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Bob Heirman, a legend who stood for nature, dies

Bob Heirman, pictured earlier this year, was instrumental in keeping developers away from a wide expanse of land along the Snohomish River in the Cathcart area, which today is preserved as the 340-acre Bob Heirman Wildlife Park at Thomas’ Eddy.

Service details:
Bob Heirman's funeral will be Saturday, May 6 from 1 to 2 p.m. at St. Michael Catholic Church, 1512 Pine Ave. in Snohomish.

A graveside service will be at Mt. Carmel Cemetery on Fobes Road Saturday, May 6 from 3:30 to 4 p.m. Parking is limited.

A rosary service precedes the funeral on Friday, May 5 at St. Michael's from 6 to 7 p.m.

SNOHOMISH — Highly esteemed sportsman, environmentalist, poet, memory-keeper and friend Bob Heirman went on his greatest adventure Saturday, April 29 at the age of 84.
Bob was always up for adventuring, often taking walks or hikes to enjoy what he considered a paradise, his beloved Snohomish County. Through the years, the changes around the county of his boyhood made him weary, if not sad, from the development and population growth; but he often maintained if people and local governments could be educated about the values of the local
streams, wildlife, woods and all, they would be better stewards.
“We have to take care of Mother Nature, leave the land better than we found it, because we walked upon it,” he would often say. “We have to be stewards of this earth.”
Heirman saw the changes in and around Snohomish County firsthand as a railroad man, sportsman and lifelong resident of Snohomish.
“People say they’re busy, so they don’t pay attention to what’s happening around them, and how the environment is being obliterated,” he said one day while out for a walk with this Tribune reporter. “God gave us only this one earth, for all we know, why don’t people value it anymore?”
Perhaps that was his foremost question, and also what he pursued to inspire in others with his environmentalism, work, art, poetry and writings — why don’t people value nature more?
After what we at the Tribune now know as his last visit to our offices, which was on a late-March Monday, he said he had a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday. It was then they discovered the cancer, advanced and spreading.
He was told he had four months left.
A little over one month later, here we are, mourning the loss of a man whose words struck us with his honesty, clarity, conviction and truth: We have to love this place better and take care of it.
Heirman imparted wisdom on us anytime he could, often joking about his “old age” and how there wouldn’t be anyone left after him to take up the mantle, charging into offices, meetings or talks about land use and development. To give Mother Nature a voice.
When some wouldn’t listen, he wrote instead, much like the naturalists and forest preservationists before him such as John Muir or John Burroughs.
Heirman was a longtime contributor to the Tribune due to a longstanding creative relationship with former editor and publisher Bill Bates, and because he loved to write poetry as well as inform readers about the importance of the environment.
He began contributing articles, photos and poetry to the Tribune in the 1970s, but he’d been writing, beautifully, since he was a boy.
Bob shared that he was first inspired to write by his seventh and eighth grade teacher, Mr. Tompkins, because he made Bob and then-Fobes School classmates memorize verse every day.
The exercise of verse stuck with Bob all his life.
He published books of his verse: “Snohomish County: A Poet’s Paradise,” “A Railroad Runs Through It: Reflections from Everett to Darrington,” and “Snohomish, My Beloved County: An Angler’s Anthology.”
Bob was the type to take you on adventures in order to
teach you something.
He had taken whole groups of kids from classes on hikes in the woods through the years, as well as those learn-
ing to fish to his favorite spots. Heirman loved adventuring around Snohomish County and wanted others to do the same, with care.
Having been in Snohomish only a few years, I was curious one November day when he invited me for a walk to see from his perspective Snohomish’s seasonal treasures.
I’ll never forget that day: Bob took me on a hike to see the coho salmon in Bunk Foss creek. We loaded up in his old green Ford truck and putted over from his house near Blackmans Lake to Bunk Foss Road, just a hop and skip away. It took us nearly 20 minutes because of traffic. Bob was not happy about that.
“This has just gotten ridiculous,” he said as he gripped the steering wheel, shaking his red-beanied
head. “It wasn’t like this a few years ago. This highway wasn’t even here, and (state Route 9) was just a dark county road.”
We got onto Bunk Foss Road and he parked the truck at the corner where it turns into Ritchey Road. He hopped out with an energy of a man half his age. We walked down to the creek that ran alongside the road and he stopped, whispering excitedly, “See! There’s one. You have to be quiet or you’ll spook them.”
He pointed at the greenish, bright red coho zipping by in the shallow creek. He remarked on how the fish, after all these years, still manage to make it this far from the Pacific Ocean all the way inland to this tiny creek in Snohomish County.
“That’s God’s miracle,” he said. “And, you know, magnetism and smell. Science. They remember where they were born, and instinct brings them back here. It’s incredible.”
The fish floundered up the shallow creek, splashing and zipping up. Bob laughed and coolly walked up the creek, joyous at their return.
After all his years of watching salmon, fishing for salmon, writing about salmon, he still had an almost-childlike wonder about the fish.
He told me how he and the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club worked to restore the coho run at Bunk Foss after the state took out part of the creek for U.S. 2. They worked to get a new fish ladder installed near Machias, where the coho still run in the fall of odd-numbered years.
While Bob and I stood there a while, not saying a word but watching the salmon hurry up the creek, he suddenly began reciting his poem “To the Coho”:

“Coho salmon far out at sea, A mighty hand doth summon thee
To fin beneath Pacific foam, And make the long, long journey home.
Swimming on by day and night, In great schools of silver bright,
And God’s power guideth
thee, To where thy river meets the sea.
Farewell the tidal ebb and flow, Through the river’s eddies go.
Unerringly thou dost seek, The waters of thy natal creek,
And, as life draws to a close, Silver sides have turned to rose.
Fanning o’er thy precious redd, Battle-scarred, thou soon art dead.
‘Mid November’s brown and gold, God doth turn thee into mold.
Sleepeth then the little rill, Through the winter’s icy chill.
Thou art gone, and yet in the twinkling of an eye,
’Tis spring! You live anew! As tiny coho fry.”

As I stood there, listening to the creek water run, Bob’s voice rise and fall with cadence of the words, I understood the life cycle of these incredible fish. For the November afternoon, it was still pretty green in the trees, but some “brown and gold” leaves had begun to fall. It was moving.
Afterwards, Bob explained what “redd” were: the coho salmon’s tiny eggs they hide among the creek bottom pebbles. He pointed some out to me, his eagle eyes seeing everything, and my
untrained eyes were opened.
Apart from that day, the visits and walks with Bob were some of the best local environmental education snippets a person could get outside of a classroom. There’s a 340-acre wildlife park named after him south of town, the Bob Heirman Wildlife Preserve at Thomas’ Eddy, that he said he was proud of and hoped people would enjoy nature there.
Each Earth Day in Snohomish County will pay tribute to Bob and Clarajean Heirman in their honor; the county signed off on the decision this year.
What brings us joy can become a passion.
For Bob, that passion was nature and her plentiful bounty of fish and scenic beauty. As a boy, Bob said he developed an early appreciation for this. It grew from his “most beautiful childhood in the wildwood” and has become part of his legacy – the fishing, the adventures, the work to promote Mother Nature and the importance of environmental conservation — these are part of what makes Bob Heirman a name associated with a stewardship for earth, all inspired by a place tucked in a western county of Washington state.

“Bordered on the west by Puget Sound,
Lovely valley’s blessed with fertile ground,
With rolling hills and gentle rain,
The singing rill’s sweet refrain,
To Glacier Peak’s eternal snow,
Where the climber seeks the scenes below.
Where the rapids churn and roar,
Where the eagles turn and soar,
Oh favored land formed by God,
This spot so grand on which we trod,
And to fish ‘mid nature’s bounty,
Snohomish, my beloved County.”

  –Bob Heirman, 1932 – 2017



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