Camp Timberlake, Prairie Dolls, and Other Profiles

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Ken Webb, founder of Camp Timberlake, addresses a group of young boys.
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A selection of prairie dolls made by Buzzy Sisco.
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Dr. Neil Kellman at his backwoods clinic in Lewis County, TN.
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Paula and Ross Simmons with one of their wool-producing black sheep.
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Ric Moorhouse at his forge.

In celebration of little-known MOTHER EARTH NEWS-type folks from all over.


Ken Webb: Founder of Camp Timberlake 

In 1940 Ken Webb found himself totally disenchanted with
the existing system of education in Vermont. He’d been
teaching school and working in summer camps for a number of
years and was convinced there was a better way of
dealing with youngsters than to dress them in uniforms,
feed them unhealthy foods, and teach them to compete
against each other for the sake of a ribbon or an empty
title.

Ken had the idea that children would benefit more
from a noncompetitive environment where they could grow
their own food in organic gardens, build their own
shelters, make their own music, and invent their own
amusements. So he moved to Vermont’s Plymouth Valley with
a little money, a lot of energy, and a small group of boys and transformed his Quaker-inspired dream into a
reality: a boys’ camp called Timberlake.

At first the local folks thought Ken mighty strange when he
openly recruited campers from minority groups (years before
the civil rights movement). And campers’ parents were a bit
uneasy about the nonconformist Timberlake diet: The
youngsters grew much of what they consumed and did not eat
the traditional “meat with every meal.” But Webb persisted
and Timberlake grew … and soon Ken and his wife Susan had
established a girls’ camp–called Indian
Brook–as well.

Soon after, two Indian culture camps developed where
youngsters studied the American Indian way of life and
respect for the earth. Then, a fifth Webb venture resulted
in a boys’ hiking camp with down-to-earth ecology and
conservation programs. And, finally, Ken set out to
organize a series of environmentally oriented activities
for older teens as well as some special programs for
college-aged folks.

Today–thirty-eight years and six camps
later–Ken Webb serves as elder/adviser to the Farm
Wilderness Foundation (now called Farm and Wilderness), which oversees the operation of
his camps’ programs and the administration of camp-owned
grounds. He spends much of his time writing, gardening, and
canoeing over the lake where three of his camps are now
located. Most often Ken visits Timberlake, where it all
began and tells tales to each new group of youngsters
that the summer months bring.

Webb calls himself an “incorrigible idealist”: “My hopes
for the future spring from the young,” he says. And it is
for the young that Ken Webb has invested so much of his
life and shared so fully his love of the
earth.–Tom Mcguire.

Buzzy Sisco: Making Prairie Dolls 

Fifty-year-old Buzzy Sisco has been totally disabled
since early childhood, the victim of a series
of crippling diseases. As a result of Buzzy’s bouts with
spinal meningitis, encephalitis, erysipelas, and cerebral
palsy, he cannot read, write, or speak coherently … but
Buzzy can create!

Buzzy Sisco–with the help of his two
sisters–makes a living sewing cotton dolls fashioned from a pre-Civil War family pattern, handed down
from generation to generation. Buzzy crafts his dolls just
as they were made in the days of the covered wagon: Each
toy is made complete except for the stuffing, which is
left up to the child as a lesson in resourcefulness and
responsibility. The dolls encourage neatness as well,
because each toy has a four-pocketed apron to hold and
organize its young owner’s coveted trinkets and treasures.

These handmade (no two are exactly alike) dolls are
available in two styles: a girl doll, Gert, and a boy doll,
Bert. Gert boasts pigtails, a ruffled apron, and an
old-time duster hat. Bert features tousled hair, a
cobbler’s cap, and shoes which peek out from his plain
cobbler’s apron. Each toy is crafted from brightly colored
cotton, burlap, and felt. All parts safe for even
the youngest child. And–somehow–the prairie
dolls’ ingenious makeup manages to cross every barrier of
race and nationality so that each doll is
representative of the people of all the world.

Buzzy sells his 10-inch tall homemade playthings for $5.99
each and 12-inch dolls for $6.99 (all orders are
postpaid). And a handcrafted, miniature, felt horse
blanket–which can be used as a bookmark or desk/table
ornament–is included as a bonus with every two dolls
purchased.

Buzzy’s dream is to live on a tract of land that is truly
close to nature, complete with garden church, bird
sanctuary, animal preserve, and abundant vegetation: a
homestead to house and be tended by the physically and
mentally handicapped. And– with the profits from the
dolls that Buzzy makes and sells– the Sisco family
hopes someday to turn that dream into a reality!
–Bertha M. and Samuelion O. Sisco.

Ross and Paula Simmons: Woolcrafters 

For nearly three decades now, Ross and Paula Simmons have
been literally “weaving the tapestry of their life” against
the background of their small farm homestead on the Kitsap
Peninsula of western Washington. As full-time craftspeople,
Paula and Ross tend an unorthodox flock of black-fleeced
sheep which yield the product that the two spin and
weave by hand into high-quality clothing and artistic
afghans.

When the Simmonses first “dropped out” of mainstream
society–shortly after World War II–their
chances for success appeared pretty slim. “We desperately
wanted to get back to a simpler way of life,” says Paula.
“But, like most people, we didn’t know that making life
simpler is not quite as easy as it sounds.” At first the
two were only part-time back-to-the-landers: The tiny
five-acre homestead they’d bought with their accumulated
savings boasted only a few chickens, some rabbits
(invariably set free at butchering time), and a meager
vegetable garden. So, every day, the pair commuted by ferry
to outside jobs in nearby Seattle.

“We certainly made a lot of mistakes in our time,” Paula
laughs good-naturedly, “but we learned a lot by doing,
and–fortunately–we found that some good
eventually comes of everything.” A case in point was the
Simmonses’ single wandering homestead goat, which the
couple tried in vain to keep from “browsing” through the
hedgerows. Ross and Paula’s lack of success with the beast
prompted them to replace the animal with more docile
black sheep. At the sheep’s first shearing, the
couple’s down-home thrift compelled them to put the wool to
good use.

“When you’re living at a subsistence level,” Paula
explains, “even your hobbies have to pay for themselves.” So the two eagerly read everything (though there wasn’t
much) that was then available on hand-spinning and -weaving. Ross then built a lap loom which Paula used
to turn out a dark-wool scarf. They sold the scarf and used the money to buy a larger loom. Ross and Paula
were so attracted by the beauty of the dark material they’d
woven from black sheep wool that they proceeded to buy two old black ewes, which
later lambed. The couple then built up the flock,
learned the ins and outs of marketing crafts, and
finally entered the weaving business full time.

Today, Paula has two successful books on sheep raising and
woolcraft to her credit: Raising Sheep the Modern Way and
Spinning and Weaving With Wool. [Available from any good
bookstore for $5.95 and $9.96 respectively]
Paula’s spinning and weaving workshops have
also become popular, as have the dark-wool afghans, hats,
vests, and sheepherder’s jackets that she and Ross weave.
But–despite the great demand for the couple’s woven
products–the two still faithfully devote all the time
and attention that’s necessary for creating each and every
piece.

Ross and Paula view their life’s work together somewhat
philosophically: “The ‘good life’,” they say, “means doing
whatever it is that you really want to do.” And it’s
apparent to all who know them that Ross and Paula Simmons
have been doing just that! –Forest Rambo.

Neil J. Kellman: Alternative M.D. 

What’s a nice New York doctor like Neil J. Kellman doing in
a backwoods location like Lewis County, Tennessee? It
started when Neil received his M.D. from Albany Medical
College and was invited to set up practice in Lewis
County’s local hospital. Neil discovered, however, that
acceptance of that position would require him to join the
AMA and maintain malpractice insurance. He opted,
instead, to create a county clinic and maternity center of
his own.

The clinic began (and remains) in an old remodeled
farmhouse, but was soon equipped with examining quarters
and two maternity rooms designed for home-like delivery.
And, in the first five months of the clinic’s operation,
the center’s midwives–assisted, when needed, by Dr.
Kaltman–delivered a total of 70 babies. (In addition
to day-to-day treatment and diagnosis, Dr. Neil trains
midwives and lay medical students to help him with his
workload.)

Neil Kellman habitually treats health problems in the most
natural way possible using herbs, acupuncture, and
other such techniques in an effort to keep shots, surgery,
and drug-oriented treatment to a minimum. (He strongly
believes that acupuncture is a much more effective healing
medium than many conventional medical practices.)

Patient care for Dr. Kellman involves educating each
individual in the prevention of disease through proper
nutrition, exercise, and the development of a positive
state of mind. Neil also conducts field trips into the
nearby countryside for people who wish to learn to identify
herbs for both food and healing purposes. And–in a
recent talk at the local Senior Citizens Nutrition
Center–the doctor awakened his audience to the
potential health hazards of highly processed, overcooked,
and inappropriate foods, Neil Kellman is a nonconformist
when it comes to matters of finance, too: His fees are a
reflection of what each patient can afford. And–since
so many elderly folks in the area are caught in the squeeze
between fixed incomes and the inflationary
spiral–senior citizens are treated on a donation-only
basis.

What, then, do the folks of Lewis County, Tennessee think
of their resident alternative to the medical establishment?
The community consensus is clear: “Dr. Neil is a gentle man
and a kindred spirit with a sheepskin to satisfy the
public, ” the folks say. “And here in the heart of middle
Tennessee we count him as one of our blessings!
“–Joy Costa.

Ric Moorhouse: Blacksmith

There were a lot of exhibits crammed into the New Orleans,
Louisiana Heritage Festival two years ago last April: food,
handicrafts, and sometimes even music. But Ric
Moorhouse stood out as perhaps the most serious of the
exhibitors, for he was displaying the products of a notion
that had led him to a “better way of life” … from the
promise of a successful business law career to the life of
a blacksmith.

At the age of 25, Ric held a B.S. degree in business
administration from Southern Methodist University in
Dallas, Texas and was studying business law at
Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. And then one
day–as he leafed through a craft book given him by a
friend–the name of the Turley Forge Blacksmithing School in Santa
Fe, New Mexico suddenly caught his eye. “The idea just
knocked me over,” says Ric. But it took him a year in line
on the waiting list–from 1974 to 1975–before
he was even admitted to the six-week program.

Ric did complete the course, though, and–with the
basics of the subject under his belt–settled down near
Arnaudville, Louisiana in a house with a small abandoned
blacksmith shop. Then he set up business with the best
tools available: century-old pieces (two anvils, a
pair of hand-forged tongs, a handcranked air blower,
and a leg vise) obtained from craftsmen of yore who’d
retired or passed on. (Ric’s large, steel-faced
anvil–for example–belonged to a blacksmith who
retired back in 1927.)

Ric feels fortunate to have two old-time blacksmiths in
nearby communities, men who see their skill as a vanishing
art and are glad to help Ric master the trade so he can serve the everyday blacksmithing needs of the surrounding
farming community.

People still ask Ric what prompted his drastic change from
business law to blacksmithing, and he always answers
frankly. “I’m not at ease in the cold of ten-story, steel,
brick, and concrete structures,” says Ric. “I can relate
much better to the soil and to the people who till it. And,” he adds, scooping up a handful of dirt from the sod
floor of his blacksmith shop, “I don’t mind getting my
hands dirty.” Press Ric further for a reason for his change
of lifestyles and he’ll explain: “It’s simply the way the
pendulum swung. It all began as just a notion, but it
developed into a way of life better than I’d ever planned
for.” –D. J. Young.