Columns

2014.03.05 WillyMow checks in

on . Posted in By The Way

My friend David Wilamowski has lived in various locations in Michigan. He's also spent time in Nebraska, California and Oregon. He "saw the world" with the U.S. Navy and he became well acquainted with Guatemala through the Peace Corps. 

Someone once invited him to go trekking in Bhutan, I believe, and he spends time most years in Mexico, along with excursions to Brazil and other South American countries.

WillyMow, as we call him, is a traveler like no one else I know, but there's also that other odd fact of his life: You could call him homeless because he really doesn't have one.

I bring up tales of WillyMow now and then in this space because his life elicits interesting responses in people. Some people admire his willingness to pack up and go somewhere to seek new experiences. Others want no part of his wandering, rootless existence.

Willy is on my mind now because he made a rare appearance recently. It wasn't quite a physical appearance. He was back in Michigan visiting a brother, but it didn't work out for us to get together before he was off again. He had a plane ticket for Denver to visit cousins and walk the wilds. Then he would be off to California, working his way up from the bottom of the state, en route to a new adventure in Oregon.

Late last summer he finished up a temporary job in Oregon that presented what he described as a mixed bag. His life consists of a series of temporary jobs, punctuated by a trip to Brazil or a few months in a small Mexican village.

His jobs are typically bird-related. The recent job on the dry side of Oregon involved driving out from a home base into the scrub to study bird populations. Day after day, he walked the country observing birds, then returned to headquarters for dinner and sleep.

"Once in a while you get a job that's great all around," he said, but this one fell short. "I wanted to like this job and go back, but the people side of it was so unpleasant."

The people side involved trying to coexist with the college kids who were so much different than Willy. Different interests, different attitudes, and all their gadgets.

Before enrolling at Michigan State, WillyMow studied at the University of Nebraska in the 1970s and he had a surprise reconnection with an old acquaintance a few years ago. He spoke with a woman who tended a large medicinal herb garden near Hood River, Ore., and later met her husband. 

"We instantly recognized one another," Willy said. "We'd been really good friends in Lincoln."

They have a vacant cabin on their land and they're willing to give Willy free room and board in exchange for work on the farm. It's right on the Columbia River. How could he refuse?

It's been a rough Michigan visit this month because WillyMow simply can't stand cold winters anymore. That's why he was checking out house rentals in Greece recently. That's why he spent five months in his favorite Zapotec Indian community in Mexico.

"I never thought I would become a snowbird," he said. "I don't feel like I get enough light. Even in California it's too gray. In Mexico I feel great. I love it."

Colleen, on the other phone, suggested Belize. Maybe too closed in, he said. Cuba? "They do have a few endemic birds there," he said.

Endemic: restricted to one area. That's certainly not WillyMow. I think I would list him as escaped from cultivation.

He says his sights are more directed to South America. It's bigger, great hiking, very friendly people, beautiful beaches, incredible food with lots of fruit and vegetables.

There's also a new summer possibility: Friends in Paris have a connection to a garden in Czechoslovakia.

"You are wide open," Colleen said.

"Why not?" he answered. "It's just a matter of whether I can afford it. I never make a lot of money. It's enough to live in Mexico but not California."

Willy knows he lives an odd life. He loves it and he knows others would see it as impossible.

"A lot of people would not think my life is that enviable," he said.

The man with no address. Today he's hiking in the Rockies.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2014