by Justin Venable
As I sit amongst these flowering fruit trees with the sweet smelling warm breeze blowing the music of birdsong into my daydreams, my thoughts once again flow to my dear friend and fallen brother Hendri. You see, this place is his – where I come to contemplate and find peace and refuge, knowing he would approve of the setting for such introspection. I planted these trees in memory of Hendri. I wanted to have a tangible means to convey my love, admiration, respect and appreciation for his friendship. And to grow something positive, bountiful, pleasant and inspiring from his loss...from death springs life, fresh and new. The cycle continues. He would dig that.
It pained me greatly that I could not be with Hendri in Congo on his first mission there. But the news of his adventures and progress in piecing together the maze and mystery of that darkest of rivers was exciting and reassuring. No one who knew him ever doubted that Hendri could pull it off, even solo. His prominent place in the annals of river exploration heroes was firmly secured...not that this was ever any great part of his motivation for the mission, nor anything he ever paid much mind to. He already knew he was a good kayaker, he was in search of something bigger than mere human recognition for his feats. And those who knew Hendri, knew that without a doubt.
He was a dear and close friend. We shared a mutual respect, common goals and ideologies, felt similar passion for living life to its wildest, craziest, most challenging and most beautiful elements. It was a rare and special connection. I think Hendri brought that out in a lot of amazing people - he was a magnet for fascinating, charismatic and unusual folk. He served as a mirror for others to see themselves in the glorious light of their full potential. Somehow, Hendri made you feel like anything was possible, and often likely...so be ready. He reminded all of us, every day how wonderful and amazing it is to be alive.
Hence in that respect, Hendri is still very much alive. He always will be for me, and also for many others – for whom he continues to serve as a gentle but persistent reminder to live your maximum potential every day, and take nothing for granted. A calming voice, charming smile, bright and clear eyes full of fire and light...our heated discussions on politics, religion, philosophy...getting properly bent and in fine form for continuing the Quest for World Domination...and always a worthy opponent for an intense match of chess. I miss his physical presence but I see him often in my dreams and that brings me great satisfaction and makes his absence on this earth less severe.
Hendri was an inspirational force of colossal proportions. A true legend in every sense of the word, he imparted to others the confidence to achieve to their abilities – and for that he became a superhero! By no means was this a unique relationship, however....he managed to fire up some of the greatest adventurers and athletes on the planet with his strong and silent brand of leadership and encouragement. Hendri was such a powerfully magnetic and quietly humble force, he attracted other legendary men and women to him like moths to a flame. His energy was infectious and quite often intimidating...... a bit like a semi-dormant volcano, you always felt that beneath that charming exterior, he was a bubbling caldera of scheming seismic activity.
But he never made a big deal of it, all this boundary-pushing stuff he engaged in, these wholly incredible ordeals of human punishment and accomplishment. It was just who he was. Humble, determined, courageous, confident, motivated, able to see potential that others could not. Whether it was deepest darkest transcontinental river exploration, or the infinite frontiers of his own mind, the mysteries of human behaviour and relationships, meditation and yoga, he was constantly searching and exploring, that boy. Always digging where others may merely glance and then quickly turn away, afraid of what they may find....but not H. He used exploration of the physical realm to discover himself, who he was, and what mattered most to him. I feel very lucky to have shared some of the very best days of our lives together, and to have called him my friend.
To be honest, it has taken me quite a time to courageously confront his absence on this earth full-square in the face. I am now glad to have had this first year to decompress through the various stages of grief and acceptance – and eventually arrive at some sort of adequately introspective headspace that allows me to see things with more clarity and less emotional baggage. I am left with a vision, distilled down to the pure essence of who Hendri was to me. The horrible wound of his death has slowly and painfully healed, and in its place is a shiny pink new scar that will be a daily reminder of his amazing life – hence he will be with us all, right there every day, smiling back in the mirror, reminding us always to have the Best Day Ever.
Shortly after his death, I planted a fruit orchard on my land in New Zealand in his honor. Hendri’s Orchard is full of apple trees, pear trees, feijoas, plums, tangelos, blueberries and peaches, with more trees going in all the time. It will take a couple of years for them to begin fruiting, but they are looking healthy and happy there. Its also the site of my future honey bee boxes. Hendri’s Orchard sits just next to a beautiful crystal clear little creek that sings the river’s song as it tumbles over mossy boulders and nourishes the orchard with its cool mists. Surrounding it are ridges of thick native old-growth bush with huge ancient trees forming a stunning canopy filled with singing birds of every imaginable description and bright sunshine above. I think he would really love it there. Go well bru, you are greatly missed.