Walkin’ Jim – Evangelist for Wilderness
Early days of Armed with Visions website was everpresent with Walkin’ Jim
Poems of a poet who has walked as far as John Muir:
Rock Dream, Bull River Woods, Bat Cave, and Joshua Tree.
I first met Walkin’ Jim Stoltz at an Earth First! Rendezvous. A very tall, lean, lanky man with incredible musical talent, I had never heard of him before. Then, Earth First! was a magnet with a vision that drew incredible musical and other talents to it.
Walkin’ Jim was exceptional in many ways. An accomplished guitarist and songwriter with a twinkle in his eye, he had a singing voice that was like no other’s — deep, raspy, colorful, it was quite unlike his speaking voice. It reminded me of the canyons he sang about; there was a quality of wildness in it, a quality of the wilderness itself.
Jim would go on these many mile hikes and hike for hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles across the U.S. — through canyons, over mountains, across prairies — following rivers, daring mountain passes, surviving heat and snow and encounters with large animals, and he took it all in — he took every bit of it in. Jim was a minstrel for wilderness, an evangelist, and his songs, filled with stories and sounds, reflect that, and continue to inspire us to this day.
“In his lifetime, he accomplished numerous long-distance treks including the complete lengths of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, an east-to-west cross-continent hike, the entire U.S. Continental Divide, trips from Yellowstone to the Yukon, and many others. In total, he hiked more than 28,000 miles of long-distance trips.” –Legacy.com
Jim hiked more in a year than I have in my lifetime, and went more places than I ever dreamed of. As he was hiking a trail somewhere, a song would come to him and he’d sit down under a tree or on a rock and write it down. Or maybe he’d be sitting in the tent he put up at the end of a long day, and amid the preparation for dinner and sleep, he’d pick up his guitar and strum a few chords and suddenly a new song would start to materialize in his head and in the air around him. The trees, birds, and little animals that live in rocks got quite a few free concerts from Jim!
Of course Walkin’ Jim wasn’t always out there somewhere walking. Like a latter-day John Muir he would return to home base now and then. John Muir we associate with Yosemite, but home base for Muir was in the Bay Area. It was there he wrote his books and articles that became so influential. Jim’s base was with his family in Montana. That’s where he returned to rest up, to organize his latest songs and poems and share them first with friends and relatives, and to replenish. It was also where the schedule for his many singing tours began, complete with slide show and many slides. Thanks to the magic of photography, he could show his audience he wasn’t just making it up.
An evangelist has to evangelize, and to do that you have to entertain. Even more than a John Muir, Jim was a latter-day kokopelli traveling America’s heartland, though with a guitar instead of a flute. I make this comparison because kokopelli always has a backpack, though it’s hard to tell from the drawings if he was as tall.
Jim was able to entertain because he was a superb storyteller. Humorous, he had the sort of voice that could keep you rapt in attention, just as you would be if you were hearing it at a campfire. Jim had the ability to turn a large concert hall into an intimate space, much like a campfire. The slides and the songs would transport you, and he’d always throw in an appeal to write a letter in support of some place or critter somewhere that needed help. That’s the evangelist side of the entertainer.
When we lost Jim we lost a powerful presence, a powerful voice for the wilderness, and I lost a good friend.
Date: May 5, 2014
Categories: Inspiring Voices