Noe Valley Voice July-August 2005

My Brother Was Eaten by a Bear

By Dan Halas

This is the summer of 2005. My brother, Bill, would be 55 years old if he were still alive--10 years my junior. About 25 years ago, he disappeared from his property in Vermont without a trace, and was never heard from again.

Bill had been looking for property on the East Coast or Canada for a long time. He finally settled on 40 acres of land in Vermont, mostly covered with maple and pine trees. He planned to sell maple syrup and Christmas trees. He had great hopes for the land--first a cabin, then in time a house. Someday we would all move up there for good--away from the hustle-and-bustle and pollution of the big city, in this case, Cleveland, Ohio, where our parents raised five children, Bill being the youngest.

Our age difference meant that Bill and I did not have much in common as we grew up. In my high school days, I was dating and had a crowd of friends and hardly had time to bother with a 5-year-old kid. But I made up for this lack of attention in our later years, and as we grew older we grew closer.

Bill had a number of interests that were out of the ordinary. He learned everything he could about the Great Pyramid in Giza, ley lines, and dowsing; also juggling and gardening.

Bill wanted to be completely independent, free from money, free from a job. He believed in and practiced his own theory of money: Spend it as soon as you can, and put it into something immediately because it's only going to lose value if you save it. He also thought money was to enjoy--he bought cigarettes for 25 cents more because he liked a certain store better than the gas station. He also made and designed looms and was an expert weaver.

He had a number of projects going that could be called cottage industries. He made hats from material he wove himself. He wove intricately designed belts and hand-carved belt buckles. And he made wooden, plastic, paper, and cement pyramids, which he sold at pyramid and dowsing conventions. He also developed his own dowsing rod, which he sold. Bill knew he was never going to be rich, but he was happy doing what he wanted.

He was also a fine still photographer and took pictures that supported his theories. For instance, he took pictures of places that could have been either natural or man-made, such as a mountainside that looked like the profile of a man. Bill claimed the Indians had made the monuments, but the Cleveland Natural History Museum, where he wanted to show his pictures, held they were accidents of nature. Bill also experimented with Kirlian photography (photographing the aura of an object), and he hand-colored his black-and-white portraits and still lifes like they did in the old days.

Bill was a voracious reader. He liked mail-order catalogs and sent off for books on pyramids, dowsing, ley lines, and weaving, plus books by such writers as Rudolf Steiner (who believed people came from spirits on the moon), Wilhelm Reich (inventor of the Orgone Box), Edgar Cayce (who prophesied that California was going to fall into the ocean), and P. D. Ouspensky (who postulated the fourth dimension).

We would sit for hours in the basement smoking cigarettes and pot (Bill loved both), discussing books and ideas and listening to Bob Dylan and Bob Marley and the Wailers. One summer, Bill planted marijuana in our backyard garden, and our mother raised and watered it without knowing what it was. She disapproved of our smoking. However, she never made a fuss about it.

Bill was also interested in life after death, flying saucers, numerology, and dinosaurs.

Every so often, Bill would receive a book in the mail that would hold his fascination for days. One such book was on virgin birth. It claimed that there were others besides Jesus who had been born without sex, for instance, Nietzsche, Buddha, and Oscar Wilde. Bill told me that he had never made love to a woman, though one day he planned to marry a virgin and have a child without sex.

He also introduced sprouts into the family diet and was a proponent of "The Cleanse," a rare mud from France that was supposed to clean out the system. We drank it a few times a day while fasting (except for eating sprouts). It tasted vile, but somehow we managed to get it down.

Though Bill went to college--Wittenberg in Ohio, and Goddard (one of the most progressive schools in the country) in Vermont--he never had the bent of mind to train for a job. For a while he studied photography in Rochester, New York, but he did so because he enjoyed it rather than with the hope of becoming a professional. Except for his college stints, Bill lived exclusively at home in Cleveland until the family helped him buy the land in Vermont.

He never really had a permanent job. He worked occasionally as a dresser at the Hanna Theater in Cleveland, but he didn't take it seriously. He helped dress such notables as Yul Brynner and Leonard Nimoy, but he complained that he had to sit backstage waiting for the acts to end. Still, Bill never worried about money; he felt somehow that it would always come to him when he needed it. He would help out a friend, who in turn would help him out.

As for religion, Bill favored Buddhism (though our family was brought up Unitarian), and he saw his whole life as a religious experience. He definitely believed in a Supreme Being and an afterlife. He practiced Transcendental Meditation (T.M.) and also felt that weaving was a form of meditation. He believed in "pyramid power," and soon our home was cluttered with pyramids. He made a large pyramid that he kept in the attic, where he would meditate surrounded by it. He slept on the floor (by choice) in a sleeping bag among his books and pyramids. He knew how to chart biorhythms and could tell you which days were going to be your best or your worst in any given month. He placed ads in obscure periodicals publicizing these talents, and in this way made a modest income.

My brother also had a profound interest in Stonehenge, the Arthurian Knights of the Round Table, and ley lines. The ley lines I only partially understood, but I'll try to explain them here: Around the time of Stonehenge, people found their way over long distances by plotting lines between prominent objects such as rocks, trees, and other landmarks. Britain's great monuments were built along ley lines--all the cathedrals fall on ley lines. Bill believed that ancient peoples had the intuitive ability to sense them and that he could detect them today using a dowsing rod. Finding water was only one use for dowsing; you could dowse a map to locate items or identify the best place to raise a building, or decide how to position a bed in the healthiest way.

After our father died, Bill lived with our mother until he moved to Vermont. There he spent two summers in tents (he returned home for the winter) while building a one-room cabin by hand--and I mean by hand: no electricity, no power saw; I don't think he even used nails.

In the fall of 1980, we got the report that he'd finished an 8-foot-by-8-foot cabin (he sent us pictures). Then, inexplicably, we didn't hear from him anymore. None of his friends knew of his whereabouts. He just vanished. For some time we kept in contact with the Vermont police and we checked places like the Edgar Cayce Institute and the Bread and Puppet Theater, whose members he'd befriended. No luck. He was simply gone.

Bill had quite an influence on me while he was here. He inspired an interest in things I never would have considered on my own: Buddhism, pyramids, weaving, dowsing--I even tried juggling (with no success).

In many ways, Bill lived like a modern-day Thoreau. He wasn't a hermit. People were always visiting him, and he had an active and alert mind. He was initially attracted to his land in Vermont because it contained Indian mounds, which he thought would bring him good luck. He also told us he'd spotted a brown bear. He would take a cold bath every day in the river that cut through his property. He by himself had constructed a bridge of wood and stone across the river. It was the only way you could reach his land from the road to see him.

As time passes, I sorely miss him. I love him dearly. I hope to see him again when I cross over that bridge to the "other side."

Dan Halas, a retired film editor, has lived in San Francisco for 36 years, 25 of which have been on Duncan Street in Noe Valley. He edited Fillmore: The Last Days, a 1972 documentary featuring concert footage from impresario Bill Graham's legendary rock venue the Fillmore West. Located on Market Street in the former Carousel Ballroom, the Fillmore closed on July 4, 1971. Halas' writing has appeared previously in this paper, as well as in Esquire magazine.

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