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Those Were the Days My Friend

We Thought They Would Never End...

Steven Reed Johnson
Prepared for William Stafford
....Then again, William Stafford, and his friends often talked
about and wrote about the end of the journey. Bill wrote an
Informal Will in 1964, almost 30 years before he died. He also
wrote commemorative retirement pieces years before he, or
others, retired. They rehearsed and planned their exit. Kenny
Johnson and Bill, friends for 45 years, wanted to just walk
away into the woods like animals. In some ways they did.
Kenny died in his den of books at the family homestead. Bill
died quickly and rather mundanely doing a household project.
When William Stafford took a position at Lewis and Clark Collage in 1948 he became
friends with a small core on professors, initially the few instructors in the English
Department. The core group was John and Cleo Gross, Robert and Bea Dusenbery, and my
father Kenneth Johnson and mother Jean Johnson. I kid Kim that I knew his father longer
than he did. (I was born in 1945).
I recently reviewed 50 years of
correspondence between my father and
Bill, my father's diaries, and other
documents in the Stafford Archives. I
was astounded by the consistency and
persistence of their friendship. My
father was a private man. His work of
art was the homestead he inherited
along Johnson Creek in southeast
Portland. He rarely published. he
shunted fame and notoriety. Bills life--
and the Stafford families--shot off in
another trajectory with the publication
of Traveling Through the Dark and a
national Book Award. After that--as
witness by his photographs of people--
he had a wide choice of writers and
intellectuals from around the world.
And yet, he remained constantly my
father's friend. When Bill was teaching at Lewis and Clark--when not on an assignment like
U.S. Congress--he and my father talked every day. At one time they shared an intimate office
space, the engineering shed. It was more like a cottage then an office space. They had a
ritual of sending each other off to class with encouragement or apt quotes about teaching.
When they retired in the 1970s Bill wrote a poem he left on my father's desk.
(*attached). My father was very moved by the poem. he rushed home and read it to my
mother. He confesses in a letter that he had to choke back tears when he read it. It was OK to
confess such emotion as long as it was clear that one had overcome "the spontaneous overflow
of intensity." The right way to live was a constant theme in their correspondence; overflows of
emotion were to be avoided, but that did not mean one didn't embrace feeling, just the
overflow of intense feelings. In the 1980s, their correspondence is more frequent and the
letters longer, making up for their easier regular face to face exchanges at the college. My
father begins one letter in the 1980s, noting how it seems odd they choose to write letters so
often even though they are only 5 miles apart.
Steven Reed Johnson
as Hippie with Morgan
his favorite dog, 1970.
Homesteading in the Cascade Mountains, Santiam
Watershed, waiting for the federal Marshals to take him to
prison for refusing induction in to the armed services. A war
resister thanks to Bill, Cleo Gross, Hideo Hashimoto, and
Communal Office Space
Bill and Kenny, along with others in the small English
department, shared intimate office space. The first
office was a cottage in the woods on campus.
During the school year, at least when Bill was not
traveling or had other academic posts, they had
rituals including pep talks before facing students for
the day.
Kenny's Office
At noon under the eighteenth century
shelf a prof unwinds an orange
into the wastebasket while he tells
a sweet story: "so we danced on the books after the
bookcase fell."
Pipe smoke is a fragile barrier, and talk:
they all feel winter coming and work
to do and student's hovering the hall
Rain taps on the window, dirty,
under a dirty sky, but propped
jauntily partway open by Wittgenstein
William Stafford
Poem in letter to Kenny, 10/24/1973
I explored the relation of Kenny and Bill as central to the story, but it also the story about a
core group of colleagues and friends that emerged after World War II on the Lewis and Clark
campus. Friends who exemplified values of friendship and fellowship for over 50 years. They
created a community founded on intellectual and creative endeavors and an underlying
promise to live examined lives and a belief in the pursuit of the good life through pleasures
and progressive values. When the story begins Portland is an outpost; from the point of view
of the eastern establishment, it is only a step or two above Oregon territory days. The group
also supports each other through trying times when their academic and job prospects are dim.
One colleague with a Ph.D. ending up selling World Book Encyclopedias while Bill made
extra money at Iowa washing windows. They looked in, both askance and envious of the
established academic elite; and eventually challenged each others acceptance of their
eventual role as ascendent academic positions. William Stafford in particular ascended to
renown as a writer, and yet, and this is very important to understand, he never left his
Portland home or the core of friends behind. Only Bill and Dorothy consistently called my
father Kenny. I think Dorothy started it. She could say Kenny in so many ways--to kid
The Ofce Cottages
Bill in his Ofce at Lewis and Clark College
In the late 1940s and 1950s the core
group of English department instructors,
and then others, made their way through a
mine field of obstacles to the promised land
of high brow academic life. Their
friendships grew through in a period
marked by the end of World War II, followed
by the Korean War, the threats to
democracy and academic freedom from
McCarthy witch hunts, and the Cold War.
While the letters between my father and Bill
in the 1980s are intellectually expansive,
those in the 1950s--such as ones from the
Stafford's when they were at Iowa State--are
dominated by campus politics, job
insecurity, and impoverishment.
So the friendships were created in the
fire of insecurities and poverty. For most of
them Lewis and Clark was their first "real"
academic job.
It is important also to understand the cultural
context of Lewis and Clark College and Portland during
that period. Portland was an outpost, only a couple of
steps above Oregon Territory days, far away from the east
coast academic epicenter. There were about 75 faculty in
total when Bill arrived at Lewis and Clark, and that was
probably nearly half the total academics in the entire
Portland area. Keep in mind Portland State University
was still an extension college for returning veterans
leaving Reed, Lewis and Clark (itself not that far away
from bing Albany college), the small Catholic University
of Portland. As way of emphasizing how small the
academic world was, I knew 50 of the 75 faculty members
in the mid-1950s, when I would have been 10-12 years
Bill believed in friendship loyalty so that was a
factor and I think the friendship with my father, and a
handful of others including Balmer, Pauleys, Dusenberys,
kept Bill grounded. As he spun out into a world of poetry
circuits, to exotic places representing America. he could
come back to Portland and many things remained
steadfast, comforting. Maybe my father also kept
Stafford grounded. Spinning in a world that he was
victim to in the 1950s when he viewed all the ostentatious
The Core Group and Friendship Principles
The Original Core group. Lewis and Clark English Department
hired after World War II. L to R. Dorothy Stafford, Bill Stafford,
Cleo Gross, Bea Dusenbery, John Gross, Bob Dusenbery,
The extended core group. L to R. Connie
Pauly, Bob Dusenbery, Dorothy Stafford, Bea
Dusenbery, Jean Johnson, Kenny Johnson,
Bill had mixed feelings about being a poet on demand--his
poet laureate roles. But for his close friends he wrote
commemorative poems, even doggerel. (the groups term for
it). Here Dorothy and Bill and Rinehart and Connie Pauly sing
their praises at Kenneth and Jean Johnsons 50th Wedding
The Core Group and Friendship Principles, Cont.
behavior of tenure and entrenched academics
at Iowa, U of Berkeley and other place, and
now here he was part of that world. When he
walked into social gatherings in the 1950s he
as shy, an outsider, unproven, questioning
whether he belonged. Then he was swept into
a social world where he was the center of
attention or near it.
My mother was the only one in the core
group without a college degree. My father
institutionalized a rigorous reading of the
classics during their early years so she would
be prepared for academic gatherings. It
worked to a degree but the group could also be
cruel in that competitive academic way.
Misquote a famous writer, reference a plebeian
novel, lay down unfounded principles, and you
might be shot down. But, the gun fire was not
likely to come from Bill, at least any blazing
fire. When my mother began to write columns
for local papers--Oregon Journal, Oregonian,
and the Fish Wrapper--a Northern coastal
newspaper--members of the group either shied
away from comment on her writing or provided
thinly hide condescension. It was maybe cute
or clever but hardly academically substantive.
Bill, on the other hand, consistent with his
teaching philosophy, referenced her articles
during potluck dinners; or general
encouragement, "Its sounds like you enjoy it
Jean. That's what's important." My mother
did have a power in the group. She was
bookkeeper for the Portland Teacher's Credit
Union. It was started by Hugh Stout--who also
attended 4th of July picnics Talk about a sign
of changing times. I can remember being at
the Credit Union when my mother or Mr. Stout
casually walked over to the Till and handed a
teacher--including lewis and Clark colleague,
$500. Don't worry we'll do the paper work
later." My mother also knew everyone's
primary bank accounts--not that she ever
One of the principles of the group was book
sharing. Between them they probably had
15,000 books (Kenneth Johnson alone had
5,000). In a note from Bill, December 18,
1984, he lists the people he found on the
inside cover of The Old Curiosity Shop;
friends and colleagues who had read the
book and passed it on.
Sid phillips, bob dusenbery, William
erasmus hill, john Harrington, Kenny
johnson, R.K. allen, cliff Hamer, prof john
James, Esq., John Anderson, Arthur
Throckmorton, Don Balmer, Walter Mead.
With Bill and Dorothy in Iowa, Kenny
and Jean go to great lengths to send
them a radio/record player (Music
machine) they left behind in Portland.
Just wanted to assure you that the
music machine arrived ok, in a beautiful
crate and with nothing broken--even the
records in the album are all intact....its
great to have music again and we are
even teaching the boys to respect the
radio. Kim likes to stump around the
room, clapping his hand to the music
and gives pitiful little hops which he
apparently believes to be great bounds
of grace; Bret is more serious in his
music appreciation but sometimes
condescends to whirl around with a big
noise and whooping rush into the belly
of anyone who is incautious enough to
be relaxing in the same room..."
Letter from Bill and Dorothy to Kenny and
Or when the Staffords are ready
to move back to Portland from
Iowa in the Summer of 1952,
Kenny and Jean found them
their home on Taylors Ferry
Road, walking distance to the
Lewis and Clark campus.
Soon after the Staffords moved to
Washington, D.C. for Bills position
with the Library of Congress, he
does what any good friend would
do. He pokes around in the vast
Library of Congress to find
Wittgenstein manuscripts.
Kenny, there are 150. I will tell
you what I find.
The Friends Looked out for Each Other
Yearning for Community
One of the touchstone periods in
literature for the Core group was the
Transcendentalists. They all taught the
core books of that period such as
Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne. But it
was more than intellectual pursuit.
Bills time in CO camps was
instrumental in his intellectual and
spiritual development. When life looked
difficult they all fantasized about
dropping out, creating their own
communes or collectives.
While dealing with difficulties at Iowa
State Dorothy suggests that maybe, in response to president Odell denying staffords a
renewed position at L&C, staffords suggest they all move to Stanford and have
apartments in same complex "on a grassy slope. I (Dorothy) will teach, Jean can take
care of the kids...march 51
Sometimes the fantasizing about utopian communities was a way of feeling power over
situations they had little control over in the academic world of the 1950s. But it was
more concrete than that. In the mid 1950s the Johnsons Dusenberys and Johnsons went
so far as to examine parcels of land in the Estacada area where they might all move.
Considering the Estacada was at least in part due to their mutual friend, Glen Caufield.
Kenny Johnsons Thoreau hut
Nestled deep in primeval forest
at the Johnson homestead
whenever possible my father
went here, often with a fire, to
read. If you wanted an
intellectual dialogue you dropped
in but remembered Thoreaus
I had three chairs in my house;
one for solitude, two for
friendship, three for society
Its a rather tawdry affair but may be worthwhile
bringing to light because it illustrates Stafford's loyalties.
Also, all the parties have passed, except perhaps the
unnamed co-ed. And its not Lewinsky.
John Gross was, as the core called him, a ladies man. My
father and John Gross had that in common more than
Bill. Although most of my father's illicit affairs were only
in his mind. He might note how an attractive student
lingered or another who brushed his arm as she reached
for a book. He cut loose in japan but that is another
story. There was a young woman who I knew about
because I had listened in from my stair well listening
post, who had an affair with John and was a Stag
magazine "center fold." They didn't really have a
centerfold but its equivalent. My father had a copy of
that magazine I discovered by chance when looking for
some work gloves.
So one morning Bill got a call from John. He was on a
beach along the Willamette River and needed help. This
part a little fuzzy. Either they had lost their clothes or
the car wouldn't stop. A dutiful but presumably shocked
Bill drove to the beach and helped
them out of their pickle. Although the
damage had been done. The
administration found out about his
To Kenny and Jean johnson on hearing of
john gross's death
the book fell from his hand. His life began
to unreeled, jammed, broke--it was gone
before the book hit. So our old friend John
met his old friend. Death, so long a friend, ran
quietly of late, but near. No man
read half so well the fine printed hinted on
the years' prescriptions: he knew. now it's done.
If anyone can say his reset, we can:
Master or teaching, glimpser of bawdy truth
singer when the bottle passed--"fox went
out on the town one night"--his whole life meant
to many readings. He saw couth and uncouth,
quickly, anywhere, and said it. Defend
him, angels! in death. So long,
A friend.
Loyalties Tested
I tell the story from Wind Sand and Stars (Antonie de
Saint Expert) when I am trying to remind myself or
others why the ordinary is important. It is near the other
life equation I often wrestle with: is life mostly pain with
occasional stabs of beauty or is it mostly beauty with
occasional stabs of pain.
The book is an account of Saint Exuperys adventures flying mail routes
across the Sahara and Andes. On one harrowing flight off the coast of Spain, he
becomes lost in thick clouds. He has no sense of direction. For all he knows he may
be going away from the continent out over the vast Atlantic ocean. At one point he
is so disoriented that he has the sensation he is flying away from the earth, into
outer space. With only the drone of the engine surrounded by clouds he looses sense
of time and experiences a complete sense of calm. It doesnt matter. He will fly until
he runs out of fuel and descend into oblivion.
Then miraculously he sees lights and the coastline. Still with a sense of
sublime indifference he realizes it is the town he was headed for. His radio, which
had stopped working, comes on and he is able to obtain instructions for landing. He
lands the plane, and then walks a short distance to the caf he often frequented. He
wonders briefly why he is not more thankful or even exuberant about landing safely.
He orders coffee. He takes a sip of the very hot and bitter coffee and burns his
tongue. With the taste of bitter coffee and the burning sensation on his tongue he
suddenly begins to weep, thankful to be alive.
Maybe one reason why Bill remained close friends with
my father was it grounded him in the richness of the
ordinary. Maybe it was the importance of the ordinary.
As his life spun into an orbit of poetry circuits and
prestigious awards he could count on Johnson to stay
the same. No matter where fame took him he could
return to Portland and the Johnson's would still be at
their family homestead. My father would be in Through
hut reading Henry James, Emerson, Santayana,
The Importance of the Ordinary
Stone Soup Days: Goodwill Clothes and Haunted
The end of World War II and then the beginning of the Korean conflict, and its
conclusion three years later impacted their academic careers and security. They were hired on
to accommodate returning veterans; then as Korean war took new young people to war, the
number of faculty was reduced and then when it ended, faculty was increased. Lewis and Clark
administrators used the conflict and changing role to require Phd's for its instructors--sending
Stafford off to Iowa State; my father to University of Washington.
My father was at University of Nebraska in 1936 when he asked my mother to merry
him. Although the letter is missing, it would seem he proposed but also expressed concerns of
unworthiness, that is that he was an unemployed graduate student. and the depression was
still close memory, and war was surrounding them. She said back that he needed to trust her.
That she is willing and able to love him through anything. He says in a diary entry that he is
amazed that this wonderful and beautiful woman is willing to throw in with him even tough all
he has is handful of pipes and 100 books.
Almost every letter between the Johnsons and Staffords in the 1950s and early 1960s
references the state of impoverishment. Car trips and holidays were parsed out, dependent on
the state of automobiles. When the staffords are about to come back to Portland in the summer
of 1951, they indicate they may squeeze in side trips if the dar survives. "we will zigzag through
Kansas to the extend that the weakness of the car and temper of the kids will allow (6/5/51).
The state of automobiles was even a competition. Bill says , I can overawe john with my
tales of horror--a real gothic account of haunted garages, ghoulish mechanics, bewitched
carburetor brews etc. 6/28/51. At another point he apologizes for handwriting a letter, but of
course that is just because he is at home. Of course they all only had typewriters at the office.
In contrast Bill often notes the academic upperclass at Iowa and later at University of
California at Berkeley. When they go to an party of the high brows at Iowa he notes that it was
with the "lordly ones and their T bones." At Berkeley it was the same upper class academics
who who showed off by having fancy wine in decanters.
The Academic Hinterlands: Long long ago in the
land now known as Portlandia
The core group was effected by cultural and political events of the period, but much of it
was at arm's length. Civil rights was abhorrent to the progressive academics, but the events
were thousands of miles away and Portland was mostly white.. The Johnson family first got a
black and white television with 4 channels in 1955. Our watching behavior was rigorously
monitored. We had a TV night (Friday) when we all watched TV together, with popcorn served
in large bowl. The only other common viewing was the TV news watched as we ate dinner on
TV trays. There were TV images etched into my
consciousness, including Black women and
children being chased by dogs and pushed to the
ground by fire hoses.
Academic news was scare as well, at least
as considered by today's standards. The
professorial circle shared their books and
journals. Subscriptions were a luxury and most
books were bought at used book stores such as
Camerons in downtown Portland. They attended
some conferences such as the PMLA but personal
as well as college travel funds were scant or
nonexistent. They taught courses on American
and English literature and might keep track of
some academic developments through PMLA
journal but they spent most of their academic time
reading and re-reading the classics from their
How to separate yourself from middle class
and Plebeian Portlanders? High brow
entertainment was scarce. The Civic theater the
only functioning theater. Most cultural events
were on the Lewis and Clark or Reed college campus. "We saw Death of a Salesman at Reed
with Harmons, Staffords and Dusenberys. Then back to our place for Coffee (Kenny johnson,
diary, Feb. 1959). There was no Powell's books, one reason my father traveled to San
Francisco, to haunt used bookstores. In Portland there was Cameron's books--a gathering
Stafford Christmas Letter photo. 1958. Too good
to be true? But, remember TV was scarce. Our
families really did read to each other. Dorothy,
as a school teacher, often found priceless
educational books and records. My mother
would trust her taste so I would often read what
the Stafford kids read. That included 78rpm
records. One I still remember is the story of how
the earth went silent, music died and a tiny bird
rode on the back of a magnificent eagle to bring
place for socialists in the 1930s, the Beaver
and Old Oregon bookstores. There was also
Riche's Cigar store, where my father sent for
pipes and cigars; but the most critical
inventory were magazines and journals,
including some academic ones.
There was only one city on the west
coast in that period, San Francisco. You could
say you were going to the city and everyone
knew you meant San Francisco. There was no culture in Seattle, Vancouver and Portland, and
Los Angeles was just Hollywood and smog. The professors traveled to the Bay area when ever
they had a chance. There were beatniks, bookstores, strong coffee, and theater and dance. The
guys from Lewis and Clark took trips south, most of the time stopping at Ashland along the
way--another small piece of culture, the Shakespeare Theater. Bill, Kenny and Bill Lucht, my
father reports saw Becketts's Mr. Kraps last tape, and Albee's Zoo Story, and also went to
ballet. (*date)
All the outsiders in the core group eventually become the elite, but none in the group
quite to Bill's level. The conversations between Kenny and Bill in the 1980s reflects ill-at-ease
with arrival at the top. Kenny chides him about honorary degrees; Bill tries to pass off
moments in the spotlight like he is an Indian chief on display; just a poet from the Oregon
There were some important texts of the period
that influenced their culture and they discussed. C.P.
Snow defined the cultural schism between the
scientific and humanistic views of the world. The
Organization Man defined the corporate world they
knew or wanted to believe they were not a part of.
The Lonely Crowd and Affluent Society defined their
own general assessment of society, although the later
created some conflicts. Some academics desired an
affluent life, but one defined by high brow tastes, so
therefore not "conspicuous consumption."
Academic Life--Lewis and Clark and other
It is not always clear what the young professors would consider success, as in successfully arrived. Bill
casts many disparaging remarks toward the academic elite. From University of California at Berkeley Bill
says, "the teachers there have a kind of lordly swaggering attitude. They serve wine in pitchers at the
faculty club. (letter, may 5 1957)
"the university is big--to me--and gives me that familiar chill of getting entangled agin with an institution
with big walls, impersonal offices, and people with pursed lips and frightening knowledge." letter 7/27/50
it was significant that when I stood with John (Gross) out in the hall one of the profs of the department cam
in his lordly way by us, from his booked lined comfortable office going toward one of thee T-Bone lunches
that the rich can afford,, and when this prince of our world designed us a cool balance John and I hardly
cringed--we have become so used to it. yes, the mighty have fallen; and you need not bother your fancy with
picturing us back here drinking and joshing with men whose names appear in the books and journals. Far
from it; we are the scum of the earth the dregs of society.
Engle (Paul) and i are not buddies; i try to get into vivid talk when
we meet, trying successive topics: it's like striking
wet matches in the rain....(Im proud of that simile)."
The dominate theme of many Kenny and Bill
letters during the 1950s and early 1960s reflect the
tumultuous state of academic security. Returning
soldiers from World War II and Korean war had large
impact on college administrative policy and
enrollment. McCarthy "witch hunts" during the
fifties added to the cloud of uncertainty. Stafford
faced allegiance in several academic positions and
applications for positions. He refused a job with
University of Colorado because the oath required
patriotic content to be taught in classes (letter,
7/17/51). As he said in a letter, after being rehired at Iowa, he wonders of college teaching is viable,
""with loyalty oaths springing up here and there and with courses more and more liable to involve military
training. 3.51 The conservative Lewis and Clark campus presented additional challenges. President of the
college, O'Dell apparently requested the English department to find some authors for the 19th century
literature courses that were more friendly to religion. Kenny writes back, in a cordial Christmas card, "I
have never forgotten your perspective." Nice side stepping.
A posed photos and Kenneth and Jean Johnsons
home. Kenneth Johnsons library at one time had over
4,000 volumes. Many hard bound and first edition or
complete works of English and American writers.
Books set them apart from plebeian Portland.
Like the other
posed photo.
Kenneth Johnson
on Lewis and Clark
campus near
reflection pool,
stones throw from
the small english
Always with books
in hand, worn
briefcases. Tools of
the trade, like a
Kenneth Johnson on one of his
frequent trips to San Francisco.
Once again with books in hand--
A days activity in San Francisco
included multiple trips to
Ferlinghettis bookstore--and
that other one? You want culture
you had to go to San Francisco
where other people might dress
like you and talk about ideas.
Intellectuals: Living the Examined Life
They shared the world of ideas.
That was the common thread. the
One for them that Stafford
illuminates in his poem (*). They
didnt talk often about the craft of
writing. Of course they talked
about writers, who they taught
courses on. But it was a world of
the big questions of life that
dominated their conversations.
They might talk about Hawthorne
or Salinger but as likely Santanya
Wittgenstein was a constant theme in Kenny
and Bills intellectual dialogue. While known
as a positivist it was the edges of Wittgenstins
thinking that fascinated them. He espoused
limits to scientific thinking that left the door
open to more poetic and spiritual methods of
Kenny was mentored by O.K. Bausma,
at the University of Nebraska, who was known
as an influential disciple of Wittgenstein and a
beloved teacher.
OK Bausma at Johnson home
' ] {
rr / ?6
11 Sept 86
Dear Kenny,
I got my copy of t he new Bouwsma book- - f asci n' at i ng.
Some i deas come t o me. One i s about why Wi t t genst ei n
l i ked t o be wi t h Bouwsma- - he i s so di r ect and so l ocked
wi t h i nt er est on under st andi ng i suues t hat many peopl e
woul dn' t even gl i mpse as i ssues.
And her e ar e some i deas about why t r ' I i t t genst ei n appeal s
onl y t o some peopl e:
Cer t ai n adj ust ment s a i n most peopl e' s way of t hi nki ng
ar e neeessar y i f t hey ar e t o under st and t he mai n at t r act i on
of Wi t t genst ei t ' r : 1) Essent i al l y, we ar e sur r ounded by so
gr eat a myst er y t hat appar ent l y t r i vi al phenomena ar e al ways
l oaded wi t h possi bl e i mpl i cat i ons.
2) Essent i al l y, we do not per cei ve f undament al t r ut hs
( of cour se) ; so t he usual human "cer t ai nt i es" ar e pat het i e
at besL.
3) "I {uman val ues" or r el i gi ons or gr eat cer t ai nt i es
r el at ed t o psychol ogy et c. ar e so shaky t hat we do not need
t o t ake doct r i nes ar ound us ser i ousl y3
t he ways
peopl e mai nt ai n t hei r l oyal t i es and al l egi ances- ai e of t en
i nt er est i ng, and i n f act t hose manner s deser ve our consi der a-
t i on even when t he cont ent of t he doct r i nex does not .
4) Gi ven t he f r agi l i t y of hmman h under st andi ng, i t s
asst r r npt i ons must be r el ent l essl y anal yzed, and t hose as-
sumpt i ons are hi dden i n ordi nary t al k and rout i ne t hi nki ng.
We must be ready t o por. nce as t he l sx l oose connect i ons
reveal t hemsel ves when we are at our most casual and serene.
So l . t r i t t genst ei n pounces, and t hose enough l i ke hi m- t o
r eal i ze t he i mpor t ance of what he i s doi ng ar e f asei nat ed.
I ' m f asci nat ed. You' r e f asci nat ed. And I am gl eef ul
about bei ng l ed t o t he book.
Adi os - -
The World of Ideas
Social Gatherings
Most of the gatherings were
potluck. I remember hearing the word
casseroles a lot. I doubt I could have
defined it as a child. It was just what
everyone brought to potlucks and it came
in a serving bowl (another frequently
heard word). Betty Crocker, Sunset
magazine, and Better Homes and Gardens
were mainstays of recipes. There were
some dishes you could count on--at least
when the potlucks included kids: tuna
noodle casserole (often with bread
crumbs), lasagna, something made with
campbell soups, e.g., mushroom soup,
onion soup, potato salad, spaghetti (my
father was famous for recipe he got from
our Italian tenant farmers in the 1940s).
The Core group. Connie Pauly, Bob
Dusenbery, Dorothy Stafford, Bea
Dusenbery, Jean Johnson, Kenny
Johnson, Rinehart Pauly
And there was some international
fair like chicken a la king, Kenny
raised the bar high with a large
productive vegetable garden. The
Oregon natural bounty was also
part of the venue--wild blackberries
Others in the Core Group
Jean and Kenny Johnson, Bill and
Dorothy. Staffords 25th Wedding
Visited the staffords at noon. Bill working on his
literature statement by a light fire in the den.
Dorothy had baked fresh bread.
(Kenny diary, 7/1966)
wasnt saturday a cozy, friendly, satisfying
occasion. We thought so. lets do more such
spontaneous parties.
Letter, Dorothy Stafford12/19/84
There were many formal social
activities but they sometimes just
dropped by. The social more was
established from the beginning and
was never revoked, except for one
period, toward the end of the life
A note Bill and Dorothy left behind
when they dropped by but my parents
were out. They left behind a gold
Its on knock on your door tonight,
friends. Its Goldpen, come to
announce words abounding. Goldpen
can bring anything out of this ink--
letters, Christmas trees, truth...
My father obtained this recipe from the extended Italian family
who lease some of our family homestead in the 1940s-early 1950s,
along Johnson Creek. When my father went to collect rent I went
with him once. A strange experience for a five year old boy. Their
house was dark. No electricity only candles. They served my
father home made wine in mason jars, and paid the rent in gold
It was a traditional Johnson contribution to Lewis and Clark
Try it. It really is good.
Ken's Truck Gardner's Spaghetti
From: Oregon Episcopal School Cookbook
Editors: Jean Johnson and Steve Johnson
2 lbs lean, cubed stew meat (no hamburger, please)
Olive oil
Large handful fresh parsley, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, sliced
Sprig of rosemary, dry (1/2 teaspoon)
2 bay leaves if available
1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 can tomato paste
12 ounces spaghetti
Cover bottom of Dutch oven with olive oil and heat until
hot. Add beef cubes and brown slightly, turning and
stirring. Add parsley, garlic, onion, mushrooms, rosemary
and bay leaves, and continue stirring until meat is brown
on all sides, and onions are limp and yellow. Sprinkle with
Information You Can Use
Shepard's pie
Meat loaf--a leftover from Depression days.
For example, ground beef, onions,
peppers, mushrooms, and bread crumbs
Canned food--fruit cocktail
Deviled eggs
Chex mix snack
Celery sticks with soft cheese
3 Bean salad
Hot dogs and burgers
Green peas with pearl onions
Sweet and soar sauce over crispy noodles
Yuban instant coffee--if you wanted to show
Chiffon pie
Angel food cake
Marshmallow bars
Strawberry shortcake
German chocolate cake
Can-0-pop--early version of soda pop in a
Ice Creme. The Staffords invested
Potluck Food
Alcohol and tobacco
in the 1950s smoking was permitted in households.
Smokers expected to be allowed to smoke. Pipe smoking
was the preferred venue. Lighting up a pipe after dinner
could mark the beginning of serious academic
More people in the group drank then did not. Most likely
a cocktail before dinner and wine in decanters for dinner
and occasionally an after dinner drink (*such as)
Beer was more like drunk while camping or when the
group was at the Oregon coast.
There were some typical drinks of that period: highball,
punch, gin and tonic, mint julep, tom collins, screwdriver,
The cars flowed in from a
meandering dirt road and parked in
a field. The kids jumped out, ran
into the forest or down to the creek
where there might be a log raft to
cross the creek. In the 1960s Kenny
dug out one of the fields for a
swimming hole. Before that it was a
field used for badminton and croquet
and horseshoe matches. The picnics
usually started around 4pm and
went at least until dark so that kids
could run nilly willing with
sparklers. Occasionally larger
fireworks were set off. A form of
patriotism. The Bishop family took
charge of reading The Bill of Rights
every year. In the 1960s I tried to
replace an American flag with a
Peace sign and was sharply
criticized by Rhinehart Pauly's
4th of July Picnics
4th of July picnics at the Johnson homestead date back to at least the 1920s. The early
gatherings were hosted by Kennys ancestors, and were open to the public. Hundreds came to
the land, including an area the family donated to the City of Portland in the 1940s, Tideman
Johnson Nature Park. The Lewis and clark picnics were initiated in 1955. At one time 50 out
of 75 faculty members, with their families, attended. The gatherings continued until the early
4th of July Picnic, Johnson homestead circa 1956
A letter to the editor in the Oregon Journal, January
1, 1931 gives a good picture of how the canyon was
used by the public:
I wish to ask if it is fair to Eastmoreland,
Berkeley and West Errol Heights communities
to have no park for the children, since traffic is
so heavy that they can no longer play on the
street and thee is no park nearer than
Sellwood and it is not safe to cross at Bybee
Avenue. We should have the Johnson park
tract before it is taken by some private
amusement company. We have appealed a
number of times to our city commissioners to
buy this tract but with no results so far. This
is the only parkground near this district and it
is certainly a beautiful place, with a running
stream for fishing and swimming and with
lovely beaches and an ice-cold spring of pure
water, a cool shady place for a hot day. All
these years Mr. Johnson has let us enjoy this
place, to come and stay as long as we wished.
I don't believe there is another man in the city
who would have been as considerate of the
Bill Stafford, Kenny Johnson, Barbara
Stafford, Dorothy Stafford.4th of July
Steve Johnson on raft, Johnson creek. circa 1955.
mother visiting america from Austria. To her, with World War
II still a sound memory, the peace sign was a symbol of
placation that had provided the Nazi party with a way into her
homeland. But, I also knew I had other pacifists like Bill on my
side. Kit Stafford swears I showed everyone how I could eat
spaghetti with my feet. How undignified. These were the same
feet that were so calloused I could walk on embers, taking off
my shoes in June and rarely putting them on until school
started up in the fall. there were some organized activities like
sack races for kids with old fashion candy
for prizes, but the kids rarely needed organizing. The forest and
streams were entertainment enough.
There was also a rope swing in the forest some years. A little
dangerous, sweeping people over 100 feet and 30feet off the
ground coming close to nearby trees. It was taken down when a
The fire pit. 4th of July picnic. Johnson estate.
Stories, hot dogs, and marshmallows. I felt at peace
watching the flames, eventually the embers. A safe
Spirit of Place: The Great Blue Heron
by William Stafford
Out of their loneliness for each other
two reeds, or maybe two shadows, lurch
forward and become suddenly a life
lifted from dawn or the rain. It is
the wilderness come back again, a lagoon
with our city reflected in its eye.
We live by faith in such presences.
It is a test for us, that thin
but real, undulating figure that promises,
If you keep faith I will exist
at the edge, where your vision joins
the sunlight and the rain: heads in the
feet that go down in the mud where the
truth is.
Mike Houck had a scheme to have the great
Blue Heron become Portlands Bird. He
asked me if I thought Bill would write a
poem about the Heron. Not too long before
that Stafford had told me how sometimes
on-demand poet for the state could be
The Importance of Place
A common element to probably all of the children of the core of Lewis and Clark colleagues and friends
was the residing value of knowing a place like the back of ones
Places with Meaning
It was our picnic on the Fourth of July
and all those usual at the end of the day were there.
while we looked at each other we had become old
and from the dark wood of evening a Heron
rowed forward across the path of sky left
in the west, through the still air.
all my life I have noticed these appropriate landscapes
where events friend their equivalent forms: oftentimes
I see trees hunching their shoulders, leaning toward me,
because in the past I have neglected what I should have done;
or a dog hurries forward to lick my hands, and all
at once I see that they are frightening.
There are people who always belong where earth has brought
them and given them over to the practices of the wind
more slowly, but caught in the same pressure, the rest of us
too, by the end our our days, learn to lean forward
out of our lives to find that what passes has molded
everything we touch or see, outside or in.
William Stafford, 7/5/1978
Just What did they Talk about for 50 years and
Sometimes when there social
gatherings at our house I would
sneak down the stairs to a point
where I could hear part of the
conversations. I was 10-12 years
old. I doubt I understood much of
the content. I was curious what
they talked about. How could
they go on and on for hours. I
could discern somethings. I could
tell by the tone and dominance of
the males when it was an academic, heavily intellectual or political subject. Their voices
often got softer when they shared academic gossip or had critical statements to make about
colleagues who weren't present. When I first noted this I thought maybe they knew i was
listening. But realized that didn't make sense and it was just an outcome of the kind of
topic. I also knew at times when my mother was shut out of the conversations. She would
voice an opinion and maybe only get half way through it, interrupted by my father, or others
might ignore her comments, most of the time politely but clearly. It must have taken great
fortitude for my mother to stand up to the group, the only one without a college degree.
Keep in mind that conversations that had at potluck gatherings were part of a
continuum, Conversations that might start in the offices and Lewis and Clark, might
continue in notes or letter writing, diaries, poems. Another thing about the dialogue, Clear
expression of your opinion was expected but as expected anything longer then a sentence
should be footnoted--favorite and respected authors and fundamental works on the cannon,
approved journals.
There were some conversations that one could predict contentious outcomes. My
father often challenged Bill about his lack of "Dante," or fire and passion. He would tell me
something was another example of Bill feeling he was just the secretary for man kind. I
remember one incident in particular.
My mother, father and myself lived in Japan in 1962 for several months. During this
time Oregon suffered one of the most destructive wind storms in recorded history, the
Columbus Day Storm. We only had scant information about what had happened. The poet
Donald Justice stayed at our home while we were in japan. It was difficult to get current
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Social Gatherings: Conversation Wheel
At the social gatherings Bill was often the moderate in tone and stance. he was
more likely to express himself in aphorisms the footnoted academic-speak. My father
was most likely to reach a boiling place. He liked to defend positions and argue. In our
family, some who turned far right from his decidedly liberal political perspective, he
stood his ground with such vigor that the family shied away from politics. I only was
aware of this after he died when suppressed right wing opinions surfaced with a
vengeance. Dusenbery was slow, deliberate and the most academic. His contribution
might 80% quotes and footnotes from the cannon, sprinkled with popular culture
references, in particular western movies and books. he was proud of his Montana
heritage. Some members--in the outer circle of the core might argue openly with Bill,
after he became well known. My mother begin to fear inviting some people to the same
potluck. Samuel Yorks for example, who taught briefly at Lewis and Clark, then most of
his teaching years at Portland state University seemed to spend evenings watching from
a smirching position for Stafford to say something he could ambush. I don't think I ever
saw him achieve the goal. Most of the time it provoked an even more easy tone, but if
information across the ocean in those days. We made one call to find out the state of
things. A 3 minute call cost us $25.00 (well over $150 by today standards). We lost
500 trees. I returned earlier then my parents. When I arrived back home it was
unfamiliar. There were open meadows where there had been forests. There were
vistas where you could see downtown lights 6 miles away. When my father returned
he was furious that the Justices hadnt lifted a
finger. Not that he expected them to clean up
fallen trees, but even smaller ones and
branches close to house were left right where
they fell. Bill wrote a letter to us about his
experiences, which like the Justices, to my
father, reflected such detachment. Bill and
Kim hid out and watched the storms
destruction in lake Oswego, awestruck by the
beauty and destruction. All my father could
see was all the poetry of his land destroyed. It
was part of that detached secretary like presence
Stafford had in the world.
Portland just before the Storm hit. 1962
Yorks persisted then Bill went silent.
Nature was a key topic. There was the experiential component also expressed
through expeditions to Pacific Nw wilderness and trips to the "sublime" pacific coast
line. But it was Nature with a big N from the Romantic poets and American
transcendentalists. They would not want to be labeled but they were pantheists. The
common reading was from those periods; literary giants like: Emerson, Thoreau,
Melville, Hawthorne. I'm not sure if they all did, but I know my father read some of
the works of these authors, several times a year for 30 years. And there were some
topics that were guaranteed to launch particular soliloquies. Get Dusenbery started
about Moby Dick and at some point he would tell you the ultimate sublime moment
was when Ponce De Leon traveling from the Caribbean ocean across panama stood on
a hill and view the grand pacific ocean.
this glorified period was also the source of some of the sense of community
they all held high while the communal attempts of Brook farm might seem like a
failure a hundred years later in some other ways it make sense to the group. they
could imagine the ideas, living closer to nature and when ever they wanted
intellectual stimulation just wonder down a trail to a comrades self sufficient cabin.
The conversations between them continued for months and years, and through
letters and poems. For example
one night you posed a tough question at our house. You took a stand that said
one should accept his nature or preferences or principles, and do his thinking in
terms of some kind of stand or commitment. Bill responds with a poem. (aug. 70.
typical of my father, "how good it is to have a friend who listens and responds with
What They Read
In the early years communication with the "outside" world
was limited. Lewis and Clark only provided pittance for travel to
academic conferences. To keep up in the academic world the
group read the New Yorker, Paris Review, New Republic, The
Nation. In the sixties my father in particular begin to read the
more radical journals such as Ramparts and Mother Jones....MLA
journal, NY Review of Books, Deadelus
, M
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t h
Bills Poem being read at
Johnson beach cottage
Ivan and Eleanor Kafoury
dropped by for the evening.
one of their sons and
daughter in laws have a
cabin at cannon beach. I
showed them the poems you
sent me. Eleanor asked to
pass it to her which she read
slowly and ad-libbing as she
moved along. I could see she
was trying to apply the words
to herself. and have a hard
time seeing herself as a
deserter--she who has a
waffle lunch for her kits
every Sunday, and who is
organizing a voting party for
Camping in the Forests and Cabins at the Coast
Jean Johnson, on the road with a Packard and Higgins
Jim Stauffer, Kenny Johnson, Bill Stafford on
Several families might get together and rent
one or two adjoining cabins at a coastal town
like Manzanita or Neskowin, Rockaway.
As kids we might skirt the cold waves of the
Pacific, dig holes and tunnels in sand dunes or
if we were near towns go the Natatorium or
small Honky tonk venues.
These might be chaotic affairs. One I remember
included the large Meed Family with 6
variously aged boys, along with 3 stafford kids,
myself, 2 Dusenberys (* so 12-15 kids)
Ah the food! The men would catch crab in
nearby bays or if failing that buy fresh ones.
The tastes I remember is the crab along with
rich garlic bread. And then of course
marshmallow or samores at the beach. the
adults would add beer and wine in decanters.
Probably Gallo, maybe Almadine if you wanted
to show off
The Trip to Jefferson Meadows
The trip was suppose to be a
father and son excursion. But,
Kit Stafford would have none of
that. She persisted, and she kept
of the same pace as the boys.
The professors brought books as
well as chocolate.
These trips had a lasting effect
on the children. Bret worked for
Forestry agencies. Kit moved to
Sisters to be in the high desert
landscape. And Steve became
lifelong environmentalist. And
Kim became celebrated poet of
There was no REI or other
high end camping gear store
in Portland when we went to
Mt. Jefferson. There was
Andy and Bax army surplus
store. In my case I also had
Boy Scout camping gear. A
canvas pack with straps that
left red marks on my
shoulders. The men carried
a canvas tent for themselves.
Bill made a bow for me from Native Yew. I was about
12 years old. I was speechless. I knew it was a
special gift. I fancied myself as part Indian at the
time. My father read me the Leatherstocking tales
late at night when we slept over night in his Thoreau
Hut. I took the bow to school one day for Show and
Tell. The school bully, Edward Bruen grabbed it from
me and pulled the bow string with the full extend of
his long and meaty arms and it snapped. he handed it
Trip to Jefferson Meadows Preparation
Imagine that, Bill Said. I knew
he Knew. He Knew I Knew
My family, and our family friends, often
went car camping. But, backpacking into
wilderness was rarer. The first
wilderness experience I remember was a
trip instigated by William Stafford, to
what was then called Jefferson Park, now
known as the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness.
It was going to be a father and son
experience, three fathers and their four sons, that is until Kit Stafford, a natural born
feminist at age 8, insisted that she go too.
To prepare for the trip we went to the REI of that period, Andy and Baxs army
surplus store. While the men picked out what we really needed I wandered the store
trying to figure out what I could buy with my two dollars. I
was obsessed with flashlights, a techno-fetish I inherited
from one of my uncles who always had the biggest and
brightest ones. And there it was. A gigantic green flashlight
powered by a six volt battery. I just had to have it. But, it
was $4.95. Now keep in mind there were no bar codes. The
price was drawn on the lens with an easily erasable pen. I
realized that if I removed a part of the 4, it would became a
Heart beating I carried it to the cashier. Bill was
cashing out at the same time. What you got there, Steve? he said pulling it from my
hand and shinning it to the ceiling. What a beam! he exclaimed. And its under $2.
Isnt that good luck. The cashier rang it up and I was out to the door. Never mind that I
now had several pounds more to carry into the
It was a fairly arduous trek into the wilderness.
Backpacking equipment was primitive. I used a Boy
Scout pack whose straps scored my shoulders with red
marks, and boots that produced open sores.
But there were also magic moments along the way. The
water from cold springs in silver cups. And the
chocolate! To this day I always take a giant chocolate
Boy scout backpack from that
bar with me when backpacking. Bill was the chocolate custodian. At each stop for
water he would dole out two squares for each of us. And, he could never be talked
into three.
We set up camp in the wilderness park. Us boys had a camp site a few
hundred feet from the men and Kit. I could hardly wait for dark so I could use my
magic flashlight. I was able to shine it all the way to top of giant fir trees. At one
point Bill came over to our camp. So Steve, he said, let me see that flashlight. I
proudly handed it to him. He shined it to the top of a tree. Well Ill bet, he said,
in a secretive and unmistakably coded fashion, you could almost shine it all the
I have always been drawn to the Clackamas River (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Clackamas_River) watershed. My first recollection is standing in a meadow, between the town
of Sandy and Estacada, with my father, William Stafford, (http://www.williamstafford.org/) and
Kim Stafford. (http://legacy.lclark.edu/~krs/) We were there scouting land that we might buy
together. I was 10 years old. I had already heard the word commune although I doubt I
understood what it meant. My father had told me about Brook Farm, and he had built a small
shed in the woods in back of our house modeled on Thoreaus Waldon hut. My great
grandparents supplied flour to the Aurora Colony,( http://www.auroracolony.com/History.htm)
south of Portland in the 19th century. And my father and Stafford spoke both with high regard
and skepticism about Glen Caufield who had moved to Estacada to live off the grid and start
the Grundtvig (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikolaj_Frederik_Severin_Grundtvig )
(Danish Folk education) Free School. We sadly, never bought the land. A road not taken.
At about the same time that Glen was trying to live off the grid in Estacada, a splinter
group of teachers and students moved all the way from the Black Mountain School in North
Carolina. http://
For John Wallen, the community
was the curriculum, and in his group
dynamics course he tried to find better
ways of working together. He was
critical of what he saw as too great an
emphasis on the arts and felt that the
arts as they exited were too esoteric.
Eager to develop a more intimate
involvement with the local community,
he presented a community service plan
What is it about Estacada?
Oregon author Robin Cody, Steve Johnson and Millie
Kiggins, Estacada, summer 2011
through which, instead of teaching, he would have been a liaison between the college and the
surrounding area for projects related to class and local arts and crafts activities. The plan
was rejected, so Wallen and a group of students decided to pool their resources to form a
commune that would have an integral relationship with the surrounding community. He left
in February 1948 to find a location, and the following gummers several students joined him
near Estacada, Oregon. For several years they lived together as a farm cooperative and had a
woodworking shop. To create for the small logging community a sense of its history and
traditions, they started a timber jamboree with dances, logging skills, and a crafts exhibition.
When the group dissolved, many of the members moved to Portland (where several taught at
the Catlin Gable School) and remained a close community of friends.
In the mid-19070s my wife Cathy (see: http://www.oeconline.org/community/members/
larry-williams) and I bought land on Horse Heaven Ridge, high above the Clackamas, 4 miles
south of Estacada. We bought the land from one of the most splendid Millie Kiggins and her
father Grover Kiggins. The Kiggins are spread out over Estacada. Millie may have been the
first women to try out for a high school football team in Oregon. She also had an encounter
with Bigfoot (http://www.estacadanews.com/features/story.php?
And created a most beautiful garden(http://www.humanflowerproject.com/index.php/weblog/
comments/kinzy_faire_barber_meets_champagne_cork/) surrounding the house that Cathy
and I bought and lived in for several yearsa house that Millie told she lost in a poker game
to that damn Indian woman. Millie also by pure chance found and purchased the floor
milling equipment that used to be my Great Grandfather Swans at Champoeg.
But, you have to wonder what goes on at Estacada or what draws wonderful and
eccentric people there. People Like Robin Cody (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Cody)
whose novel RICOCHET RIVER is the best way to fully understand small town life in Oregon,
and Mike Houck, the godfather of the greenspaces movement in Portland, and MJ Cody, a
wonderful travel writer. http://www.powells.com/biblio/2-9780896585539-0
Ive never quite come up with a good explanation of what the draw is but one suspicion
End of the Journey
They thought
long and often
about death.
It has long been
my desire that
when my time
comes to die I
may be enabled
to sneak out of
the world.
Having pains--for Kenny
you ever have a pain and begin
to fear the worst? Agony hasn't come
but it will, it will. Already you're lonely--nobody
People stride by in their despicable
vigor, laughing. the fools!--
Can't they admire a hero?
Can't they be kind, a little?
You begin to plan: the doctor
will shake his head; you refuse
treatment. You disappear--
pretend a trip, and you wander,
weaker and weaker. Pain
distorts your face, and you travel
by night. At the last you hid,
crawling, forsaken, forgotten.
You have that drama, ever?
It runs through my mind, usually
when I cut myself shaving or feel
some twinge--mortality calling!
I've died that death often.
One of the on-going rivalries
between Kenny and Bill was who
was going to live longer. My father
chided Bill about his tee-toddler,
and protestant moderation mores.
He figured his living life with more
gusto, and drinking--but rarely
getting tipsy let alone drunk--
outdoor physical exercise, and
avoidance of stressful academic
obligations, would be a winning
formula. In the end they both died
at nearly the same age. My father
was a few days shy of 79 and Bill
was 5 months past his 79th.
They may have both ignored
bodily signs that they were near the
end. My father's was explicit. When
told he had prostrate cancer he fell
back on his Christen Science
upbringing and decided to ignore it.
He also swore my mother to secrecy
to not tell anyone else about the
prognosis. He created cover stories,
like telling me his doctor thought he
might have chronic fatigue
In a letter to Bill he
expresses this view of his body as
something he should be in control, "
after bouts with pain the past couple
years a suspicion that my body is a
traitor has grown to the extent that
I doubt that I never will have more
than a momentary or hourly trust of
it. I haven't reached the doctor yet.
My hangover from Christian science
makes drs. a resort only when I am
in good health or have more
compulsion from then that I did the last time. I didn't feel the
old heart twitter."
In 1983 my father had abdominal pain that doctors never
did figure out. After an evening together when my father
described the pain to the gathered core group, Bill sent him this
poem. The poem foresees their future; my father refusing
Retirement Speech

In courtesy at the end of a visit
one of the older Eskimos hints
time to part: "I feel rich enough."

now that my office hours have ended
light clings to a few books left
around on a table, and arrows of sun
read slowly across that floor.

A discard box has broken. Spineless volumes
craw from behind a door and beg.
I lift on and it flutters poems
yellow and brittle, gnawed by a rat.

Over this campus I place a bowl
that fits tight at the edge. As days
go by they will pump all the air
slowly away. later years, I will
be afraid to touch any of you people
as your fragile dust precariously balances
along your course, wherever it leads.

As a last effort to be oblique
and to leave you thinking, let me put it this way:
Now that I am going. I can't hurt you any more,
and of that I have always been afraid.
In letter, William Stafford to Kenny Johnson, 4/4/1978
Bill often commemorated the big events in
his friends lives. Even, he practiced far in
advance of the actual events. The
Retirement speech was written several
years before anyones actual retirement.
The Informal Will was written over 40
years before his death. He was the groups
speech writer,custodian of rituals,
secretary, and poet.
for Kenny, Bob, T.J. (edmonds) and all
such, who always knew....
The great, autistic to the low, pass us;
they go by elevated by a horse or
charmed into such a stance as moves
and pretends to bend. They bow, the great
bow to each other, and to God--something--
Someone--over our heads. In rooms
where they are, I look everywhere.
a ray strikes the wall or a dog trots in
and examines all the legs, even mine,
extend down equally far.

In the city, where almost everyone
is great, there is a space: I used to
be there. When they looked past me
I used think, "I'm gone." Now
One of Bills most famous poems, Traveling
Through the Dark, speaks to his role. The
group was likely Kenny and Bob Dusenbery.
Bill was teaching at Clatsop Community
Cottage, and my father and Bob went along
to keep him company. I thought hard for all
of us...
The car aimed ahead its lowered parking
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust
turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness
I thought hard for us allmy only swerving
then pushed her over the edge into the river.
dear Kenny
it is the last day--last class met, all students
toward home for spring break, and myself snug
in the office
beside your old one where we faced so many
spells of work
and hiding from work...
this building, its earlier shape, and in its
old place
was the scene of many an encounter,
adventure, pursuit of ideas.
john gross himself served in these walls. you
were the "promising
young man" John Gross promised me I'd meet
when I first came to L&C.
Odell, Ralph Allen, Helen Naundorf--all the
titans of our heroic age were around. I pause
to think about it.
Down the hall I can hear the secretary and few
teachers and students lurking around to end
the term. The sun is coming in my western
window. Books are piled around me. The
shades of Tony Ostroff still hover around this
room too.
I take some of my stuff and head for the car
and home. But I had to doff my hat your way
on this occasion, thinking of how you helped me
through the years of our finding our way into
and out of this strange activity of teaching. No
more giving grades now. No more to try to
agonizing bluff of having something worthy to
Let's rejoice that we made it. Think back now
and then.
And also think forward.
so long,
dear bill

you did exactly the right thing at
4 p.m. March 16th. Even the time was
right for it was the most normal time
for us to close our doors, to round off
each day. But this was not a normal
day for you.
You moved me with your words
much more than anything I can
remember reading in a long time.
when reading it I knew I held
something I was grateful for yet I
couldn't leave it for me alone. I read it
to Jean without an introduction, just
Its from Bill. When I got to the part
about the old building I looked up and
Jean was crying. I felt moisture
coming to my eyes as well and to
retrain it I had to shake my head.

letter, Kenny to Bill, march 24, 79
Decorum and Expression of Feelings
The Staffords, Johnson's and Staufers
camping at Motolius River (a most favorite
place for the group) sans kinds. bill and
Dorothy had a long decorous but destructive
argument." My father adds, marriage is like
being attached to an umbilical cord only
without the security of being in her womb.
Kenny Johnson Journal
It goes back to the theme that Lona Packard
described in the 1950s, not enough Dante.
(* other part of the quote). But then again,
imaging this exchange of poem and letter,
You did Exactly the Right Thing ad 4 p.m., March 16
Ive read this exchange several times and keep imagining my father rushing home to read the
letter from Bill, and only having to say, Its from Bill, for my mom to stop whatever she was
doing and listen.
In the end both Kenny and Bill did
crawl out into the forest to die. Maybe
not literally. Kenny died in his favorite
room in the Johnson family home, his
den. with a wall of hard bound books
to his left and a view of his beloved
Johnson creek on the other side. Just
above his head were the complete works
of Henry James and George Santayana.
One of the last things he relayed to me
was what he thought was a dream but
was actually a passage from Giants in
the Earth.
The last communication from Bill and
Dorothy (11/23/1990) to my dad, 2
months before he died, was about a
dream Bill had:
"last night I dreamed that I was waling
somewhere with a child, and we met
Kenny. I suddenly remembered I was
to meet a class; so I said, "Kenny would
you please go tell my class I wont be
able to come, for I have to take this
child home." Then I thought even better,
"hey, why don't you just go meet my class yourself.
Then there is a note with no date: "Kenny and Jean....we
stopped by to sing "Jacob's ladder but you were out on the
town." Jacobs Ladder along with Swing Low Sweet Chariot,
my father sang, out loud for anyone around, in baritone, when
he was happy on content.
Bill and Dorothy tried to make contact with my father when it
was clear he was immanently dying, but he refused to see
them. My mother told me they were hurt by this, but I suspect
they also understood. My father did not want their last
memory of him to be the withered person on a futon struggling
for breath.
Johnson family homestead
The Last Time
The last time Bill and Dorothy visited my family
place. It was probably summer, 1992. Also
present were the Luchts and Dusenberys,
Paulys. We were in front of the large brick stove.
the men were sitting on lawn chairs and the
women were arranging the meal. It was a
potluck with casseroles as always. Bill, watching
the women, said, "it must be hard for the women
to watch their men go down hill so quickly." I
looked at us, well more them then me (at least at
the time), and there was a stark contrast. The
men were hunched over with drink in hand. The
women were bustling about. ....Later he
commented, "you know you are old when doing
exercise is bad for you." it was so true. the men
seemed like they were checking out. the women
The Venerable Fireplace. This is where all
the casseroles were warmed or the burgers
and hot dogs cooked for 4th of July and
other picnics.The last time I saw Bill we
were sitting around it. He had helped
Kenny build it. That day in 1991 we found
his initials, along with my fathers, mine,
and Kim and Bret. In 2014 the initials
were gone.