An Elegy for Toby

I wrote this very quickly in the moments after Toby’s passing.  It’s just sort of a way for me to process the news and deal with such a loss.  I don’t mean to offend anyone with my beliefs or my perspective.  But this is how I knew Toby.

The mountains in Toby’s backyard.


My friend Toby passed away about an hour ago. He was injured in an avalanche almost 36 hours ago and was in the hospital undergoing surgery. I’m not really sure what to do. I’m hours away and it’s still hard to believe.

Toby was older than me, old enough to be my father – a fact that I would tease him with often while we were hiking or working together.  Of course, on the mountain, in a kayak, on a bicycle, and especially on skis, he could kick my 28 year old butt without much thought or effort.

I came to respect Toby greatly, in some ways looking up to him as one might a wiser older brother. I always had dozens of questions for Toby – he seemed to know more about life than I did, and I wanted to know what his secret was. I can’t express how fortunate I was to befriend him.  Toby’s relationship with Japan was long, but I only met him three years ago, both of us barenaked in a hot spring bath on the shore of Saroma Lake. In the changing room, I chatted with him a bit, and later found him on Facebook. A few months later, my wife and I dropped by his amazing handbuilt strawbale house with a nice bottle of Alaskan port wine. Leaving his house that time, my wife Yoshie hit me in the shoulder and shouted “build me a house like that!”

I really can’t think of many people who had the breadth of life experience, natural life skills, and openness and greatness of heart than Toby. He was one of the few people who had hundreds of Facebook friends who were all actually his friends. I considered myself really lucky to be friends with someone like him. After the disasters in Japan on March 11th, 2011, Toby went down to the area, just days later, to help rescue stranded animals.

I didn’t know him when he built his house, but he inspired me to do something like it. I still have one of his straw bale house books on my bookshelf. The night before his accident, I stopped by his house to drop off some craft beer and other Costco shopping. He wasn’t there, but had left a key hidden for me. He had two bags of freshly roasted coffee beans waiting for me, one still wide open to let the beans breathe. Only his three cat “children” were there to greet me. I regret now that I wasn’t able see him face to face.

So, while whatever loss Toby’s passing is to me, one of many, many friends, one who had the pleasure of knowing him for only a short part of his amazing life, the loss is far, far greater for his brothers, his wife, and all of those who, luckier than I, have known Toby much longer.

Lastly, let me say one thing.  As humans, it’s in our nature to assign meaning to events. We want life to be meaningful; a meaningless existence is a deeply frightening thing to consider. Toby died doing something that he loved, something that without doing, he would not truly have been alive, not really have been Toby. I am not a backcountry skier, but I have been up with Toby in the snowy mountains of the “deep north,” as he called it, just as Ross was when Toby had his accident. He was a different person up there – happier, goofier, and a maniac on two skis. He loved Japan, and Hokkaido, and the mountains in his backyard. His community will be set back by the loss of someone like him, someone who was the nexus of so many friendships and connections. In a truly just world, Toby’s passing should have never happened. He deserved to fulfill his dreams in this stage of live, open his business, introduce people here to good beer and good coffee, and live on to an old age with his many friends and beautiful wife. So the fact that he died doing something that he loved doesn’t make anything better. It’s not comforting. But it does at least mean something. Toby talked to me before about the possibility. He had made some sort of personal peace with it. What this means is for each of us to interpret in our own ways as we deal with the tragedy. But I know it would have meant something to Toby.

Update: Toby did know it would have meant something to him. That card wrote his own obituary back in 2008:

Toby Weymiller, a man who followed his dreams and was always passionate about making a difference, passed away in the mountains on(insert date), just as he had hoped.

Toby loved nature, the mountains, his family and his friends. He always thrived for the ultimate balance with all of these passions and his dying wishes were to tell everyone, “Thanks for the memories!” and “Thanks for all the support over the years!”. In lieu of flowers or donations to charity (although he always encouraged donations to charities), Toby asked that you all go outside, sit down, breathe in that fresh air and take a few minutes to remember him. Toby asked that you smile and laugh as you remember the good times you shared with him. Toby says that even though he is not visible to the eye, he is still very alive in spirit and you can find him often when you go out into nature and especially up into the mountains. Toby said he is waiting for you to come visit him there.

Toby is survived by many family and friends, all of which he loved dearly. You can go to to see more about Toby, including pictures and videos, as well as his family and friends. Toby wrote this obituary himself back in 2008 and his final word to all if you is “Namaste”.

This is one of my favorite memories of him, the day we hiked up to the hut at Ashibetsu-dake two summers ago. We stopped at a stunning series of falls for a break:


Graham Gephart’s blog post in honor of Toby at


Sōgōteki-na gakushū

This is a term that one encounters in any reading of or experience in the Japanese education system. For years before the introduction of “foreign language activity” instruction, my English classes at the elementary level were taught as part of the sogotekina gakushu time block. Sogotekina gakushu means something like “synthesized study” or “general studies” but is more accurately and lyrically translated as “integrated learning.” Students are encouraged to make connections from their studies to their environments, their lives, and the world around them. Some activities done as part of this time in my elementary schools include studies of fish in the nearby lake, and other activities within the community. This video, produced by the Pearson Foundation, gives a good, if uncritical, view of this part of the national curriculum.

The larger website from which this video comes is actually rather interesting.  Produced for the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) it focuses on those countries and states that performed well on the international PISA (Program for International Student Assessment). I’m not sure I am in agreement with how much attention the test results garner in the media, but the videos themselves make for an interesting look at the successful education systems of different countries.

earthquake Hokkaido Japan

A Cute Hokkaido Power Map

This morning I found a rather interesting infographic pamphlet on my desk from HEPCO, the Hokkaido Electric Power Company.  It contained a very straightforward graphic showing the major sources of power generation on the island of Hokkaido.  I searched for it online, to no avail.  So, I snapped a photo:

With no classes in the morning, I decided I’d try and reproduce the graphic, along with English annotations.  I think I did a pretty good job.  Have a look: (click for a larger version)

I’d say this is a sign I either have too much time on my hands, or perhaps would enjoy a job in graphic design/translation better.