Where does one originate? Is that not the eternal question of life? At an early stage I was told we all came from the stars! Stardust! Dust to lust. As a carbon-based lifeform, I yearned to understand the meaning of life.
My most meaningful experiences as a young person were the times I spent in forests. Growing up in a family of environmentalists who believed self-sufficiency, I lived throughout my youth like a mini-Indiana Jones. After spending the first five years of my life in London, I moved with my family to New York and spent my summer holidays from the age of five to 10 submerged deep in the Appalachian Mountains.
We then moved to a pine forest region of Florida and over time I got to know the animals there and they got to know me. After hurricanes had struck, I would go out to find the animals I’d come to think of as my friends and, if they were injured, bring them back home to heal them with the help of my mother, who was a trained nurse.
I felt most at ease in the forest. Nature was my home and it taught me everything I needed to know.
In the ten years I spent in those forests I became known as an animal rescuer and folks would bring injured wildlife to our doors. One time, the local priest brought round an alligator he’d rescued from two boys who were torturing it. I’d pat it on the stomach to get it to sleep but in the end the law came round and said I couldn’t keep it because it was under six feet long. I also used to catch rattle snakes and sell them to labs for one dollar per foot, big money for a kid in the 1960s.
After the age of 15 I also spent my summer holidays roaming through the Amazonian rain forests and the Andes. I felt most at ease in the forest. Nature was my home and it taught me everything I needed to know at that age. I felt at ease and at one with the natural order and my memories of my times in the forests are the most vivid ones I have. At school it was the science subjects, like biology and environmental studies, that aroused my curiosity.
These early experiences of taking a deep interest in my surroundings and the welfare of those around me led me to become what I am today.
I’m a second-generation activist, my parents having been environmental and consumer rights campaigners. Inspired by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, my parents pushed for honest food package labelling and sought to live off the land. They foraged for sustenance, sunk a well and grew all our own fruit and vegetables.
To some degree, I followed in my parents’ footsteps, becoming a traveller, an environmentalist and a community rights campaigner. After I’d studied world history and geography, a history teacher named Captain Hale said: “Now that you’ve read the book, go and see for yourself.”
And so I did, hitchhiking and using public transport to get from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego (in Chile) and then travelling by land and sea through Europe and Africa.
What’s the superpower or strength I developed throughout my formative year? I’d say it’s listening to people and sharing their joys and sorrows.
I guess the most important aspect of living overseas was learning other languages so that I could communicate with people from other cultures and respect differences. I learned Spanish, French, Amharic, Swahili among other languages.
I became part of a community of travellers that I came to think of as a global village and continued exploring the world until I met my wife and settled into the role of being a local community activist here in Camden.
After moving to Somers Town in the late 1970s, I and my fellow community activists chalked up a number of victories. We saved an abandoned shoe factory from the wrecking ball and had it turned a space for community workshops, converted an (also abandoned after the landlord racked up £250,000 of debt) an Irish pub into a women’s help centre and petitioned successfully to convert a dilapidated post World War Two prefab home into Irish Traveller site after its owner passed away.
Local communities in London face many challenges and along with others, I strove to make our local area a better, happier place, while always respecting nature.
What’s the superpower or strength I developed throughout my formative year? I’d say it’s listening to people and sharing their joys and sorrows. Most of all, thanks to all my travels, I learned to live, love and laugh in solidarity.