This is part 1 of the first in our "At a Glance" series of interviews with members of Chatwin's creative community, by Ariel Herman. Photos by Candace Doyal.
The Expansive Spirit of Ron Ellison, Part 1
I can feel it.
My bones are humming
vibrating to a deeper resonance
the kind that makes dogs bark before an earthquake.
The kind that interprets a whale's five-hundred mile
Excerpt from "Alchemy" by Ron Ellison
Ron Ellison's easy smile might distract you from the scars on his face. He is an unassuming, kind old man, with a lived-in body worn out by hard work and harder living. His face is like a road atlas of wrinkles, through a stony landscape eroded by old memories. The scars are a typography that precede words. With Ron, as with life, there is always a story beneath the surface. His scars are a kind of braille, telling stories of a harsh, exciting, and sometimes violent life.
Though he grew out of rocky ground, blue collar and broke, Ron’s beginnings were impoverished, but not simple.
Born outside of Arcata, California in 1951, Ron’s life was dirty and chaotic. There was a wrecked car in the driveway and starving horses in the field. His emotionally disturbed mother kept up to 50 miniature poodles in the trailer they lived in. They drew their water from a creek. Ron was given up to the state by his mother at age three. While she reclaimed him, that fractured bond never healed.
Physically trapped, he escaped that trailer full of rage, filth, and hopelessness through reading. He dove into James Bond, science fiction, and fantasy; embraced authors like Robert Howard and Robert Service's Yukon works. Without a father around, his cues for manhood came from the Lone Ranger, and later Louis L'Amour.
Ron eventually needed a more literal escape than books could offer, and left the trailer to live on the streets the next four years. A self-described ‘feral youth’, Ron didn’t exactly cultivate a friendly look, generally scaring the hell out of most people on first sight. Other street people nicknamed him “The Professor,” because of his love of fancy words and bottomless reading habits. He spent nights driving down Northern California logging roads drinking buckhorn beers, with a head full of acid.
It is ironic that for so long books were Ron’s way of escaping reality. Now writing is his way of remembering, and sharing these experiences with others. Rather than moving away from the source of his pain, Ron accelerates towards his damage, and reveals that devastation to himself in bullioned writing (yes, ‘bullioned’) -- never wasting a word. In this way, his poetry is seemingly carved into the granite walls of an inward landscape. We drop in with him, and become witness to what keeps him alive.
In our next installment, Ron searches to trade chaos for order… by joining the Army.