Thursday, August 9, 2007

Memories of Nathaniel

Nathaniel's memorial service was held at 2 pm on Sunday, August 12, at Arledge Auditorium in Columbia University's Lerner Hall. The webcast recording of the service will be available for viewing for the next three months at

Dear Friends of Nathaniel Gerhart,

Here is a place that we can collect and share stories, memories, poems, condolences, and more...

It is very easy. Click on "Memories of Nathaniel" under "Blog Archive" on the left, or just above this post, and you will view all the comments to date. At the end of these is a small, gray, "post a comment" link. Click on this (not the "Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)") and write what you like in the box. Please contribute whatever you like.

You may view and add photos of Nathaniel at


the Gerharts


Andy Gerhart said...

O.k., just to get us started here, I’ll leave some thoughts… My last face to face memories of Nathaniel are from just before Christmas ‘06. We spent Christmas together as well, and I saw him a bit briefly before he returned to Indonesia, but what sticks out was a 3 day stretch in which he joined me for a visit to the coast in Mendocino where we visited our older brother Matt and his wife Laura with my friend Justin. On the drive up he defended Title 9 vehemently, discussed the simplicity and brilliance of Bahasa grammar, and spoke beautifully fluent Spanish when we stopped off for dinner at a hole in the wall of a Mexican diner in Santa Rosa. We hatched plans for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and excitedly discussed how many games we might get to watch live if we could manage to find apartments in Joberg, Durban, and Cape Town. Those few days also included climbing down an incredible blow hole near Ft. Bragg, cycling along the coast, and playing frisbee along the windy beach. We came across Wilson's plovers using some recent footprints as windbreaks. And then there was the Northern Harrier he instantly identified as a speck in the sky screaming over our heads. I won’t forget the image of Nathaniel walking along that spectacular coast in the salty wind.

Anonymous said...

In Blackwater Woods
By: Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Ursula Valdez said...

I met Nathaniel in 1997, a few days before going to Cocha Cashu the field station in Manu, Peru were we both worked in bird research. Just before Cocha Cashu, Nathaniel, Donald BS and I went on this awesome birding trip to the famous Abra de Malaga in Cusco. Still in my memory are vivid images of us climbing through the trees in the steep hills of the cloud forest, and getting soaked by the thick moss carpets growing on the branches, while searching for elusive ant-pittas and spinetails.

Right after that the field season in Cocha Cashu started… there we were working in our projects with many days full of hard work, birdlife discovery and long hours practicing and listening at bird calls, searching for birds and having long and fun talks at night while listening at Tracy Chapman. I perfectly remember seeing him coming back from the field everyday covered in stinky termite nest stuff, with a metal ladder he carried along…exhausted but with his big smile. That year we also made a great group of friends and he was of course promoting Ultimate Frisbee games in the beaches that the Manu River left during the drier times. We spent many nights in long sessions of card games too, he was so good at playing spades!.....and we were so proud to be the only two people at the field station who saw and had a close encounter with a jaguar that year (really exciting experiences two days apart). That was the beggining of a long-lasting friendship and many more times birding in the Andes and the amazon.

Anonymous said...

I played frisbee with Nat and that's how I knew Nat; as a frisbee player. Nat set the goal for what was sportsmanship.

He constantly asked for more of his fellow teammates by invoking the team and teamwork.

My story from Worlds in 2006, if Nat was tired during a defensive point and you cajoled him to play harder you could see on his face that he felt it and took it so personally that he needed to try harder for the team and that his motivation was the team; his play level would unfailingly increase.

I am pretty sure from the stories here that this was the way he was in everything relationship he had.

Nathaniel V. Gerhart III said...

I first met the young man with my same name in the early 1980's. It was my final year at The University of South Carolina and the whole John Gerhart Family were visiting my parents Robert & Beverly Gerhart on Hilton Head Island, SC. (For some background on how we are related: My grandfather's (Nathaniel Vogel Gerhart)brother was the Rev. Willis P. Gerhart ("Uncle Willis")who had two son's John (Nathaniel's father) and Harry Gerhart. So, I guess that makes Nathaniel my second cousin? It was a hot/humid South Carolina summer yet I was very excited to meet a young man who had my same name. I remember Nathaniel as a very happy, polite and bright young man. During that visit he seemed to really enjoy the alligator in the lagoon behind my parent's home and watching birds with his Dad. The next time I had contact with Nathaniel was when he attended Williams College. This made me very proud because my friend (John Williams)from Indian Springs School in Birminham Alabama is a Graduate of Williams. In 1979 I and my friends visited the Williams campus which is a very impressive school/town. I called Nathaniel to inform him of my connection to Williams and where I was living; Telluride,Colorado. It was a funny phone call. It seemed that I called at a bad time. Me: "Hello Nathaniel this is Nathaniel V. Gerhart how are you?" Him: "uummm...hello. I'm good" Me: "I just wanted to call you and tell you how proud I am that a Nathaniel Gerhart is attending Williams because...etc." Him: "Okay. Well thanks for calling but I've got a game to get to". I laughed and told him to have fun. The last I saw Nathaniel was in New York for his father's memorial service. I am so honored to have the name Nathaniel Gerhart because he accomplished and helped the world so much in his short life than I will in my entire my life.

Betsy Guzman said...

I have many memories of Nat and am so honored that I saw him grow up into a young man. One of my favorite memories of Nat was when he first got contacts. I was waiting for Leslie to get ready (Les & I have been friends since we were 11 and I was always escaping to their house). Nat was sitting in the living room chatting with me. He was always very mature for his age and could handle a discussion on politics more easily than people twice his age. The whole time he was blinking madly so I asked what was wrong. He said that his new contacts made him feel like he had something in his eyes. I laughed and said, "well, you do have something in your eyes." He just rolled his eyes at me. It was hard to believe that a few summers later he was taller than me. Even as an adult, Nat managed to retain some of that innocence and wonder about everyday things--its part of what made hearing about his research exciting even for someone like me who knows nothing about birds. Seeing him over breaks was shocking because I really noticed how much he changed and grew up, literally and figuratively. I felt how different it was not to treat him like Leslie's little brother but as a true friend.

Walter Murch said...

A Prayer for Nathaniel:

May the good that you have done in your time on Earth continue in ever-spreading circles, creating more good as it expands, touching people that you had not yet met, and cushioning your family and friends from the inexpressible loss of your companionship.

And may the potentials that lay uncoiled in you still find expression through the many channels that you have opened up with your love of the world and all its creatures.

It was a privilege to know you.

Walter and Aggie Murch

Svetlana & Jeff Edmeades said...

We met Nathanial only briefly, through Amanda, while he was visiting her in DC. It didn't take us long to like him - he clearly had a passion for life and was very much looking forward to his work in Indonesia. We shared a meal, and he sang the "Now I know my ABCs" song to our one-year old (and knew all the words!). We greatly enjoyed reading the long e-mails he would send about Amanda and his adventures in Indonesia; and loved their pictures. He obviously cared immensely for the poor, especially in developing countries, and was very keen to get out there and help. He will be missed - the world is a poorer place without him.

Jessica Kaslow said...

When I suddenly needed a place to live after a break-up, Nathaniel warmly welcomed me to The McGee House (a semi-cooperative house of five people in Berkeley) with the hope that I would sublet a room there just for the summer. I lived there for three years.

It was a magical place that he helped to create. Among several regular agenda items to keep the house running smoothly, “check-ins” were and still are a part of the bi-weekly house meetings. Check-ins are an opportunity for each housemate to share thoughts, tidbits about the week, and connect with each other, so that a sense of community is maintained. This was my favorite part of living in the house.

I teased Nathaniel because he always had the LONGEST check-ins. I mean they would go on and on and on… Well, he did have a lot going on. There was school, and family, and Amanda, and traveling, and attempting to sail to the Farallons. He was always so sincere and contemplative during his check-ins. He was not afraid to share his fears and insecurities or the challenges he and Amanda faced with their long-distance relationship. After he moved to Indonesia, when a housemate’s check-in continued into the meal for quite some time, I remember saying, “You’re pulling a Nathaniel!” I will deeply miss Nathaniel’s sincerity and openness. I am so grateful that I had the chance to live with him and to create a community with him. He was an incredible friend and housemate.

Deanna Simon said...

I know Nathaniel from grad school. A few years ago some friends, Nathaniel, my husband and I went to the Castro in San Francisco for Halloween. Nathaniel and I dressed as twin candy and cigarette girls. Red bob wigs, black sparkly tops, tight leather skirts, fishnet stockings, and knee-high black boots. I did his makeup, we laughed till our sides cramped, and we headed out to give away free treats all night long. It was an unforgettable night; one of the best. Nathaniel had the only existing picture of that night – a Polaroid taken by some random person. We loved looking back at that photo, laugh all over again, and feel the extra warmth that comes with good memories.

Adam Riley said...

Nat and I spent several days together birding Central Park in the Spring of 2003, and socialising with his Dad, Victor Emanuel and other friends. Within a minute of meeting Nat, it felt like we had been buddies for years, he is one of the easiest going people I have met, always cheerful and helpful. We spent hours swapping South American birding stories and Nat was in the process of preparing for Indonesia. I had hoped that we would get a chance to bird there together but fate has determined otherwise.

Nat’s death is a great loss to his family, friends, ornithology, birding and conservation. We send our heartfelt condolences to Gail, Leslie & Amanda.

Adam & Lisl Riley

Ephicient said...

There are people who make you want to go out and do better things in the world. Nat was one of them.

--Erik Sebesta
WUFO '91

Cathy said...

I got to know Nathaniel in Peru, where I was working for an international NGO, and he was working at an eco-lodge in the lower Urubamba river valley.

During a trip to the Urubamba, we persuaded him (it didn't take much persuading!) to take us to the collpa, or clay lick to see birds in the early morning. We rose at 4 am, crossed the river, and hiked through the rainforest for about an hour to arrive at the most magnificent bird watching I have ever been part of.

The clay lick was located in a cliff that we stood on top of. No one paid the slightest attention to the myriad mosquitos as we watched the smaller parrots arrive, followed by larger and larger members of the guacamayo family arriving in waves. Nathaniel knew every one and on the way back, spotted a very elusive bird that follows army ants. We were thrilled to see this natural ritual and he was delighted to share his knowledge with us.

Nathaniel was clear-eyed: he observed, took in and understood all the details of a situation, accepted it as it was, and then set about working to make it better, always with respect for each actor involved. His loss will be deeply felt in many places by many people. I am so glad to have known him.

Richard said...

I did not know him for very long yet was nevertheless touched by his intellectual curiosity, his generosity of spirit, and his inventiveness. We both happened to do field work in East Kalimantan, in different parts of the province, and would meet whenever we were both in the capitol city of Samarinda together to discuss our research and the shape of things in Indonesia and the world in general. He came up with the idea for an Indonesian TV show that he wanted to produce called “Nama saya bukan Mister!” or “My name is not mister!” – a reference to the fact that Indonesians have a habit of calling out to any white foreigner “hello mister!” (even to women). The idea was to teach Indonesians about English and foreign culture in a humorous and creative way. Not that this was ever going to happen, yet the idea itself came from the wellspring of creativity and good humor that Nathaniel always seemed to carry with him wherever he was.

We shared a meal of chicken satay and a drink in Samarinda together for Thanksgiving last year, and he told me about a certain article he had read that was relevant to both of our research topics. I finally was able to read the article a few days ago, and in doing so Nathaniel’s insights and reflections from our conversation immediately came to mind (and they were invariably more insightful that the actual article); I’d like to think that in these small but tangible ways his spirit lives on with us. He will be missed.

Richard Payne

Scott Bentley said...


I couldn’t believe it when I heard the news today
It seems like only yesterday that your father passed away
A storyteller, a lover of birds – he found freedom in the flight they take
Their colors, the songs they sing – recording each species in the notes he’d make

He traversed the planet with you, his wife, and baby girl
In you his love of life, the world, and its people it unfurled

You were finding your own way
It seems like only yesterday
We were playing baseball in your backyard
And you’d say; “Watch this! Darryl Strawberry swings this way…”

And when he connected, how that ball would soar
Through the night, how the crowd it roared
The sweetest swing
We were kids with dreams
From youth’s eternal spring
My friend, you will always bring Love to my door

It don’t seem right, it ain’t fair
For several years now – its seems there’s been something in the air
9/11, my my mother, your father, now you
and other dear friends too

the only solace comes in KNOWING what they would want us to do
remember them, LIVE, and love – there is no time left to lose

And when he connected, how that ball would soar
Through the night, how the crowd it roared
The sweetest swing
We were kids with dreams
From youth’s eternal spring
My friend, you will always bring Love to my door

Life is fickle yet it’s so easy to travel astray
Many of us have no idea what we’re meant to do
But you had a sense of purpose when, as adults, I crossed paths with you
discovering and the bettering people and places
It’s us and this planet that have lost a diamond in the rough - I know you had a girl too

And when he connected, how that ball would soar
Through the night, how the crowd it roared
The sweetest swing
We were kids with dreams
From youth’s eternal spring
My friend, you will always bring Love to my door

By Scott Bentley with Love.

Kelli B said...

It seems so silly. Everyone has so many stories of Nat from important aspects in his life, yet all I know him from is Ultimate. It's not that Ultimate isn't important to me, to others, or to Nat, but compared to some others it pales in comparison.

What I treasure most in my memories of Nat is that the moment Nat joined RFBF I finally found a kindred spirit; we both loved to play defense. As much as I loved trying to heckle him into yet another defensive layout bid (it's funny how often he seemed to gave in), it was Nat's respect for the game, his teammates and opponents alike that I admired the most. He always had a way to make you want to do more and be better when you were on the field with him. I will miss Nat, I will miss my hope of getting another crack at opponents with Nat on my side, I will miss the chance to get to know him just a little bit more.

From the stories and pictures it is pretty clear that Nat carried this drive and common respect in all aspects of his life. While my world is a bit emptier, I am thankful that our paths at least crossed. I am sad, but I feel a bit sadder for those who never got the opportunity to meet him in their own small way too.

Thank you, Nat. All I can say is thank you.

Cy said...

I did not know Nathaniel; maybe we met a few times at his parents house in Cairo. I have known his mother for years, because of our mutual interest in South Africa, and I knew his father both before, but more during his presidency at the American University in Cairo, when I taught, and now am an administrator. I was deeply saddened to hear of his death. What I have leared of his life by reading statements here is that while he carved his own path, the legacy of Gail and John lay at root of much of what he did, and he could not have had a beter basis than that. Nathaniel is another on a growing list of people with whom I wish I had had more contact, but am grateful to know those who were pivitol in his life.

Cy Reed

Anonymous said...

Like Cy Reed, I too did not really know Nathaniel, but had met him briefly at AUC once when he was visiting his parents, there. He was charming, modest and extremely engaging. I'm very sorry that the Gerhart family had to lose yet another family member, and so unexpectedly.

My thoughts and prayers are with them at this difficult time.

Dalia Mabrouk, AUC

Maha said...

I only ever met Nathaniel once - when I was giving a speech at his father's memorial at the American University in Cairo. He was so full of warmth and kindness. He is someone I wish I had known more, and hearing the news then reading what his friends are saying makes me regret not having known him better

May God be with his family at this time


Jessica McCannon said...

I left for Panama just days after hearing the news about Nathaniel, and days before the celebration of his life. I am sad that I could not celebrate it with his loved ones but it gave me a little bit of peace to be doing a very Nat-like thing for the first time, in a tiny jungle community in the interior of Panama. He would have liked this place, because it would have reminded him of another very important place to him, and a community of people who love him dearly. The Mountain School... where we all bundled up like toddlers in our cold weather gear and ran around in the snow playing football, laughed hysterically in the library, asked for bird call tutelage. And there was also our little dink-dink club, which is how we affectionately referred to small people... I also cherish having spent time with Nathaniel in NYC in the late 90s, between trips. We ate lots of Magnolia Bakery cupcakes, listened to music at Smalls, he shared his love of Angelique Kidjo, and helped me love Bob Dylan... Nathaniel is a generous soul and soulfully generous. May he continue to surround us and infuse us with that spirit, passion and peace.

Ore Carmi said...

I met Nathaniel on a Calbirders birdwatching trip to Coyote Hills, I believe, a couple of years ago. He was extremely friendly and pleasant, and struck me as very caring. I remember hearing him tell someone about the movie Rabbit Proof Fence and speaking at length about the plight of aboriginal Australians. I had a very nice conversation with him--he told me about birdwatching in Israel, and a little bit about his research--which struck me as the sort of research that a caring person would undertake. I have just been told of his passing, and I feel incredibly sorry for his family. I send you my deepest support. I will keep you, and Nathaniel, in my thoughts.

carol williams said...

Although I never met Nathaniel, I felt I knew this remarkable young man very well.His Aunt Creta and I were"roomies",and have written to each other since 1972 with news of interest to each other, and this included all the Gerhart kids
and their wonderful appreciation of
nature,and numerous travels in the
pursuit of their dreams.Nathaniel
stuffed many lifetimes into his one...

Dan said...

When I was young, my father lost one of his college roommates unexpectedly, just as I (we all) have lost Nat. My dad's roommate, Stephen Harvard, was a wonderful poet and calligrapher, and I have always remembered one of his poems, that was distributed at his service. I don't know that the poem was written to give solace at a time of grief, but it does, at least for me:

Even the Smallest Drawing

In the dream you will see a valley, cool and ample in the dawn. In the dream there will be a
Border Tree where the pasture ends. Go to it now.

In the dream you will see how well the tree has been prepared to mark you coming. You will see its
ancient, fractioned bark; you will see its branches lifting out into the lace of sky and leaves.

Yes: even you will come to the Border Tree at last. Even you will come to the long green edge.
you will step beyond the tree to the patchwork apple-smell of August. You will step into the deep
rich world of blackberry and thyme.

In the dream you will easily find the path. You will come to a dooryard and a shingled house. A cat will be asleep on the granite block that serves for a
step; the iron latch will recognize your touch. In
the dream there will be a cookstove and a slatback
chair; in the dream there will be a pineplank table
and a shelf of books.

Even you will live in a time of miracles. Even you will have some necessary work to do. There will be a sheaf of paper and good black ink; there will be
a jar of Chinese brushes on the windowsill. Even at this late date a new song will be useful. Even the
flow of fresh calligraphy will help; even the careful
binding of a book; even a well-made loaf of bread.

Who can say? Even the smallest drawing of a cricket
could serve some unimagined purpose of the
troubled spirit of your age.

In the dream a fox will stand on the ridge when
the moon appears. In the dream an owl will call. In the dream you will trim the lamp and go outside to watch the turning stars. You will see the Border Tree spread out across the summer constellations. In the dream you will recognize that you are awake at last.

You will remember that you are alive. This tree, this
field, this house will the place where you already live.

(by Stephen Harvard)

Paul said...

I just heard what happened last week while in East Kalimantan. It took me a while to figure out that "Nata," the name my Indonesian colleague used, was Nathaniel. Tragic and shocking news.

I only met Nathaniel a few times. First in East Kalimantan, where I lived and worked on nature conservation when Nathaniel first arrived in Indonesia. Then a few times in Jakarta, where I eventually moved. When Nathaniel passed through Jakarta he stopped into my office a few times for a chat.

Even though East Kalimantan is the size of New England, the dearth of expats focused on natural resources work and research in the province means that all of us who have worked there form a kind of fraternity. We each share some common experience through East Kalimantan and are always willing to chew the fat.

When Nathaniel and I met we would typically trade stories from the field. We would also talk about progress in his research. Invariable we would turn to a common interest that uniquely connected us in Indonesia: support of the New York Mets. As two guys who spent a lot of time in Borneo, chances are that we fit the profile of an extreme minority of the Mets' fan base.

Nathaniel's passion for the Mets surpassed my own and he talked enthusiastically and in the first person about how "We" were playing. These little chats about our team transported us back home to the US, back to New York, back to our lives pre-Indonesia. Momentarily the feeling one continual has here of being a stranger in a strange land ceased. We would become just two regular American guys talking baseball.

I hope Nathaniel found these little sessions as comforting as I did.

Jennifer Casolo said...

Since I was in the field when I heard the news, I still can't really believe that you are not here with us Nathaniel! Given that my own life journey led me to war torn Central America, I have come to believe that we never truly die. We are kept alive by those who have gone...both through memory and deed. I will help keep you alive by trying to act with the same spirit of openness (that allowed me to be vulnerable with you) and promise to sustain your commitment (a commitment we shared) to rural communities.

In that spirit I also include this song written for a murdered nun in El Salvador. I have changed a few words in the translation, to speak to Nathaniel.

With you Nathaniel
there are thousands who have fallen;
valuable friends
who truly loved.
With you Nathaniel
the best have already died
those who dreamed
of peace and justice.

Liz said...

"I have a friend who can listen to a bird’s call and tell you exactly what it is, wherever you may be. And I like to play this little game with him, where I describe what I saw—I say ‘it was yay wide and yay long and had a pointy this and a yellow that, and it was flying in a swoopy way,’ and maybe he’ll ask me if it was in the woods or in a field, and he’ll tell me that it was a female northern yellow-something’d such and such, and this is what it had for breakfast, and this is where it was going…"

"I have a friend who has never once forgotten my birthday. And who sends me gifts out of the blue. Things just show up, find me in random places. It always feels so wonderful to be thought of like that. I wish I were better with those sorts of things, better at expressing how much I care about people and think about them. He’s amazing like that…"

"I have a friend who I have known for seventeen years, more than half my life. We went to this little farm school together, and then college and grad school, and all these random in-betweens… It’s not like one of those things where you just catch up to reminisce about good old times, it’s like we’re always in each others’ *present*. Our paths don’t just cross, they’re one and the same, and we walk at the same pace. It’s so cool to have someone in your life who knows you so well, who has met everyone who has ever meant anything to you, who has known you through so many transitions and in so many contexts, who calls you on all your shit and knows you better than you know yourself, who’s always out there, keeping tabs…"

I talk about Nathaniel all the time, and these are some of the things that I say. Nathaniel is one of the longest and strongest threads in my life. We first met at the Mountain School in 1991where we hung out in the rafters of the cookhouse and played frisbee on Garden Hill. We spent four years together at Williams College. During our senior year, we stormed the aisles of the grocery store every Thursday and spent every Friday cooking lunch for the enviro talks. (We especially loved the Jarlsberg cheese and onion soup and thought it was worth the scolding we would get from the program administrator for going over budget.) We shared South America for several years when he was living in Peru and I was in Chile, and converged yet again at grad school in Berkeley. That is just the skeleton of our friendship, but there was so much meat on those bones.

To miss Nathaniel immensely is not new for me; I have already been doing it for a year and half, ever since he moved to DC and then Indonesia. For the first time since we met, we were in very different dimensions of time and space that came together only two or three times a year at weddings or when he came to California. Though he was still alive, there was already a steel void in me, and I had already begun the process of adjusting to it.

I suppose I am in that stage of denial, but it feels to me only like a third dimension has been added to our separation from eachother. It is abstract, like an artificial construct. In this, I have a luxury that Gail, Leslie, Amanda and other members of his family and immediate community do not have: I think I can get away with thinking that his absence in my life is less permanent than it really is. As I always have, I will think of Nathaniel whenever I see a cool bird or one I can’t identify. I will continue to aspire to expressing myself to others as he did to me. I will continue to marvel, to myself and to others, that I have such an amazingly talented, devoted, and thoughtful friend, and to feel the intensity of our connection. And I will continue to wonder when I will see him again.

Steve Hilty said...

I met Nathaniel and his father when they came on a trip with me to Suriname in the mid-1990s but got to know him much better when, during July and August of 1999 and again in 2000 he worked as my co-leader guiding Victor Emanuel Nature Tours birding groups at the Manu Wildlife Center in southeastern Peru. He confided to me that he wasn't sure he would know all the birds and their calls but, as it turned out, he was terrific and the groups loved him and his easy-going style and he proved just as adept at finding and showing birds and wildlife to the groups as a seasoned pro.

I think it was sometime after that first 1999 season that he contracted Leishmanaisis, a stubborn protozan pathogen that has stymied many a North American doctor. Nat chose to get treated in Cuzco, a treatment usually closely monitored by a physican. Unfortunately the several weeks long treatment didn't work and the Leishmanaisis returned. Then in August of the next year, I think it was the year 2000, he was back at the Manu Wildlife Center and co-leading with me again but didn't tell me that during mid-day breaks he was having the lodge manager hook him up to an IV back in a storage shed out of sight, where he could take the treatments right there at the lodge each day.

Needless to say it was hardly a sterile environment. It also was a gutsy thing to do, and it showed the confidence and maturity that was Nathaniel's hallmark. It was also risky because the antimony dosages must be gotten just right and he had no physican or nurse to help him monitor vital signs. I found out by accident when I went looking for him one day after lunch, and there he was, a smile on his face, IV in his arm, in the back of this old supply shed, and he said the treatment was going well he thought. I was concerned, knowing if you are off even a tiny bit, the medicine could send you into shock, and talked him into speaking with a physican that was on the trip. He eventually did, and the physican practically went apoplectic. Told him to cease the treatments immediately because of the lack of any way to monitor vital signs. Well, Nathaniel did stop, and then, later, resumed treatment, again, for the third time back in Cuzco at the conclusion of the trip, and that final treatment was successful. I was very impressed with Nathaniel, always had been, but after that attempt to self-medicate such a dangerous and tricky medicine rather than give up the opportunity to continue working with me and guiding our groups, I gained an even greater insight into the grit and determination of this gifted young man. He made an enormous impression on me and, although I was old enough to be his father, he was to me, just like a peer, a co-worker, confident and self assured and as capable as anyone I've worked with. Besides, I figured, anyone that walked around with old copies of "The Economist" in their backback had to be pretty special.

Peter said...

In the late 1970's, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zaire, and the Gerharts welcomed me into their Nairobi home during the summer school holidays. I spent some wonderful times birding with John in the African bush, but my memory of Nathaniel was from the garden of their English-style home in NW Nairobi. We were having drinks in the late afternoon with some visitors, when a bird hopped out onto to the lawn. The visitor turned to Nathaniel and said, "Look at the birdy." Nathaniel (who must have been about three years old) turned to the gentleman and calmly stated, without a hint of disrespect, "That is not a 'birdy,' it is an Olive Thrush."

Over the years, I had the pleasure of spending time with John, but I never saw Nathaniel again. I did follow Nathaniel's exploits vicariously through his proud papa. Now, we have lost both John and Nathaniel. The world is a less interesting place as a result.

Stella said...

I had the pleasure of being in Nathaniel's company for two week in 1999. As co-leader of a Suriname birding tour of which I was a member Nathaniel was a kind, enthusiastic, compassionate young tour guide. I was fortunate to have made this too short acquaintance with a beautiful soul in a wondrous setting.

Elizabeth said...

Nat tutored me in Envi 102 when I was a freshman. He was extremely patient and once spent a whole afternoon helping me with the Snow Lab. He was one of the cool older environmental studies majors who inspired the younger students. May I offer deepest condolences to his family and friends.

emilie raguso said...

i can't believe it's been almost a year. i know i'm not alone in saying i still think of you and miss you pretty much every day. there are so many times when wish i could ask your advice... and i try to figure out what you would say by asking myself, "what would nathaniel think about that??" it doesn't really help... well... you would at least be happy to know that i quit smoking for the most part. nat... it may sound trite, but it's true: the world was a better place with you in it.

Carol said...

Nathaniel briefly touched my life years ago. We lost contact and I only recently learned of his death. In 2005 we were seated at the same table at a wedding, where I happily discovered that he didn't care about idle chit chat and instead went straight for the interesting stuff. By the time dinner was over we had compared notes on living overseas, delved into environmental politics and learned that our fathers had died of cancer at about the same time. It was because of this last point that we kept our conversation going by email and phone after the wedding was over.

Dealing with loss was one of the main themes we talked about as Nathaniel was keen to explore our shared experience of losing a parent. I remember him reflecting on how hard it was to tell well-meaning friends that even though time had passed, after losing a loved one "you're never the same again." It saddens me to think that those who loved him are now facing the same feeling, and that the world has lost such a rare and beautiful heart.

David McEvoy said...

Eighteen years after meeting Nathaniel as his trailcrew leader in Montana, I today received from my old employer the report I wrote after that summer. Taped on the first page is a black and white photo of Nathaniel, smiling, sitting on a log, eating something out of a bag. I was so happy to see the picture, remembering Nathaniel vividly, that I searched for his name on the internet. I am so sorry to hear of his passing and must at the same time tell a brief story about his impact on me. Although officially there to build trail, which he did well, Nathaniel was mostly interested in the birds around the trail. One bird in particular: the varied thrush. This bird vexed Nathaniel all summer, as its call, a simultaneous mix of a low hum and whistle, is very distinct but its habits keep it visible mostly in the waning light of a summer day, often high in a ponderosa pine. This thrush was not on Nathaniel's life list, and as it was not native to his home, he was determined to see it before leaving Montana. After grueling days of moving rocks and dirt, Nathaniel would take off each evening, often with my wife and I in tow, following the call and sharing stories about the Mets. The thrush teased him all summer, pulling him from tree to tree. Honestly, I don't know if we ever saw a thrush. I distinctly remember his passion and his kindness. I am in those woods frequently these days and see the birds quite often, always after hearing their distinct, beautiful call, and without fail I think of Nathaniel.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday my friend. I miss you. Today I would have been giving you a call on your cell or sending you an e-mail keeping our tradition going since 1986, on making sure that we stayed connected at least twice a year. This year I would of talked to you skiing, chatted about Bret or maybe you would have made it to our wedding in June, and told you some of our adventures during our trip to Europe. From you, I mostly likely would have heard about a new bird you saw or some other amazing event during your travels and the people you met. I wanted to make sure you knew I still think about you often, gypsy love never dies. Love always, Nicole Lenzi Amideo

Anonymous said...

Here is an article that talks about Richard Conniff's project to memorialize naturalists who died in the field. And here's the list of the naturalists, which mentions Nathaniel and now also links to his Wilson Bulletin article on the rediscovery of the Selva Cacique.

Apparently Nathaniel's name was added by an anonymous person from Texas (If you know who please tell us, we'd like to thank them!). He's only one of a handful of people born after 1975 on the list.

And since Conniff's piece highlight's Ted Parker, I thought I'd share a random anecdote. In 1998 in Peru, Nathaniel took John, me, and a woman we didn't know on a long day of birdwatching through some riparian forest that was upriver of Manu Wildlife Center. Nathaniel had rediscovered the cacique about 4 months previously in Montetoni, which was pretty far from where we were. But he was hoping he might be able to find it again at MWC in some similar habitat, and must have mentioned this to the woman, a Brazilian ornithologist visiting the lodge.

The ornithologist was quiet, and really hadn't said a word the entire day. At dusk on the canoe ride home, John broke the silence and asked the woman a couple polite questions - where she'd worked, who she knew, etc... She answered them rather evasively, but John still quickly figured out they knew some of the same people, and had been to many of the same places. Then, growing in confidence, but still seemingly out of nowhere, he very gently asked her if she was Ted Parker's fiancée, confiding that he had known him.

I didn't know who any of these people were, and was exhausted (or perhaps thinking about our bizarre experience that morning with the Peruvian recurvebill), but what I remember most was Nathaniel turning to look at me with his characteristic look of overblown astonishment: mouth agape, jaw completely dropped, staggered at both his dad's deduction and the odds that he could have been her guide that day. Conniff doesn't mention that Jacqueline (which I think is her name) was the sole survivor of that crash, and had to hike out of mountainous forest for many hours on a broken ankle before she found a road, and help (which John told us at dinner). I don't know anything else about her, but imagine she is still a working ornithologist.

love to all, Andy

james said...

Today as I was preparing to read a special issue of the journal "Conservation and Society" (Vol 6 No 1, 2008) for an article that I am researching, I noticed that the issue is dedicated to the memory of Nathaniel Gerhart. The name immediately caught my attention and I grew increasingly uneasy as I read the dedication, but I kept telling myself that this could not be. After going through the dedication I decided to check online to confirm if it was indeed the Nathaniel that I thought it was. My worst fears were confirmed, and I quickly realised that it was indeed the Nathaniel that I knew, pretty much a boy becoming a young man. I have only a fleeting memory of Nathaniel, having met him at a dinner at their Craighall Park home to which I had been invited by his dad John Gerhart who had just recruited me as a program officer at the Ford Foundation’s Southern Africa Office in Johannesburg. At that dinner, Nathaniel impressed me as a brilliant young man, very much like his father. I was coordinating an environment and development programme and Nathaniel had quite a few and very insightful questions for me and my programme. I remember discussing with him if he was thinking about a career in the environmental field, and he enthusiastically affirmed. It is really so sad to now learn that he died pursuing his dream to become an environmentalist. But it is also comforting to also learn in the short time that you had, you made lasting contributions to the field. Hambe Kahle Nathaniel May Your Soul Rest in Peace.