Jimbo, A Reminiscence

The earth is not just the environment we live in. We are the earth and we are always carrying her within us.” Thich Nhat Hahn

The Wawona Hotel where I worked in the 1970s.

In the early 1970s, I lived alone in a one bedroom cottage in a pocket of private land within the confines of Yosemite National Park. I worked at the Wawona Hotel, an historic Victorian design dating back to 1876. The hotel operated seasonally, from March through October. During the off season, I collected unemployment, tried to write, and traveled.

The cottage rented for $85.00 per month. These days, it is a short term rental and runs $182.00 a night. Right next door to me was an identical unit. During the five years of my stay, its occupants came and went. One winter, it housed an itinerant National Park junkie named Jimbo.

Jimbo was burly in build, borderline obese, a soft spoken bear of a man with bad ankles, and a full beard. His gentle soul chose, like me, to navigate life low on the food chain. He had recently departed Grand Teton National Park. He had a singular passion for bird watching. We became fast friends.

This is the back of the actual cottage where I lived in Wawona. Its exterior hasn’t changed in 50 years!

Together, we tramped through the surrounding forest, onto the meadows, and along the shore of the South Fork of the Merced River. He labored on his stressed ankles but rarely missed our daily walks, all the while educating me on the wonders of our avian neighbors.

In the evening we dined on simple fare. Our favorite was boxed macaroni and cheese dishes, enhanced with tuna fish and a red onion. Without a TV or radio, we relied on my small collection of vinyl records for entertainment. We played chess or discussed the day’s discoveries, passing back and forth his copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds. So it was we shared the muted wilderness of that winter. Eventually, intimations of spring aroused a restlessness in Jimbo. Without ceremony, he departed one day for the wilds of Wyoming. I never saw or heard from him again.

In his absence, I purchased a two-year subscription to Audobon magazine. The wonders of birdlife captured my inquisitive soul. And, this being decades prior to the internet and the University of Google, my options for more information were few. The forest became my library and the magazine its research material.

Australian Fairy Wrens

Each month I’d glean information from the glossy pages. Essays and photographs, regional status reports and international trends expanded my understanding. However, an underlying theme emerged and cast shade on ornithology. Even the most bouyant articles or photo essays warned of the numerous dangers facing birds. Habitat loss, prolific use of pesticides, and unregulated game management represented some of the threats. It was in the 70s when the distant thunder of global warming first rumbled behind the horizon of my consciousness.

Later, I would come to sadly accept the words of Aldo Leopold from his A Sand County Almanac: “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.”

The laughing Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree.

My awareness of birdlife evolved, long after the subscription to Audobon came to an end. But other activities diverted the passive momentum of my life. One winter I played harmonica and sang with a jug band. I fell in love with the washboard player. We moved in together. We married. We immigrated to New Zealand. Two years later we returned to Yosemite for one final twelve month fling in its wonderland. Then, we headed north to Oregon to raise a family.

These days, I am still living in the 70s. Only, now it’s my age group and not a period of history. Due to the quasi quarantine of the pandemic, my life is uniquely quiet, much like it was 50 years ago. I see few people. I read, I write, and play my ukulele. I walk alone along the Columbia River and observe the numerous waterfowl. I still live with that washboard lady, only now she plays the marimba.

During those solitary years in Yosemite an affection for birds took root in my life. Here, in Hood River, I paint the boughs of our flowering cherry with peanut butter and hang suet cages from the barren branches of lilac bushes. I enjoy the scuffling of the winter visitors as they take turns feeding. Later, this spring, they will return the favor and feed me a daily chorus of birdsong. (click it!)

The humble Oregon Junco.

Looking back, many people pass through our lives. Most leave behind just a dust mote of remembrance. Jimbo was different, an unintentional mentor. He left behind a gift. He planted in me the seed of love for bird life. He taught me to admire the complexity inherent in the simplicity of a bird’s existence and to appreciate that their presence is essential to a balanced  ecology of the Earth.

Along with that admiration came a worry for their well being, for love brings with it a risk of pain. Yes, it hurts to see threats to our environment fall upon our most gentle creatures. But it’s a gift, nonetheless.

Dead Bees, another song.


12 thoughts on “Jimbo, A Reminiscence

  1. Beautiful tribute to your friend and to a simpler time of yesteryear. I have only recently begun to pay closer attention to our feathered friends. They are so mesmerizing. You have become quite the ukulele virtuoso, too!

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    1. Thanks for your comment Julie. Yes, the activities of birds is entertaining. And, they are so essential to maintaining balance in nature. That’s why I support them with food in the winter. As to the ukulele: you are too kind. LOL 😂. I will not live long enough to be a virtuoso and that’s ok. But, I appreciate your applause 👏 nonetheless. I do enjoy writing lyrics and arranging the songs. I’ve written poetry for 60 or more years, so it comes easily to me, both the good and the bad. Be safe out there in the UP! 😊

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  2. Wonderful post, thank you for a walk down memory lane. I don’t think I ever knew Jumbo, but I do know the washboard lady! Your old cottage looks very cute.

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  3. I love, love, love this story. Jimbo and your time in Yosemite sound peaceful yet exciting and adventurous. As I approach my 70’s I am enjoying more of nature, birds and feel so grateful for the opportunity to see and walk among God’s creations. Thank you for your beautiful story and songs.

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  4. Thanks, John, for sharing your Jimbo memory and your appreciation of birds. The link to actual bird songs is so cool! Also cool is the transition from the 1970’s to life in your 70’s. You write so honestly and beautifully about what makes life so wonderful, even during a pandemic: friends, memories, music, and nature. We have plans to take all our sons and their significant others to Yosemite in the first week of June. Gary introduced me to the majestic glory of one of the best places I have ever been!

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    1. Hi Ginger. Thanks for the kind words. I hope your trip to Yosemite this June works out given the pandemic. I am jealous. Haven’t been back there in 30 years!? I want to hear all about your visit. 😎

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  5. Thanks, John. Jimbo was a character, and I am not surprised that he left without a word. I am glad that you have such strong memories and that they came to the surface so you could write this. I am paying more attention to the birds these days, thanks to the snow and your reminder of how magnificent these flying creatures are. The Northwest is magical.

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    1. Hi Janet. Yes, Jimbo had a wandering soul, or, should I say migratory? 🕊 In those days, the North Wawona community in the National Park was a virtual ghost town in the winter. I was fortunate to spend one with an amateur ornithologist.

      Hope your search for a “rescue lab” turns out well. 😉

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  6. As Barb said, thanks for the walk down memory lane. Wawona will always be special to me, both as a place and as a memory. Say hi to that washboard lady for me.

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