Sarah was my second cousin, and one of my closest friends. We knew each other for 35 years, and in the end the friendship was stronger than it had ever been before.
Sarah was the descendant of academics and artists on both sides, and she inherited hefty portions of intellect and visual creativity. She grew up mainly in Ossining New York: set on a magnificent curve of the Hudson River, at the top of the Hudson’s inner sea (the Tappan Zee), resplendent with sail boats and unspoiled vistas. She and her family (her parents were both teachers) spent summers at the Warren family homestead in North Waterford, Maine. Here Sarah learned the art of story-telling from her father: a major presence in her life, and a natural narrator and painter. And she became the Western-Sarah her friends and admirers love with four years at Colorado College — where she discovered geology — followed by work with the USGS survey, and study for her M.S. degree in Earth Resources at Colorado State.
We didn’t get to know each other until I first moved to California in 1984, and Sarah, whom I’d met briefly before, invited me to Denver for Thanksgiving. What a trip that was! We tootled around the town, went cross-country skiing in the Rockies, and shared T’day dinner with a crowd of her Mennonite friends. Somewhere I have a drawing Sarah sketched of me taking a nap on her livingroom couch: I wasn’t quite so used to that pace as she was.
Then fortuitously, we both ended up in northern California, and I became a very happy regular at Brown family festivities of all kinds, visiting in Sebastopol dozens and dozens of times and talking with Sarah about just about everything. In her element at home I could witness her brilliance in all its many forms. First and foremost, she was a true earth scientist, with that easy grasp of the long view of time, shared by geologists and astronomers: the earth people and the sky people. She had a profoundly visual imagination and capacity. She could make anything out of any material: wool, cloth, paper, stone, wood, and most recently, metal! And then there was her cooking! I remember her mother saying proudly after a visit long ago that Sarah always served the best organic food, prepared via the best methods. Her newly renovated kitchen – resplendent in white granite but keeping the 1950s cast iron range where she produced one amazing meal after another — was a source of great delight to her. She loved especially to make pies, all kinds of pies: a kind of old-world talent that she carried forward from some ur-ancestral source.
But Sarah was a Californian at heart, and a Westerner in her soul. Who can forget her descriptions of western landscapes in her mysteries, or match her profound understanding of how the West’s mineral wealth shapes the destinies of its people? Sarah may have been Eastern-born and bred, with roots going back to the earliest years of New England, but it was in the West that she found her true identity and passions.
I last saw her when she came to my house in San Francisco for lunch in early June, before I took off for parts east. Shortly after that, she herself took an art tour of NYC, the Hudson River Valley (the terrain of her girlhood), and the Berkshires with her artist friend Pam Powell and Damon’s cousin Fritz + David. She wrote an ebullient email to me about how much they’d seen. Here’s an excerpt:
“So in aggregate, we saw the Frick, Neue, Met, and one gallery on Manhattan plus the High Rise, then saw the Clark Art Institute at Williams College plus a private artists’ home from the 1930s that has been turned into a showcase and dropped Pam off at the Frederic Church house (only one ticket available) while I tagged along with the fellahs to an antiques collective. And dinners and lunches at restaurants fine and wild, and one uber-bash of a catered party in the Hudson neighborhood Saturday night. Culturally, it was drinking from a fire hose. … Pam is into representational art, and Fritz and David did a marvelous job of steering her into those exhibits, though a little bit of abstract and other modern found its way into the mix. I must confess that I prefer representational myself, and oh heavens but I love portraiture, and between the Frick, the Met, the Neue (portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, woman in gold) and the Clark that was my set of fire hoses.”
I’m sure it must have felt like coming home: though always her true home was with Damon and Duncan: the lights of her life.
I’ll never have another friendship like this one: but I will treasure my memories of Sarah and our happy times together for the rest of my life. May you rest in peace, dearest one.