Thursday, June 22, 2017

OK, here is the "fathers day" interview! If I was better at planning I would have sent some questions to my dad a little earlier and actually posted this on fathers day, but instead I thought of it on fathers day, and am posting it now. He is someone who has spent much of his life on the the outskirts of society and I was along for the ride for much of my childhood. He ingrained a stubborn sense of individuality in me that makes things difficult more often than not but for which I am ultimately grateful. His outlook is incredibly practical, but maybe he is a bit more of dreamer than he would ever admit. He can build or fix anything, is limitlessly resourceful and has endless stories from his adventures. I hope that one day he writes an autobiography, but for now this will have to do!


 

Ok, Dad, what was a typical day for you as a kid? 

It varied a lot depending on age, location, and season. 

From nursery school till the 5th grade, I lived with my family at one location in Glenview, IL. My nursery school was was only 3 blocks from my house, and I remember being quite frightened walking there by myself the first few days. My grade school was about a 20 minute walk from home. Interestingly, I don’t recall ever taking a bus to school from this location, no do I ever recall getting a ride to school - no matter how bad the weather was. It was an altogether different time, when parents were far more worried about their children contracting polio than getting abducted. I recall these formative years as quite idyllic. Summers were filled with playing baseball, catching butterflies, marveling at fire flies and the cacophony of millions of cicadas emerging almost simultaneously. I recall stifling heat with high humidity - and fans (there was no air conditioning in those days). There was less for me to do in winters, it seems to me that through most of them I was anxiously waiting for spring.

When I was 9 or 10, we moved across town to a larger house (which we needed because my sister was born the year before). I still went to the same school, but was away from my neighborhood group of friends. At this time, I started to become passionately interested in history, and the natural sciences. Rock and fossil collecting, and especially Indian artifacts. I received a book for Christmas called, I think, Ben Hunt’s Indian Lore, and in it was a drawing of an Indian “brave” wearing a necklace made out of an archaic corner notched projectile point. After I saw it, I became obsessed with arrowheads. It was winter then, of course, so the ground was covered with snow, but I was determined to find one once the snow melted and the ground was clear.  In early March I noticed on the ride home from school (I did take a bus from this location) that a section of land on the Wagner was free of snow. I remember telling my mom that I was going arrowhead hunting and she smiled and warned me to be home by a certain time. The Wagner farm was pretty far from my home, I had to walk through a different neighborhood, across a golf course, and cross Lake Ave where there was no traffic light (which I was strictly forbidden to do). By the time I got there the temperature had dropped, my hands were freezing, and my nose was running. I also knew by then that there was no way I could get home by the appointed deadline. It was tempting to turn around, but I forced myself to start walking along a high bank along a creek. After about 10 minutes of hunting, I saw an arrowhead laying on the ground! I was a little disappointed because it wasn’t a pretty corner-notched point like the one in the book, but it was definitely an arrowhead! I really couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t know until many years later that the point I found was actually a Clovis point - the oldest and rarest types of points to be found in North America.

While there, I also became passionately interested in track and field, I was a lousy runner and not a particularly good jumper, but I did have an aptitude for poll vaulting. To the degree that my parents actually purchased a vaulting pole for me for my birthday. Unfortunately, they made no provisions for me to use it. I made standards and started vaulting, but had no sawdust to break my fall. Before long, I was vaulting 8’ - which isn’t particularly high, but the concussion from landing from that height over and over again on hard ground was enough to rupture a disk - a condition that adversely affected me in later years.

In 1962, when I was 12 we moved to Lake Forest, IL. It was a beautiful location, but we weren’t there long enough to really get settled in before moving again. 

What sort of memories do you have of skateboarding and surfing?
In 1963, we moved to one location in Santa Barbara, CA. - and them immediately to another one. I loved the climate  there, but it was definitely a culture shock for me. I made some friends and learned to surf. Unfortunately, our local beach rarely had good waves - and it was too far to walk to the beach with the big heavy boards used then, and my mother was not accustomed to driving me anywhere. Consequently, I took up another sport related to - but very different from surfing, skateboarding. 
Back in those days, there were no commercial skate boards - or at least any that I was aware of. We made our boards out of 3/4" x 3 1/2” x 18” fir lumber with sections of roller skate nailed to the bottoms - they were fun, but deadly! At that time - with those boards - tricks were not part of skating. I remember riding down steps, but what we generally did was to find challenging hills and skate them. The idea was to make it to the bottom - alive - and not too bloody. Skaters today have no idea how slippery metal wheels are on pavement. It was not uncommon, in a steep turn, to start sliding sideways, and even spin out. And any pebble they hit would stop them dead - while inertia carried the skater forward - frequently face down on the pavement.   

You took a drastically different direction in your life than the rest of your family and most people in general. Was there an overnight shift or a slow transition?


It was gradual. At a very early age, I recognized and was concerned by how destructive modern technology was on the environment and began to reject the status quo - much to the consternation of parents. As a result of this and other reasons, I began to gravitate away from direct involvement in modern society - including school, family, and friends.  

How old where you when you ran away from home? How did that all transpire?

I was 14 when I first left home. My main reason for leaving was that the relationship with my parents had become untenable. I viewed school as an institution devoted to indoctrinating children to becoming contributing members of a society that was too destructive to last, and wanted no part of it. I was quite certain, even at that age that whatever direction I chose in life, that schooling would inhibit, rather than enhance my prospects. Unfortunately, my parents were very supportive of the status quo and schooling. They were also very intolerant of my attitude. My father frequently told me “I can’t make you do good in school - all I can do is make you wish you did.” He did his best to “make me wish I did well in school,” and I did my best not to let him. 

My plan was to stow away on an ocean liner bound for Australia. I traveled with a friend to San Francisco where we snuck onto the pier where the SS Chusan was docked and climbed up the mooring lines (which is a lot harder than it might seem). My planning was quite good up until that point, but I really had no idea what we were going to do once we got on the ship. I am embarrassed to say that my plan included finding some cute girls our age to bring us food until we got into international waters. At which point in time we thought we could work on the ship to pay for our passage to Australia. 

Needless to say, it didn’t work out that way. The crew knew there were stowaways on board, so they were frantically searching for us. We had blended in as passengers reasonably well, so they didn’t recognize us as the stow-aways, but we knew it was just a matter of time before they did, so we got off the ship and traveled to Vancouver, Canada. I wrote a carefully crafted letter to show at the border from “my father” stating that we were going to Vancouver to visit his sister. Amazingly, it worked, we did make it across the border, but we arrived there tired, broke, and dirty - and Vancouver was not the promised land we were hoping, so we attempted to cross back into the US, but were caught. We spent a few days in detention, then returned home.

My mother was very distraught by my leaving and pleaded with me to stay around until I graduated from high school. I complied, but with no enthusiasm. 

What did you think of hippie culture? Were you kind of on the fringe of it?

I certainly related to their rejection of the status quo, but I thought that their "non-conformity" was absurdly "alter-conforming." I was not a hippy, and I did not hang out with them.

What prompted your move to Alaska? Did you have some close calls out there?

Right after graduating from high school, I hitchhiked to Alaska. By then I was convinced that the only way for people to live sustainably on the Earth was if they re-adopted low impact primitive lifestyles. I figured that Alaska was an ideal place to begin learning them. I spent the first winter there on a trapline on the West Fork of the Chena River. I had arranged to use three old cabins there and established a 50 mile long Martin trapline that I accessed on snowshoes.

Yes, there were many close calls. In fact, it is remarkable that I survived. I fell through the ice twice and got hypothermia. I went snow blind once, was lost many times, and got caught at my third cabin without supplies or firewood. It dropped to about -80 degrees that night, and I froze my hands, toes, and ear lobes. I managed to cut enough wood with frozen hands to keep a fire going in the stove that night, but the temperature never got above -35 INSIDE the cabin. That was the cabin on the aptly named Frozen Foot Creek.


Didn't you catch some guys robbing your cabin once?

The second summer I lived in Alaska I canoed down the Yukon River in hopes of interacting with Athabascan Indians living in wilderness setting and learning more aboriginal survival skills. I started out with a friend from CA. We hitchhiked from Fairbanks to Circle with a canoe (which was easier than it might seem). Unfortunately, within a few days, my traveling partner became very despondent, he was definitely not suited to that kind of an adventure. Consequently, I dropped him off at a little Indian Village where he caught a mail plane back to Fairbanks - and continued on by myself.
I ended up running into 4 guys in two canoes doing a photo trip for National Geographic. Two of them wanted to leave and neither of the remaining two wanted to canoe alone, so they asked me to take their second canoe. That worked well for me as I wanted to canoe all the way to Alakanuk on the Bearing Sea, but had no money to fly out of there if I did - they agreed to pay for my flight back to Fairbanks if I took their second canoe. 

When I got back to Fairbanks, I was broke. I quickly got a job at a lumber yard making roof trusses, but had no money for lodging or for food. Consequently, I built a very small log cabin on the outskirts of Fairbanks that was reasonably comfortable - and bought a bag of dog food to hold me over until my first paycheck. 

Unfortunately, someone broke into my cabin while I was at work and stole virtually everything that was in it. I went to the police, but they didn’t care - pointing out that I had illegally built a cabin on city property (which was true). Consequently, I took a day off work and tracked the thief to a location where inquires disclosed the fact that the culprit was a 14 year old Indian boy named L. W. I confronted him, but he had disposed of everything by then. I went back to the police and told them the culprits name. I learned from them that he had been in lots of trouble before - including beating up a 6 year old boy for telling the police that he had seen  L. W. setting fire to a local school. The police weren't very helpful - they suggested I become L. W.’s big brother.  

You also had an altercation with an off duty cop leaving Alaska right? What happened there....can we even talk about that?

That wasn’t in Alaska, it was in Bellingham, Washington on my last trip down to CA from Alaska - and it would be better not to discuss it here.

We lived in some really remote areas when I was growing up. Do you like to be pretty far away for civilization?

Yes, I do. Whereas most people feel at home in cities and are terrified of the wilderness - I feel at home in the wilderness, but am very uncomfortable in urban areas.

 
What are some of the more unusual things that have passed for food over the years? I know my birthday dinner was a porcupine one year. 
Porcupine and french fries! Your mother made up a song about it. We were very poor there, and it was a difficult place to live off the land. When we lived on Lynx Island, he had many more resources to draw from. Your mother and I use to joke that we couldn’t afford hamburger and brown rice - so we would have to eat crayfish and wild rice. As I recall, the french fries were better than the porcupine...

 
How about the more unconventional places that you have lived? You lived in a cave for a while right?
The rock shelter in northeastern OR was probably the most unusual place I lived. I was experimenting with living a primarily stone tool existence there. After some time, I left, planning to return, but never did. I found out years later from an archaeologist that that site had been “discovered" and reported on in an archaeological journal.

What did your parents think of your lifestyle choices?

They never understood my choices, and were never supportive of them, When I moved to WY and started an artifact business in 2000, my father began to relate to me. Ironically, he became more and more estranged with my brother and sister - who did almost everything he wanted them to - and closer and closer to me, I loved my parents very much, but I think they always regarded me as a failure. 

Could you give a little background on Ogilvy ranch? How long did you live there? What happened with the fire on one of your last visits?

Ogilvey Ranch was homesteaded in, if I remember correctly, 1895. It is surrounded by Forest Service land, and it takes nearly 4 hours to reach it driving over the Coast Range from Santa Barbara.
It is famous for several reasons. First, it was owned for a time by Sun Burst Farms, a very successful alternative farm group/cult. They called the ranch Lemuria (after the hypothetical lost land in the Indian Ocean). Some people in the organization were convinced that Armageddon was imminent, so they began to outfit the ranch as a place to retreat to and survive the devastation. If you recall, there was a huge unfinished underground “fort” there where they were to live in the new realm (knocked down and buried this structure because it was unsafe). 

Its second claim to fame was that a notorious killing took place there that was reported on at length in the Los Angeles magazine. It involved two caretakers - who out of fear for their lives, killed a visitor and cremated him in the old brick oven built by Sunburst Farms.

The last time I visited the ranch, I was looking forward to some peaceful alone time. Unfortunately, the ranch owner had given permission for two Santa Paula Policeman to hunt deer there that week. While there, I mowed all the brush and weeds around the buildings for fire safety. Nevertheless, the younger cop took it upon himself to mow and mow and mow. Twice I walked out and asked him to stop - explaining that it was not necessary to mow all the fields - that he was burning up fuel that was hard to get back to the ranch - and most importantly, the mower was hitting rocks that could throw sparks that could start a fire. He didn’t listen, and did start a fire. The chaparral country was very dry and the fire took off quickly - away from the buildings. I hooked up all the fire hoses to the hydrants in case the wind switched, and started the ancient old TD9 tractor “Clammy” to start cutting protective fire lines. Amazingly, he was still mowing! Twice more I told him to stop, but he wouldn’t. I started cutting fire lines when the wind did switch and the fire began to burn back towards the buildings. I wasn’t worried until I saw the idiot still mowing throwing burning embers OVER the fire line I had just cut onto the grass on the building side of the line. I finally drove “Clammy” in front of him and told him to get the hell off the tractor. 

I was really concerned that the Forest Service would use this event as an excuse to take the ranch away from the owner, but when they arrived later in the day with fire fighters. They said they were delighted that it was burning. They had wanted to have a controlled burn there, but had not been able to get permits to do so. 

I think you are more self sufficient than anyone else I know. Where did this come from? Have you found yourself in some critical situations with no one else around?

I guess that's true, I can do quite a few different things. Because I lived alone much of my life in wilderness settings, I had to learn to do rely on my own.

Growing your own food seems to be a big part of your life. Does it feel like more of a past time or a chore to maintain a garden?

My garden is important to me. I have always relied on harvesting wild meat and plants as part of my survival, and once I became vegan, gardening became even more important to me. I rely on the food, and it brings me great pleasure.  

You have built a lot of cabins and houses over the years. Tell me a little about how you planned your current living space. In what ways does your past inform your current lifestyle?

I built my current house when I was more of a hunter than a gardener. I like the size and openness - partly because so many of my homes have been one room cabins. However, if I was to build it again, I would have built down on the bottom of the hill where it is flatter with better soil. I would also have oriented the house so that there could be a greenhouse attached to it to start plants, extend growing seasons, and to heat my house.

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