Heart. Soul. Gentle. Kind.

Mark with banjo

Last Saturday, the world lost an extraordinary human being.

Mark Brandhorst was so well loved, and by so many, that it is impossible to imagine him gone, or to believe that his light will not shine on in everyone he ever touched with his grace and kindness.

“A gentle soul.”

“An open heart.”

“The kindest, most gentle person I have ever known.”

“Your heart was home to so many, with always room for one more.”

Heart. Soul. Gentle. Kind. Over and over, his friends and family shared the same words as they tried to convey the depths of their grief and come to grips with their loss.

Mark nurtured his relationships with the same devoted care with which he nurtured his gardens. For many years I knew him only as the stepfather of Tony’s niece and nephew; throughout their lives, he worked in harmony with their mother, Sarah, to provide them with security, stability, compassion, and love.

Although for decades I had known him only slightly—I knew, for instance, a little about his talents and affinity for visual arts, music, and gardening, and that he was something of a rock star in what many would call the “back-to-the-land/crunchy granola community” of western Maine—I am grateful that over the past few years, I had a chance to get to know Mark a bit better.

When I interviewed him as part of a story I was writing for the Bethel Citizen about the Better Late Than Never Band, for whom he played the banjo with enthusiasm, I learned that we had some things in common.

We were both members of the “I wasn’t born in Maine, but I got here as soon as I could” club; both of us arrived in 1976, shortly after high school, and knew we never wanted to leave.

Anyone who knows me knows that my family’s camp on North Pond in Woodstock has been the center of my universe for my entire life. Living at camp all summer, and just three miles away during the rest of the year, has given me the opportunity to come to know “my” pond intimately in every season.

For Mark, Hall’s Pond, as well as nearby Singepole Mountain, were the geographic center of the universe. Prevented from driving by a seizure disorder, he cultivated an intimate acquaintance with the woods and waters near his home.

In social media posts and animated conversation, he shared his keen observation and appreciation of the incremental changes each day brought to the pond and its surroundings.

To be so closely connected to a particular body of water, to be able to be there—on it, in it, beside it—every day, in every season and every kind of weather, was, I think, one of Mark’s greatest joys in life.

Although he didn’t drive, Mark traveled frequently with family and friends. Wherever he went, he shared photos on Facebook that made it clear that what he loved best about traveling was not visiting popular tourist destinations, but exploring, in depth and with great appreciation, whatever the outdoors in that particular corner of the world had to offer.

Over the past couple of years, Mark and I talked now and then about hiking together. He shared trail maps and directions to some of his favorite hiking destinations with me, and always reminded me, “The offer stands to come explore my woods someday.”

And I always thought I would, because I thought there was plenty of time.

I never got to know him as well as I wish I had, but here’s the thing about Mark: you didn’t have to know him well to know everything about him that was important.

He had the eye of an artist, the soul of a gardener, and a heart as big as the wide world he embraced with so much love, compassion, and enthusiasm.

He was kind. He was gentle. He went out of his way to help people.

The world is a better place because Mark was here.