By Pete Hicks
Jeffrey Rich, known to many of us as Sprouts, blessed our community for more than 40 years. My family only got the chance to know him about nine years ago, soon after we moved to Sandpoint. The first time I met him, he pulled a bag of dried plums from his pocket and passed them out to my children and me. With the gift of fruit and only a few words, we became friends. Little did we know how much kindness and love in action he would pour into us.
When we moved into our home, Sprouts saw an old abandoned garden and, as we carried boxes and set up the house, he spent hours pulling three-foot-tall weeds and eventually planted a row of raspberries. Every week or so he would show up and give them a dose of manure tea.
He gave us our first garden.
His focus on caring for the earth and the joy he took in harvesting fruit and vegetables got into our bones and, today as I look at our bountiful garden, I think of him and his quiet way of blessing.
It was also at that same time when our son was a newborn. Sprouts spent hours holding Jassim while we unpacked, singing songs to him and making Sprouts baby sounds. He loved being with children and playing games with them.
Sprouts had a vehement dislike for knapweed and tansy. On many a summer day I would see him across our yard, shirt off and shovel in hand, going after the weeds. Whenever I expressed concern about him working in the near-100-degree heat, he talked of the urgency of getting them out before they went to seed. I was always amazed at his energy and stamina. It was all I could do to get him to sit down in the shade with a cool drink for five minutes.
He seemed to carry a master plan in his head of the abundant garden of Bonner County. There was that group of untended apple trees near Clark Fork, the neglected plum trees in Sagle and the cherries in Priest River he fought off the robins to glean. He knew them all.
When he went to harvest, he filled bucket after bucket and brought them to homes all over just like mine. When he pulled into my drive, almost daily, I’d call out to him, “How are you doing, Sprouts?” Invariably he replied, “Plum crazy.” It was just another day combing the county for the given bounty.
The amount of time and energy he gave to my family and me is immense. Now I realize he blessed countless people and families in the same way — with the sweetness of fresh fruit, laboring with shovel or chainsaw, hauling rocks and mulch, building walls and pretty much anything that needed doing.
It was always special to be with Sprouts at a potluck or concert or anytime when he was at play. He loved to dance and he would dance until the music stopped. I imagine that when he danced he felt the joy of the earth and the sweetness of movement and sound in a way that is reserved for the true servants of mankind and plants. He lived his life dedicated to sharing love, peace and practical kindness. My memories of him, though many, are only a paragraph in the book of his life.
Jeff’s family from Pennsylvania have chosen Sandpoint as the place to celebrate his life. Join us Sunday, Sept. 18 from 2-7 p.m. at the Pine Street Woods, 11915 W. Pine St. Bring your stories of Jeff, a dish to share for the potluck dinner, an instrument and your dancing shoes (or bare feet). Parking is limited. Please carpool, ride your bike or walk.
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