Recalling Russell Libby

By CAITLIN SHETTERLY  |  February 13, 2013

JOHN BUNKER, apple specialist and purveyor of Super Chilly Farm, in Palermo, told this story: " A few years ago we built a new house on our farm. My wife, Cammy, and I decided to invite our friends over for a work party to help shingle the house; in a sense we'd be wrapping the house in love and friendship. Russell showed up and positioned himself at the most prominent, visible spot on the outside of the house — right as you walk up the driveway. Russell was always surrounded by people, and so soon he was shingling away, with a group of young people, up under the eaves of the living room. But he kept looking up while talking and bonking his head on the eaves. So, he pulled out a shingle and wrote '# of times Russell has bonked his head' and started making hash marks. By the end of the day, there must have been 10 or 12 hash marks. I kept that shingle and put it up in my shop."

JIM GERRITSEN, of Wood Prairie Farm, made sure to point out how politically important Libby was: "He was committed to what he believed in — that farmers and fishermen could provide good food to their communities without hurting anyone . . . He had this confidence that the right way would percolate to the top, despite corporate greed and pressures."

Gardening maven BARBARA DAMROSCH, whose new book The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook (Workman Publishing, 2013), co-authored with her husband, Eliot Coleman, had this remembrance: "He had a great laugh — a deep throated chuckle that grew — I always thought that his laugh was like a train leaving the station."

Though it would be great to end here with Libby's laugh, it seems more apt, somehow, to close with Libby's own words, written in a poem called "Waiting for Sam to Finish a Phone Call, September 11, 2001."

I hope the waitress doesn't offer me water again
because I'm not sure I could accept that kindness
without all the walls falling away, and I'm not quite
ready to cry in front of a stranger.

Many strangers and friends have cried since Russell Libby died. But these warm and present stories keep him here, guiding Mainers into perpetuity.

Caitlin Shetterly wrote the "Bramhall Square" column for the Phoenix from 2003 to 2007. Her latest book, Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home, was published by Voice/Hyperion in 2011.

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