Following the interview, I reviewed my life style, and reflected upon my mode of life up to the present. Then I decided to record some events of the first 80 years of my life. This retrospective introspection of my life is, of course, of primary interest to me. However, I am sending you a copy of my memoirs in the hope that they may also be of some interest to you.
Eric V. Hankam
Eric V. Hankam
The following autobiography is based on personal experience by the author. In the text Eric is used in place of the pronoun I.
His father and mother worked for an international furniture company, headquartered in Zürich, Switzerland. At the time of Eric's birth his father was the director of a timber mill, located near Oradea in the village of Remeti, producing wood for the furniture company in Switzerland.
When Eric reached school age, his parents moved to Vienna, Austria, where the best schools were available for Eric's education.
As a pre-teenager Eric read a lot about America, and decided as a youngster to make the United States his home in adulthood. In fact, Eric became so fascinated with America, the land of opportunity and democratic ideals, that he felt that America was already his home.
When Eric was a teenager the political climate in Central Europe deteriorated, with the menace of Nazism rearing its ugly head first in Germany, and then in Austria, which collaborated and united with Germany. After Czechoslovakia was invaded by Germany Eric realized that another world war was inevitable. Eric detested Nazism, and despised the majority of the population, which supported an evil regime bent on conquest and steeped in hatred. Since he wanted to be on the side of the democratic countries, he resolved to emigrate from Austria-Germany to America immediately, prior to completing his education.
An insurmountable obstacle was Eric's inability to obtain a passport. In the confusing political situation at that time, neither the country of his birth, nor the country in which he was currently residing were willing to issue any papers of identity to him. Eric was essentially a stateless person, not permitted to move from one country to another. To circumvent this dilemma Eric devised a plan involving an illegal border crossing from Germany into France, with the intention of travelling to a French seaport, in the hope of finding a job on a freighter going to New York.
At the age of 17, Eric said good-bye to his parents at a train station in November 1938. Eric traveled by train from Vienna, via Munich, to Saarbrücken, a German town adjacent to the French border. Eric's parents were also vehemently opposed to Nazism, but because of advanced age decided to remain in Vienna.
Eric had studied a map of the area along the border, and was counting on military fortifications being underground, or situated farther away from the border. Getting as close as possible to the border by public transportation before dusk, equipped with a compass and flashlight, Eric started to cross the border, which is not a wilderness area, on foot, aiming for a nearby French village.
The border crossing succeeded without incident. Eric was elated when he saw lights in houses of the village he had intended to reach. Speaking in French, Eric verified that he was indeed in France. Friendly villagers offered him a place to stay overnight. The people Eric met felt that war with Germany was imminent, and were pleased to help anyone who had escaped from Germany.
The following morning, one of the villagers took Eric to a train station, where Eric bought a ticket for a train ride to Paris. Eric had previously exchanged German for French money.
In Paris Eric was able to obtain a residence permit valid for a three-month period. He met people connected with the Swiss furniture firm, where his father had worked many years ago. They, in turn, provided Eric with names and addresses of valuable contacts in New York City and other cities, which might turn out to be on Eric's unpredictable itinerary. Eric supported himself by teaching languages, and at the same time perfected his still rudimentary knowledge of English. Naturally, he also spent a significant amount of time sightseeing. He had ample time to explore the city while planning his future.
After his Paris residence permit had expired, Eric proceeded by hitchhiking to save money to Le Havre, a major French port on the Atlantic coast, where at that time, early 1939, numerous freighters were arriving and departing at frequent intervals. Eric had no residence permit for Le Havre, but he had managed to obtain permission to stay in a coastal town south of Le Havre. It was not difficult to commute to Le Havre during the day. Local newspapers published names of freighters, their arrival and departure times, and their destinations.
Eric soon realized that without a passport or any other papers it was not possible to get a job as a seaman on a freighter. Having tried and failed to obtain a legitimate job, Eric chose an alternative approach: stowing away. Eric selected a freighter going to New York, went aboard, and pretending to be a tourist, asked for a conducted tour of the ship. A crewman obliged, and after showing Eric the upper deck of the ship took him also below deck. Eric looked for appropriate places to hide. After the tour Eric went ashore.
The boat was scheduled to sail at midnight. After darkness, Eric managed to walk on the gangplank connecting the pier to the upper deck, and undetected find his way below deck. There he hid behind a network of pipes, waiting for the ship to depart. All of Eric's belongings were in his pockets, such as a toothbrush, and comb, but no razor since Eric was not yet old enough to shave. He was dressed with two shirts and two pair of underwear.
Midnight passed, and the ship did not move. At dawn Eric reluctantly left his not too uncomfortable hideout, and ascended to the upper deck. Observed but not questioned, he walked off the ship on the ramp leading to the pier.
Disillusioned but not discouraged, Eric was determined to try again. It occurred to him that had the boat left on time, with him on board, he most certainly would have been refused entry in New York. Therefore he decided on a different approach, an indirect two-step route, to reach the United States. Panama was the answer; in 1939 the Panama Canal Zone was U.S. territory.
A couple of days after the first unsuccessful attempt, Eric found another ship suitable to achieve his goal. A Norwegian freighter was leaving Le Havre for the orient via the Panama Canal. Again Eric requested a conducted tour, which was granted. At the end of the tour Eric was briefly left alone on the upper deck, and he swiftly went below deck to hide. Eric knew, of course, when the ship was scheduled to depart; he was prepared to wait several hours without food or drink.
The ship started to move at the expected time. To make sure the ship would not return to the harbor, Eric waited three more hours before going on deck, and making his presence known. The Norwegian captain of the ship turned out to be an exceptionally friendly and understanding person. Learning that Eric was named after a Norwegian grandparent, the captain became interested in Eric's Norwegian ancestry. Eric was made to feel at home aboard, and was treated as a member of the crew. In turn, Eric volunteered to perform minor chores, such as painting parts of the boat.
Before the ship arrived in Panama the captain said he would not report Eric to the authorities, but asked Eric not to reveal the name of his ship, since that could cause trouble for the captain. Eric promised willingly, a contract he has kept to the present day.
The ship passed through the Canal Zone, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. When the ship anchored in Panama Eric went ashore, staying always inside the Canal Zone under U.S. sovereignty. Eric was reasonably and happily sure that as a stateless person he could not be deported since no country would accept him. He was now on U.S. soil; Eric felt like a man of accomplishment.
On the same day, several hours after Eric had set foot in Panama a U.S. luxury liner passed through Panama, on its way to a west-coast city. Being in a hurry to pursue one's quest is not always sensible; nevertheless Eric easily boarded the ship as one of the passengers. However, shortly after the ship had departed Eric's presence was discovered. Another luxury liner, owned by the same company, going in the opposite direction was stopped at high sea, Eric was transferred to that ship, and returned to Panama, all in one day.
The Quarantine Station in the Canal Zone became Eric's home for the next several months. The Quarantine Station is a place where sailors change ships legally. In 1939 the station also housed people in transit from Europe to South America.
The authorities did not know what to do with Eric; they were hoping to find a ship needing a seaman so badly that the captain of such a ship would be willing to hire someone without documents of identity. Of course, Eric would accept a job only if the ship's next port of call would be a city in the U.S. In the meantime, Eric gave language lessons to the Europeans, and played soccer with them. Since he was detained in the Quarantine station, overnight accommodations and meals were free for Eric. In Panama Eric started to speak English, and he has never spoken any other language since.
Finally, one day Eric was called to the Quarantine Station's main office, and informed by the director that a Swedish freighter needed a galley boy. Eric immediately asked where the ship was headed to and was told that its first stop would be Oakland before proceeding to Hong Kong. Eric accepted the job. Did the Station's director surmise that Eric might try to jump ship in Oakland? To diminish that possibility all of Eric's money was confiscated, and given to the Swedish captain for "safekeeping". The authorities could not have realized Eric's determination and resolve to enter the U.S. even with zero funds and without any personal belongings.
On the ship Eric performed his duties as a seaman, and counted the days as the ship sailed ever nearer to the country Eric already considered his home. As an assistant to the cook Eric worked in the ship's galley.
When the ship anchored in Oakland on August 11, 1939, the crew including Eric were paid for work performed during the journey from Panama to Oakland, but while the rest of the crew were also given shore leave Eric was ordered to stay aboard the ship. However, Eric was not locked in his room.
Eric timed the single guard making his round on the upper deck. For a few seconds on each round the guard was behind the engine room, where he could not see the gangplank. During such a time interval Eric swiftly rushed down the ramp connected to the pier. Eric mingled quickly with a crowd of sailors from many ships. In those days Oakland was a major seaport with a significant amount of freighter traffic.
Unexpectedly, Eric was offered a free ride by a group of sailors going to San Francisco by car, and he gladly accepted. Eric did not know whether his absence had been discovered and reported to the authorities in San Francisco, and therefore decided to leave that city immediately. Eric bought a train ticket to San Jose, with the cash earned for his work as galley boy. Eric later wondered whether the captain of the Swedish freighter might actually have been relieved to be rid of a seaman permanently restricted aboard his ship, never allowed to enter any country. In that case Eric's jumping ship may never have been reported. In Eric's situation it was prudent to get away from Oakland and San Francisco in a hurry.
In San Jose Eric stayed overnight at an inexpensive hotel. Eric's intention was to travel to Los Angeles, where he had some contacts. The next day he hitchhiked south along the coast to Santa Barbara. There he boarded a bus for Los Angeles, getting off the bus in Hollywood. The authorities would hardly be looking for him there. He still had enough money to stay at an inexpensive hotel.
The following morning Eric telephoned a person whose name was given to him when he was still in Europe. Eric was invited to the home of a family where he was shown great hospitality. He stayed in the family's house for about two weeks, and was compensated for work done in a large garden. The work in the garden involved planting and weeding.
Eric had always intended to make New York his permanent home. After a couple of weeks in Los Angeles he had accumulated enough cash for a bus trip to Salt Lake City, where he planned to find a job earning enough money for a transcontinental trip to New York.
In Salt Lake City Eric contacted an international organization, whose mission was to assist refugees. Through the efforts of several people belonging to that organization, Eric received a train ticket to New York City. (Eric regrets not remembering the organization's name so that he could now make contributions to it.)
As Eric changed trains in Chicago in the first week of September 1939, newspaper headlines announced the beginning of World War II. Eric felt grateful for being in a country that might soon enter the conflict in defense of freedom against the most uncivilized barbarians the world has ever produced.
Eric arrived at New York's Grand Central Terminal in a buoyant mood, having successfully completed his odyssey, but tempered by the awareness that much remained to be done to secure his future, finding a job, and, above all, legalizing his status in the country.
After an overnight stay in a Manhattan hotel in the vicinity of Grand Central Station, Eric contacted the manager of the New York branch of the Swiss furniture firm. Eric was invited to stay at the Westchester home of the branch manager's family. He was treated as a member of the family, and assisted in his search for a job. Eventually, after having found a job, Eric moved into a modest studio apartment in Manhattan.
When the United States entered World War II, Eric volunteered for the U.S. Army. He also became an active air raid warden near his Manhattan home. A few months later, Eric reported for active duty with the U.S. Army. He was assigned to an Anti-aircraft unit in Virginia for basic training.
As a member of the U.S. Armed Services Eric was entitled to U.S. citizenship. He was naturalized during his basic training period. Eric claimed entry into the U.S. as a seaman. Now he received a naturalization certificate and, after the war, a passport.
After passing several I.Q. tests Eric was enrolled in the Army Specialized Training Program, an accelerated study program conducted by the Army at various university campuses. Eric attended courses on a variety of subjects including mathematics, which had always been his favorite subject, and the physical sciences, first at Fordham University, and later at NYU. Eric is grateful to the Army for giving him the opportunity to continue his education, giving him citizenship, and teaching him the importance of daily physical exercise.
At the end of the hostilities Eric immediately tried to get in touch with his parents. Anticipating the interruption of communication during the war, it was agreed before the war to re-establish contact through the Swiss furniture company in Zürich. Unfortunately, Eric never heard from his parents again. The tragic disappearance of his parents has been a terrible loss to Eric, who as an only child was spoiled by his parents, and, in turn, loved them very much.
After the end of the war, in 1945, Eric continued his studies of mathematics at Columbia University under the G.I. Bill of Rights. To supplement his income, while continuing his education, Eric needed a job.
Since returning to civilian life Eric has been living in apartments in the vicinity of Columbia University; his current (since 1961) apartment, now a co-op, faces the Hudson River and Riverside Park.
In November 1945 Eric spotted a brief notice in The New York Times (Eric's daily source of information), announcing the opening of a scientific computing center by IBM on the Columbia University campus. Eric rushed to the Astronomy Department, where the computing laboratory was temporarily located. After a brief interview with the director, an Astronomy professor (to whom Eric is indebted for giving him a lifetime job), Eric was hired by IBM for a job that would last 40 years until 1985.
The first 14 years of Eric's career with IBM, probably the best, were spent at the Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory at Columbia University. Eric's primary responsibility was to teach visiting scientists the use of computers (then punched card machines) for their research projects. While working for IBM and conducting courses for IBM, Eric also taught computer science classes at the Columbia University Astronomy and Electrical Engineering Departments during the 1950's.
After the Watson Laboratory closed, Eric's work location changed frequently, but he always managed to remain in Manhattan. His major responsibilities continued in the area of education and consulting. During the last 20 years of his IBM career he became heavily involved with a computer programming language, called PL/I. His work was always of a technical nature; he occasionally published articles in IBM journals.
While based in New York City Eric traveled frequently for IBM conducting classes, ranging from half-day seminars to two-week courses in a variety of cities in the U.S. Several courses were given in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Tucson. International travel included classes, conducted in English, in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Stockholm, and Milan.
Eric's career with IBM, starting shortly after the end of World War II, coincided with the increasingly widespread use of computers by industry, government, and universities. Computer architecture changed rapidly. In the beginning Eric worked with punched card machines that had to be control-panel wired, like an old-fashioned telephone switchboard, to accomplish any task. In the mid-50's general purpose medium sized and large mainframe computers were developed that have to be programmed with a set of instructions to perform calculations and data processing applications. Finally, during the end of Eric's employment with IBM, small desktop and even smaller laptop computers became available for use by individuals and organizations of any size. In general, the user need not know how to program computers anymore; pre-written programs are now available for a great variety of applications. Eric had the opportunity to work with all types of IBM computers.
Clearly, Eric's job with IBM was a fun job. After it ended in 1985, Eric continued to give computer science classes as a private contractor in New York in 1986 and in Tucson until 1987. Thus, Eric's transition into retirement was smooth and seamless.
Eric spends much time reading, primarily non-fiction. His reading material includes textbooks on mathematics and physics. Eric likes to keep abreast of current scientific research and development in the physical and life sciences. In particular, he wants to understand the physics of the universe, ranging from the smallest particles to the largest galactic objects. Eric considers Charles Darwin one of the most important persons that ever lived, because Darwin showed where humans fit in the universe, and their place in nature.
By his nature, Eric has high regard for his fellow human beings, and is always willing to assist others in need. Eric is an ardent nature lover. He cherishes animals and plants, being aware that without them life, as we know it, could not exist. He enjoys watching PBS TV Nature programs. PBS is Eric's favorite TV channel for its breadth of programming. As a mystery fan, Eric delights in PBS TV "Mystery" programs.
Eric's study of world history, including events of World War II, and geography is fundamental to his active interest in American and international politics and news. Eric is a dedicated reader of the New York Times, which he obtains by home delivery or mail subscription.
Soccer is Eric's favorite sport; he follows that sport on a worldwide basis. Because of the scarce coverage of soccer news in U.S. newspapers, Eric finds the Internet essential for obtaining the latest soccer reports, and related information. He watches soccer games on TV, especially matches played in the U.K.
Coinciding with his 40-year career with IBM, Eric has been an inveterate traveler. In 1964 he took a leave of absence to travel around the world in 180 days. Three years later he explored the Amazon and the Andes in South America.
Less than 24 hours after retirement Eric was off by plane to Japan, Hong Kong, China, and Nepal. During the next 5 years Eric traveled to every continent except Antarctica. He went to Africa 5 times visiting many National Parks/Game Reserves from Kenya in the north to South Africa, observing wildlife from dawn to dusk. His favorite Parks are the Masai Mara in Kenya, Serengeti in Tanzania, and Kruger National Park in South Africa. One of the highlights of his first trip to Africa was an ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro; Eric reached the highest point along the dormant crater at 19,340 feet. Eric also visited Wildlife National Parks in Asia, including Chitwan National Park in Nepal, and Bandhavgarh National Park in India, where Eric, sitting on the back of an elephant, beheld a wild tiger. In Nepal (3 trips) Eric viewed the Himalayas including Mt Everest from a plane, and trekked through mountainous areas past local villages in the vicinity of Pokhara. Great view of Annapurna from Pokhara!
Aside from the United States, the country Eric has most thoroughly explored is the United Kingdom. Eric has made 13 trips to Britain, always staying in London for several days, and frequently driving in a rented car all over England, Scotland, and Wales. Eric is particularly fond of the picturesque villages, bucolic countryside and castles. Perhaps, Eric's fondness for Britain is due to his admiration for that country, which together with Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, was fighting alone for several years in Europe against Nazi Germany. Eventually, allied with the United States and the Soviet Union, the Allies emerged victoriously.
On one of his European trips, in search of his earliest childhood roots, Eric visited Oradea and Remeti with a Romanian speaking guide provided by the local government.
Extended annual vacation periods, as well as frequent business trips, allowed Eric to explore the United States comprehensively. One of Eric's objectives, to visit all 50 States, was achieved during the 1960's, following vacation trips to Alaska and Hawaii. Another goal, to visit every National Park in the U.S. and western Canada, would take longer, since an expanded list of objectives kept growing to include National Forests, National Monuments, and National Wildlife Refuges.
Eric planned to systematically explore the most scenic places in the U.S. and western Canada. Since 1948 he spent vacations most years in the U.S. After retirement "vacations" were sometimes combined with international trips, such as a journey from Seattle (by Alaska Airlines) via Alaska, across the Bering Strait into the Russian Far East, and China all the way to Tibet.
Only 3 vacations (1949, 63, 66) were spent in the eastern U.S., primarily in the Appalachian Mountains. Eric hiked many segments of the Appalachian Trail; he saw 44 black bears in a single day in Great Smokey National Park. Visits to the eastern National Parks, including one in the Virgin Islands, took place in different years at different times.
Eric divided the West into 3 zones, elongated along a north-south axis; these 3 areas, in Eric's opinion, contain the most spectacular scenery. From west to east (left to right on a map), increasing in width, the three zones consist of: (1) the area along the west coast, including the Olympic peninsula, from Alaska to Baja California, (2) the Cascade Range and Sierra Nevada, which geographically, although not geologically, can be considered a joint single mountain range extending from British Columbia through Washington and Oregon into southern California, and (3) the Rocky Mountains from the Canadian Rockies to the Mexican border, spread over British Columbia, Alberta, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona.
Since 1948 Eric has explored the above three areas extensively and repeatedly. Initially, to get acquainted with his "domain", sightseeing was accomplished by driving a rented car, interspersed occasionally with hiking. Trips by trains, such as the journey from Lake Louise, Alberta to Vancouver, British Columbia, were also most enjoyable.
In the early 1950's it became evident to Eric that his great passion was hiking foot trails. For over 50 years he has hiked numerous trails in the western U.S. and western Canada, many of them several times. He has hiked major segments of the Pacific Crest Trail (in Washington, Oregon and California), and portions of the still to be completed Continental Divide Trail. His hikes included trails in National Forest Wilderness Areas, and National Parks (Glacier National Park in Montana is one of his favorites), as well as the spectacularly colorful places in southern Utah. Crater Lake in Oregon is Eric's favorite lake. Eric has climbed many mountains, including Mt. Rainier, the Grand Teton, Mt Whitney, and about half of the 14,000' mountains in Colorado. He has also hiked mountain trails in New Zealand. Altogether, based on his records, Eric has walked over 28,000 miles, exceeding the distance of circumnavigating the Earth at the equator. In his prime, he once hiked 66 miles in 2 days.
In 1991 Eric changed his life style radically. Instead of moving from town to town (and from motel to motel) every few days during vacations, which after retirement can be of any length, Eric decided to settle down in a single place, convenient as a base for hiking, for at least 4 months every summer. Eric carefully chose a small town in the Pacific Northwest, which has all the facilities required for comfortable living. Darrington, surrounded by mountains, with a multitude of foot-trails for day hiking in the vicinity, was Eric's choice. He had passed through that town in the North Cascades, about 80 miles northeast of Seattle, several times on previous trips (1961, 69, 74, 75, 78, 84, 87), and was impressed enough to make it his summer residence. He now has his own house (with garden and mountain views), which he purchased in 1995.
Eric now has about as many friends in the Darrington area as he has in New York and elsewhere in the east. He is a frequent visitor at the National Forest Ranger Station in Darrington, exchanging information on hiking trails and roads leading to trailheads. Trails for day hiking accessible from Darrington are located in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and North Cascades National Park. Glacier Peak and Mt Baker are the dominant mountains, but all the mountains and lakes, and forests and meadows look magnificent to Eric.
Since his retirement Eric also spends 7 weeks in winter in the Southwest. Immediately after Christmas Eric flies to Tucson for a five-week stay. He hikes desert trails in Saguaro National Park and Coronado National Forest, and visits the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and the splendid Reid Park Zoo, where Eric is treated royally by the keepers of the animals.
Following his stay in Tucson, Eric flies to San Diego. During the next 2 weeks Eric spends the entire day (from 9 AM to 5 PM) at the famous San Diego Zoo. Although obviously not the same, a visit to that zoo is a reasonably satisfactory substitute for a trip to an African Wildlife Park. Leopards, tigers, elephants, and rhinos are among Eric's favorite animals.
Finally, speaking of animals, at age 80 Eric is still thrilled when encountering black bears on a hike, and he hopes to see many more bears in the future.
In the places listed below Eric used every mode of transportation available for sightseeing; he used his feet, cars, buses, trains, planes, helicopters, cable cars, ships, ferries, motorboats, and even canoes.
If the sun is out, chances are good the 80-year-old New Yorker is not at his summer home in town.
Hankam spends as much time as he can walking the trails in the mountains surrounding the town he chose for his retirement. He walks a lot - hundreds of miles in a summer. Hankam is not the only retired person to choose this picturesque timber town for his summer residence. But few, if any, also call New York City home. Some people might think shifting cultural gears between a tiny rural western town and one of the world's biggest cities would cause significant culture shock, but Hankam takes his annual moves in stride.
"My lifestyle is totally different when I go to New York, but I wouldn't call it culture shock," Hankam said.
That is because he feels so at home in both places.
When he is in Manhattan, he enjoys the Big Apple's cosmopolitan high culture - theatres, concerts, movies, museums. Having lived there for 60 years, the big city bustle is nothing new.
When he is in Darrington, he hits the high country. And Hankam is no stranger to rural solitude, either.
In a typical year, he logs between 600 and 800 miles walking on trails. Since 1950, Hankam's records show that he has walked 23,833 miles. Including the estimated 2,000 more miles he walked before he started keeping records, Hankam has walked more than the equivalent of circumnavigating the globe at the equator, most of it by himself. In his prime, he once walked 66 miles in two days.
Last week's recent rainy spell slowed Hankam down enough to allow him to be found at his Darrington home.
Strains of Mozart hovered in the air from a satellite TV channel, serving as Hankam's postlude to a televised soccer game he had just watched.
A few mementos from his other home offered more clues to his bicoastal lifestyle.
Hankam offered samples from two New York candy companies - Mondel's homemade chocolates and Evelyn's hand-dipped chocolates - setting the boxes on a copy of that day's New York Times on the table.
"Why did I decide to settle down in Darrington?" Hankam asked rhetorically. "I thought that having moved from motel to motel, hotel to hotel and hiked different places, it would be nice to have a place to stay on a more permanent basis and do some of my [summer] activities in one place."
As an IBM computer scientist for 40 years, Hankam's career and generous vacations (which he sometimes extended with permitted leaves of absences) took him to every continent in the world except Antarctica. Being single with no family helped free his time as well, he added.
The recurring themes of urban culture and wilderness adventure marked all that globetrotting. He has explored London and Paris many times, and he has been to Tokyo and other major metropoli. He has also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, trekked in Nepal and the Andes and taken tours up the Amazon River.
But the repeat trips were always to the western United States, reflecting his fascination with mountains and wildlife.
That fascination brought Hankam through Darrington several times, as his meticulous handwritten notes indicate.
"My previous stops in Darrington were in `61, `69, `74, `75, `78, `84 and `87," Hankam said, reading from an indexed page in a three-ring binder that summarizes his travels by decade.
Another notebook catalogued more detailed annual accounts of every trail he hiked, with both trail mileages, driving miles and wildlife seen.
After decades of exploring the major mountain ranges of the West - the Rockies, Sierra Nevadas, Cascades, Olympics - as well as the desert Southwest, Hankam started to keep an informal list of small towns in his mind where he might like to retire and explore more intimately.
Darrington gradually became that place. He finally bought his house in 1995 after spending a few summers in the Stagecoach Inn.
"I chose Darrington because it has all the facilities I need, mountains ... trails, scenery. It's important to have a clinic, pharmacy, hardware store, where I got a lot of my furnishings, and a library, which I'm a member of," he said. "The fact that there is a [U.S. Forest Service] ranger station here is important so that I can get information on the trails."
He has become a familiar, inquisitive and helpful presence over the years at the ranger station.
"Now that he is so familiar with the area, he's been great to help us keep trail information updated," said Diane Holz, an information assistant at the Darrington Ranger Station who has worked there since the 1980s.
Hankam admitted that he does not exactly fit in with the rural culture of his neighbors. He abhors hunting and the only sport he feels passionately about - soccer - never quite made it all the way up the Stillaguamish Valley.
Even so, Hankam's gentle friendliness has been returned by some folks in town. He said Shari Brewer has been particularly helpful sharing her knowledge of the area's hiking trails.
And Emil and Rose Fagerberg keep tabs on him in the summer and his house when he is gone.
"Rose ... if I don't call her before 7 [p.m.], she gets upset with me," Hankam said. He acknowledged that walking alone in the wilderness at his age could someday pose a safety problem, especially because cell phone coverage is spotty at best.
"I've been [walking alone] all my life, so I'm not concerned," Hankam said. From mid-May to late September, Hankam stays in Darrington, thrilling every time he sees a black bear. In the spring and fall during what he called New York's best weather, he lives in his Manhattan apartment.
"One of the nicest days is in October, when the theater season starts," Hankam said. "My friend, Susan, a neighbor, gets us tickets."
They also frequent museums, concerts, the ballet and the ultimate combination of Hankam's urban/wildlife passions - zoos.
Zoos factor into Hankam's one snowbirding indulgence, when, for seven weeks in the winter starting right after Christmas, he takes off for Tucson and San Diego.
In Tucson, Hankam spends five weeks walking the trails of the Saguaro National Park and Coronado National Forest. He is also a member of the Tucson Desert Museum and the local zoo.
Then for two weeks in February, Hankam moves on to San Diego, where he visits that city's famous zoo from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.
"They know me there now, too," he laughed. "My favorite animals are the tigers and leopards."
Although his life is full of juxtapositions that some would find odd, Hankam blends them all seamlessly.
He is an IBM computer instructor who has no computer when he is in Darrington. "I use the computers at the library," he said.
When he is in the West, he rents a car. When in New York, he walks or takes public transport. He loves wildlife and he loves zoos, too. He feels at home in both mountains and skyscrapers.
"While I always regret that the time goes fast, I'm always looking forward to getting back to New York and vice-versa," Hankam said.
Above and below: Eric Hankam at Tiger River in the San Diego Zoo
|Columbia University Computing History||Frank da Cruz / email@example.com||This page created: January 2001||Remormatted: 3 April 2021|