Bill Gordon lived “green” long before it became the popular thing to do. Being a friend of the environment started for him over 60 years ago, shortly after he was born on Christmas Day in 1945. He learned to love the land and appreciate the critters as he grew up in rural Pennsylvania.
Bill was encouraged by his father’s love of fishing, hunting, and sail boating. Like his father, he soon gained an adventurous spirit and a keen desire to learn all he could about wildlife and how to take good care of it. He also developed a need to share his love for nature with others.
Today, the tall and well-built man with a reddish ponytail leads others to a better understanding of nature with his High Adventure Wilderness School. It’s a school that moves from place to place, and Gordon puts any money he gets back into making his school better and to teach more of his students. It has as its base 500 rugged, hilly and beautiful acres of mostly wooded area in Menifee County, just east of the town of Stanton, in Powell County. Gordon does his work without any regular helpers.
He has a busy, full life, as he works part-time for a large bookstore in Lexington, too. At the bookstore or other locations such as regular schools, Gordon spreads the gospel of the outdoors and how to both enjoy and act wisely to preserve it. Called “Wild Bill’s Wilderness Workshops,” the classes are attended by children and adults. His “hands on” teaching style makes for fun learning. His teaching topics include bats, gardening for kids, bluebirds, screech owls and fire-building.
When groups come to Bill’s property in Menifee County, his deep knowledge and ability to act on the “teachable moment” turns the hiking and sight-seeing trips into exciting science, history and geography lessons. A bird appears with an unusual mating call, for example. The shed skin of a particular snake is noticed. Maybe there’s an interesting looking mushroom. Is it edible? Wild Bill will know. And he won’t lecture, he simply shares a bit of knowledge and, if one is lucky, a little wisdom: “Snakes aren’t dangerous unless you attack them,” he says. “The average person thinks that a copperhead will chase you down and get after you. Unless they’re in my yard, I just let one move on.”
Bill talks proudly of the water holes he’s dug to attract deer and other wildlife, or the bat homes he’s built and hung around the property. He likes to tell visitors about how he has done things to make his land have a balanced ecology and how he’s acted to stop erosion, repair logging damage and habitat destruction. He has cleaned up old dump sites and restored logging roads, making 13 miles of hiking trails in the process. “I want people to enjoy the outdoors,” said Bill. He believes these steps will help that happen.
Bill explained how people have treated nature badly. “We’ve tried to get rid of all predators, which are things we are afraid of and things we don’t understand,” Bill said. “We’ve done our best to burn, bury, trap, shoot, cut, bulldoze, poison and run over our world trying to civilize and domesticate our surroundings.”
Bill is quite comfortable while working at the bookstore, too, especially when he converses with customers about nature books. His easy personality and intelligence draws others toward him. Gary Cremean, the bookstore manager, commented: “Bill has a way of leaning down toward people as they speak, and he always keeps the customer in mind and he relates well to the children and others who come to the workshops.”
Bill has been an educator for most of his life. He taught public school in northeastern Ohio for six years. He mixed plenty of lessons on the environment into his regular classes while working with students from both rural and inner-city areas.
There, he owned a farm and turned it into a modern-day homestead. “We tried our best to live a wholesome, rural life,” said Bill. “Many of our friends and neighbors were Amish, and they taught us a lot. We were ‘green’ and didn’t know it because that term wasn’t invented yet.”
During that period, Bill’s family took on the challenge of a sailboat journey that lasted two years. They started in Lake Erie, eventually sailed down the Atlantic Coast past Florida, then to the Bahamas. During the second year, they carried both their two-year and four-month-old daughters on the voyage. And, he has continued his sailing trips even in recent times. “To date, I have sailed more than 40 thousand miles in the Atlantic, Carribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes,” said Bill, who also participated in an 800-mile sailing race in the Pacific, ending at Cabo San Lucas.
Today, back on the good earth of his land in Menifee County, Bill is inspired by the adventures of his younger days, but puts most of his energy into taking care of his special habitat and teaching about wildlife and the environment.
You might call him a survivor, too. He experienced ice storms that abused Kentuckians several years ago.
But Bill, unlike most, lived quite normally during the time when many had no electricity and heat. He enjoyed both because he uses his own power generator, sheltered in a small outbuilding near his self-built cottage, and he burns wood in his stove. He doesn’t need to call a plumber because he keeps a tank of fresh spring water. He also has a compost toilet, using sawdust rather than water for removing wastes. He is also developing a solar and wind generator system to feed power to his “battery bank.” The creative ideas will likely keep flowing freely as he continues living in a natural way.
Rather than buying a lot of things and being rich, Bill would rather care for the earth and teach others that ideal, too. He has become one of the true masters in doing so.
For Wild Bill Gordon, being green has, and always will be, the best way to live.
Steve Flairty is a life-long Kentuckian, a teacher, public speaker and an author of three books, a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and two “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes,” collections of stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes for Kids is available now at many bookstores around the state or from the author.. This piece is an excerpt from that book. Steve is a correspondent for Kentucky Monthly. His column for KyForward appears weekly. Contact him at email@example.com.