Remembering Jason Saltman
The following is a remembrance of Jason Saltman, MSES class of 2009, recently submitted by classmate John Deignan ‘08.

On November 22, Vermont lost a passionate environmental voice in the passing of Jason Saltman, who died after a yearlong battle with cancer. Jason was in the first graduating class of Green Mountain College’s MSES program, and would go on to work for local environmental advocacy groups in southern and central Vermont and Massachusetts. You were just as likely to find Jason wandering along the shoulders of Hogback Mountain as you would looking at a macro invertebrate while wading in a river, or playing bluegrass at a farmers’ market. Jason was well-traveled, well-read, well-storied and a devoted husband to his wife, Dr. Kim Kurak of Middlebury, Vt.

A lover of musical Americana, vegetarian food, and the many faces of nature, Jason was a true renaissance man. His world-view was rooted in logic and science, but aware of how human emotion and limitations could also be the grist for profound beauty and purpose in life. Over the last year, I watched my friend, (several years south of fifty), stare down the reality of his condition with honesty and authenticity. Jason was a gentleman at heart and tactful around the perspectives of strangers. But once a mutual comfort was established, he was not one to mince words, and expected the same from you.

Our friendship was an odd one. I am a spiritual fellow and a carnivore, and he a vegetarian and an avowed atheist. Our common denominator was our connection to nature. During and after the graduate program, we spent countless hours gently sparring over the big existential and environmental questions, like two boys with wooden swords as we hiked and paddled across the Vermont landscape.

Never seeking to persuade or pin down, nor giving quarter, our duels only lasted until one of us remembered that the real enemy lies in the agents that fostered disconnection to the bioregions we knew as home. Then off we’d charge as brothers down the trail – sticks in hand, in search of the grand adventure of rescuing our beloved, the environment, off of the train tracks of apathy and extinction. Each would make his own attempt at rescue, and who succeeded at saving the maiden didn’t really matter. But with each new bulletin from Bill McKibben, the Sierra Club or the IPCC, we would triangulate our understandings and look to see what we could do. I tended towards optimism, while my friend would give a prognosis with the cold realism of a Vegas bookmaker. Jason always insisted on seeing conditions for what they truly were, but the odds of survival had no bearing on whether or not he would put his thought, heart and actions into the struggle. He might deny this compliment, but he was braver than most.

Phone calls or visits with Jason were highly unpredictable. He might want to discuss accordions and ukuleles, or Rick Bass and E.O. Wilson, or climate change and deforestation, or whether he could count on me climbing up Stratton Mountain with him at 2:45 a.m. in search of the Bicknell’s Thrush. Shifting back and forth from subject to subject, he would stalk something in the conversation, and then circle back to the original discussion if he thought there was more to say.

As my kayaking buddy, he seemed most dialed into his relationship with nature when he was on the water. I recall us paddling the Somerset Reservoir one afternoon when we saw a bald eagle swoop down and grab a nice sized fish from the water. To our good fortune, it then perched itself almost directly above us not fifty feet away. For the better part of 30 minutes we watched in frozen silence as it fed. He would often recall the event as one of the most sublime of his life, as he saw the full cycle of nature present in that moment. And that was Jason, living every moment.

From Jason’s wife, Dr. Kim Kurak:
Jason decided to not have a funeral but a small family gathering this summer to spread his ashes on Cayuga Lake in N.Y. where we have a family cottage. He loved this place the minute he set eyes on it and couldn't wait to go back every summer to bike, kayak and play music out on the dock. Ever the environmentalist, in lieu of any flowers he would prefer a donation to a charity: Shoulder to Shoulder (the organization where we met in Honduras), The Deerfield Watershed Association in Greenfield, Mass., or the environmental charity of your choice.
Thank you all for the loving words and messages. I know time will heal the pain and I am so lucky to have had the most wonderful husband and so many memories to carry me on. Kim

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