Michael’s Biographical History

1951. I am born in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on August 6th, exactly 6 years to the day after the first atomic bomb is dropped on human beings. Mother is from Plainville, Georgia and father from Buffalo, New York. I am a hybrid – yankell or rebee. They name me Michael Jerome Ellis and I will live in this Manhattan Project Atomic City for the next 18 years. But the radiation doesn’t affect me, doesn’t affect me, doesn’t affect me, doesn’t affect me, doesn’t affect me… (A Short History of Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

1954. In March my little sister, Pam is born. During the summer I have my first car wreck in a nice 1952 red Ford. We are heading to Florida for a vacation. I break my leg. I don’t remember.

1956. I begin Kindergarten at Glenwood Elementary. A small milk costs 2 cents. There is plenty of time for everything. Mrs. Pearson, Miss Arnot, Mrs. McGehee, Miss Sutherland, Mrs. Bruce, Mrs. Worthington. I remember all my teachers. Mr. Fourney is the Principal. I like school.

1957. Memory. On a rainy day my mother is ironing and dancing to Elvis Presley on the radio. (Elvis Presley Music). The announcer says something about an Iron Curtain. I try to visualize this; my mother doesn’t help much. (The Iron Curtain). I break Pam’s arm while playing horsy. I claim it is an accident. For the next six weeks she hits me with her cast.

1958. My dad and I go fishing a lot together. My mom makes me an insect net. I catch pretty butterflies, kill them and pin them in a box. This is the beginning of my interest in nature.

1959. The air space restrictions are lifted over Oak Ridge. I remember seeing airplanes for the first time.

1960. Hula-hoops invade on our neighborhood of Euclid Circle there are 50 kids in the Berry’s yard all doing the hullahoop. In 2009 I will take up the hula-hoop again but this time a flaming one!

1961. I get a telescope for Christmas. I charge the neighborhood kids 5 cents to look at the moon. I realize that I can make money off nature, career path is fixed. My dad buys one of the very first Volkswagen bugs in Tennessee. I think we are real cool and I wave at other VW drivers (there are very few). My dad takes me on my first plane ride, a Piper Cub. We fly over Oak Ridge. I cannot recognize anything from the air.

1962. In the summer many kids catch fireflies, freeze them and sell them once a month to a guy who collects them for John Hopkins University for a professor (Dr. McElroy) doing research on bioluminsce. I make money again off nature. (About the Firefly)

1963. On Friday, November 23rd we are planning to have our very first sock hop at Jefferson Junior High School. There is a new music group called the Beatles we are very excited about. I am planning on asking Carole Johnson to dance. But then Oswald goes and shoots the President. The sock hop is cancelled. Adult stuff interferes. I have a paper route and mow yards for $$$$.

1964. On vacation in Florida I buy a Frisbee and bring it back home. No one has ever seen one but we are having a great time with it. (Interviews With Successful Inventors). In the fall my dad tells me that I have an older brother. I never knew that my father was married before my mom and he had a son named Jeff. Not only that but we are leaving the next day to go see him at the University of Florida where he is a student. I am amazed and delighted to suddenly have an older brother. I buy a deluxe Sting Ray bike (chrome rear fenders and titty grips). I shoot a lot of pool and snooker at Barnes Pool Hall, smoke cigarettes in public and think I am very cool. I stop crying for next 8 years.

1965. Rock n Roll. Mustangs and GTOs. Girls, whose boobs are growing, are mysterious creatures that will perplex me forever.

1966. First drinking bout. High school angst. I don’t really fit in any click and am very small and young looking. First real job at Myers Camera Store. I get fired and do not even realize it.

1967. Hey Jude and drivers license. FREEDOM of sorts. Started taking photographs.

1968. Arrested by police with a bunch of others for an elaborate drinking/ car wreck/ armory night. A very public trial. “That’s not our Michael Ellis in the newspaper is it Ruby?” Mrs. Berry asked my mother. I work at McDonalds, where they did not hire blacks or females. No serious girlfriends.

1969. The very coolest year to graduate from High School. I go off to Auburn University in Alabama in June. Couldn’t wait get out from under my parents. In July I go home with a friend and have a blind date with his little sister who is Miss Troy Alabama. We watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. There seems to be something happening in the world that is beckoning me. Woodstock, San Francisco, long hair, but I still don’t quite get it. That fall the Rolling Stones play at our homecoming dance… now I am catching on. We gather around a radio at the dorm while some guy in Washington picks ping-pong balls with dates on them for the draft lottery. My number is 252, I am saved. Vietnam. Jeff, my half-brother however goes to Nam as 2nd Lieutenant. But he wants to.

1970. A very big year. Virginity lost, Kent State, head shops, bell-bottoms, transfer to the University of Tennessee, long curly Afro-hair, orange sunshine, bad grades. That fall I decide with my friend Gary Rubin, to parachute out of a plane. I break my leg for the second time. Make some life long friends. I dress up as a clown. I go to New York City for the first time. Golleeeee says Gomer. I buy a Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. Yummy!

1971. At Easter I travel to Miami where I sleep on the couch of a friend’s friend’s house for three months. I hook up with a man named Rip Winkle who I drive all the way from south Florida to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to join up with a Carnival called Century 21 Shows. Rip who eats Seconals to go to sleep and Black Widows to perk up, teaches me everything he has learned in 60 yrs of doing carny work. In two weeks he gets sick and leaves the show, I end up running the CRAZY BALL joint for the rest of the summer, going all over the Midwest and making lotsa money. I meet the strangest people of my entire life that summer – the Fat Lady is actually a Fat Gay Man, the girls in the Girly Show are mostly guys, The Wild Man from Borneo is actually Puerto Rican and swallows live frogs, etc. I return to college. I buy my first car from my Uncle Dynk (a used car salesman from north Georgia who will later run for county sheriff, jump on one of my girlfriends when I leave the room for a moment and get arrested for counterfeiting $20 bills) – a Volkswagen bus, of course.

1972. I discover Botany at UT and have a great time learning and making good grades again. Fall madly in love for the first time. I head to Washington, DC for the big anti-Vietnam protests. The best part was the Smithsonian. My father coughs up blood, it is lung cancer, has a lung removed, and stays in intensive care for 50 days and dies on July 29. He is 59 years old and I am about to turn 21. Camels, too much vodka and stress at his job killed him. I move in with my mother in the fall to keep her company. Sister Pam goes to College. I am forced to grow up by my father’s death. I listen to a lot of Bob Dylan.

1973. On January 1st I stop eating all meat, take Transcendental Meditation, and quit all drugs and alcohol. I backslide on everything but the diet and haven’t eaten red meat since. I decide to take a break from college and head to northern Africa to join my friend, David J. who is getting out of the US Navy in Morocco. We plan on going to East Africa. I go from Knoxville to Fez, Morocco and experience extreme culture shock. Duhhh. In October the Arab-Israeli war breaks out, there is a gas shortage in the US, the world seems dangerous and we head to the Canary Islands instead. I pierce my ear but don’t like it, so it grows back. Christmas in a different country.

1974. We take a Spanish Troop transport ship from the Canaries to Spanish Sahara and then cross the Sahara Desert through Mauritania into Black Africa. Drumbeats of Senegal and Gambia. We are traveling with a pair of California girls. I decide to return to the US and finish college. David goes on and doesn’t return to the US for another 5 years. In the summer on my way to work as a janitor (working for the guy who will later marry my sister) I pick up Billy M. He is a California bird watcher hitchhiking through the South and East to increase his bird list. I bring him home with me and he uses our house as a base to explore the area. We become friends and keep in touch. I graduate with a BA in Botany. My mother is now dating the superintendent of the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant or K-25. He offers me a job as an environmentalist for Union Carbide. Even though the job sounds like an oxymoron; I take it anyway. My friends cannot understand why I would work there. The FBI conducts a security clearance on me. I barely pass.

1975. I am not happy working full time at something I do not like. I change living situations 5 times in this year and girlfriends about as often. I am saving every single bit of money I can. Two weeks vacation per year is driving me nuts. I buy my third motorcycle. I drive it way too fast…..

1976. I live in an old run down house out in the country that costs me $40 per month. I have an outhouse and a large garden. I dream of escape. East Tennessee is not big enough for me. Mom, Pam and I go to my mother’s family reunion in Georgia and meet my Uncle Edward. I didn’t know my mother had a living brother. He is gay with a pink Cadillac and a bunch of poodles to boot. He had just gotten in trouble with the law and had gone back home to Georgia to lay low. My sister and I thought it was way cool that we had a gay uncle. My mother told us she never mentioned him to us because she never liked him. “He cut the heads off my paper dolls when we were little.” I feel like I am in a Faulkner novel.

1977. Another big year. I witness the birth of my godson, Forrest Galloway. I am a lousy godfather. I quit Union Carbide and head to South America on my motorcycle in June. Traveling very slowly across the country, more or less following the same path as Robert Persig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Across Wyoming, Montana (Elvis dies when I here) and into Canada. I have several flings along the way with very cute girls including an ex-nun! I then head down the West Coast to Marin County to visit my friend the hitchhiker, Billy, who is living at Slide Ranch, an environmental education center on 100 acres of coastal land just north of Muir Beach. (Slide  Ranch). I cruise down the driveway and don’t leave for four years! During my first week Billy and I head to San Francisco for an environmental gathering on San Bruno Mt. When we leave, the first rains in 2 1/2 years descend on us as we are riding my motorcycle. We escape into a bar on California St in San Francisco – Major Pawns – until the rain stops. There is a woman shooting pool, her dog (named Horse) is under the table. I flirt with her. Laurie Fry from Saginaw, Michigan. She has come to San Francisco to act at ACT. She is living nearby, above a bar with her large boyfriend named Snake. A year later we will reconnect and eventually live together, get married and have a son named Hunter. We will divorce in 1997. We stay friends and love each other but are happy we are not still married.

1978. I meet Jerry Garcia, Mountain Girl, Richard Brautigan and Bill Graham. Gee I never met anyone famous in Tennessee. I live at Slide Ranch and learn how to teach others about nature and find I have a talent and love for it. I go to the Farallons Islands and live there for 2 weeks in the winter helping to study elephant seals. I see my second total solar eclipse in Washington State along the Columbia River. I travel to the California deserts for the first time and will return every spring from then on. This skinny boy begins to gain weight for the first time in his life (that won’t stop until 2008).

1979. My motorcycle rusts away in the coastal fog and I still haven’t gotten to South America. I buy some undeveloped land in Mendocino with some friends at the height of the inflationary cycle. I lose money. I help Audubon Canyon Ranch study the herons and egrets. I hate doing research, gives me a headache. I would rather just walk around and look at Ma Nature. Audubon Canyon Ranch.

1980. I find over 35 species of nudibranchs (sea slugs) at Slide Ranch. Marine biology rules for me! I become the Executive Director of Slide Ranch. Still making no money but contributing greatly to the world around me. Laurie and I visit Mexico at Christmas for the first time. John Lennon is shot while we are there and the Beatles music is everywhere in the Mexican Markets. We spend Xmas at Palenque – a very cool Mayan Ruin made better by the wild psychedelic shrooms that grow everywhere.

1981. I leave Slide Ranch thinking that the whole organization will fall apart without me. It does just fine. I begin Graduate School at San Francisco State University. Frog in a pond.

1982. Laurie and I live downstairs in Sam Keens house in Muir Beach. Sam Keen. I make some good friends at SFSU. For the first time I run for exercise and since it is an El Nino year also swim in the Pacific. I begin to teach classes for Pt. Reyes Seminars, Marin Adventures, Cal Academy and I lead many trips whale watching and to the Farallon Islands for the Oceanic Society.

1983. I get my Masters Degree in Marine Biology. I begin my own business – Footloose Forays. It grows very slowly and organically. We are on a 100′, three-deck catamaran heading out the Golden Gate, when one of the largest waves I have ever seen towers over us. The boat rides the wave up at an angle and then the skipper turns boat along the crest and we ride it back down. Another huge wave follows but we get back safely to port. WOW! High pucker factor.

1984. Laurie and I get married on Mt. Tamalpais at the West Point Inn. Fun fun fun. Yvonne, a Buddhist Monk marries us. I tell my mom that is just the way they spell Baptist in California. We are living low on the economic food chain.

1985. Laurie and I get certified SCUBA. She gets pregnant on a backpacking trip in the Sierra where we get caught at 11000′ in an unseasonable snowstorm. I get nervous, she relaxes. I lead my first international trip (besides Baja) to Patagonia in Argentina and Chile. I buy my first computer – a used IBM.

1986. Hunter is born June 2nd in a very intense and dangerous childbirth – pregnancy toxemia, low birth weight. He recovers and by age 16 is 6′ and 160 lbs. I sell my last motorcycle, too dangerous for a father. There is a Tibetan Buddhist Monk at our house visiting so we have him bless Hunter and welcome him into this world. We move to Pt. Reyes Station – the perfect place to raise a little kid. I am known as Hunter’s dad and it is fine by me. First trip to Costa Rica.

1987. I start writing a syndicated newspaper column, Naturalist Sightings that is eventually carried by five weekly newspapers throughout Northern California. I invite some male friends to join me in forming a Men’s Group (way before the drumming stuff); we continue to meet regularly to this day. It is an incredible group of honest, brave men. I reconnect with my half-brother Jeff after 15 years of no contact. First trip down the Snake River, Hells Canyon in Idaho.

1988. I begin recording a two-minute radio piece called Where We Live for San Francisco’s NPR station, KQED. This continues to the present time as part of the Perspective Series. First trip to Brazil leading a group for the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. First trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

1989. I go to southeast Alaska with the Discovery Channel and am the host (writer and tripod carrier) for a program called the Whales and Wildlife of Alaska. This is still shown on TV. I have black hair and a beard. Loma Prieta earthquake! My nephew Patrick is born.

1990. We are in a major electrical storm at 13500′ on Wheeler Peak in the Great Basin National Park. Three people get hit by lightening. No damage and one amazing story to tell! Paul Jones and I see a sperm whale west of the Farallons!

1991. I finally make it to South America leading my first trip to the Galapagos and the Amazon. My nephew William is born. The National Association of Interpreters declares me Field Naturalist of the Year. My third total solar eclipse in Baja is over 7 minutes! This is the longest of this life.

1992. We manage to buy 3 1/2 acres in Sebastopol and become homeowners for the first time. I make some Audiotapes to sell, the Reverend Mike the Church of the Joy of Nature. Way too much work. First trip down the Rogue River in Oregon.

1993. First trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. I like these river trips. I finally go back to Africa – Tanzania and the Serengeti. I am blown away by the Wildebeest migration and I will return to East Africa every February.

1994. First trip to Belize and Guatemala. I start rollerblading.

1995. Bought reading glasses for the first time. Getting old.

1996. Another big year. On my second trip to Tanzania is Carolyn Reed from Sante Fe. While it is not my habit to fall in love with my clients, I made an exception for her. It is love at first sight, which I never believed in. My life is totally shook up. I move into a one-bedroom apartment temporarily. (I stay there three years!)

1997. I cut my beard after 23 years. The breeze feels good on my face. I begin a Dads/Sons group for the boys in my son’s Waldorf School class. The idea was to collectively father each other’s sons and develop a meaningful rite of passage that would recognize the movement in our sons from childhood into adulthood. It worked way beyond my expectations. Now I need distance glasses!

1998. I, Carolyn and 4 others fall out of the paddleboat in the middle of Crystal Falls on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Scary. (Crystal Falls). (Close call at Crystal Falls Rapids). I marry Carolyn in Chimayo, New Mexico. We have three honeymoons in the next six months – the Great Sand Dunes, Capetown in South Africa, and London. It will be a year before we actually live together. First trip to Botswana and Zimbabwe. My hair really turning gray.

1999. We buy a grand Victorian house on McDonald Avenue one of the oldest streets in Santa Rosa. Talking Heads – “How did I get here? Is this my beautiful wife?” First trip to Peru and Macchu Picchu. At Halloween we give out 800 pieces of candy! My website gets up.

2000. Magnificent first trip to the Antarctica and the Falkland Islands aboard a converted Russian research vessel. I become little Juliana’s godfather, a child brought from Russia with Love by Grace and Carolyn in May last year. We dads are initiated by the Men of Spirit – an amazing and powerful weekend. WHEW. Five months later our sons are initiated in a similar ceremony. It is a profound and genuine experience for all of us, a culmination of four years preparation.

2001. Carolyn wins a Metropolitan Home award for her remodel of our house in Sante Fe. I take Hunter on his first international trip to Tanzania. I lead a trip to Lake Titicaca. Bolivia is now my favorite Latin American country. We have a big party for my 50th birthday. Hunter goes to Santa Rosa High, his first public school. I buy a cruiser bike with three gears and begin riding around a little bit. I visit Brazil’s Pantanal, the best wildlife show in South America – 5000 caimans, ocelots, a giant anteater and hyacinth macaws. I buy the first new car of my life – an Acura MDX. I start writing a regular column (Ask the Naturalist) for a new publication – Bay Nature Magazine.

2002. My mother breaks her neck and survives! Hunter turns sixteen! This year I get on planes for the Ecuador, Florida, Tanzania, Santa Barbara, Tennessee, Botswana, South Africa, Santa Fe, San Diego, Tennessee again, Washington DC and Santa Fe again. The Tuesday Sonoma hiking series begins. I start offering a dragonfly seminar. We give out 1000 pieces of candy at Halloween. Our neighborhood is the best place to trick or treat. Carolyn and I do extensive marital therapy (The Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch). It works extremely well. We are blessedly more in love than ever! I buy Carolyn a digital camera for Christmas, which she never gets to use because I have it. Carolyn begins a high-end fashion accessory business, which takes her to Nepal among other places.

2003. Our family takes the Sear Point Raceway defensive driving class and I set a new course record (ta-da!). I learn to snowboard, OK for an old guy. Carolyn joins me on my first trip to Bhutan in May – rhododendrons 30′ high. I am the best man at my brother Jeff’s wedding in D.C. He weds the lovely and much younger, Lexi. Hunter goes through several girlfriends. His band, the Coma Lilies, wins the Battle of the Bands in San Fran. Earthquake hits 1/2 mile from our house. There is the first Footloose Foray camping trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park. We see a Killer whale in Monterey Bay with a sea lion in her mouth! Carolyn’s shawl business (Shih and Co.) takes us to Paris for a week, where we have the best meal of our life at Hiramatsu’s on Isle de Cite. The “Dads” group bikes down the Flume Trail at Lake Tahoe, the most incredible bike ride any of us ever had. I am Elvis for Halloween and dye my hair black. 1100 pieces of candy this year! Hunter meets Virginia and a magnificent love affair begins. They are lucky kids and will be together for years! It is so nice to have your first love be so wondrous. Albino black tail deer seen at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge.

2004. I have fun with my new digital Canon Rebel. We have a surprise 80th birthday party for my mother although she only admits to being 76. I take my little sister to Tanzania for her 50th birthday present. She likes it. On May 17th Hunter removes the pictures in his bedroom, moves in with his mother and will not spend the night at my house for several years. My heart is a little broken but he does need to get away from me – the alpha male. My first trip to Turkey in May is full of great wildflowers, superb ruins, and tasty food. Major highlight is watching whirling dervishes in an ancient caravansary. In July the dad/son group has a private 13-day Colorado River trip down the Grand Canyon. We have a very good time. Near the end of the trip we come across a man performing CPR on his fellow kayaker. We stop to help and many of us (Hunter included) do CPR but to no avail. A powerful experience of death in that amazing place. Cultural highlight – the opera Black Rider with Tom Waits music. Remember my friend Billy that I picked up hitchhiking in 1974? Well he decided to become a she. Mono Lake in the Fall is a new perfect offering. Carolyn and I spend Thanksgiving at the spa, Rancho la Puerto. I get many treatments including a pedicure and I dye my toenails sky blue. (Ranch o la Puerta). Gorgeous.

2005. I have two trips to the Serengeti in February and on the second one we encountered a huge concentrated herd of zebra and wildebeests, the best I have ever seen. The sounds were amazing. The spring wildflower display in California was off the chart glorious. The Carrizo Plain was especially incredible. First cultural highlight- Carolyn, Hunter and I go to NYC to see Spamalot. We got tickets early and avoided the scalpers. I found the first Sonoma County record for the Western Meadowhawk dragonfly. I organized a private 7-day trip down the San Juan River in Utah for family (nephew Patrick) and friends. Excellent pictographs. I started doing weeklong camping trips again in the Lakes Basin area after a hiatus of 13 years- good choice. Second cultural highlight was my first trip to Burning Man. I was invited to join the camp, Deep Heaven. Many burly men in dresses. This will be an annual event for me – I LOVED IT!! I went back to the Pantanal in October and saw my first Brazilian tapir. We gave out 1400 pieces of candy at Halloween. The River Styx was the yard theme with skeletons in Kayaks floating down a “river” made of sticks (get it?). In November I did my first trip to the game parks of southern Tanzania (Selous and Ruaha) and Zanzibar. Carolyn went with me. I bought a brand new 19′ Bambi Airstream trailer. I am not sure why but I suspect I can get Carolyn to go to Burning Man in it.

2006. I am a featured speaker for the 5th anniversary of Bay Nature Magazine. The spring wildflower display at Carrizo Plains is excellent. I lead back-to-back Bhutan and Turkey trips; I spend much time in the air circling the globe. In June Carolyn and I take the Amtrak to Chicago, and connect to a train for D.C. HAH! Before we even get across the Sierra Nevada we are 20 hours behind schedule. It is a comedy of errors but we have a blast in our sleeper compartment and with the eclectic assemblage of fellow travelers. You cannot be in a hurry on American trains. Of course we miss our connection in Chicago, get put in a hotel and then must fly to DC after only 2 hours of sleep. Route Page. From DC we traveled to New England. My first visit to Rhode Island, the Adirondacks and Vermont. Vermont really does look like a postcard (only white people appear to live there). At Thanksgiving a whole bunch of us took the Enneagram Personality Test – I scored highest as the Challenger, lowest as the Peacemaker. (Type 8).

2007. I have a so-called Sabbatical this year; this actually means I will do no domestic trips but will spend about four months on the continent of Africa. We celebrate the 20th anniversary of my men’s group. What a great bunch of eight guys. Life bird – Swamp sparrow at Rodeo Lagoon. Hunter and Virginia meet me in Ecuador. They go off traveling for a few months while I lead my 12th trip in that country. Carolyn joins me in Tanzania for some traveling on our own. We go hunting for vervet monkeys with the Hadza Stone Age tribe at Lake Eyasi with our friends Chris and Nani.(Hadza people). We also get infected with Bilharzia but will not know it for a year. Carolyn gets certified to dive at a small resort off the Tanzanian coast owned by some friends. I too scuba dive here after a hiatus of 20 years. In May I linger for a couple of weeks in Bhutan after my trip and begin writing and photographing a book – 100 Roadside Plants of Bhutan. This project is a gift to the country and will take a long while to complete. In July we go to Madagascar with Kit and Harrison for three weeks. There is not a place on earth quite like it. Carolyn blows her eardrum out while diving. I begin doing videos of SF Bay Area natural events for Bay Nature on the Air. I buy a cruiser bike with front shocks and pretend that I can now use it as a mountain bike. BUT it a rough ride in our local park. Carolyn and I take Level 1 and 2 of the Human Awareness Institute weekends. Powerful stuff. Human Awareness Institute.

2008. As a gift for Hunters 21st birthday I offer to take him anywhere in the world he wants to go. So we begin the New Year in Palau, Micronesia – a very good choice. One of the many highlights is swimming with 20 million stingless jellyfish in Jelly Fish Lake. Hunter, ever the adventuresome eater tries some local Fruit Bat. I travel to a new part of Tanzania on my own- the Loliondo area on the border with Kenya. I organize a private chartered Baja boat trip on the Searcher from San Diego to the Sea of Cortez. My first since the early 1980’s. I forgot how much fun it is to pet gray whales! Bhutan has its first election and my friend Sonam loses. I am sad for him but happy for me because he will be my tour guide now. While in Turkey in May I decide I need to lose some weight. For the last 25 years I have weighed between 184 and 190. By October I have dropped to 162 lbs. – the least I have weighed in over 30 years. Hunters band, The Coma Lilies- falls apart midway on their second national tour in Texas. The parents are all happy. We have a drug intervention on my side of the family in June. Not a good scene. I get my first senior discount at the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. They do not even ask me for an hoo.

Hunter decides to go to Portland and begin college. He and Virginia move there in June. I finally relent and join the MAC community and have no regrets. With my buddies, Jeff and David, I climbMt. Shasta (14,169′) in July. My nephew William and I have a fantastic road trip together through New Mexico – Acoma, The Very Large Array, Truth or Consequences, White Sands, Carlsbad, Roswell UFO Museum. I spend the month of October in Madagascar leading two trips. The country will become unstable in six months. I fly Gordon Moore (Intel fame) over the Bay area pointing out huge pieces of natural property the Moore Foundation needs to buy. We lose financing to remodel our house – a project that began 8 years ago. Carolyn joins me for my first trip to the desert country of Namibia. One of the highlights of my life is the aerial flight over the Namib Desert – mind blowingly beautiful. We spend our first Christmas in Santa Fe – Hunter, Virginia, Leslie (C’s mom). Bittersweet Christmas Eve with Henry and Susan. Susan, our dear friend and Carolyn’s former business partner, is sick and will die in May.


This year is my 20th anniversary of doing radio commentary for KQED – San Francisco’s NPR station. The first trip of the year is to Ecuador – my 13th trip to the Galapagos, the Highlands in the Andes and into the upper Amazon basin. I take many beautiful pictures especially some underwater ones swimming with penguins and turtles. Somehow I manage to lose all of them.  The Buddhist saying that I use often – from attachment comes suffering – is little comfort when I actually try to apply it to my case. After my Serengeti safari in February Carolyn flies into the northern Tanzania and joins me. We head over to Uganda and Rwanda to do  scouting  for a trip to see chimpanzees and mountain gorillas Both countries have done a remarkable job of healing from past political and social wounds, especially Rwanda. We have amazing encounters with lions sleeping in trees, fantastic hippopotamus and crocodile sightings, and Rothschild’s giraffe and of course our visit with one of the most endangered species on the planet – mountain gorillas.     The genocide museum in Kigali is one of the most powerful museum experiences Carolyn and I have ever had.

Carolyn decides to fulfill a lifelong dream and get horses. She rescues two Shire horses from a Premarin farm  in North Dakota. They are boarded nearby in Glen Ellen.  Koko and Toci (a mother and daughter) make remarkable progress in   trusting  human beings.  I take up hula hooping with a passion. By the end of the year I have five– the original, a traveling hula-hoops which breaks into four pieces, an LED hoop and a flaming hoop! I also buy a real Mountain bike  – Santa Cruz superlight- and begin really taking on the trails in Annadel. Carolyn turns 50 in July (though she looks 40) and we have a big party for her. And to celebrate even further ten of us take a mountain biking trip on the North rim of the Grand Canyon.     And finally in her honor I get a tattoo on my left ankle – her name  and the image of a dragonfly. It hurt.  I think that’s my last one.

Andy, Carolyn’s brother, and his wife, Alex move from Boston so now we have two cute little nieces – Avery and Harriet – nearby to spoil. In August I and my buddies Armando Quintero and Bill Tweed have a five-day backpacking trip into the eastern side of Yosemite National Park.  Then it is back to Burning Man. Evolution is the theme this year and we have the best time ever.   Carolyn and I take the next Human Awareness Institute Level 4 and “enjoy” more personal growth challenges.  Hunter gets accepted to Lewis and Clark College in Portland and begins the fall as a sophomore. He wants to study ancient Greek and Roman literature. Not too practical but what the heck?

I go back to Uganda and Rwanda in October with 12 clients and it is one of my best trips ever. In Queen Elizabeth National Park we have the good fortune to see giant forest hogs. These endangered mammals are very rarely seen. I feel lucky. I also hula-hoop for the Batwa People (aka Pygmies) in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. We have a total of four mountain gorilla treks and everyone is fantastic and different. Back in time for Halloween with 2500 pieces of candy given out, our street closed to traffic, the Hubbub Club Marching Band, fire spinners, burn barrel and flaming hula hooping in the front yard again. I get my medical marijuana card to help with my cluster headaches and back pain – yea right! I try yoga, Pilates, Reichian breath work and Zumba dancing to help prepare for my goal of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in February.    We take an aerial dance workshop with the group called Bandaloop.  We are suspended in the air and bouncing offwalls.    This year ends with very good friends staying with us in Santa Fe to welcome the NEW YEAR.


We start the New Year still in New Mexico. I run up and down the nearby peak of Atalaya in my tennis shoes through the ice and snow getting ready for Kilimanjaro. This is the last time we are in our Santa Fe house this year because we are now renting it to the movie industry. Santa Fe and New Mexico have become quite popular with Hollywood because of State tax advantages.  We spent a lot of money to fix the house up to the standards that the movie people expect. Now we wish we could live there, but it is nice to have the income flow. Folks from this movie are renting our house.

Carolyn continues to bond with our two Shire horses, Toci and Koko.  Robin, a fantastic horsewoman, and Carolyn working together are creating an amazing bridge between these ill treated horses and the people in their new life in Sonoma County. Carolyn continues to learn from them. She also began a year long “spirit circle” with our friend Ellen Fishburn. Ellen is a magical woman who leads groups deep into the tradition of the Lakota Indians.

My dear sister Pam discovered she had gall bladder cancer. This was incredibly lucky to discover so early because normally this can be a fatal disease. I fly to Memphis to be with her during the surgery. Fortunately it goes very well. She has a nice large scar but no cancer left.

I leave for Tanzania in February and successfully summit Mount Kilimanjaro with no problems.  This was not an official Footloose Forays trip but I organized it, invited friends and former clients to join me. I did not want to be leading it; I was a participant like everyone else. Unfortunately two people had to turn around due to illness but the rest of us made it. A highlight for me was spending the night at 18,800 feet. Looking out from my tent at one of the glaciers, as the sun set in that cold, lonely place was something I’ll never forget. I apparently set a world record for hula hooping on that peak at 19,320 feet! At least according to the Guinness Book of Records, nobody has done that before.  All that training paid off and not only that, I did it in my Brooks tennis shoes all the way to the top in 6 days!   I was worried about my feet but they did fine and the company rewarded me with 40% discount on future shoe purchases!

After getting off the mountain I began my 20th or so safari to the Serengeti with about as nice a group of people as you could imagine.   We saw the “normal” miraculous views in the southern Serengeti Plain – tens of thousands of wildebeests, zebras, Thomson gazelles, hyenas, a huge pride of 20+ lions, leopards, cheetahs, hundreds and hundreds of elephants, and fantastic birds. We see a zebra give birth- a first for me.  I never tire of this trip–every February since 1992 I am in northern Tanzania. The only downer was  that I began my worst ever bout of cluster headaches. Researchers are finding evidence that taking LSD or psilocybin mushrooms can alleviate these headaches. Hmmmmm. But what I did–totally by accident and against all my scientific training–was to have my friend LeeAnn do a “hands-on healing” on me. LeeAnn is a remarkable artist, collector of rocks and an eccentric who lives in a tiny community of Tecopa, just outside of Death Valley. I always bring my desert groups by to visit her because she is such an unexpected treat. I told her about my headaches and how bad they had been for over a month and she offered to give me a treatment. After the first treatment the headaches disappeared and have not returned. I cannot explain this but I’m very happy they did.  Just to be sure I went back a week later for a second one. I did not tell this to my doctor at Kaiser!

Next it was off to Bhutan via Bangkok.  There were riots, deaths and ongoing political problems in Bangkok so I stayed out by the airport and avoided the trouble.  Then it was back to the Himalayas see my good friend Sonam.  The 35+’ rhododendrons were in full bloom and we had excellent sightings birds, monks, temples and all in good weather. At the Temple of the Divine Madman I hula hooped for the local villagers–they loved it.  In Ura village where I go for the Yak Festival, we always visit the local llama (Sonam’s cousin but everyone is related in this country!). Thingley, a man in his early 40s with three children, was destined to replace his elderly father as the llama of this temple. Unfortunately he had a single car accident and became paralyzed from the waist down. His Buddhism however sustains him well and we were quite blessed to spend some time in his company. Upon my return to the United States I raised some money to send him a digital tape recorder to help with his work of translating Buddhist thought into English. We also sent some nice magnifying glasses so that the elderly monks can read their religious texts in the low light common in the temples. A dozen people from previous trips donated to this cause. Many blessings on them.  In the spirit of honesty I must confess that I had an unpleasant outburst against one of my clients during this trip. It made me realize that I was working way too hard and was feeling the stress of too much travel.  It was at this point I decided to cancel September’s trip to Uganda and Rwanda. It gave me the entire fall without any international travel; it was a treat to rest and just enjoy California, my friends and Carolyn.

At Burning Man we had prime real estate again right on the Esplanade. My friends Lizard, Halo, and Edge Dancer invited me to join them spinning fire around the Man. We practiced all summer. Carolyn joined the act – spraying flaming white gas between my legs as part of our routine.  But when it came time to actually do it on Saturday Night at the Burn, I screwed up. I was very disappointed in my performance and it was a challenge for me to accept that failure and just move on. However Burning Man was a lot of fun as usual–50,000 people this year and a double rainbow, mud and much dancing and hooping. Carolyn had an instrumental role in the Critical Tits Bike Ride. It was the most successful ever  — turning it from a gawking event to a more referential celebration of women. I am very proud of her and the other women associated with it.  Our Deep Heaven group continues in its quest to become a year-round community. It is a blessing to have such great friends available. I do not take it for granted.

My 95-year-old stepfather, Bob, had surgery on his knee, which was a very bad idea. It was unsuccessful and now he is confined to a wheelchair and requires a whole lot more care than my mother is able to give. So we have had hire some part-time care. This kills Bob because he hates to spend money. But he continues to be an amazing old guy –sharp and funny!

Halloween on McDonald Avenue continued in its remarkable tradition. The street was closed and we had the Hub-Bub Marching band and flaming steam punk cars coming down the road.  There was spinning fire, flaming hula-hoops and our burn barrel while we gave out 2600 pieces of candy!  Here are some photos by the “official” photographer of the Marching Band. You cannot believe the scene in our front yard on Halloween night–there is nothing like it.

Carolyn and I took the Human Awareness Institute level V workshop over Thanksgiving.  We met some nice people and were challenged as usual by these workshops. Only 3 more to go for us!! Carolyn volunteered as a HAI intern to help with a Level I.  Her superb contributions to the weekend were acknowledged immediately by the facilitators.  This did not surprise any of us who know her; she is a remarkable, intuitive woman.

Brother Jeff (64 yrs old!) and  much younger (fortunately) wife, Lexi finally after a 5+-year saga go to China to pick their little girl, Catherine Alexander Ellis (aka “Coco”). We are so happy for them!! Now their work really begins!

Carolyn helped her mother recover from hip surgery in Alexandria, VA. The surgery went well but still recovery takes a while. We finished the year by flying south to Baja California with some good friends and rented a house north of Cabo for relaxing, reading and scuba diving.


We welcomed the New Year in a beautiful house in Cabo Pulmo, Baja Sur California, with some of our  Deep Heaven Family.  I had only visited Cabo Pulmo via boat from the sea; it is our first snorkeling stop on the Baja Whale trip. We drove over to the Pacific side to the oasis of Todos Santos and our on our way back in the early evening I saw a new mammal – the spotted skunk. This mustelid is famous for doing pirouettes on its front legs BEFORE it sprays you.

Then it was off on my 13th trip to Ecuador – The Galapagos, Quito and the Highlands and the upper Amazon basin. I loved climbing up stuff and when our guide was not watching I managed to climb up to the very top of the support towers  (over 190’ up) for the largest canopy walk in South America at Sacha Lodge. Way cool!

I have had the good fortune to swim with sea lions many times but these guys were some of the best.

On the Western island of Isabella in the Galapagos were many friendly green sea turtles.

John Hunter took some mighty good photos of our trip.

Then it was off to Tanzania where I saw another  new mammal for me–a Bush pig. They are normally nocturnal but this one was interested in a garbage pile just on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater.  We watched a serval cat hunt right next to our vehicles and later saw another serval with a youngster trailing behind her. The other highlights were close leopard sightings including one with a nursing cub.

 Here is a video of me juggling dung beetle dung balls while hula hooping.

And I nearly died by electrocution in the BATH at the KIA Lodge right near Kilimanjaro Airport. A near-death experience – at least that is how I experienced it.

Then it is a quicky trip from East Africa to Baja. In March there were 24 of us plus me and Armando Quintero and the crew crammed into  The Searcher  ( in San Diego for the Baja Trip. Every single person got to touch or even kiss the gray whale moms and babes in San Ignacio Lagoon. This is a very moving experience as you can imagine.

In the Sea of Cortez we saw many blue whales, fin whales, tropical (aka Byrde’s) whales, short finned pilot whales, common dolphins by the thousands, white sided dolphins, bottle nosed dolphins and I managed to get a “life” marine mammal. I saw my first dwarf sperm whale – a cow calf pair. These extremely unusual whales are hard to see but we had perfect see conditions the entire trip. Here is a link to some of the photographs taken on this trip. We had the most profound quiet time. Art the skipper turned off all the engines right at sunset as we were surrounded by a huge group of pilot whales and dolphins all quietly blowing in every direction as the sun set. Not one word spoken in 35 minutes, complete and lovely silence. It could not have been more powerful.

My annual April foray into the Mojave Desert always nourishes my soul in ways no other trip does. We had great flowers and some great times with a Sidewinder rattlesnake and a Panamint rattlesnake. Here is a little You Tube I put together on the Panamint  (a subspecies of Speckled rattlesnake).

The it was off for a month to Turkey and I took Hunter on both trips. He is studying ancient Greek literature at Lewis and Clark and was actually able to read many of the inscriptions on the archaeological sites. Carolyn joined us for the turquoise coast trip as well.  It was my first visit to Eastern Turkey and had many surprises. We skirted the borders with Syria, Iran and Armenia.  The layers upon layers upon layers of history in this region are mind blowing. As long as human beings have been cultivating land they have been in here. On our first day in the east we visited Gobleki Tepe – which may very well be the world’s first Temple. It is turning the conventional view of agriculture and religion upside down. This area predates Stonehenge by 6000 years and was the lead article in the recent June 2011 National Geographic.

 11,500 years ago humans managed to erect 14-ton monuments on the top of a prominent mountain with very sophisticated carvings of animals all over them. In Urfa (the second holiest city in Turkey) we visited the Cave of Ibrahim and swam in the Euphrates River. We were witness to a national election and it was heartening to see democracy in action in a secular Muslim country.

Another highlight for all of us was on our final day when we visited the ruins of Ani. This city was the capital of the Armenian kingdom and in 900 A.D. was one of the top three cities in the world joining Rome and Constantinople. The wildflowers throughout the area were stunning. But truly the best thing about eastern Turkey was not the ruins but it was the people. We found nothing but kindness, generosity, and friendliness.  Turkey is a blessed land.

Gobekli Tepe

Visit to a salt mine

Baking bread

Hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia

My dear friend Clarence Chan had me plan and lead another trip for his extended family and this time it was Peru. I had not been to that wonderful South American country in 10 years and many things have changed–mostly for the better. We had the opportunity to explore the northwestern coast of Peru, in particular the Moche culture during the early summer.

This Moche flourished from about 100 AD to 750 AD and in many ways was much more sophisticated than the Incas who followed.  One particular highlight was the archaeological discovery that occurred in 1987 popularly called The Lord of Sipan.  The artifacts from this find are housed in a remarkable world-class museum that   resembles a giant Mochen Tomb. This link shows a few of the many artifacts on display.  In the Andes just outside of Cusco in the small village of Chinchero, we visited an extended family that rediscovered and is promoting traditional weaving and dyeing techniques. Here is a little video I put together of our visit.

It was the 100th anniversary of Hiram Bingham from Yale “discovering” this most famous archeological site in all of the Americas. The sophisticated engineering work of the Incas is mind blowing even to the hydrologic engineers of this era!  A video I made about the train trip to Machu Picchu is now featured on the Huffington Post website under G eat Train Journeys. Please check it out–

Burning Man   theme was  “Rites of Passage”.  Boy that was appropriate for the  many challenges in my primary relationship. We had the best weather ever and the first time it sold out – 55,000.!! Here are two videos I made about my Burning Man experience.

Then it was back to Africa – first to Botswana – the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Delta. The highlight was definitely the wondrous day we spent with a pack of wild dogs We had a quick trip over the border to Zimbabwe to see one of the natural wonders of the world – Victoria Falls. I was pleased to see the people did not seem as desperate here as three years ago. In spite of Robert Mugabe Victoria Falls seems to be thriving off of the tourism there.

Next I flew into Uganda and began a journey to see chimpanzees and mountain gorillas. I had a small group which made the travel easier. Both countries seem to be surviving the world wide economic downturn fairly well. We had a superb trip with excellent sightings – a giant forest hog, a morning with a large group of chimpanzees and fantastic hours spent with mountain gorillas. It could not have been better.

I brought my hula-hoop of course and introduced many folks in Africa to the joys of hooping. I had an amazing run of 8 ball in the small community of Bwindi in the Impenetrable Forest of Uganda. In Kibale National Park we had the best morning I have ever had with chimpanzees.


I start off the year with the Hoffman Process. This is a profound 9 days for me and I come out of it changed. Their motto is “when you’re serious about change…” This is very true.

Then it was back to Tanzania for the month of February as usual. Carolyn meanwhile goes on a vision quest in Anza Borrego Desert State Park and has experiences that will profoundly change our lives together. More on that.  My second trip to Tanzania is a private one I organized for old friends. I knew they might never be able to go to Tanzania so I planned a trip at cost for them and me. It was a lot of fun and we actually got to see an aardvark, which is very rare. I reconnected with my old friend Charles one of the head guide for Thomson safaris. We liked working together so much that from now on we’re going to be a team for every TZ trip I do in the future.

I was asked to join the board of Sonoma Land Paths. I had not been on a nonprofit organization in a while and was delighted to contribute to whatever way I can to this wonderful organization.  I joined primarily because I like and respect the Executive Director my old friend, Craig Anderson and his wife, Lee Hackling.

In May we went to Portland Oregon to witness Hunter graduating Summa Cum Laude from Lewis and Clark with a degree in the Classics and Ancient Greek literature. It was really fun to see the campus and meet his teachers and to celebrate his successes. But there was no time to linger; Hunter and I immediately took off for Bangkok. Here I try something new – a fish spa.

And then Bhutan. That was Hunter’s graduation present from me. We had a blast–it was so much fun to travel together. We really know how to do it, I must say. We went to a new  location for me in Bhutan  – the Ha Valley. The furthest western province, which has just opened to tourism.

Meanwhile Carolyn does the Hoffman process as well. In June we decide to separate. I got my little Bambi airstream trailer and moved over to my brother-in-law’s nice piece of property in Sebastopol. What a blessing for me to be enveloped into Andy and Alex’s home where I get to play and see my nieces–Avery and Harriet–on a regular basis. It was very sad for everyone that this relationship ended.

My dear friend Clarence Chan and his family wanted me to take them on another grand adventure so this time we went to Belize. Great snorkeling and birding. Ambergris Key and Chan Chich ( were amazing. I have to leave early to get back to California to do level VII HAI workshop with Carolyn. Hunter stayed on and got to see something his father has never seen–a Jaguar! That is cool.

I continue to take Reichian breath work with Michelle Newmark. Then it is back to Burning Man. Hunter and I go together. Our camp Deep Heaven decided not to have a theme camp this year and so we are NOT on the Esplanade. It is a really different experience. And we are missing some very important members of our group this year due to various reasons. But Hunter and I have a blast together — another grand adventure for father and son duo.

I limit my international trips in the fall to help get our house ready to sell.  This home time gives me the opportunity to take a  committed dancing series of soul motion. It is transformative for me and very challenging. This is a way for Carolyn and I to dance our separation. And is taught by a remarkable woman from Poland named Zusa.

It is raining Halloween night so the turnout is not quite as big as usual but we still have a wonderful time and a nice party. It will be our last one at this house.   I find a wonderful rental in our neighborhood and come in from the tiny airstream into a house that is cozy and warm. Yummy.

Hunter decides to move to Brooklyn but unfortunately (or fortunately) he fell in love with a sweet girl, Devi, living Los Angeles. He never really gets a satisfying job in New York so moves back home to stay with me after Christmas.  I am the perfect roommate he says- pays for everything and gone most of the time.

First Christmas in 18 years with out Carolyn. Holidays bring up the sharpness of change.

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About Michael Ellis