Adam's apple

Mar 19, 2007 at 5:17 PM
My next door neighbor is a strange fellow.

When I first met him, it was because he wandered into my orchard to pick an apple, which he cut up while introducing himself. My dog wanted to attack him, but I told Tucker to go in the house. Tucker didn't know what to make of a person who smells so wild.

And Adam is wild. A mountain man, like the stereotype you see in the movies.

Adam is over 60 - gosh knows exactly how old. But old. Most of the time, he wears long john bottoms of an indeterminate color, bare feet, bare chest and a beard that runs down to mid-neck. If a breeze picks up or it's cold and rainy, he'll wear more clothing. Nothing more than he needs to wear to stay warm. He's thin, wiry, but not unhealthy.

He lives in a shack that he made all on his lonesome out of scrap, most of which he found on the ranch. He built it right next to the barn that technically goes with this house. It's about a quarter mile up the road. All the land on the ranch is owned by his relatives, so there's no issue with his ramshackle structure being there.

It's actually good he's next to the barn. He cares for the older pack animals on the ranch that are relegated to that barn. They don't deserve to be put down but aren't useful anymore.

He doesn't shave. He has a simple little knife with a bone handle which acts as combined grooming/screwdriver/cutting/utensil/all-round tool. Sometimes he cuts the hair from his head, but his beard is what it is.

He's not clean, but he's also not so filthy that it's disgusting. He has too much sense to get so dirty as to become a health hazard. He doesn't smell bad enough to be offensive. He bathes only when necessary, as in before family visits. Mostly he just uses grass to wipe his feet and hands clean when they're dirty.

He's usually in some state of undress. I have been warned not to visit him unexpectedly in the summer.

He is rarely seen anywhere outside the ranch. His tobacco habit is one of the major reasons he ever needs to go to town, to buy cans of roll-your-own tobacco. He doesn't drink alcohol, eat any sugar or dairy, and won't let me make him any food that's processed.

He basically lives off the land. He saves seeds, and finds wild edibles and replants them in his garden.

He has a ton of wild turkeys that he raises in a turkey condominium that he built himself. He slowly releases many of them into the wild, acclimating them to living in trees and foraging for themselves. He's taken it upon himself to help with the local wild turkey population. See, there used to be lots, but they got hunted away.

He has no amenities beside a radio.

His house is no larger than my kitchen.

There is no bathroom or kitchen. Their is running water, though. I gave him a roll of carpet last year, which he promptly put on his roof. It goes well with the wooden chair up there. I asked whether he ever sat in the chair, and he laughed and said of course not.

So, then why is it there? I don't know. All part of the mystery that is Adam.

I gave him a blackberry pie last Fall - I left out almost all the sugar on his pie - which he said was too sweet for his taste and fed to his turkeys instead.

He cooks on a fire made inside a half a barrel with a grate over it. Everything he owns is second or third hand, and he won't accept gifts that aren't well worn. He keeps all kinds of odd junk around - for instance he had a piano bench and a bunch of replacement piano ivories when I needed them. He collects bits of twine every time he finds them, saving them up - so that he'll never need to buy rope.

He uses his solid waste as compost and his liquid waste as a territory marker to deter wild animals.

This man lives on less per year than most of you make in a month.

He's got a job, but it's mostly just caring for the animals and finding wood - which he'd do anyway. He grows or hunts all his own food. He raises turkeys, often bringing the babies indoors. But he's not overfond of them, he'll eat them, too.

He was recently given an old laptop by his visiting kid. He's using it to write a book.

He does a lot of hard work for a man his age, and all of it without complaining. He's disabled, missing most of one hand. It never stops him. He can even play piano, which I've seen. In his youth, he played jazz piano in bands.

Sometimes he comes down to my house to use the phone. I'm told he's been known to use my bathtub when no one is home, but if he does he cleans up after himself.

He's friendly, totally harmless and quite interesting to talk to. I've got a bit of a soft spot for him. So does everyone else around here, I think.

While most of you would be miserable with that life, He's remarkably happy. And he's healthy. He's very old, but he hasn't got a thing wrong with him.

You'd expect someone living alone in the woods to be a recluse, but he's not, really. He usually leaves people feeling good after talking to them, which is a pretty good sign of a person.

I've seen people with everything they could possibly want who are utterly miserable. Who leave everyone they talk to feeling worse.

Adam has been a bit of a lesson in humanity for me. If not a lesson, the certainly a reminder of a basic truth.

You see, Adam OWNS his own life. And that's why he's happy.

It doesn't matter what your circumstances are - wealthy or poor, alone or surrounded by people, young or old. What matters is how much of the life you are living is purposefully created and participating in by YOU.


  1. kat Says:

    I love this post, Desi. You are such a wonderful writer. I want to read a whole book about you and your kids and adventures in Oregon.

  2. desi Says:

    Thanks babe! I miss talking to you. I'm visitin' in May sometime.

    If you want to, you can help me write a book. The Good Mommy's Guide to Not Screwing Up Your Kid. Whatcha think?

  3. Lucien Says:

    Nice character sketch. You're a good writer. I like the idea of the surreptitious bather. One to cone back to (the blog). Ta.