Local Lifestyle

Thursday, Dec 27 2012 09:31 PM

Nothing like a philosopher to soothe the soul

By The Bakersfield Californian

A couple of weeks ago, an old college friend emailed saying that he would be passing through Bakersfield on his way to Berkeley where he would help his daughter settle in. Could he stop by?

Alan Wright. How long had it been? I graduated from college in 1976. It had been at least 35 years since we had seen each other.

Alan was a philosopher, a reflective sort and a gentle soul from the South. After graduating from college in Philadelphia, Alan had opened a used bookstore in Philadelphia called the Wooden Nickel. We'd been to his wedding outside of Nashville.

That's what philosophers did in the '70s. Open used bookstores and get married on farms outside of Nashville. His wife, Paula Kline, may have had farm flowers in her hair.

We may have camped. There may have been mud. They may have written their own vows.

Which is to say when Alan knocked on our front door, besides the hat covering head, but not hair, he was the same. It was as if he had walked out of the bookstore, turned the sign around to signify he was closed and then come over for dinner.

He had become a Quaker. His wife too. Their two children went to Quaker schools.

Quaker, I liked the sound of that. It made me think of a highly nutritional breakfast, quaint three-corner hats and hand-crafted furniture, although I think that's the Amish.

Alan and Paula spent years working with the poor people in Leon, Nicaragua. Now he ran a nonprofit and had an eco village in Mexico.

Alan was probably early-on in the sustainability thing. He's like a Quaker version of Forrest Gump. If Alan didn't invent sustainability, he shoveled dirt next to the guy who did.

The evening was delightful. Alan asked questions and waited for our answers. He listened. He was funny but not in a staccato fast way.

He stayed the night. Not wanting to leave a big footprint, he slept on top of the bed in his sleeping bag. He may have air-dried himself after his shower rather than use a towel.

A couple of days later, he wrote this note:

"Dear Sue (and Herb),

"What a gift it was to spend that lovely evening with you, and to experience your lives and the solid foundation of a marriage which has matured over 33 years.

"Thank you Sue, for making the arrangements at Chez Panisse. When my feet finally touched ground here in Napa and we analyzed the timing of Nora's train arriving in Oakland, I realized it was not rightly aligned to dine, much as I would have loved the opportunity.

"So I released my reservation. It seemed like the right thing to not hurry, be stressed, and be late, or miss altogether.

"Much love to you both.

"Alan."

Listen to the language. It's designed to lower your blood pressure, soothe and charm.

Yesterday, I Googled Alan Wright and Paula Kline. Alan had been so softspoken during dinner about what he and Paula had been doing that I suspected there was more.

"More" included the ongoing project in Nicaragua, that has helped people set up businesses, educate their children, produce art and build houses.

Their organization has shipped a thousand bicycles to health workers and teachers, making it easier, and possible, for them to get to their jobs since few have cars.

"More" included the 756-acre farm and land trust in Veracruz, Mexico, which is in one of the last cloud forests in Mexico. Alan and Paula work with locals in their eco village, as well as teach American students about sustainable agriculture, reforestation and how to build with earth and bamboo.

The students sleep in one room, the showers are solar and wood-powered and the eco village has state-of-the-art composting toilets. That rules out visits from many of the women I know.

"More" included Alan and Paula being past recipients of the Gandhi Peace Award. Alan never mentioned it. He was too busy asking questions and waiting patiently for the answers.

These are the opinions of Herb Benham and not necessarily The Californian's.

Email: hbenham@bakersfield.com.

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