Thursday, February 18, 2010

In Memory of Alison Cochran Little: Hard Times Come Again No More

I'm just home from a memorial service for Alison Cochran Little, beloved wife of Chris Little, who works at Bloomingfoods. Many overlapping communities came together at this standing-room-only service and reception in honor of her life: family members, musicians, teachers, students, staff from the co-op (who made the food), and leaders in efforts to protect our forests. Alison's life stretched like rings in a tree.

Alison died peacefully at home on Valentine's Day, while snow was falling in the woods where she lived. She was a founder of Heartwood; a page is posted there in her memory. Active in many other forest protection alliances, Alison was listed as a Green Hero in 2001 at In These Times, where I found the photo below of her as an adult.

There were dozens of beautiful photos of Alison in the fellowship hall of the church, including this one of her as a young girl, from her son, Ryan Wilson. Despite the hard times she sometimes experienced, pictures of Alison almost always convey her particular blend of strength, authenticity, and gentleness. The obituary below was written by her daughter, Rebecca Townsend.

Like her husband Chris, Alison was a wonderful musician in the old-timey tradition. If you click on the link below, you can listen to Alison Cochran Little singing and accompanying herself on fiddle in a rendition of Stephen Foster's “Hard Times (Come Again No More).” It's a gorgeous, heartfelt recording.

In memory of J. Alison Cochran Little 

AUG. 9, 1952 — FEB. 14, 2010

Alison Cochran Little died Sunday night, lost to another world at the age of 57 due to a long-term struggle with alcoholism.

During her decade-long career as a science teacher at Harmony High School, Alison encouraged the dreams, broadened the horizons and acted as a beacon of patient guidance and love for hundreds of students. On annual end-of-the-year school trips, she shepherded her flock of Harmonoids safely along thousands of miles of U.S. Interstate and back roads.

As one of the founders of Heartwood, a regional forest protection network, she was instrumental in the group’s efforts, which resulted in significant protection of the region’s public forests. Among the public woodlands that benefited from her actions was the Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana. She also served the organization as executive director, in addition to serving in leadership roles in other forest protection organizations, including Protect Our Woods, the Dogwood Alliance and the National Forest Protection Alliance.

Alison lived in concert with Mother Nature to the greatest extent she could, reducing, re-using and recycling to levels unimaginable to the ordinary American. Her vast culinary capabilities spanned the width of world cuisine, but she will be especially remembered for baking the world’s best cherry pies.
She carried throughout her life without fail her passion for music. She held her fiddle — received in her youth from her father — as her most treasured possession. From her days in the orchestra at Burris High School in Muncie, Ind., to recent concerts of original material with her husband, Chris Little, her voice and violin added sweetness to the air. She once paddled her fiddle across a rough, shark-filled ocean bay to provide music to a gathering of environmentalists. She recalled playing her fiddle with singer-songwriter Carole King at a forest protection event as a life highlight.

Her musical, culinary and social talents aligned in an especially strong way in the years she hosted legendary Fourth of July parties on Hash Road. She also danced with contra dancers, Morris dancers, cloggers and many other people dancing to many other rhythms.

Though the tragedy of losing a beautiful, talented, warm-hearted person to a black-hearted devil of a disease in the prime of her life cannot be diminished, peace and beauty reclaimed her realm. For the five days the doctors tried to reverse the course of liver failure and a body’s path to complete shutdown, and for the two days spent laying at her home in a room built by her son overlooking the lake where she freed generations of visitors to skinny dip without fear or shame, waves of those who loved her washed over her, floating her beyond the bounds of Earth on a sea of love.

Alison was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, graduated from Ball State University and spent most of her life in Bloomington, Ind. She is survived by her mother, Ruth Cochran, and all five of her siblings: Robert, Mary, Steve, Emily and the Reverend Sarah Cochran. Other survivors include her children, Rebecca Townsend and Ryan Wilson, her granddaughter, Jasmine Townsend, son-in-law Clyde Townsend, and husband, Chris Little. A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m., Thurs., Feb. 18, at the Unitarian Universalist Church at 2120 N. Fee Lane in Bloomington. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be sent to Harmony School (909 E. 2nd Street Bloomington 47401) or Heartwood (PO Box 1011, Alton, IL 62002).


Anya S. Burgess said...

Thanks for this beautiful tribute to Alison, and also for including the obituary written by Becca which captures her spirit so well. I lived out on Hash Rd. with Alison from '97-'99 and it was a very formative time that I will always remember fondly. She was such a special soul, and I miss her dearly.

elena said...

Thank you, Anya. I wish I'd heard more of her music, and am so grateful that Andy Mahler posted the link to the Hard Times recording. It's comforting, somehow.

dworker said...

This is one of the most touching, honest, and dare I say it, beautiful obituaries I have ever read. A noble tribute to a fine woman.