Wednesday, December 24, 2008


This summer I read Planetwalker by John Francis, Ph.D.

It's an autobiographical tale of of a black American who was living near Tomales Bay when two Standard Oil oil tankers collided at night on the San Francisco Bay. January 17, 1971.

John was deeply troubled by the damage caused by the oil spill.

After struggling briefly with his feelings, he decided that he could change the world by refusing to use motorized transportation. His shoes would replace his car. His renunciation was complete: John decided that he would not even accept a ride when it was offered by passing motorists.

His decision angered some people who felt that walking was a form of self-righteous one-upsmanship. He got into arguments he never wanted to have.

And so, John Francis decided to renounce talking as well.

For the next 17 years he maintained a vow of silence. (He broke silence just once, on his birthday to tell his parents over the phone that he loved them.) He renounced motorized transportation for 22 years.

Silent and walking only, he returned to college and got a Master's Degree and a Doctorate in Environmental Studies. He worked in Washington D.C. for the Coast Guard to develop regulations to prevent oil spills.

John's a hero in my book. I got a signed copy. And other copy to loan to friends.

His book is illustrated with watercolors and drawings he did while walking the planet.
It also features haiku poetry. Talented guy.
And, oh, he plays the banjo, too!

There's a TED video featuring a 20-minute talk (he talks and uses motorized transportation these days) by John.

You can see it here: John Francis video.

He's got a website, too,


Anonymous said...

Never heard of him. His story is so inspiring. How did you learn of him?
Have you met him?

Dan Gurney, Mr. Kindergarten said...

I hope to meet John someday. He lives nearby.

How I first learned of John Francis is one of those small world stories.

Last spring, my son, Ted’s, Santa Barbara roommate, Mitch, ran into a high school buddy in the Isla Vista health food store. The buddy needed a place to spend the night: he was on a pilgrimage from San Diego to Arcata, about 500? miles, by foot. He had a few books with him, two guidebooks to the California Coastal Trail co-written by my friend, Richard Nichols, and Planetwalker. John Francis was his inspiration to take the pilgrimage. Ted ended up buying the book and I passed it along to me.

Reading it had a strong effect on me. I found myself talking a lot less. And listening more.

Anonymous said...

He stayed for a couple of days on an old ranch I lived at in the 70's. I remember a hauntingly beautiful strain of "Old Joe Clark" in the distance from across the creek. Picked him up hitchhiking the next day. He had a saintly air in his silence..