long armed hug, to welcome you in, to offer to help take the sleeping 18-month-old off your back just minutes after you first meet him, to show you books he’s reading and bring out special printings from a mutual favorite author, to teach you how to use this or that tool, to share a meal with, to ponder a math problem with, to work on a project with…

I had a list written to put in this week’s letter to him:

  1. Send children’s “Tales of Wizards & Wonder” book as example of the kind of folktales with a twist he’d started collecting.
  2. Send pictures I’ve taken of our visits so he has copies.
  3. Order 2 yurt foundation calendars he’s printing up.

A letter that will never be written now…

I think about my last interaction with him.  How we had said our goodbyes when I realized I was missing one of my prized red mittens Josh had knit for me.  Bill went back inside the yurt and came out a moment later with a soft black mitten that his mother had knit, telling me it was an orphan that I should take to make a pair again.  I thanked him and accepted it, but at the same time I was torn at the idea of taking something from him that his mother, long parted, had made.  I was relieved when I found my errant red mitten in the pack during one final check.  I ran back into the yurt, thanking Bill again but thankful to return his mother’s knitted mitten to him before we headed down the trail.

Even so, I couldn’t keep that mitten with him.  Because 10 days later Bill walked down that trail himself one final time.

A friend remarked how it didn’t seem right that Bill should pass in a car accident.  I felt the same, until I remembered Bill’s fondness for Emily Dickinson, that there was a reason we walked down “Dickinsons” Reach Trail to reach him…  And while it doesn’t make sense that the world should lose this mentor, it does perhaps fit that his departure would be on a car-riage ride…


Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.

– Emily Dickinson

It is late now, and we will rise early to take a farewell trip out to Dickinsons Reach.  We are so thankful for these two years, for what this man meant to us and our children.  As Josh said:

I wish we’d had ten more years, but I know even then I would want another ten after that…

I liked to send Bill quotes when we wrote, on the letter or on the envelope…  I’d recently sent this one from Sarah Orne Jewett’s “The Country of the Pointed Firs”:

“There’s sometimes a good hearty tree growin’ right out of the bare rock, out o’ some crack that just holds the roots”; she went on to say, “right on the pitch o’ one o’ them bare stony hills where you can’t seem to see a wheel-barrowful o’ good earth in a place, but that tree’ll keep a green top in the driest summer. You lay your ear down to the ground an’ you’ll hear a little stream runnin’. Every such tree has got its own livin’ spring; there’s folk made to match ’em.”

Bill Coperthwaite was most definitely one such folk…

15 thoughts on “Goodbye Bill…

  1. Melanie & Josh – I found your site by searching for Bill’s name once i heard the news the other day. Nice posts you’ve got about your time with him, I enjoyed looking over your shoulders. One of the highlights of my woodworking career was to finally meet Bill after many years of having mutual friends. thanks for your blog, I’ll keep watching
    Peter Follansbee

  2. Oh Melanie… Beautiful ❤ So sad you lost him just as he was becoming such a force in your life, but I love what Josh said, so very true isn't it? And I love the last quote. Brings tears… Hugs and love to you all

  3. Mel, Josh, Kayden and Aria: I am so sorry to hear about your GREAT loss. I have read many things you have written about Him and what a mentor he was to your complete family. I know He will be a big loss to all of you. I have been thinking of you a lot since I heard this on Thanksgiving day. My deepest sympathy to you. I love You all.

  4. Thanks for posting on Bill. I work up at the Mountain Institute, which is an outdoor education facility in West Virginia. Bill helped to built a couple of the main yurts up here, which we use to this day, and the architecture has certainly been an iconic part of our school programming. We put up a brief post on our blog if you’d like to check it out. Thanks again for your thoughts and my condolences.

    • What a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing. I’ve been fascinated by pictures I’ve seen along the way of that three-tiered yurt – that is really an especially magical space you have there, and I’m so glad to hear that it is still being so well loved/used!

    • Very, very good question. 🙂 This is a really long post, but one that will tell you how we ended up starting down the path: I’m not an expert, and I haven’t left the rat race completely behind, but I’d say just start by doing something, anything, that feels purposeful and meaningful to you. Whether that is finding a way of living that feels right and real to you, searching out like-minded people, taking up a craft… The more you fill your life with meaning, the less the rat race matters.

  5. i loved reading this Melanie , thankyou .. i too only discovered Bill recently via his book.. what precious times you shared ..

  6. Pingback: A year in a wooden yurt | Circle In

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