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spanned the spectrum from reactionary to radical. Meals with him often veered into
debates—whether or not anyone else really wanted to argue—about evolutionary bio-
logy, the environment, medicine, religion, or other aspects of our human predicament.
He disliked bullies and stuffed shirts, and he went out of his way to confront people he
perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be acting that way. Those things said, though, for most
folks, the man was unambiguously likable.
I made several trips to Orange County during Ben's last months, taking him out for
meals, discussing the fate of his library and captive snakes, helping him work on one
last manuscript, and reminiscing. One shared memory of a trip we'd made together, in
the spring of 1979, exemplified our friendship. Ben had just failed his doctoral quali-
fying exam and flown to California for an escape; I'd recently moved there, mired in a
second marriage gone sour. Both of us were emotionally wrung out, and within a day of
his arrival we drove down the Central Valley, crossed the Sierra Nevada, and dropped
over Tehachapi Pass into the Mohave Desert. We entered a land of shimmering open
spaces, mostly creosote bush flats and the occasional stand of Joshua trees, with time
to unwind and no specific goals.
We noosed long-nosed leopard lizards and chuckwallas in the mornings, road-hunted
for rosy boas and sidewinders by night, and listened to rock-and-roll nonstop. Day after
day we were distracted by the endless details of natural history: a desert woodrat's
nest of sticks and cactus pads, tucked under a boulder and replete with shotgun shells
and old bottle caps; here and there the small, elliptical droppings that when crumbled
between two fingers revealed leaves, ants, or grasshoppers as the most recent meals of
various lizards, depending on which species had left a particular scat. And little by little,
during pancake breakfasts and midday shade breaks, Ben convinced me that I wasn't
solely responsible for my wife's unhappiness, while I reminded him of past accomplish-
ments, proof he was cut out for biology. By the time he returned to Texas and I went
back to Berkeley, our respective difficulties seemed smaller, more manageable, and we
both moved on with life.
With so much past history, I wasn't surprised when Ben abruptly became solemn dur-
ing one of my last visits to Huntington Beach, said he needed an awkward favor, and
wondered if I'd take charge of his remains. Of course I agreed, and we had a good laugh
resolving the “big dilemma”—he wanted to be cremated, had thought of at least two
places for his ashes, and could I help decide between them? “Hell, yeah,” I said. “I'll
scatter them all over the place!” After much discussion we agreed on four sites: Erle's
grave; into the Pacific, from the beach behind a Big Sur restaurant called Nepenthe;
anywhere in gray-banded kingsnake country; and on one of southern Arizona's “Sky Is-
land” mountain ranges.
I'd planned to visit Ben on Saturday, November 7, but he was obviously weakening
when we talked by phone on Monday, so I changed flights and got to his home at noon on
the 5th. The hospice nurse explained that Ben could no longer get up, had ceased most
bodily functions, and was within days if not hours of death. His eyes shifted only slightly
when I sat next to the bed, and he managed only a hoarsely whispered “Hi Harry.” Sue
Lamoreux, whom he'd befriended on a Chapman alumni trip to Costa Rica and who'd
virtually adopted him during these final weeks, arrived shortly, and we alternated chat-
ting in the living room and checking on him. The nurse suggested I try conversation,
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