Columns

2009.03.11 Williemow checks in

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

Williemow floated in and out of our lives over the weekend. He arrived Friday afternoon and was off again before daylight the next morning.

I’ve written before about the man named David Wilamowski who’s always been Williemow to us since we met in East Lansing in the late 1970s.

I’ve told about his travels—his almost relentless travels—and his itinerant lifestyle that keeps him on the move. He’s either doing organic farming in California or cooking for a caterer in Oregon or doing landscape work in Lansing or banding birds in Brazil.

He’s here or he’s there, but he’s never really home. He can’t be because he has no home. He owned a house and some land for a few years near Marquette, but he never spent a lot of time there and eventually he sold it. There are rain forests to explore and trails in the Sierra Nevadas to hike. Besides, it’s too cold up there in Marquette.

I received an e-mail from Willy earlier in the week stating that he was headed for a new job northeast of San Diego and he wanted to stop in for a visit.

He’s really excited about his new job. It’s another bird job. He and half a dozen others will be tracking the fates of the southwestern willow flycatcher and the least bell’s vireo. Follow them around, check their nests, sit on their eggs if necessary.

It’s a five-month job which is a rather long stretch for Williemow, but that’s OK with him because he wants to put away some savings. He doesn’t have a lot of faith in Social Security.

Whenever one of these rare visits happens, we pull a few tales out of him that we never heard before. This time we learned about the Purple House hostel in David City, Panama, where everything—even the toilet plunger—is purple.

Colleen asked about safety at hostels and Willy said it’s generally not a problem but there are some places to avoid.

“There’s a city in Panama where everybody who goes there gets robbed, so you don’t go there,” he said.

Have you ever been robbed?

“I have been robbed a few times,” Willy answered. “Once at gun-point in Mexico. He was pushing a gun into my forehead and he told me he was going to kill me.

“He got my wallet, but he didn’t get my leg stash,” Willy said, lifting up a pant leg to display his homemade money stash that he sewed from old denim jeans.

I mentioned that my brother, Tom, was going back overseas to teach for a couple of years, this time in Indonesia.

“What great birds,” Willy said.

Name a country, he’ll talk about the birds.

The conversation accompanied dinner preparation. Willy told me there was a wheatless cornbread recipe in the Joy of Cooking. Sure enough: Southern cornbread. I had to try it.

He brought collard greens from a market in Lansing and asked if we wanted some. I’ve never been a collard fan, but Willy’s cooking never disappoints.

You have to roll the leaves and slice them thinly before adding to the onions. I now love collards. What a good flavor.

It was strange to have him for such a brief visit. He generally has time to burn.

We got him for Friday night. By Saturday night he would be visiting an aunt in Lincoln. Then a cousin in Denver. Then another one in Albuquerque.

After that he scheduled a couple days for the Tecopa Hot Springs just over the California border. Then it’s on to the job site for a couple of days to get acclimated before work begins March 16.

He was already thinking ahead to some free time for hiking in the Sierra Nevadas. He knows of this desolate area where you climb up to the 11,000 foot level and then drop back down into a high valley.

“The first time I was there, I was looking around for a place to set up the tent and I looked down and saw an obsidian spear-point.”

Colleen asked if he still has the same retirement plan: a walk into the ocean.

“That’s not my retirement plan,” Willy said. “That’s the end plan.”

I was already in bed when the hostess was pointing out the shower towel for morning. I heard her ask, “So when is the next time?”

“I really don’t know,” Willy answered.

That’s how it is with Williemow. Here today; gone tomorrow.

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