Passages. He made so many. 27,000 miles and still counting, the last time I talked to him at Wild Idaho in Redfish Lake this past May. He came and sang his songs, howled his howls and treated us to his marvelous travelogue show, a uber-wilderness lover among a bunch of wilderness lovers, who among all of us might have hiked as far as he.
We have lost a treasure with a gravel voice, a shy smile and an endless insatiable urge to keep walking and working on behalf of wild places.
Walkin’ Jim stayed in my back yard a few years ago; deigned sleeping with a roof over his head for his skimpy tent and wandered off the next day, as he had wandered in, following whatever it was that kept him moving. “Whatever,” I suppose, was his absolute, unequivocal, unconditional love for wild places and the creatures that populate them.
Wherever he walked he was touched by what he walked through, and wherever he talked about these experiences, he touched those who listened to his bass treble voice and looked at his incredible pictures. Especially the children.
Earlier this year, Jim came to Thompson Falls and Trout Creek schools to work with the kids in the grade schools. What pleasure it was to watch the kids light up, laugh and learn as he encouraged them to squeak like pikas, howl like wolves, growl like bears and joyously sing with him, “Come walk with me through the big pine trees, from the mountain tops to the shining seas . . . ”
Later, he moved into the classrooms, and the kids were mesmerized by him, a lanky guy who looked as if he had escaped from mountain man times. He told of kayaking with whales and coyote tales of following and being followed by them. He gave endless, patient answers to endlessly enthusiastic questions, and then he drew the kids out, asking for their own wild stories, some of which, I’m sure, may never had been heard before.
He was just recovered from an earlier bout with cancer when he stayed in my back yard. I was amazed at by his skinny toughness, his genuine love for other folks, how much he carried in his heart and how little he seemed to need in his pack. Perhaps his biggest burden was his guitar.
A few days after he made his school visits to Thompson Falls and Trout Creek, I talked to one of the teacher from Thompson. “The kids are still singing that song,” she told me. Yes, and so are some of us adults. “. . . where the critters roam, free and on their own, in the wilderness, we’ll be right at home.”
The cancer came back and got him, as if it had forgotten, first time around. He didn’t want to go, I don’t think. There are too many other passages he wanted to make. But, we don’t really know what happens after the passage he did take. I would hope he will find even more beautiful and exciting spots to wander through in the Great Beyond Wilderness.
Goodby, Mr. Stoltz. Thanks for walkin’ through.
— Sandy Compton