Hawkeye was one of the most colorful people whom I’ve ever known since the time of my first having met him as a toddler. It was because of his basic life’s position and sometimes unusual choices.
Indeed, his alternative selection to the norm as a way to move forward in life was impressive to me. He embodied the Quaker outlook to “live simply so that others can simply live.” In short he took less so that others could potentially have more.
He had a tendency to be resistant, reviling and repelled when facing the status quo, and for good reason. John Whitney Hawkinson (Hawkeye) came from a very wealthy family. His grandfather Amos Whitney co-founded the machine tool company Pratt and Whitney, presently a global aerospace manufacturer.
He also was related to the Vanderbilts and was sick of the excesses, all aimed at glorification and self-indulgence in his family, as well as other types of advantages that they and their “sort” could attain for themselves.
One of his over-the-top relatives is described here:
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (January 9, 1875 – April 18, 1942) was an American sculptor, art patron and collector, and founder in 1931 of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. She was a prominent social figure and hostess, who was born into the wealthy Vanderbilt family and married into the Whitney family.
Accordingly, he rejected his own background and those of others in similar, especially privileged positions, outside of his family, to serve themselves to ever get more wealth at the expense of others. He found their orientations unfathomably wrong and unacceptable.
This is the sort of vision that he faced in his Vanderbilt connection:
These are just two of many homes that his relatives owned at which just a few family members chose to reside from time to time.
His family members had many, many lavish, over-the-top estates, and their self-indulgence disgusted him. His family members were equally disgusted with him and suggested that he simply “go away” with a yearly stipend from his parent’s trust fund were he just to forever remove himself from the family’s presence.
He understood that the wealth that his family accrued was largely made off of the backs of laborers working for his parents’ consortium of businesses while the workers sometimes practically starved, including perhaps child laborers. So it was an arrangement that worked. He’d gladly walk away from such unethical travesty!
There was totally no sense of mutual affinity between him and the rest of his kin. Put another way, his suffering for the way that they lived was equally matched by their disdain and alarm caused by him as he was an outspoken advocate of alternatives that would less enrich them were they to be more compassionate towards workers, were to use less resources or were to change the entire rapacious financial system in place. (Fat chance of these choices ever happening even now unless there is a massive revolt amongst the conforming sheeple!)
Hawkeye was bright, adept and highly educated, as one could assume given his background and highly affluent position in society. His educational background and innate capabilities, based on on his genetics and learning combined, could be envious to many others.
Indeed, they, combined with his potential wealth, could have taken him anywhere almost that he choose, especially with almost endless lavish background money backing him as he pushed forward. Yet alas, he rejected. … He could have fit into the fold except for his contrary views and values.
So on account of his replete mechanical skills and understandings, he was wonderful to serve other purposes besides his family’s, which he’d outright thwarted. Indeed, he chose to help others!
For example, he repeatedly helped my family. He did so when the ancient pump failed from time to time on the Penfold (family enriched by the East Indian Tea Shipping Company) Estate, which my parents had turned into an international children’s camp. When called by phone, he’d come immediately and he knew exactly about what to do to continue to make sure that the water flowed through miles of pipelines to each of the child-friendly buildings as he fixed the elderly pump.
Put another way, he was a technical genius based on his proclivities and his education provided by his family (and an education to which very few have free access in the USA). So advantaged and using his skills to assist others!
Thank goodness for my family and their livelihood that he’d gained acumen as he had done so! … He saved us time and again with his knowledge and physical capabilities in mechanics of old water systems! (I’d watch him, totally dedicated to the task at hand, as he made corrections to the old giant water pump and feel wonderment about him as he made fixes!)
Sometimes I would, in the same pump-house, do the daily tests required by NY state’s health and sanitation division in relation to the pump’s activity, such as water turbidity levels, chlorine levels and other tests since the water was taken from the lake that ended up flowing through the camp. They were interesting tests to undertake, as was the whole Penfold estate that my parents bought.
Look, look and you’ll see a tiny bit of my vision:
“The camps of many of these families began as tent colonies, with separate units for … An Adirondack guideboat on Upper St. Regis Lake, St. Regis Mountain behind. … Edward Penfold, A. W. Durkee and Charles T. Barnes, of New York.
Great Camps – Wikipedia
The great camps of the Adirondack Mountains refers to the grandiose family compounds of cabins that were built in the latter half of the nineteenth century on …
Yet, let’s get back directly to Hawkeye: In his shunning action and refusal to follow his family’s pattern due to his utter angst over it, he took a strong opposite direction — not moderate — but thoroughly extreme. I guess that his hatred and the mutual rejection impelled him that way, rather than to be more temperate.
So he bought an Adirondack property, moved a cabin in place from another site and refused even heat, electricity, plumbing and water for it. He built barns and a shed for antique autos — one part of his past that he could not give up,
Gosh, were the cars gorgeous, especially when after tinkering with their motors (as he did with the Penfold pump), he got them going in prime condition again. (I listened to them purr. Wow!)
Now the fact is the Adirondack, NY, USA winters — sometimes at thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit/ 0 Celsius — are often way below this number more often than not throughout winter-times. So how did he survive in greatly sub-zero temperatures?
He wore many layers of clothes. He presumably used a pot-bellied stove to cook his food when he needed heat to prepare food or to melt snow to drink. Otherwise it was not used. So he chose to accept the intense cold.
This was just one of many ways that he chose to accept and be a part of the natural world around himself. Being that way caused him to feel intensely alive and in connection to his surroundings! So there was a oneness therein formed!
He, also, without indoor plumbing, used shoe boxes in winter, which he’d collect from a shoe store in Saranac Lake, into which to make bowel movements and tie all of the boxes together to dispose of them at the local dump in the spring. (This aspect of his existence amazed and amused my parents!)
Hawkeye was truly — ah-hem — rustic in the extreme. He refused conformity if it meant compromising or rejecting some aspect of the natural world and he thwarted any deviation from the standard that he envisioned from his own perspective to necessarily live in a purposefully curtailed way.
“Hawkeye’s home off of state Route 86 in Harrietstown was primitive, with no running water, little insulation and, until the last few years, no electricity. (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)” – From A story in cars: Hawkeye’s barns held treasures – Adirondack Daily …
He also liked to wander and would occasionally get drunk. So from time to time one of the locals ( in a small population of the region) would find him near his home in a ditch by the side of the road while totally happy and lying down facing upward while singing to the moon at nighttime and staring at the whitish orb. Then the neighbor would encourage him into his neighbor’s car, bring Hawkeye home and tuck him into bed. (We have to take care of each other despite the reason that causes the need for help!)
All in all, he had a pretty happy life, it seems, despite that he was eccentric and had fully spurned all that could have been given to him as a Whitney. Indeed, he liked the invigoration and sense of feeling fully engaged as he met the raw elements of each Adirondack season and as he carried about his life in a fashion that tightly related to, fully embraced, the Adirondacks around him.
Every time that I came across him, even as a little girl, I intensely scrutinized him — his every movement and intention in details as I watched his impacts upon whatever he was doing. He was worthwhile from which to learn. He was some sort of apex for me as a young girl. He made me feel whole and intensely alive regardless of whatever he was doing.
The last time that I ran into him was around thirty years ago. I recognized him at a local small gas station in the Adirondacks and ran up to him breathless since I hadn’t seen him since as a child. So I said, “I know who you are. You’re Hawkeye and I respect you.”
Then I lunged at him and gave him a little hug. He almost recoils since he was not use to human touch of any sort and didn’t know me since I was no longer a child, whom he’d have recognized.
Then we talked a bit about my parents, the old Penfold pump, his life and a bit more. The discussion enriched us both and I left the gas station happy that I had helped him feel good about the way that he provided a good example to me about the way to fully live and to my parents as he fixed the pump. I was especially happy to impress upon him that he’d showed an example about a good way to live. Oh, elation!
The remembrance of Hawkeye reassures me, gives a respite as I envision the future past my own time on Earth. He shows that we can live in dire circumstances (without heat, running water and electricity) and survive, and even in hard, almost insurmountable, bitterly raw winter conditions.
I imagine that many of us will face conditions like his when the human population pops up to 11 to 15.8 billion at the end of the century, What a scene while fossil fuels have run out almost in entirety and alternative energy sources cannot take up the brunt for such a staggeringly large number of people!
Hawkeye also reminds me that we must avoid the allurement of lots of fancy-smancy objects, including the latest fashions and gadgets, in our lifestyle choices. We simply cannot keep shopping to smithereens and traveling to smithereens when doing so cuts the natural world further to shreds and creates ever greater climate change impacts by each of us individually as we destroy the surrounding eco-system for both economic and personal advantages.
I am not responsible for others’ choices and can’t control their behaviors. However, I can look to someone like Hawkeye, although I would not be as extreme as he, if it could be avoided, in cutting back on my usage of resources derived almost entirely from the natural world.
When I go to a shopping mall or consider travel — even by car — I resist the temptation and impulse to buy this and that despite that the economy feeds on my purchases and complicity in accepting the status quo. Like Hawkeye, I resist the expectations of those around me. No other reasonable way forward exists, hey?
If we are to protect the natural world on which we all depend, we must shrink, not grow, the economy. We must also curtail and not grow human population. We must resist purchases and travel. It’s that simple.
Hawkeye understood these orientations well. He also was a good teacher through his role model as I watched him time and again as he tried to serve others!
I write of him because he reminds me that we can reject the patterns inculcated by mainstream economics, a potential thrust of drooling over the prospects for personal wealth and curtail our wants of ever more manufactured objects in our lives. He rejected the fascination with buying new, greater and better items. He rejected foregoing the natural world in exchange for self-serving presumed betterment. He chose to live in a way that supports the world around himself rather than just himself and his family getting as much as they, personally, can obtain for themselves.
We can all replicate this pattern that he exemplified if we have the nerve to pull away from the same lavish destruction and lavishness that repelled him. Can we at least try to follow his direction?
Hawkeye, now dead. would have been very distressed by this occurrence:
https://www.theguardian.com › Business › Rich lists
Jan 15, 2017 – World’s eight richest people have same wealth as poorest 50% … the vast majority of people in the bottom half of the world’s population were facing a … fit in a single golf buggy own more than the poorest half of humanity.
Even if not as extreme as Hawkeve in his humble lifestyle choices, let’s at least loosely copy his pattern. He represents the best way forward as humanity cuts away the natural world on which we depend to stay alive for our, instead, supporting economic and self-indulgent furtherance. Let’s try to even slightly and basically emulate Hawkeye as he shunned wealth and tried to live a simple unadorned life!
He’s now dead, but continues through me. Let him be through you! Be a Hawkeye, too!
Sally Dugman is a writer in MA, USA.