Peter Nelson

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Peter Nelson 1(Best read while listening to Gogi Grant’s timeless classic song, “The Wayward Wind”.)

In 1965, I graduated from the University of Kansas with a fairly useless degree, and the U. S. Army was threatening to draft me, so I beetled back to university to enroll again and get that very popular student deferment.  That summer, my girlfriend invited me down to her father’s private cottage on a secluded island in the western Bahamas.  Skin diving, great music, fresh fish for supper, a secluded moonlit tropical beach alone with Diane every night — I could get used to this!  But the Army decided I was having way too much fun and sent me off, not to Vietnam, luckily, but to Alaska, delightfully.  Up there, I learned mountain climbing, sport parachuting, and how to type 55 correct words per minute.  I decided this was more fun than watching TV at my mother’s house back in dear old Bethel, Kansas, so after leaving Alaska, I went to Europe for 6 months.  The highlight of that trip was living on the beaches of various Greek islands, surviving on tomatoes, watermelon, warm milk, and the even warmer generosity of the rather perplexed locals.

By now, the travel bug’s powerful venom was coursing merrily through my veins, so, after a quick stop back in Kansas where I found that television programming had not improved noticeably, I went back to Alaska, where I delivered furniture and shoveled gravel before settling down as a geophysical prospector.  (Sounds more impressive than it was.)  Basically, I put on about 16 layers of clothing and walked along placing these small radio devices in the snow and then stepping on them with my insulated boot.  This was wintertime on the North Slope, so it was always dark, always windy, and so cold that when I got back to the meal trailer at the end of the day, my beard was frozen to the zipper of my parka, and I had to watch everybody else enjoying a lovely meal, while I waited to melt!  The work was pretty boring, the “accommodations” were a bit snug, but the pay was colossal!  After 4 months in the cold and dark, it was 4 years before I had to work again.

After another stop in Kansas to say hello and goodbye to some friends, I went down to Mexico, Central America, and South America for about two years.  Many highlights of that voyage, but the biggest was traveling alone through the Amazon jungle from Venezuela into Brazil via Pepsi barge, dugout canoe, army supply plane — whatever vehicle I could talk myself onto.  That took about 4 months.  Then 3 months living in Rio de Janeiro with the friend of a friend I’d met coming down the Amazon.  We lived just up the street from Copacabana Beach.  (Maybe THAT was the biggest highlight.  Look at some photos of Rio, and you’ll see what I mean.)  Then a few months living on a sheep ranch in dusty southern Argentina.  The sheep were free-ranging in the back country hills, and we had to check them on horseback, so — WAHOO, buckeroos! — I was like John Wayne for 3 months.  Maybe THAT was the biggest highlight.

Back in Kansas, Ed Sullivan was still droning on in his relentless monotone, so I hitched out to San Francisco and bought a ticket to Australia that gave me unlimited stops along the way.  Took me a year to get there.  In the South Pacific, I hit every island on our flight path, and met my future wife along the way.  In southern New Zealand, I worked on another sheep ranch in very spectacular country.  These babies were HIGH!  I took a Land Rover up as high as I could go, until the track died.  Then I hiked higher.  The views up in those mountains were just stunning.  I couldn’t believe I was getting PAID to do this!  (What I wouldn’t give for a chance to go back there with a digital camera.  Some of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy was filmed there.)  Then off to Australia where I worked in a paper mill, then down to Tasmania, where we picked apples.  Then I got a job at the University of Tasmania library.  Next, we went up to central Oz — Alice Springs and Uluru (formerly Ayer’s Rock) — before heading to Perth, Western Australia, where I worked a college library.

After a couple of years, we left Perth for southeast Asia — Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Japan.  Spent 6 months tooling around the mysterious East before touching ground in Alaska again.  Worked at the university library in Fairbanks, while we lived in a cabin with no running water.  Then Elaine’s parents told us they had just inherited a farm in eastern Ontario.  Did we want it?  Well, yes, we did.  We moved in, got married, had two wonderful kids.  I got my first real job at the Almonte Public Library at the age of 44.  (Imagine what that means for your retirement pension!)  The kids grew up, left home, and now we sit back, huddled close to our cosy wood stove and looking at the photos of our 12 years of travels.