Morgan John Cowles passed into a greater place on Monday, January 28, in Sequoia National Park. He was 39 years old. While backcountry skiing, Morgan and his friend, Jason Gardner, were caught by an unexpected storm. Avid and experienced backcountry adventurers, they set up camp, waited out the storm, and began their trek back down the mountain after an oatmeal breakfast. Trained in technical climbing and cold weather and avalanche survival, they carefully planned their descent. Tragically, Morgan was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he died in a sudden and powerful avalanche.
Morgan lived his life with a fervent passion for nature that allowed him to master sports in every element. In addition to being a life-long skier, Morgan loved hiking, kite-surfing, camping, rafting, and cycling. He enjoyed these activities with his family and his wide circle of friends, and he will especially be remembered for his passionate commitment to living life to the fullest.
Morgan had been a Santa Barbara resident for two-and-a-half years, and took full advantage of everything California had to offer. He loved the beauty of Santa Barbara, whether climbing Rattlesnake Trail, heading to Reds to read Sunday’s New York Times, or bringing a book out on the beach for a lazy afternoon. He could often be seen riding his orange bike around the city. He enjoyed simple pleasures like Tam’s Vietnamese cooking classes (resulting in many leftovers to fill his voracious appetite the next day), discovering mom ‘n’ pop eateries, and listening to an eclectic range of music at the Santa Barbara Bowl and various clubs around the area. He loved Santa Barbara’s weekend festivities, such as the Summer Solstice parade and the I Madonnari street painting festival. Nearly every weekend he was out exploring new areas-the city life of San Francisco, San Diego, Orange County, or the varied terrain in Santa Barbara’s backcountry, Pinnacles Monument, or Yosemite National Park.
Morgan graduated from Taft School in Connecticut and Carleton College in Minnesota, where he majored in geology. Though he had a high-paying job in the computer industry, he was ultimately unsatisfied and went back to school. In 2005, he graduated with a master’s in Library and Information Science from the University of Washington. After living in Seattle for a dozen years, he was eager to escape the dreary skies and explore the sunny central coast of California. When he saw a job opening with the Map & Imagery Laboratory’s Alexandria Digital Library project at UCSB, he jumped at the chance to work with one of his many loves-maps. Morgan’s expertise in a number of related disciplines soon found his library work expanding to Web site design, software user interface design, and original cataloging of spatial data. He was highly regarded in the department as well as the library for his can-do attitude and indefatigable spirit. For the past two years, rain or shine, he cycled the 13 miles to work from his house in downtown Santa Barbara. He took enormous pride in the miles he accrued on his bikes.
Working in a library fed yet another of Morgan’s loves, reading. His taste in literature was eclectic: Simon Winchester, Bill Bryson, Evelyn Waugh, P.G. Wodehouse, the Sunday New York Times (which he read cover to cover every week, without fail), and the Onion were among his favorites. The walls of his bedroom were lined with books.
Morgan’s greatest love was his friends and family. You couldn’t meet Morgan without liking him: He was warm, friendly, easy-going, and witty. His ever-present smile made everyone he met feel at ease. He exuded a comfort with himself and with others; he knew who he was and he accepted everyone for who they were. He had an ability to reach out to so many people; his kind and gentle spirit never hesitated to offer a hand.
Morgan will be missed dearly by us. He is survived by a much-loved family: younger sister Sarah and brother-in-law Andy in San Francisco; parents Dick and Karen in Santa Fe; and grandmother Marie Moore. Morgan’s network of friends is tremendous and extends across the globe. Friends from all chapters of his life have compiled a wonderful tribute and collection of Morgan memories, which can be found on a Facebook Web page. He would be pleased to see how new friendships are emerging out of his passing. Morgan’s memorial is scheduled for April 12 in Santa Fe.
All goes onward and outward,
And to die is different from what
any one supposed, and luckier.
-Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”