Ranger Rick

In this New Year, to counterbalance these most fractious times I thought I’d tell a tale of humanity and caring.

I’ve had the privilege of living in a wide variety of countries and societies. And having not always been entirely sane myself, one way that I judge societies is by how they handle their crazy folks. “Back in the day”, as they say, I lived in a town called Olema, and I was loosely associated with a group of people called the “Diggers“. The Diggers had a communal ranch up the hill from my place, Peter Coyote lived up there. It was a lovely secluded old place, with a constantly changing cast of outrageous characters living and passing through the ranch. Among them was one of the crazy folks, I’ll call him Billy because that wasn’t his name.

Like many crazy people, he cycled into and out of his illness. When he started acting up, people would talk to him about it. When it got bad, he’d retreat to his one-room shack behind the main house where he lived. He’d go into his shack for a while, and wouldn’t come out. People fed him, when the dinner meal was cooked and everyone sat down to eat together, someone would take him a plate, and he’d open the old wood-panel door to the shack, but hardly talk, take the plate and close the door. And when he got really mental, he’d pull the bottom panel out of the door, and people would just put the plate in through the open panel, and take out the dirty dishes. After while, he’d hit bottom, and the first sign of him coming back was he’d put the bottom panel back in the door, and open the door for his food.

Then after a while he’d start to talk to people, a bit at first, and finally, maybe a month after he’d first shut himself up, he’d come back out and join the group for dinner and the like. He’d talk to people about where he had gone, it didn’t make much sense, but people listened and tried to explain things as best they could. No one thought of him as special, he was just crazy Billy.

That was one of the most compassionate acts by a group of people that I had seen, and the memory of it has stuck with me.

I was reminded of the Diggers, and of Crazy Billy, by the recent death of a man whom everyone around here called “Ranger Rick”.

Ranger Rick Kaufman, 1949-2012 SOURCE

I live near a little town in the redwood-covered hills called Occidental. It’s just what’s called a “census designated place”. It’s not a city or a town. It has no mayor and no city government. It’s known for its Italian restaurants and not much else. There’s maybe a dozen or so businesses.

And somehow, over the last quarter century or so, Ranger Rick became the unofficial mayor of Occidental. Or maybe the town greeter. Or perhaps just the street sweeper. He didn’t do much, he didn’t have any official job, and he drank too much, but he was the spirit of the town.

Ranger Rick was nobody’s fool … but he looked at the world from some very different place than you and I. He could be kind and gentle one minute and raging angry the next, but he never hurt a fly. He watched over the town like some benign and slightly demented elf.

A local guy let Rick sleep in an old cabin on his land. Some of the town merchants kicked in a few bucks a month for a stipend. People who had restaurants gave him the odd meal. He walked from his cabin to town every morning. If you drove through town too fast, he’d shout at you. Sometimes he was not entirely coherent. He pruned the town trees. But mostly, he just wandered the town, back and forth, side to side, helping people who looked lost, keeping an eye on the kids getting on and off the school bus, talking to the tourists. He was the public face of the town, the common thread over the years, the often-inebriated town greeter, both cranky and kind, sweeping the streets and muttering to himself.

And finally, sadly, I suppose inevitably, the alcohol caught up with Ranger Rick, and he died peacefully in his sleep.

I bring this up because far too often, and particularly in the last most bizarre year, we are reminded daily of man’s inhumanity to man. I bring it up because I want to commend and celebrate the spirit of the people of the town of Occidental. Any place else, Ranger Rick might just have been despised as the town drunk, but the people of Occidental made room in their town for a strange, lonely, eccentric and somewhat demented man to have a full and meaningful life. And to me, that’s an important measure of any society, what we do with our crazy folks.

My best wishes to all, hug your loves and your folks and your kids, life is far too short, remember Phlebas …

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,

Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep seas swell

And the profit and loss.

                         A current under sea

Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell

He passed the stages of his age and youth

Entering the whirlpool.

                           Gentile or Jew

O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,

Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.


20 thoughts on “Ranger Rick

  1. That’s a good story: well told! And I suppose it makes sense that it would seem comforting to some people.

    For every one crazy Billy or Rick there are two or three “million dollar Mortimers”; so there isn’t anything left for working class Tom’s cancer, so they give him the option of either dying slowly or a prescription for a euthanasia pill.

    Or the five or six Hep-C Mollies who defecate in the streets, and that’s why little Milagra is sick to death, walking the wrong way home from school.

    Or the handful of crazy Charlies who push the nurse working the night shift off the subway platform onto the train.

    And as someone whose done her time in crazy town, looking at those folks who seem so compassionate to you… Does that work for you? Would you want to be Billy or Rick?

    Your stories give me the cold grue.


    • Thanks, overgrownhobbit, but I fear your comment is totally unclear.

      What on earth is a “million-dollar Mortimer”? Where did he get his millions? Why would Mortimer’s actions mean that there isn’t money to pay for someone’s cancer treatment? Who is “prescribing euthanasia pills” for people with treatable cancer? I have no clue what any of that means.

      Next, what is a “Hep-C Molly”? What does Hep-C have to do with insanity? My sister-in-law died of Hep-C and managed not to go crazy or defecate in the streets. And more than that, where did I say anything about people shitting in the streets?

      Are there crazy people who kill other people? Sure. Near as I can tell you gotta be more than a few bubbles out of plumb to kill someone … and? Did I say otherwise?

      Next, you say:

      And as someone whose done her time in crazy town, looking at those folks who seem so compassionate to you… Does that work for you? Would you want to be Billy or Rick?

      Again, not at all clear. What do you mean by “does that work for you”? … does WHAT work for me?

      As to “looking at those folks who seem so compassionate to you”, the story was about the compassion that was shown by other people to the person with mental problems … are you saying that’s a bad thing?

      And why would I want to be Billy or Rick? Nobody I know would want to be them, so what on earth makes you think I might want that?

      It seems you missed the essence of the story entirely. It’s not a discussion of every crazy person on the planet. It’s not a paean in support of being nuts. It’s not a claim that I want to be Ranger Rick. It’s not about people shitting in the streets. It’s not a story about murderers, no matter how nuts they are.

      It is a story about how some folks I know treated a couple of crazy people with compassion … not sure why that is so offensive to you. Having spent time in the nuthouse, I do have compassion for those poor folks who are not all that balanced. So sue me. I lived in that looney bin for six months with people who were truly ’round the twist, truly disturbed, truly in pain. Should I have hated them or shunned them or dissed them or dismissed them because their mental wiring was shorting out?

      I discuss this question of compassion further in my story about a homeless man, called “Fixing The Brakes” …

      But hey, if my compassion for the people on the bottom rungs of society, the alcoholics, the addicts, the crazy folks, is so off-putting for you, let me suggest that you stop reading as soon as your blood gets angrified, and go read something else, something that brings you joy …

      My regards to you, and wishes for health in the New Year,


      Liked by 1 person

      • A healthy 2021
        At WUWT ta few days ago I remembered you of a graphic concerning Vardo/Norway you which was published by John Daly in 2003;
        I picked it up again und published it a post ((the first link, on Early Arctic Warming); I also referred to it in a comment, as it follows to the NYT (linkl at the bottom ) an hour ago. Kindly take note. Thanks!
        I fully understand the NYT’s clear position on the climate issue. It is less acceptable if important questions that urgently need clarification are therefore excluded. This includes at least three important complexes that are very important for a sustainable climate discussion, namely
        1. Were humans involved in Early Arctic Warming from 1918 to 1939? https://oceansgovernclimate.com/is-man-the-source-of-the-early-arctic-warming/

        2. Was the Second World War one of the reasons for the global cooling that occurred in the war winter of 1939/40, lasting until about mid-1970s.
        See Chapter C (about 40 pages) at http://www.seaclimate.com/

        3. Should climate research be allowed to get away with using the layman’s term “climate” without being able to define it in a scientifically comprehensible way? http://www.whatisclimate.com/

        Please accept the brevity of my contribution and kindly take note of the attached Links.
        I am ready to answer your questions.
        Not yet approved by NYT:


        • As neither the cited comment, nor a second submission (on Jan.05) was accepted the following letter was send to the NYT yesterday:
          The New York Times Company; To the EDITOR in Chief…………. 6th January 2021…etc… .
          Dear Madam or Sir,
          The Climate Desk requested readers to comment to the article, on climate change matters. My brief comment, as attached, and definitely received by the NYT, was not published, although the comment complies with the article’s perspective, and is not “uncivilised”.
          In order to dispel any suspicion that the reporting on climatic change matters of the NYT has little interest in painting the most complete picture possible of the climate complex and not to exclude important and unanswered questions, I would appreciate to get your kind explanation, concerning the not accepted comment. Thanks. Sincerely yours


    • What you point out is that the city environment really lacks the community support structure that Willis takes pains to highlight.
      People get jailed in small towns too, but it is hard to go violently crazy without warning. In a small town, people do notice and take steps to try to solve the problem. In a big town, one stews in ones own juices, so things get worse.
      What is missing there is the kind of social framework that isolated small towns such as Willis describes have evolved, a community of neighbors rather than just acquaintances. Can it be fostered in an urban setting is an unanswered question, but one that Willis at least is asking.
      It cannot be any more expensive than our current social support system.


  2. Thanks Willis for another reminder to us all to show some caring and compassion in these rather strange and difficult times.
    Many thanks also for all the interesting work you do over at WUWT…I especially enjoy and often refer to your pieces on satellite data vs.tide gauges and global CH4 levels…we all appreciate the long hours you spend on these things for us all.
    Best wishes to you and your family for 2021 from another sometimes resident of the BSIP long ago from NZ.


  3. Another wonderful story well-told, Willis. For me, it speaks to the essential need, for a society to be civil, for people at the most local levels to be compassionate towards all who struggle to “make their way” in society. This applies not only to those who have an obvious mental defect at the root of their inability, but also to those whose personality, skills, temperament…whatever you want to call “it”…make it difficult for them to support themselves in a way others feel the minimum to allow basic dignity. The word I use to describe the action needed is charity, driven by your word: compassion.

    At the most local level, with attention and caring, we more functional members of society can detect those incapable from those who malinger. Thus, we can effectively deliver charity to those who need it and not to those who would take advantage of it. The latter, without restriction, can lead to serious dissolution as well as to unhealthy conflict.

    Somehow, though, it seems many do not understand, or ignore, or have given up the responsibility to feel compassion. Do we as citizens understand we must teach in our homes and in our schools compassion to our children? Do we teach how to act in compassion through charity? Do we not just teach through words, but more through example? Do we teach how to sort out incapacity from willfulness and how to act appropriately when willfulness is more the problem than capacity?

    All such things make more sense and are so much easier to realize and to sustain when people see themselves as local—as connected to those physically close to themselves—rather than when people have connections that undermine local interactions.

    I think about this in context of our modern society and what transportation and communication technology have done to us in terms of our need and opportunity to be local. I think there’s a fundamental problem in this: the evaporation of our sense of being local.

    Religion has been a strong mechanism for local bonding—and continues to be for those engaged in it. Modern society, however, is moving away from religion—possibly a permanent change in humankind’s way of understanding itself and the world around it. The secular worldview in its place makes more distant human connections in place of the local more relevant. Technology allows those more distant connections to be realized and to become the basis for mindfulness about the society around us, which is a very different worldview than when one sees local connections as equally or more important.

    The loss of a need for local compassion and charity is a serious problem for humanity in my view. The mechanisms to give support and sustenance to those incapable of functioning at some basic level in society when local compassion and charity are not available result in further dysfunctions it seems to me. I refer to our desire to have someone else handle the requirements of compassion and charity, which responsibility we now assign to a great extent to government. This clearly is the wrong societal mechanism to handle this common challenge we have. Charitable organizations in previous times did much and some were more than local—although the best always are local because only they can understand and deal with the subtleties of the specific situation at hand. Non-local charities ultimately encounter problems from their nature. Think United Way. Salvation Army maintains its localness despite a non-local brand. I can think of few others.

    Like so many people who reach their 70’s, I see our society changing in ways that strike me as unhealthy to the realization of each person’s potential and happiness. Such thinking may be a natural result of a person getting older (I have seen and suspected that), so my concerns may only be the distorted perception of our mutual condition caused by age.

    Still, I am concerned and my concern feels like it is based in facts and “reality.” I wish I could live long enough to see how our social system, our civilization, develops in the hopes my fears are mistaken and there will be developments that result in ways that bring compassion and charity into meaningful function. Maybe compassion and charity have never been a significant element in any society’s functioning and I am only imagining something that has never existed or could ever exist. But, your stories, Willis, do show compassion and charity are possible and I believe when any group of people in a local geography see each other as part of a meaningful whole that they will, as a result of fundamental human nature, feel compassion and exhibit charity. It’s nice to be part of such a group. Somehow, that kind of mutuality feels what it means to be fully human.


  4. Willis your story made me think of our “Walking Man”. We live in a small mountain town in CO. And Walking Man is a man probably in his 40’s who walks from one end of the town to the other on the highway, in all types of weather. When it’s cold the restaurants and stores provide a place to warm up or get dry. They also give him food during the day.

    He has a phobia of others touching anything he has. One day at the grocery store he was in front of us and the checker was very gentle with him talking softly and explaining she had to touch his apples to weigh them. After a few moments he allowed the checker to take his apples.

    I gave him a ride one day and he took a long time to get into the car and wiped down the seat and dashboard before he would get in.. a bit reluctant he finally put on his seat belt. It was a short drive and he shared a story about a house in the woods where he liked to stay, with no water or electricity.

    Our little town looks out for Walking Man, and after reading your story I wonder if it is the small towns that look out after their own, no matter their condition.. In the large cities you see so many who are crazy and the people just walk by or ignore them or avoid them.. it is no wonder more people are leaving the cities for the small towns..


  5. The story of Ranger Rick sounds very much like that of the Emperor Norton — a relatively gentle and interesting madness, loved by those around him.


  6. Louisville, Colorado had its own “outlier”. John Breaux (pronounced “bro”) was well-known as he rode his bicycle around town almost every day, usually overloaded with trash bags full of litter he’d collected. Sadly, he was killed on January 30, 2009 when he was hit by a car while he was out picking up trash. The town raised money to help pay his funeral expenses and commissioned a sculptor to create a statue of him smiling and straddling his bicycle, waving as he always did while he was on his rounds.



  7. I grew up in a little village in Michigan. 15 minutes from Detroit. 20 minutes from Toledo. You reminded me of our Ranger Rick. His name was Eley. He lived with his elderly mother. He would ride his bike everywhere, I don’t know if he had a mental illness or not. Every one he met was a dog. Go into the gas station, hey dog what ya doing. That was just Eley being Eley. Some people didn’t like him, but never mistreated him. We didn’t see him for a couple of days. Someone went to check on him and found that his mother had died, and he didn’t know what to do. So the state said that he couldn’t stay in the house because he couldn’t take care of himself. They couldn’t find any relatives. Well, the village wasn’t going to let that happen. People stepped up and volunteered to make sure he could stay there until he died. But we were still dogs. I’m so glad I grew up where humanity was the norm. My husband noticed that people on the edges of society, the curmudgeon’s all seemed to be drawn to me. I thank my parents, and village for not just telling me how its done but showing me how to do it. Thank you for the memories.


  8. Willis- thank you for posting. It’s been a long stretch between Ranger Rick and Biden’s tax plan. I check twice daily. Not sure if you ever made it to Cordova n your Alaska stints, they had the Mayor of Hippie Cove, Gene. He was tougher than nails. Once had a tender drop him off at Icy Bay and then walked back through the wildest country on the planet. He hunted deer with a spear and lived in a shack with an open fire. Every night he would put on a pair of gloves (so as not to get his books dirty) and read.


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