In Memoriam - Beautiful Dreamer, Rudy Haase

“Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.” - David Orr

That’s the quote Elizabeth May used to sum up Rudy Haase's approach to life, and his lifelong dedication to be a Friend of Nature, and to help others with their quest to do the same.

It’s a testament to his spirit and a challenge to us all to follow in his footsteps in our daily lives and our commitment to push the envelope, cheerfully but unwaveringly, to demand leadership and action to protect our precious planet and our common humanity.

I attended the Celebration of Life for Rudy, held in Halifax. Envelopes were mentioned a few times by the excellent and eminent speakers present, including Rudy's son Leif Haase, Elizabeth May, Silver Donald Cameron, NS Nature Trust's Bonnie Sutherland, and former Nova Scotia MLA and Cabinet Minister the Honourable Denise Peterson-Rafuse. That’s because, as Elizabeth pointed out, one never got an envelope from Rudy that was not on its last gasp, frayed and stamped multiple times from use. And one never sent an envelope that was not similarly distressed from long use. As Director of Atlantic Chapter I was fortunate to receive many such envelopes, which usually included cuttings from the newspaper on a critical issue of the day and an annotated cutting of one of Rudy' many Letters to the Editor.

[continued from Annual Report here]

Rudy's son, who gave a wonderful account of Rudy's incredible history and its impact on his family and the rest of the world, related to me after the celebration that he had to be careful not to place any stamps at hand on a letter he sent to his father from the States - he'd be chastised for being wasteful if he did not apply the exact postage.

When I first visited Rudy at his home near Chester, Nova Scotia, he was in his 80s. He was embarrassed to note that he had gone to the expense of renting a wood splitter that year, rather than splitting his wood by hand. (He also felt that the baked goods I brought from the local renowned French bakery, Julien's, in Chester were an exceptional, and perhaps unwise, extravagance. Woops!)

At the time, uranium mining was rearing its ugly head in the province, and we were working to ensure the informal ban on uranium mining and exploration, established in 1981, became law.  Rudy shared with me a story that has shaped my understanding of how change can occur through quick thinking, being present at the right moment, and understanding the idiosyncrasies of people and power.

Rudy and his famous sled!He was sitting next to one of the candidates in a debate put on as part the local provincial election campaign. The debate was going poorly for the candidate, and sensing the mood in the room, Rudy said: "if you want to win this debate, then you need to say you will place a ban on uranium mining in this province." The candidate, sensing the mood in the room, did exactly that. Through that commitment, we are forever indebted to Rudy for stopping uranium mining - and its legacy of toxic radioactive waste - from getting a foothold in this small province. When mining companies started to push for the ban to be lifted decades later, Rudy worked with Sierra Club and others to ensure the ban finally became law in 2009.

Rudy grew up in the US, and from early on his vital connection to the natural world and his unique ability to connect with others were apparent. An avid sailor, he very soon outpaced his peers on the water, and undertook paddling expeditions that his son told us caused some to refer to him as a modern-day Huckleberry Finn. He and his wife Mickie were heavily influenced by Helen and Scott Nearing, the founders of what is now called the "back to the land" movement, and their lives were shaped by an ethic of frugality and attention to living life consciously to conserve our precious and limited resources.

Inspired by the work and writings of New Zealander Richard St. Barbe Baker, The Man of the Trees, Rudy founded Friends of Nature, in 1954, "dedicated to maintaining the balance of nature for the mutual benefit of people and their plant & animal friends." His work was a catalyst to protecting key landscapes in Maine, Nova Scotia, New Zealand, and tropical forest in Costa Rica.

Rudy and Friends of NatureRudy's energetic approach to life brought him into contact with many famous people, including sailing with Albert Einstein, then a busy professor who spotted Rudy sailing and envious of the young sailor’s joie de vie and longing for his own boat in Germany, asked to be taken for a sail, and serving with John F Kennedy in the US Navy. His experience seeing the destruction after going ashore in Japan after nuclear bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki made him a life-long peace activist.

Fearing his three sons could be swept up in the draft for the Vietnam war, Rudy and Mickie, moved to Nova Scotia in 1967. There, he continued to pursue his love of wooden boats and sailing, but also, through his generous spirit and love of nature, began what was at the time a radical approach to conservation. According to Bonnie Sutherland, he was one of the first people in Canada and the first person in Nova Scotia to purchase land and put it under easement, protecting wilderness forever for future generations.

Fittingly, the Celebration of Rudy's life was interspersed with beautiful chamber music, because not only was Rudy a Friend of Nature, he supported music and musicians, enabling them to purchase instruments and take their talents to the regional and international level.

Denise Peterson-Rafuse, who grew up near Rudy and Mickie and played with his three sons as a child, spoke of how when she heard about the country school Rudy and Mickie had founded, she was very disappointed as she knew her family could not afford to attend. Later, her parents received the message not to worry, the fees were all taken care of. Ms. Peterson-Rafuse described how Rudy and Mickie became like second parents to her, through the school and lending library they hosted in their home. She went on to become the Minister of Community Services, a fitting tribute to the lifelong impact of her childhood experiences.

Some of the best images shown at the event were captured as part of the documentary shot by Neal Livingston, Sierra Club member and founder of Black River Films. They show Rudy, then in his eighties, flying joyfully, headfirst on his toboggan down the very steep, icy hill at his farm. This joyful playfulness was such a part of his personality and approach to life: and whether he was discussing the latest political leadership debate, the state of Nova Scotia forests (a depressing topic if there ever was one!), or describing the personalities of his stuffed toys, all of whom were very well-worn, and one of whom even "contributed" to a journal he and Mickie published. He shared with me that these friends had helped keep him company after Mickie's death in 2015.

I was very fortunate to visit Rudy again with another Friend of Nature, Wanda Baxter, and my daughter Lucy in 2015. He walked us to the top of the (very steep!) hill at his farm, from where we could see the swaths of forest he had protected from the clear-cuts that scar vast stretches of Nova Scotia's landscape. He showed us the trees he had planted in honour of his wife and others, and the seat from which he could view the beauty he had helped protect. You could tell that every leaf and rock was thoughtfully contemplated and cherished.

The celebration closed with the song, Beautiful Dreamer, Rudy's favourite song, sung tearfully at times by the gathering.

"Beautiful dreamer, out on the sea,
Mermaids are chanting the wild lorelei;
Over the streamlet vapors are borne,
Waiting to fade at the bright coming morn.
Beautiful dreamer, beam on my heart,
Even as the morn on the streamlet and sea;
Then will all clouds of sorrow depart,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!"

When I think of Rudy and the momentum he created though a letter to the editor here, a contribution there, by acting quickly and decisively when others might be overwhelmed or caught in doubt, it’s easy to find for places in my life where a kindness could be extended, and a need addressed through thoughtful, joyful creativity.

Rudy was never discouraged by the encroaching emergency of climate change and loss of biodiversity. He always knew that though the trek up the hill may be long and increasingly arduous, the ride, oh the ride down, is SO worth the effort!

Gretchen Fitzgerald
National Program Director
Sierra Club Canada Foundation