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'Bush man' returns to Duluth with a message

A former Duluthian who has spent much of the last few decades living in a Yukon tepee returns to Duluth next weekend with a message: slow down. "I'm not trying to proselytize .... What I'm saying to them is, you can create options and there are m...

A former Duluthian who has spent much of the last few decades living in a Yukon tepee returns to Duluth next weekend with a message: slow down.
"I'm not trying to proselytize .... What I'm saying to them is, you can create options and there are many options in this world," said Dick Person of those who come to his presentations.
During a phone interview last week before his trip to Canoecopia in Madison, Wis., the thoughtful, soft-spoken Person outlined his almost unbelievable credentials as a outdoorsman. From his early years growing up in Duluth, Person knew he wanted to spend his life outside.
After receiving his bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota-Duluth in zoology and geography, he did a couple of years' postgraduate work in wildlife management at the University of Missouri.
From there he started his outdoor life in earnest. Through stops as park ranger in Glacier National Park (1954-55), ski patrol (one of the first) and avalanche control officer at places like Jackson Hole, Wyo., during the '60s; and years of equipment testing, guiding and educating, he "picked up a few things," as he told the legendary Outside magazine for its sprawling April 1998 piece on him (archived at http://www.outsidemag.com/magazine/0498 ).
He made trips to the Arctic as early as 1953. From 1972 to 1989, Person lived in a tepee in Alberta and the Yukon, and he lives the life of a hunter-gatherer there to this day.
At first glance, Person's life seems contradictory. Though he lives in the bush off of food he's gathered or hunted himself, his company, Wild and Woolly Guide Service, has its own Web site ( http://www.yukonweb.com/tourism/wildwoolly/ ). Even the interview for this article was arranged through e-mail.
"I suppose it is somewhat of a dichotomy," he noted when asked about it. Then he explained: he connects to the Internet at the library in a nearby town as a communication tool. He is miles from a phone.
"It is not something that invades our house," he said.
And that experience is exactly what qualifies him to deliver his message -- in a society where technology is increasing our life's pace exponentially, "people are trying to keep up with machines, and it doesn't work."
The permanent state of stress and fatigue induced by these pressures is more than we, who "haven't changed one iota genetically" from paleolithic humans, can handle. That's why he advises exploring other options, including his lifestyle.
"If you're not fulfilled ... there are ways to make fundamental changes so that your life can become much more full and fulfilling," he said.
Start with time. In a society where two members out of a household often have to work "just to fundamentally cope," he notes, "If you don't have time, you're broke. You're poor."
As an example, he cited a banker he talked to, who showed a lot of interest in his lifestyle. Person invited him to take one of his guided trips in the Yukon, and the banker had to decline because he didn't have time.
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"I feel serious compassion for these people," said Person. "They can't afford two weeks to go and do something they really want to do."
In contrast, the life of a hunter-gatherer has moments of short-term stress, like encounters with bears. "When you walk away from the thing, you're right back into that natural world, and it enfolds you, and it's a place essentially of peace and quiet."
Though Person says he doesn't like to be pejorative about "so-called civilized" life, he likens the sound of traffic and freeways to a roaring animal -- one that's perpetually roaring. And in nature, time is kept by the weather, the sunrise and the turn of seasons.
Living closer to nature holds spiritual rewards for Person, too. Though he says he doesn't subscribe to any particular creed, he lives in touch with the Great Spirit. "To industrial man, really nothing about the earth is sacred," he said. "It's just there for our use and our disposal. When you're there immersed in it, everything is sacred."
In Duluth next weekend, Person, in conjunction with the Duluth Pack Store, will present a slide show outlining his life and beliefs, along with several workshops. Chris Gibbs, a marketing assistant at the store who worked with Person on last year's presentations, raved about the "bush man."
"His voice that you're listening to is almost mesmerizing. The way he talks is very soft, and it really keeps you in tune to what he's talking about," Gibbs said. "Of course the things he's talking about, most people are in awe of anyway -- the things he's done, where he lives and how he's lived."
The presentations and workshops, spanning the weekend, expand on Person's belief in using natural fibers and pass on skills he's learned, such as starting one-match fires "that work no matter what the external conditions are" and building warm lean-to tents.
Gibbs anticipates good turnout for the presentations, noting that visitors can register in advance and pay when they arrive.
There is another option. If you have the time, you can catch Person at his place. Rates for his guided Yukon hiking and canoe trip, June 17-30, are $2,100. See his Web site for details.

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