Kim Heacox: Follow Your Passion

brevity, brevity,” Mrs. Jovanovich said to me in high school senior English.
“What’s wrong with brevity, brevity, brevity?”
dunno,” I replied.
needs to be said only once.”
yeah… ”

Man, was
I stupid. Bless her heart, Mrs. J. must have seen something in me nobody else
did: a break in my teenaged armor where the light could get in. She had my
classmates and me study that champion of nature, William Wordsworth, who
influenced Henry David Thoreau who influenced John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt and
from there another Roosevelt, FDR, and back across the big pond to Churchill
and from there – who knows? The Beatles? Enough about the Beatles.

Mrs. J.
liked the Beatles, and she was old,
almost forty. She was also cool. She described music as a gift, writing as a
craft, something achievable to anybody who worked hard. Of course math and
science had their charms, especially the natural sciences for me, biology,
geology, paleontology, ecology. All deserving of the best recruits, though I
would not be among them. And engineering, so many numbers and people with too
many pencils in their pockets? Forget it.

your passion, not the money,” Mrs. J. told me. “Live simply, do what you love,
love what you do; the money will follow. Fall in love with the geometry of
words, the joy of self-expression. Get out of Spokane. Go taste the world. It’s
one big mango.”
never eaten a mango.”

that come my travels in Europe, time on London’s Abbey Road, the long walk into
my future, defiant like John Lennon. Imagine.

Back in
the US, I hungered for Alaska. But winter came down hard and I headed south.

between Butte and Idaho Falls my toes went numb. Hoarfrost covered my
moustache. The January sky, drained of color, was a dead thing as I stood on
the shoulder of I-15, the loneliest piece of interstate in America, and waited.
The last guy to give me a ride, a Blackfoot Indian with a gold tooth smile and
a loaded Smith & Wesson, said as he dropped me off, “You should have a new
name, white man. One that fits your journey. Coyote Freezes. That’s you. You’re
Coyote Freezes.”

That was
me, Coyote Freezes, a failed hitchhiker, thinking about dying, or ready to
write that I was ready to think about dying. Writing having more significance
than dying right then as a young man determined to better the world, or at
least survive it. If only I could get a little farther south. If only a car
would come by with a soft seat, a big heater and lots of food. “It’s a good way
to starve,” Dad had told me. “Writing, there’s no money in it, no survival,
unless you eat manuscripts.”

I curled
into myself, thinking: This is where they’ll find me, on the snowy shoulder of
the interstate, blue-lipped and brittle-boned, a manuscript in my mouth.

screamed from the pain. The windswept land, pounded flat by winter, made no
reply. I worked my gloved hands in and out of fists. No water. No food. A
Mercedes came and went. A Cutlass with confederate license plates. An Audi
going eighty. Faceless, graceless cars. Cold iron and tinted glass. Two
eighteen-wheelers passed by with such brute force they seemed to suck the
interstate off the ground, and me with it. Tectonic drive-bys. Each followed by
long moments of silence, stillness, emptiness.

I made a
pillow of my backpack, stacked my banjo and guitar for a windbreak, folded
myself into my parka and found meager shelter in the growing darkness. A banjo?
Yes, my pianist friend Kelly had digressed from Beethoven into bluegrass –
shelving “Moonlight Sonata” for “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” – and taken me with
him. We practically drooled when we played. It made no sense. But neither did
Kent State, Richard Nixon, Tex Ritter, Big Macs, Patty Hearst, the Symbionese
Liberation Army, or America mourning the death of its chief spook and spy, J.
Edgar Hoover. Six years had passed since my high school graduation, and here I
was a college graduate, educated but not smart, freezing to death in Idaho,
burdened with a banjo, and looking for the man I might become.

Did I
fall asleep? Into a stupor?
“Hey,” a
voice called, “you want a ride?”
Dazed, I
turned. A Volkswagen hippie van had pulled over and now idled on the shoulder,
facing south. A long-haired guy had his head out the door. The van sported a
Sierra Club decal and a bumper sticker: “IMPEACH NIXON.”
I got

later I began to thaw out, sandwiched between two men and five women bound for
the slick rock canyon country of southern Utah. “Cactus Ed Country,” said their
apparent leader, a guy who looked like Che Guevara meets John Lennon. One of
the women handed me a slice of something.
this?” I asked.
smiled. “It’s mango.”

(This is
continued from Kim’s previous guest post on May 7. Follow him over the next two
weeks as he journeys from Spokane to Alaska, via the Beatles and Edward Abbey.)

Kim first came to Alaska in 1979
as a ranger with the National Park Service, working summers in Glacier Bay,
Denali and Katmai. He is the author of several books, most recently “John Muir
and the Ice That Started a Fire.” His forthcoming memoir, “Denali Heart,” will
be published in February 2015. He lives in Gustavus, where he volunteers as a
music teacher at the local school. Visit him at

2 thoughts on “Kim Heacox: Follow Your Passion”

  1. Now this should be part of your Denali book and why the Kayak was your showed your heart and soul. Lovely man.

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