Honoring all creations and relations
Whatever season or time of day you choose to observe, walk into, onto, the 12,000 plus acres of the Swaner Preserve, you are made calmer by the land. There are frogs and foxes and baby ducks and prehistoric sandhill cranes. All that open space that so easily could have been subdivided and built upon was set aside by the Swaner family decades ago. Native Americans had, centuries before, named the area Hole in the Sky and the Swaner family knew the land was only theirs for generations to protect and preserve. In the ’90s with the passing of patriarch Leland, the family set about creating a memorial by protecting the disappearing open space they had grown up and loved and protected.
In a few weeks the sandhill cranes will make their annual pilgrimage back to the land in a great flapping of wings and with strange squawking songs. They will dance in search of mates, and we will witness that rare circle of life happen in nature, to remind we mere mortals how brief our time is here and how precious and beautiful.
Sixty-three-year-old Tad Swaner, a gentle soul who walked lightly upon the earth and made Park City his home, left us two weeks ago. His life was one lived in harmony with the land and the people who respected that fragile exchange. His wife Diana and daughter Alexandra understood and shared with him that devotion to the wild. They all also knew that finding artistic ways to express beauty honored the gifts they were given.
About a year ago Tad showed up at the theater where I work, on a Saturday morning — day of show — and wanted to visit. We had worked together about a decade before when he created the Cosmic Blue Moose as part of the Moose on the Loose, a joint art/fundraiser between three local non-profit arts groups. Tad’s Moose had garnered the highest price at the auction of the 21 creations, more than $40,000.
Tad wanted to talk that day about the importance of performing art and how it was woven along with visual art and how it could be used to teach folks how to be gentle to the land we loved. No one was rehearsing at the time, so we sat in a couple of seats in the theater in the J row with all the leg room, and we had a wandering, wondering conversation that seemed to stop time and suspend it, all at once. When he left I felt uplifted and supported and validated that the arts matter every day in small ways we can’t measure. And anything we do to add or preserve beauty, always matters to the soul.
He came back later that afternoon, unbidden, with a check, and bought plaques for the seats we had been sitting in.
On Wednesday night in a wide ranging celebration of life, Tad’s many friends from many paths told stories, sang songs, chanted prayers and lifted his spirit to fly with the eagles.
His daughter Alexandra had arranged beautiful musicians (bridesmaids from her wedding, in fact) and gathered powerful spiritual leaders from a variety of belief systems and disciplines. From a medicine woman to a yogi to a gay politician. Tad was a man well-loved. He was authentic and lived with, and in, nature. And he knew how to laugh, with others and at himself. So it was fitting at the end of the evening that we all joined in to sing that anthem of the common man, Friends in Low Places, by Garth Brooks. It included video snippets that friends had recorded, singing a verse. And when it came to the refrain, the room sang with gusto…just like Tad had done so very many times.
Around the room I saw the faces who I see now from celebration to celebration. We may not have all been particularly close in our years living here and raising our children but there were threads. At school. At church. At city meetings. At block parties with potluck suppers. Old insults — real or imagined — have slipped away and are replaced with a respect for the tenacity of staying here, and making a life in a place none of us were born to. There are nods and hugs and photos of children and grandchildren passed around on electronic devices. And when we part, we hug a bit tighter than when we meet.
Tad lived a full life and he left in a crescendo, having skied in fresh powder for two days and then suffering a massive heart attack. Which, if it was to be his time, seems rather fitting. His heart was just too full of love and joy and beauty and nature and family and spirit that it burst. He dies, as the Shawnee might say, "as a hero going home."
"When it comes your time to die,
be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death,
so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.
Sing your death song and die like a hero going home."
~Chief Tecumseh-Shawnee Nation
Pause a moment for Tad the next time you hurry past the Preserve on your way to …someplace else. A pause when sandhill cranes return, when spotted frogs croak, when the elk cross the meadow in the early morning fog and filtered light. A pause perhaps this Sunday in the Park….
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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