Magazine article The Spectator

Dignity in Death

Magazine article The Spectator

Dignity in Death

Article excerpt

Violent deaths seemed to punctuate our time in America. The first took place tar away, but then, unfortunately, they began to occur closer to hand. We were in California when John Kennedy, his wife and sister-in-law were killed. The tone of the televised news reports was matter of fact, save for when we were shown the headlines in the British tabloid press, with their talk of curses.

At my cousin's wedding in Idaho the following week, those who had known JohnJohn said he had been a nice chap, but had made a foolish mistake. Others expressed irritation about the money and attention lavished on his accident. It had been a banal end to a banal life, in their view. The same could not be said of the death of the botanist decapitated in California's Yosemite National Park a few days after the Kennedy crash.

Yosemite is a place of silver mountains, brilliant green valleys and 3,000-year-old trees bigger than any other living thing on earth. However it is a wilderness with a suburban touch. Besides botanists, the park is full of tourists walking on tarmac paths. A few months ago several of their number had fallen victim to the same killer as the headless botanist - or so it was suspected. But fly posters warned instead of the rather longed for dangers of hungry bears and mountain lions.

I found our American hosts a phlegmatic people - brave too. If there was to be any real danger during our holiday I feared it would come with white-water rafting in Idaho. And it did, although not in the way I expected. Idaho is vast, beautiful and empty. Truly the Wild West. We fell in love with Stanley, a town of 70 souls where the main drag is a dirt road called the Ace of Diamonds. There was great food, and we stayed in fantastically comfortable log cabins.

The float trip we took on the Salmon River proved exhilarating rather than terrifying, and I was thrilled when, staying in Sun Valley later in the week, I was offered the opportunity to return. My cousin and bride of one day wanted to take a party of guests for an afternoon's white-water rafting and the trip began much as our first had. Our group, which included my 11year-old son, Christian, were taken to the river by bus and there the jolly, middleaged lady driver helped us into our lifejackets. …

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