My Brother Jeff…

Jeffrey Ray Harrington was born on May 16th 1966 at Good Samaritan Hospital in the Silicon Valley shortly after it opened its doors. 1966 was also the year of the fire horse. In Chinese astrology the fire horse is a power sign indicating the birth of one that cannot be tamed. Fire horse people are considered “lovely people who will overcome many obstacles to achieve their goals.”

My brother had a rare congenital condition. Eventually he went blind after dozens of surgeries, procedures and treatments were tried for glaucoma that came on undetected at the formative and early age of 13.

All attempts to restore, minimize the damage and save his vision proved futile.

That never stopped Jeff. In fact it filled him with a fierce determination to succeed and share his gifts.

Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with honors and a degree in Occupational Therapy. After some challenging years overcoming disability labels and subsequent discrimination, he found a job working for the Earl Baum Blind Center in Santa Rosa, California, just a few miles from the home he shares with his wife Amy and star volleyball-playing daughter, Megan. (Earl Baum’s story is worth mentioning here. Earl was a blind farmer that ran lines throughout his 30 acre farm in order to follow them to work the land, tend to animals and planting. After Earl died at age 90, he willed his land for use to help the blind.)

For the last 15 or so years Jeff has used his Occupational Therapist credentials in a truly unique way: helping blind and visually-impaired people by teaching them how to use computer technology in order to meet their unique challenges and needs.

My brother and I have been on quite a few adventures together over the years. Backpacking through snow drifts and downed trees in the Tassajara region of Big Sur, we descended into the Pine Valley down a overgrown chaparral and manzanita-lined trail. As we approached Pine Valley, my brother squeezed my guiding arm tightly and we both froze. A coiled rattlesnake was less than 3 feet away on the trail’s edge. My brother’s incredible hearing allowed us to freeze instantly while I took inventory, jumping sideways just as his guide dog Hale (who was off harness having a short break) was moving his muzzle towards the snake.

Another time we backpacked along a very narrow and off camber ridge-line 80 feet above a flowing river, Jeff’s dog Hale, his greatest guide dog in my opinion, expertly guiding him. One false step and he would have slid down a 60 or 70 degree slope into the river below. My father was with us and couldn’t believe what they had just done. Neither could I.

That is what I call trust in your guide!

After they had successfully passed the drop off section I told him about what he’d just crossed. He said,

“Don’t we have to come back this way?!”

“Yes, Jeff, we do,” I told him, “but no worries, you got it.” And he and Hale did and I think even more quickly as we were being chased by a flock of hungry mosquitoes!

On another trip we slept near the base of Feather Falls, the 3rd largest falls in California. It was so loud that Jeff told me he would never be able to sleep with all the noise.

“Oh yes you will.” I told him, stating:

“I thought the same thing once but the rhythmic, oceanic-like energy and vibration will do the trick.” The next morning my brother told me it was one of the best nights sleep of his life.

“Negative ion storm Captain.” I said imitating the voice of Spock. The truth was, waterfalls, like the ocean surf, are loaded with pure oxygen which creates a deep relaxation response while saturating our cells with O2.

My brother and I also rode a 410 mile, 6-day bicycle ride called Cycle Oregon- 4- on a mountain bike tandem no less. We had special slick tires put on but our 30 mile training rides part way up Mount Hamilton proved adequate cardiovascular training but insufficient endurance aids and we were both literally spent after crossing two major mountain passes.

Then there was the “Death Ride”. I kid you not, that’s what they call it. Who in their right mind would enter such a ride? The full ride in the high Sierra includes 5 mountain passes, 15,000 vertical feet of climbing and about 130 miles total distance. Sheesh, we did only 2 passes, about 6,000 feet of climbing and 45 miles and on the descent of Monitor Pass reached 55 miles per hour. It was the most exhilarating 15 minutes I think either of us has ever had.

On one backpacking trip, early in the morning just before first light, I had lit my little pocket rocket stove about 6 inches from the back of the tent. I was using the tent as a windbreak. Suddenly the stove fuel dispensed heavily and the flame rose about one foot high just as the wind shifted and began blowing the flame right against the side of the tent wall. It just so happened that my brother like to wedge his head against the back of the tent wall. When that flame hit his head, he screamed: “The tent is on fire! The tent is on fire!” And dashed out of the tent in his underwear and t-shirt. As I could not contain my laughter, he hurled some choice epitaphs my way.

Shortly after that adventure, my brother and I were on a fishing trip. I am no fisherman by the way, as will be duly demonstrated. We had driven up into an obscure and remote section of a river in Northern California. Casting our poles into the rather narrow fork of the main river, I soon pulled up a nice brown trout. Released him. About 30 minutes later I pulled another trout up for a catch and release. By this time my brother was growing quite agitated.

“What the heck is going on!” He growled quite loud. “You have caught two fish and I haven’t even gotten a bite.” Hmm, I thought.

“Where’s is your line bro?” I asked. Jeff pulled on his line and I soon noticed that it was entangled in some weeds on the opposite side of the river. My brother had cast over the river and I had not even ensured that his line was in the water. Thank God, once we got Jeff’s line in the water, he soon caught a fish.

The next year, while backpacking on a two day trip up Pike’s Peak in Colorado with my father and brother, it rained all night at 33-35 degrees temp. Our tent leaked in the middle of the night and when I inventoried with headlamp, I saw that Hale, Jeff’s legendary guide dog, was sitting in a pool of water shivering. We let him climb between us and sleep tucked in tightly together like high altitude mountaineers.

Our last trip was up the Mount Whitney trail; yep an attempt on the highest peak in North America (outside of Alaska). A group of about 8 of us, including my uncle John and cousin Cass and the late-great Mark Davis, made if over 7 river crossings, across log and boulder bridges and 4000 vertical feet of elevation gain without proper acclimatization. (We came straight from sea level).

By the time we made the plateau at about 12,000 feet, Jeff (and the rest of us) were wiped but had to hurry to set up our tents as a storm was about to let loose. We literally just hopped in the tent as an icy series of hail storms arrived, cooking dinner in front of our tents between storms.

Thanks bro for being an inspiration in so many ways. Happy birthday! 54 years on planet earth is worth something!

I love you Jeffrey Ray. I trust we’ll get to see each other very soon.

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