A good friend, my dentist and hunting partner, David Markiewitz, was murdered a few days ago. On the news, people who were interviewed all described him as a “good man.” God knows he was, but all that tells you is that he was a devoted husband and father, an honest, hard-working man who had raised three wonderful children of whom he was button-busting proud. He was those things, and so much more: funny; charming; upbeat; gifted with his hands–he could fix or build anything; a lover of wildlife and the outdoors and deer hunting; a weekend miner who was also a historian of mining in the Southwest; one of those men who are interested in and curious about so many things. I have tried to capture a small taste of who and what he was:
Twenty-five years ago I walked into a dentist’s office here in town and one of the first things to catch my eye was a series of color photographs. They weren’t professional ones, but certainly a lot better than average, and a far, imaginative cry above the normal cheap prints and mass produced reproductions you expect in a doctor’s office. There were shots of deer slipping through brush, bedded in tall grass, elk bugling, rock formations, California oaks, quail, poppies, water flowing through rocks, everything that might speak of man who loved the outdoors. I thought to myself, if nothing else, this dentist and I have something in common.
As it turned out, we had a lot in common.
Dave and I shared a lot of interests: hunting, karate, love of wildlife and the outdoors, firearms, a desire to test ourselves, to chase and hunt the deer we loved the hard way, up mountains I look at now and think, My God, we must have been mad. But what really got me, what is so rare in any relationship, was a shared sense of humor.
When you hunt with a man, driving long hours to another state, or hiking endless miles through canyons and along slopes too steep for anything other than shoe leather, sitting around a camp fire, sleeping in a wall tent, you share a lot of information about yourselves. I was privileged to have Dave tell me things in confidence that I will take to my own grave: some serious, some humorous, some the kinds of meaningless things men share in private moments that cannot ever be explained or related. But I wish to tell you of a moment so rare, so completely unique, so completely Dave, that it is impossible to imagine any other man—and Heaven knows no other dentist—tolerating such a thing.
I was in his office, having a checkup, and I forget now what he said or did to set me off, but for some reason, I went a little crazy and started off on a riff, screaming in pain, at the top of my lungs, pleading, spouting nonsense: “Oh, God no! Please, no more pain! I can’t take it! Please, for God’s sake give me some pain-killer, Dave. Oh, no! Not the drill! Please! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!”
A lot of men, a lot of dentists, might well have objected to having their practice compromised by some half-wit with a poorly developed sense of humor, but not Dave. Oh, he made a half-assed attempt to shush me, but he was laughing too hard himself to really do anything, and when we finally walked out into the reception office and saw the five or six other patients waiting out there, all of them with eyes as wide as garbage can lids, mouths open, one woman clutching her purse to her breast as if for protection, he and I both got completely hysterical, howling with laughter, wiping tears from our eyes.
We hunted on nearly every mountain in Tehachapi, in the mountains of northern California, in the vast and isolated Monitor Range of central Nevada, and in all those camps, on all those long drives and long hikes and long hunts, we enjoyed every minute and laughed as hard as two men can when they’re scrambling up or slipping down a slope. We laughed, we shared confidences, we loved the land, and we loved the deer we hunted.
But it was on the Loop Ranch, right here in Tehachapi, where I got to see another side of Dave that impressed me tremendously.
Dave called me one year to ask if I would help him and Bee take Jonathan on his first ever deer hunt. Jonathan had tagged along with us before, many times, but he was now finally old enough to take a deer of his own, and Dave wanted to do everything possible to ensure success. We all met at the ranch gate, and then we piled into Dave’s truck and started driving slowly up toward the top of the mountain. Jonathan and I were the only ones who had rifles. I wasn’t planning to hunt, but it occurred to me it might be necessary for someone to provide a backup shot, so I had my rifle and my license.
Now, the way deer hunting usually works, you have to drive a long way up the mountain in order to finally see a deer a long way back down the mountain where you just were. Then you retrace your steps down to the bottom. That was exactly what happened. We were nearly at the top of the ridge when Bee spotted a buck all the way down in the canyon we had left half an hour ago. Dave stopped the truck. We all bailed out and began the long hike down.
Now, the way deer hunting works, you see the buck from a long way away, but when you get to where you saw him, the deer is gone. That too was exactly what happened. We got to the bottom and no deer. We decided to split up. Bee and Jonathan would hunt their way along the canyon floor while Dave and I hiked back up the mountain to get the truck.
The mountains on the Loop are steep. The mountains on the Loop are very steep, so Dave and I weren’t chatting too much. We were saving our middle-aged breath for hiking and were walking in silence when we rounded the last curve in the road and there was the truck, and about twenty yards beyond, but too damn near the truck, on the passenger side, stood two bears.
One of them was a normal, everyday kind of bear, and he took off immediately. The other, however, was enormous, pre-historic. The damn thing looked like something out of Jurassic Park, and he didn’t take off.
Dave immediately began to yell and wave his arms.
“Hey! Get out of here! Go on! Beat it!” The bear did not beat it. Instead, he turned his head and stared at us. It was a stare in which warmth, welcome, friendliness, human kindness, and Christian charity were noticeably absent. In their stead were contempt, annoyance, and an inclination to mayhem.
With rare courage, Dave walked up to the driver’s side of his truck and reached through the open window and honked the horn. “Go on! Get out of here! Heyaaa! Scram!”
The bear did not scram. He did something I honestly didn’t know bears would do. He curled his lip and growled, just like some kind of monstrous, nightmare Rottweiler.
In the Secret Life of Jameson Parker, I deal with this sort of emergency all the time. I disarm gangs of sadistic Hell’s Angels. I coolly face down bloodthirsty Mexican drug cartels. And when faced with large carnivores snarling at me and saying rude things about my mother, I console the beautiful and terrified maiden at my side, calmly slip my rifle off my shoulder, jack a round into the chamber, and dispatch the ferocious beast.
Unfortunately, in real life, there was no beautiful terrified maiden at my side. There was only Dave, and he wasn’t terrified and he wasn’t beautiful. In fact, he was singularly low on sex appeal. As for slipping the rifle off my shoulder and jacking a round into the chamber, I had forgotten I even had a rifle and I stood there with my mouth open imagining unpleasant possibilities.
It was at this point that Dave glanced at me over the roof of the truck and asked me if I had a bear tag with me, and I finally came to my senses.
Dave’s body outlasted mine. My knees went and I lost the ability to hike the mountains I loved, and then I had an accident that precluded any kind of hunting. But I can look out the windows in the front of my house and see a mountain where he and I hunted numerous times, a mountain where we took Jonathan to hunt several times, and where we had countless adventures, the silly, private adventures known to all those who love wild things and wild places. Nothing important or significant, but memorable, by God, memorable.
And during deer season, I can look out the windows of my house at the very tail end of the day, just as the world is in that last dim glow before the dark, and sometimes I see lights up there, the lights of hunters on ATVs slowly driving back down, and I think, “That was us. That was me and Dave.” And I wish those hunters well.