Talk about living off the grid. About 25 years ago, Mick Dodge shed his shoes, grew his beard, and left modern civilization (and a family) to live alone in the Pacific Northwest’s Hoh rain forest. But he’s not a total isolationist; he’s dialed into a community of mountain dwellers and agreed (although it took convincing) to be the subject of National Geographic Channel’s series “The Legend of Mick Dodge,” which premieres with two consecutive episodes on Jan. 7.
In the first episode, Dodge’s mission is to scatter his late father’s ashes up in the mountains — if he can recall where he stashed them. “My family has perfected the art of dodging civilizations for hundreds of years. All I have to do is follow my feet,” says the backwoods philosopher. He’s a memorably quirky character with a unique take on life, as this interview illuminates.
MNN: What was your life like before you moved to the woods? Did you have a job? Did you get an education?Mick Dodge: Yes, as a heavy equipment mechanic. I have also dug ditches, chopped wood, washed dishes, and taught the Earth Gym practices. I graduated Kubasaki High School in Okinawa, Japan. Never been to college, but like to read books. If the book makes sense and has value for the earth, I plant a tree and share the book. If the book does not make sense, I plant a tree for it and use it as [toilet] paper or fire starter. My life was about the same as it is now, learning the ways to walk and explore physical exercise and how to create a physical practice that finds the middle ground between the wild and tame, between the gated wild and the walls of modern domestication. However, I must add that I have no feet pain, back pain and my heart is strong [since] I became a barefoot nomad.
What prompted you to go to the forest in the first place?
My feet hurt. I had hammertoes, plantar fasciitis, deformed feet. They hurt so bad that I could barely walk and I had always used my walk and run to handle the stress of modern living, make sense of the modern world story that I was living in, and the Hoh is home for me. So I went home to heal my feet.
In following my feet I found myself stepping out of the insulation of the modern world and landing in the earth. The results came quickly. Not only were my feet healing, but my back pain, neck pain and most of all my heart pain disappeared, and in no time at all I was back into a dead run, stepping out of the sedentary, stressed, sedated and secured living of the modern world. I was muscling my mind into the heart of the matter. I was dancing as the fire, running as the wind, strengthening as the stone and flowing as the water within, by the simple act of touching with my bare soles and allowing the Earth to teach. It is a simple matter to follow your feet, but is does not come easy. The Earth will eat you if you are not paying attention.
Is there anything you miss about modern civilization?
I don’t miss it. There is no way to get away from it. So I developed a physical fitness practice in how to step in and out of it, stepping out of the walls, machines, electronics, social babble for awhile, ground back into the natural flow of the land, and then go back in.
Going barefoot, did you ever injure your feet?
On one of my long running quests in my bare soles into the highlands of the Olympics, I was taught a lesson by the mountain. It was early winter. The snows came and I almost lost my toes. I had no footwear with me. It was a 30-mile walk out. So I cut up my moose hide jacket and had to make a set of mukluks to protect my feet. It was then that I realized that … I better shift my attitude and vow about bare footing. It was a powerful teaching. I learned the meaning and wisdom of the old saying of my elders. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”
How difficult are the winters for you, with diminished resources?
It is not difficult at all. It is an adventure and I have never had to deal with diminished food sources. I just follow my feet. There is not much that I do not eat. I am an omnivore, able to eat a wide variety of food, which also means that I learned how to become a scavenger and allowed the hunger in my belly to guide me into discovering all kinds of food. For example, I would come upon an elk killed by a cougar. When a cougar kills an elk, the entire forest moves in to eat. So I do the same. I often come upon road kill. Many people are scared of such food and yet they eat jerky … and jerky is nothing more than sun-dried meat. So what I eat during a normal week changes depending upon which one of the three terrains that I am footing my way through. But there is one highly spiritual food that I try to maintain in my stashes and storage places and that is chocolate-chip cookies. My grandmothers got me hooked on them.
Have you had any close call animal encounters?
I was footing my way along the road headed for my home camp, when some idiot talking on a cellphone, doing at least 80 miles per hour, almost hit a deer and then me. The most dangerous encounters that I have ever had in the gated wild, walls of the city and in the open fenced lands are with two footed creatures.
What do you do if you get sick? Have you ever had an emergency situation?
Fire is one of the elements of the forest that I have learned to develop a relationship to use in healing. Another key element in healing is water. After all, we are all walking sacks of water. I found during those times when I had been around people from the city, I would catch some kind of cold or flu. I would enter back into the Hoh and drink the water and soak my entire body in the glacial water. My grandfather called it “kissing the foot of the glacier.” There are all kinds of mushrooms, herbs, etc. to be used for healing, and I keep a close relationship with those in the Earth communities that master the healing and herbal arts, such as my friend Doc Gare, who is introduced in the series.
Does this lifestyle give you a heightened appreciation of Mother Nature?
Appreciation is such a weak word to express what I feel for the Earth and the transitions that I have gone through and am still going through. Hell, I am just getting started. One of the ways that was taught to me on one of my long gated wild quests was to break free of the polarization of the modern world. People always trying to put you in box. By getting some distance from the comforts, habits, physical structures like shoes, machines, walls, electronics, I find myself seeking out what makes sense, what fits, and integration of the wild and tame make sense. So l learned to hunt and track the middle path, the middle way. It is not easy at times figuring out the middle way between the modern world and the Earth. But it is fun and adventure.