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Jun 2017 — Obituary

Briar Rose Bates

January 29, 1975 – June 28, 2017

Briar Rose Bates’ life was a work of beautiful, mad art until the end. Her earthly time was abruptly cut short by metastatic melanoma in June, 2017. She died on her own terms, surrounded by her beloved friends in her Vashon Island home nestled among the sublime gardens she lovingly curated right up to her last breath.

Briar was born in Canada and raised mostly in and around Washington and California. Her unconventional and often complicated early life was characterized by stints living in communal settings and relocating often. She and her mother moved to Orcas Island when Briar was around nine, where she later graduated from Orcas Island High School. Her sister Kelly recalls Briar as the sweetest little towheaded girl, always creative, always drawing and making clothes for dolls or swimming in the Orr Hot Springs. She sewed many of her own clothes from a very early age, and crafted fancy living space in the most modest of settings. It is easy to imagine how Briar developed her strong sense of resourcefulness, self-reliance, and creativity. Out of hardship, she became dedicated to propagating beauty. This trait never waned in her lifetime and still continues in her friends and people who have learned her unique story.

Early on, Briar studied horticulture, art, and jewelry design at South Seattle Community College, Skagit Valley College – San Juan Center, and Pratt. She later completed the Sustainable Building Advisor program at Seattle Central. A landscape designer by trade, in 2000 she founded Rooms That Grow, a garden and landscape design contracting company. Her gardens live on in various Seattle area neighborhoods.

Briar created art in nature for well over twenty years. Inspired by botany and the living world, she often used moss, branches, vines, and ice in combination with metal, fabric, lights, projection, and sound. Materials combined in unexpected or precarious ways to create an experience of surprise and whimsy. Her installations, accessible to all, seamlessly folded into the environment. Her passion for design also extended to jewelry and fashion, where her pieces often communicated a love of nature. And a love of pretty, sparkly things. She was deeply dedicated to several creative endeavors over the years, including projects like the Seattle Sensory Garden, the Beacon Food Forest, Lo-Fi Art & Performance Festival, Ignition Northwest, Electric Sky, Arts-A-Glow, Duwamish Revealed, Burning Man, and countless guerilla art installations.

Perhaps most famously, she designed and art-bossed a most inspiring flash-mob art project in her final days called the “Ankle Deep Water Ballet.” Sixty+ friends quickly mobilized to realize a vision Briar had of dancers dressed in bedazzled Esther Williams-style synchronized swimwear, performing in an ankle-deep pool because they are … afraid of water! She had every intention of watching this performance from a tall lifeguard chair wearing a fabulous dress, however she died weeks before the event took place. As such, it became a sort of gift that Briar gave her friends and the greater community. The story was written up in the Seattle Times and has been around the world many times over. How appropriate.

If she was not messing about with dirt, Briar was careening down Pacific Northwest mountainsides via snowboard with her sister, nieces, and friends. Or swinging from a rope swing into a rushing river. Or expertly dancing tango at the Century Ballroom. Or doing art with her niece, Cailin. Or playing “step-mom” to young Lilou. Or laughing that laugh at some shenanigan she got up to with her enormous crowd of friends and admirers. Briar was, in a word, extraordinary. Hard to miss her exceptional beauty and athleticism, which were only matched by her prolific laughter and generosity of spirit.

Always a creative trailblazer, Briar approached her own death with the same unconventional inventiveness that she approached her art. Once it became clear that Briar would likely die quickly at the age of 42, she set out making the very most of the life she had left. She used a death doula to help navigate the complexities of her final months, making space for her to fully include her friends and family throughout the experience without over-taxing her ailing body. She bravely employed the Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) option to allow her to die when and where she wanted, with less pain and discomfort than she otherwise may have experienced. Her friends personally anointed and dressed her for the green funeral held right on the Vashon Island property she shared with her non-romantic partner, Danny. Two days later, in a simple pine box made by a dear friend, her people personally transported her to The Co-op Funeral Home of People’s Memorial where she awaited her time to participate in the 2018 study with Washington State University that helped to make Natural Organic Reduction (NOR) a legal disposition option in Washington state. A fitting punctuation to Briar’s life in service to nature; just knowing at the end of her life that she would contribute to the ongoing environmental benefit of the Recompose project lifted a heavy weight from her heart. She truly set an example for gracefully living into dying by taking such a creative, intentional approach at every step.

Briar is survived by a bevy of friends who were chosen family, including her non-romantic partner Danny Berg and her “step-daugher” Lilou Valent Berg. Also survived by her father James Bates, her mother Alison Moss, her sister Kelly Bailey, her nieces Cailin Bailey, Laurel and Snow Baron, Mariah and Kayana Gomez, her nephews Dylan and Morgan Gomez, her brother Glenn Bates, her sister Veronica Hamilton, her aunt Devon Holmes, her uncles Larry Holmes and Hartwell Welsh, and cousins Seri Welsh and Lorin Holmes.

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