Joseph Tucker’s triumphant retreat from the twentieth century
In the Saskatchewan log cabin he built 46 years ago a rebellious recluse sets his clock by his own system and lives richly on a fraction of his $850 a year. This is the story of
In an age when the individual seems like a faceless cipher at the mercy of his surroundings; when nations talk of peace while plotting each other's ruin with hydrogen bombs and nerve gas; when families live piled on top of one another in cities ringed by speedways; when wealth is the great prize and heart disease the common penalty; when tranquillity comes in capsules and groceries in cellophane wrappers and when the chief diversion is a boxed reproduction of life in a darkened room, Joseph R. Tucker of Kuroki, Saskatchewan, is a spectacular misfit.
A little gnome of a man with white hair, a
white beard and a total aspect that is often august in its placidity. Tucker lives alone in the leafy twilight of a forest retreat one hundred and forty miles east of Saskatoon.
He thinks big cities are social units which a wise man studies from a distance and carefully avoids; he hasn't been in one since 1895 when he left London. England, to homestead near Shoal Lake, Manitoba. He rarely travels more than a few hundred yards from the log cabin he built in 1911 when he moved to Saskatchewan. At eighty-three he has never, except in childhood, been to a doctor or a dentist.
Nor has he been inside a modern grocery store. Last year he ordered, by mail, groceries worth a total of nine dollars and thirty-nine cents, about enough to treat an average Canadian family to one fancy meal. He cultivated the rest of his food in his garden while wearing clothes and shoes of his own manufacture, pausing to refresh himself after work with coffee he makes himself from a mixture of corn and wheat, sweetened with sugar extracted from his own beets.
He has no dog, no cat, no telephone, no radio and no television set. When his work is done he
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Pioneering the land was too tame. But there was high adventure on “the frontiers of my own empire — the mind”
seats himself on a homemade bench before a homemade table and by the light of a shaded coal-oil lamp reads newspapers, magazines and books in English, French, Latin and Greek.
He mastered the classical languages during a self-imposed educational program that lasted five hours a day for nearly eight years, a discipline, he says, “that was even more wonderously adventurous” than the discipline of helping to settle western Canada. He came to Canada for adventure, he says, and having found it he "began to pioneer, not on the frontiers of Queen Victoria's Empire, but on the frontiers of my own empire—the mind.”
Now, with his mental frontiers extended to faraway lands and forgotten ages and his interior garden flourishing with a fine crop of thoughts, he sees wars and rumors of wars as mere movement in the evolution of man and he enters them, with strict impartiality, in a diary he has been keeping since 1895, beside notes about changes in the evolution of nature — rainfall, drought, pest infestation and crop failure.
No sound disturbs him but the wind in winter and the silken rustle of the leaves in summer. Often, as he reads, he looks over the tops of the glasses he ordered in 1927 from Woolworth's in London, England, and from under thickets of w'hite eyebrow his merry blue eyes grow moist with amusement as he contemplates the vast comedy of life from which he has deliberately and successfully detached himself.
"We live in a mad world,” he says, heaving his fragile chest in an immense chuckle. "I sometimes think I’m mad myself, but I'm in no doubt about the rest of the world. No doubt at all.”
1 ucker has even freed himself from the greatest tyranny of all — time. Elsewhere in Canada ^the seasons come and go according to the calendar; the year begins on January 1 and ends on December 31, spring starts on March 21, summer on June 21 and so on. But not for Tucker. For him the year begins on November I and ends October 31, because that's how' he calculates annual rainfall. Spring and winter start when he says so, and rarely on the same day two years in succession.
The Kuroki area is just east of the dividing line between the * Mountain and Central time zones. While his neighbors adhere to convention
and Central Standard Time, Tucker makes allowances for this borderline position between time zones. He lives by Mountain Standard time plus six minutes and a varying number of seconds reckoned each day according to the sun's exact position over his cabin. This calculation is done with a solstice chart that is now almost illegible because he has been using it for fifty-five years. Each morning when he rises at 7.30 liis time (to the east it's 8.24. to the west it's 7.24) to record the temperature in his diary, he makes any necessary adjustment to the dollar alarm clock he has had for forty years and which he moves now and then so that it will wear evenly.
For the past fifteen years Tucker's individualism about time has been an annoyance which the farmers of the district accept as stoically as they accept hail or other acts of God. Tucker is secretary-treasurer of the board of Rosa school, about half a mile down the section line from his cabin. Meetings are scheduled for 2 p.m. and most of the farmers, with chores to do before nightfall, arrive promptly.
At preciselv 2.54. which is 2 p.m. by his clock. Tucker arrives with the agenda and the minutes of the last meeting.
"There's nothing to be done." said one farmer resignedly, "Mr. Tucker being Mr. Tucker. But he knows where every penny is gone and where every postage stamp is. He knows more than most teachers and more about European history than all the politicians put together. But he has some queer ideas.”
The school board pays Tucker an honorarium of ten dollars a year for his services as secretarytreasurer. Of this he keeps five dollars and gives the other five to the school's petty-cash fund. His split is scrupulously entered on the credit side of his bafllingly detailed account book, along with other financial minutiæ such as the resale of a five-cent stamp and, on the debit side, two con-
tributions to local festivities:
Xmas Concert .................. 25c
Xmas Concert (another lot!) ...... 25c
By his own account continued on page 99
continued from page 17
Last year he spent $222.49 but over half went for taxes on his two share-cropped farmsZ
Tucker is a rich man who need not concern himself with monetary trifles. His annual income is about eight hundred and fifty dollars derived from his old-age pension, two government annuities and his share of the crops on two fields of about forty acres each, one on his Manitoba homestead and one adjoining his sanctuary in the Saskatchewan poplars. But he spends considerably less than half of this, and as a consequence had. at the beginning of this year, savings in the bank of two thousand, one hundred and thirteen dollars and ninety-two cents.
His total expenditure for 1956 was two hundred and twenty-two dollars and forty-nine cents, made up as follows:
PROVISIONS ..................$ 12.89
IMPLEMENTS AND BUILDING..... 5.26
PERSONAL ................... 37.15
COST OF FARM (KUROKl) ....... 107.35
COST OF FARM (SHOAL LAKE) ... 41.60
His provisions bill of $12.89 for 1956 included matches, four orders of coal oil for his lamp, six bushels of wheat which he makes into porridge and is his principal source of dietary protein, and one flight of foolhardy extravagance entered in his ledger as:
CHOCOLATE FOR EXPERIMENT ...$ 0.79
This, says Tucker disgustedly, was seventy-nine cents thrown away on a new-fangled replacement for cocoa, the social tipple he offers guests who may not care for his home-brewed coffee. Other than this, the only groceries he bought in the entire year were lard, fish snacks and Freshie powder, with which he occasionally sweetens his rainwater for guests who may not care for cocoa.
No groceries with his mail
One day the rural mailman, unaware of the austere habits of the old gentleman in the woods, made the neighborly suggestion that, since he kept a store in Kuroki, it would be no trouble to deliver groceries with the mail. “That’s extremely kind of you, sir,” replied Tucker with the utmost civility, "but I have no use for those trappings of capitalism. I live off the land.” He gestured with a gnarled finger toward his half-acre garden, which he cultivates by hand. “However,” he added, smiling benignly, “I have a splendid crop of carrots this year and if you would care to bring along a bag next week I should be delighted to give you some.”
Although he is not a convinced vegetarian Tucker cats very little meat. “They say people dig their graves with their teeth.” he says, chuckling. “I have no intention of doing such a foolish thing as that. 1 have too few left to do it anyway.”
Tucker’s expenditure for provisions is not always as low as $12.89. In 1955, for example, it was $77.01, largely because he had to pay for cutting and hauling several loads of firewood. Tucker says that in 1955, at the age of eighty-one, he felt for the first time the weight of his years and decided to suspend his midsummer habit of shouldering his axe and taking off to the forest to fell his year's supply of wood. All he can do now, he says, is chop it.
Tucker’s implements and building fund for such things as glass and stovepipes
is fairly stable from year to year ($4.21 in 1955). But the stationery account ($50.99 in 1955) varies widely and includes subscriptions to the Daily Telegraph. the l istener, and Antiquity, published in London. England; Maclean's,
the Free Press Prairie Farmer, the Western Producer, the Country Guide, the Regina Leader-Post, the Wadena News and the Kelvington Radio, plus miscellaneous items like a new Roget's Thesaurus, a book called The Building of
Ancient Egypt; Hansard and this entry: COLOR PRINTS FROM BRITISH MUSEUM ..................$ 3.50 This account also includes gum arabic, paper clips, pencils (several dozen), a
typewriter ribbon and typewriter paper. At seventy, when Tucker’s handwriting was beginning to get the not-quite-jelled look of old age, he bought a typewriter and taught himself touch typing.
Tucker’s personal account of $37.15. made up of five dollars dues to the Farmers’ Union, five dollars to his sister in England, some cotton undershirts, fortyfive cents' worth of peppermints, and donations to the Red Cross and the local Christmas concert, also included a contribution of twenty-five dollars to the CCF campaign fund.
Rev. A. M. Nicholson, CCF ¡VIP for Mackenzie riding and a friend of Tucker’s, says that early in 1957 a second contribution of twenty-five dollars came from Tucker accompanied by a note. Tucker said he felt that one twenty-fivedoliar cheque was a pretty niggardly contribution for a man of his means and he wished to double it. He also wanted to urge Rev. Nicholson to call on him again if, toward the end of the campaign, the party found itself short of funds.
In addition to regular contributions Tucker frequently gives his party the benefit of his advice and admonition, and it is chiefly on this account that he feels he needs a typewriter. "I want to ensure that my correspondence is not put aside on the ground that my writing is illegible," he says.
In 80 years, still no doctor
Tucker corresponds, more or less regularly. with the provincial - government libraries at Regina and Winnipeg, with the library of the House of Commons, the Dominion Bureau of Statistics and other government departments at Ottawa, the Library of Congress and the National Geographic Society in Washington. the British Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History in New York, Rev. Nicholson and other officials of the CCF. Ross Short (his tenant at Shoal Lake), his relatives in England, and .Mr. B. C. McNamee, secretary-treasurer of the rural municipality of Sasman, 336, at Kuroki, Saskatchewan.
Mr. McNamee, a regular recipient ol missives from Tucker, recalls an exchange when Tucker expressed concern about his registration for benefits under the Saskatchewan health plan. "I have not needed a doctor for the past seventy years, but I can’t.expect this luck to last much longer,” he wrote. The letter was written eleven years ago and Tucker's luck is still holding. On another occasion when lie discovered that his telephone tax was higher than that of two neighbors with higher land assessments. Tucker wrote Mr. McNamee an outraged letter concluding, "and what makes this anomaly all the more grotesque is that I have so far never had, or used, or needed any telephone.”
Before 1952, when old-age pensions became general, he bombarded CCE members of parliament with talented invective about the indignities of the means test—not on personal grounds, he emphasized. but in behalf of others "less fortunate than myself.” He wrote, had printed, and circulated in the community leaflets condemning the means test and inciting the public to protest against it. Most of his neighbors now firmly believe that he was responsible for its abolition. Tucker condemns the provincial CCE for persisting with a means test for supplementary allowances, and although he votes for the party in provincial elections he specifies that his contributions to it must be used only for national campaigns.
Not infrequently he berates his party,
through Rev. Nicholson, on the subject of taxation, the two large items of $107.35 and $41.60 on his annual budget. He hates paying taxes so intensely that he pays them a full year in advance in order to enter the discount for prompt payment in his ledger as a victory over the system. He doesn't smoke because "tobacco is the tax collector’s first-prize item.” He considers his abstinence a triumph over the finance minister, whom he regards as his personal enemy no matter what party he belongs to.
His hatred of taxation and the Canadian finance minister is inextricably tangled in the web of his only passion, his hatred for "those blackguards of Wall Street.” In company with the now displaced "swindlers in the Liberal government in Ottawa” and the "Liberal tools in the provincial government in Regina.” the "blackguards of Wall Street" are responsible, Tucker says, for all the ills of the western farmer. With his serene smile intact and his placid pink face oddly at war with his lusty words he denounces them at length and on the slightest provocation in impassioned Marxist terminology, calling them "thieves, rascals, jackals, liars, bloated plutocrats, spies, warmongers, fascists, scoundrels, racketeers and gangsters.”
In view of the violence of his feelings it is more than surprising that on Oct. 29, 1929, Tucker blandly recorded in his diary that the temperature was plus 54, the fruit was all preserved, the wood hauled and everything snugly battened down foT the coming winter. That day’s Wall Street crash, a terrible upheaval that shattered the foundations of world finance and drove countless bloated plutocrats to jump to their deaths from high office window's, quite failed to penetrate the ample void of his independence.
"I didn't hear a thing about those strange goings-on until nearly a decade later,” he says. “I was at that time engaged in studying the inflections of the Greek verb. A Greek verb can have as many as one hundred and sixty-six different inflections so, as you can judge. I was a very busy man."
Seven years later, however, when the Greek verb had been mastered, the stockmarket crash was duly given its place in Tucker's diary:
Sept. 1936 Note: It was in 1929 that the great desert advance and the great social collapse both began. In October 1929, there was also the great collapse of Wall Street finance from which there has been no recovery since.
Although seven years is an extraordinarily long lapse, echoes of the convulsions of modern history are always late reaching Sub Rosa, Tucker's name tor his place, because the mail is delivered only on Tuesdays and Fridays and not then w'hen the roads are bad.
For example, on September 3, 1939, while the rest of Canada shuddered under the shock of a second world war, Tucker remained sublimely out of touch. This is his note for that historic day:
Sept. 3: Temp, plus 68, rainfall .02 last night, 8 a.m. strong breeze wes’ly, overcast. cool. 8 p.m. calm, overcast and cool after dull day.
Six days later, however, he conscientiously inserted the following among the recorded weather phenomena:
Sept. 11 Note: At 4.30 a.m. Washington time on Sept. 3 a general war began in Europe. The Germans invaded Poland Sept. 1. Children being evacuated from London.
Sooner or later almost everything of moment that occurs in the world makes
its way into Tucker's diary, quietly, briefly and unemotionally. The only major event of recent history that seems to have been neglected entirely was the fall of France and the evacuation from Dunkirk. Early in May 1940, this disaster was heralded by:
May 8 Note: News of a gigantic holocaust in progress in Belgium and north France.
But for the next few weeks Europe was completely ignored. Even the weather reports were compressed into mere
figures, unembellished by so much as an occasional "dull " or "fine. " Then, on June 17. as all Canada listened to the words of Winston Churchill: "We have become the sole champions now in arms to defend the world cause. We shall do our best to be worthy of this high honor. We shall defend our island home and with the British Empire we shall fight on. unconquerable, until the curse of Hitler is lifted from the brows of mankind." Tucker broke his silence to reveal another catastrophe, proving that nature in her way can be as cruel and violent as
man contrives to be in his own:
June 17 Note: The forest here at Sub Rosa reminds me of Gustave Doré illustrating Dante's Inferno. In other words, it looks dead as a doornail.
During the holocaust in Europe, Tucker says he had no time for his mail or his newspapers. He was out in the forest with his magnifying glass and his notebook watching panzer divisions of caterpillars blitzing the poplars. Subsequently he sent a detailed report to the department of agriculture in Regina. They con-
sidered it of such exceptional scientific interest that they printed it and circulated it throughout the province.
"It was the worst plague we had ever had hut apparently nobody had time to notice it but me,” says Tucker.
The most valuable information in Tucker’s diaries is his weather reports, kept daily since 1920. These prove, he says, that the destruction of forests in the area around Kuroki has reduced the average yearly rainfall from twenty-two to fifteen and one half inches. Each time he captures an audience he purposefully guides them among the fallen relics of the last “desert advance” (the drought of the Thirties) while darkly predicting a new one. Using himself as an argument that men do not need much land to live "in absolute comfort” (less than one third of his half-section farm is under cultivation) he preaches tirelessly to his neighbors against the suicidal procedure of cutting trees to plant crops. His conviction that farmers should get tax relief on forest land is tersely entered in his diary:
Nov. 12 Note: The beauty and salubrity of England is due to the fact that there is no tax on growing forest.
Tucker’s diaries serve the secondary purpose of showing clearly how he lives, undisturbed by the clangor of the outside world and undismayed by the cruel monotony of life on the western prairies.
During most of the first seven weeks of 1956 he had nothing to report but consistent below-zero temperatures and snow-blocked roads that prevented the delivery of his mail. The only historical note made during that period was:
Jan. 2 Note: Prof. Gilbert Murray 90 today.
Gilbert Murray, whose death is recorded in the diary in May 1957, was one of Tucker’s favorite authors. Murray’s Five Stages of Greek Religion, which Tucker says he has read eighteen times, rests on a crowded, dusty shelf in what he grandly describes as the west wing of his cabin, a room twelve feet by nine containing a bed with a spread of cowhide, a stove as small and old-fashioned as its owner, a homemade table and two benches, two saws and some miscellaneous tools, a broom, a shovel, some kitchen utensils and about two hundred books.
A few of the titles are Goethe’s Faust, The Life of Christ by Cadoux, Selected Poems of Tennyson, Harpers’ Library of Living Thought (eight volumes), The Greek Myths (two volumes), The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Last of the Pharaohs, The Study of Chess, The Twelve Olympians, The Bull of Minos, Middle East Crisis, The Romans, The Archaeology of Palestine, The Pocket Book of Verse, Life of J. S. Woodsworth, Britain B. C., Ur of the Chaldees, The Pelican History of the World, How Money is Managed, To Define True Madness, Men and Gods, The Arabs, An introduction to Jung's Psychology, Britain of the Romans, Sherlock Holmes, The Golden Bough, Short Stories of Mérimée, Balzac and Daudet (in French), The Poems of John Keats, An Introduction to Philology, Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, Philosophy of Will Durant, A Study of Yoga, Chinese Philosophy, The Worker’s Life in Soviet Russia, Handbook of Legal Forms, Physiology SelfTaught, A History of Modern Mexico, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (three volumes), The Sea Hawk, Harmsworth’s Encyclopedia (eight volumes), The World’s Great Painting (three volumes), Handbook of Ethnographical Collections from the British Museum, History of Sculpture (two volumes), the
Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms, Modern English Usage, Critical Greek and English Concordance, Oxford Companion to Classical Literature and the Holy Bible.
Not long ago an acquaintance offered to send Tucker some books. “It’s most civil of you, I’m sure,” said Tucker gently, “but I fear there’s not much point in it. One’s interests tend to narrow so as one grows old.” He was almost wholly alone with these narrow interests last year until,
Feb. 23 Note: Mail relayed by Cherry Schultz! Four years old!
This was the beginning of a firm friendship between Tucker and Sharon Schultz, a beautiful and self-possessed little person who lives across the section line and whose young parents, Vein and
Emma Schultz, have appointed themselves guardians of Tucker’s welfare. Cherry, as Tucker calls her, makes daily inspection trips at her mother’s bidding, often without intruding on Tucker’s privacy. "I just stand on my toes and peek in the window and all the time he’s sitting there reading a little book,” she says.
Invigorated by a winter of reading, Tucker’s diary shows that last year, at eighty-two, he had plenty of energy to meet the breakup when finally it came:
March 28: Have dug out doorways, cleared roof, opened up path to refuse ground and other path except woodpile which is completely covered. Pale sunshine. In evening dug out woodpile and cut some wood.
Tucker’s habit is to split wood at dusk.
Outside the light is sufficient for work; inside it is insufficient for reading without the lamp. In this way he saves oil.
April 2: South woodpile all shoveled out. Working without mitts and with smoked
April 13: The unlucky day. Wind west by south, overcast, much blue, plus 28. 10 a.m. all chores done for the day. No running water as yet. Made new bucksaw.
Running water comes from a spring about fifty yards from Tucker’s back door. Copied from the ancient Egyptians, this Oriental well, as he calls it, is reached by a broad and picturesque stone stairway cut into the earth down to the water level.
April 17: R.M.D. in box for the first time since January! Fine warm sunshine! Shirtsleeves!
April 18: Clerical in morning (i.e. correspondence).
April 23: Spring commences today as defined.
"When there are patches of bare earth on the level ground inside the forest, spring has begun,” says Tucker.
May 17: Snow all gone!
May 19: A splendid summer day!
May 21: Summer dress! Planted west half of second long row.
May 24: Two rows of spinach, two rows of Chinese greens, cleaned out stove. Planted four rows of broad Windsor beans, three rows of kholrabi, two rows of wax beans, two rows of Canadian wonder beans.
June 8: Washed blankets.
June 9: Dandelions! For my part I like to see a lawn all studded with beautiful golden flowers.
June 11 Note: Last winter has demonstrated that Pinus Sylvestris (Scots Pine) is not hardy enough for Sub Rosa. In most countries it is a great standby but it is no good here.
June 16: Fresh green onions from garden!
June 20: Provincial election day. Went to Robertson school with Berg to vote for Peter Howe (CCF). Light air in morning. Cloudless, plus 69. Planted the rest of carrot seeds in two rows. Perfect day for election.
June 21 Note: Em had a turn of sickness in May.
Em is his sister. “I am dean of a family of eight,” says Tucker, whose diary is studded with references to the comings and goings, promotions, changes and illnesses that mark the lives of Emily, Elsie and Jack, retired schoolteachers, and Florence, a housewife, who all live in England; Mrs. W. Funnell of B. C, who “has so many children and grandchildren I can’t begin to keep track of them all”; Bert, a bachelor, who teaches school near Eston, Sask., and Gordon, the third bachelor of the family, who farms four miles away from Sub Rosa.
Tucker leaves Sub Rosa regularly once a year to visit his brother Gordon Otherwise, he stays strictly at home, except to go to the polls on election days and to walk up and down the section lines around home. A courtly old personage, who greets everyone he meets by sweeping off his hat and bowing low from the waist, Tucker creates the impression that he should be wearing plumes and wrist ruffles and traveling by coach and four. But he travels on foot and his dignity is unimpaired by homemade moccasins, patched trousers, glazed with age, an old straw hat and a shirt hand-sewn from a Hour sack.
Friends and neighbors often invite him to dine but he refuses all invitations
firmly but graciously. "When I have business to transact with my neighbors, 1 transact it.” he says. “But I am certainly no socialite.”
June 23 Note: Very bad mosquitoes.
“When the mosquitoes bother me,” Tucker says, “I simply close the drafts on the stove, take off the lids and soon all the mosquitoes are clamoring to get out. So 1 open the door and let them out.”
July 22 Note: First day without mosquitoes.
July 27: Went to Gordon’s in Bert’s car. Aug. 17: First frost this morning. All frost-resistant potatoes undamaged.
Tucker claims to have originated a frost-resistant potato. Farmers around Kuroki are not convinced hut Tucker insists that he “has never known one frost to kill them and has seen them survive eight frosts.” Rev. A. M. Nicholson, who runs a co-operative farm at Sturgis, Sask., when he is not attending sessions of parliament at Ottawa, has been testing Tucker’s potatoes for the last three years. Although he finds some fault with the variety, he says they are frost-resistant. He also says he recently obtained Tucker’s permission to pass the potatoes along to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for further testing.
Aug. 18 Note: Egyptian seizure of the Suez Canal, Thursday, July 26.
Sept: 5: Second frost. Potatoes undamaged.
Sept. 6: Third frost. Potatoes undamaged. Sept. 14: Ice on water. Harvesting potatoes, peas and beans for seed.
Sept. 23: Still fine dimorphotheca in garden. Four degrees of frost at 7.30 but no ice on tanks.
Oct. 28: Winter began today as defined.
When snow on the lawn doesn't melt in the sun. Tucker explains, winter has begun.
Oct. 31: Year ends. Rainfall 16.02.
Nov. 22: Fruit all candied with no loss.
Tucker candies citron, pumpkin and other fruits that grow in his garden, using sugar-beet syrup. He still has a supply of this, extracted from his own beets, but he is not growing beets in 1957 because he feels he is too old for the laborious job of extracting the sugar. In 1955 when the board of Rosa school held a meeting in his cabin he gave them cane sugar bought in 1914 for their cocoa. By this July that was all gone and. feeling it his duty to keep cane sugar on hand for guests. Tucker ordered ten pounds.
He was so outraged at the price of
one dollar and fifty-five cents that he wrote a letter drawing the attention of his MP, Rev. Nicholson, to this “cynical swindle of both producer and consumer” on the part of the manufacturers. “I want you to try to get the worst done to these scoundrels and quick!” he wrote.
Dec. 24: No trouble with cellar this winter. Cucumbers still in good condition. Roads impassable. R.M.D. relayed by accommodating neighbors.
Under the floor of Tucker’s cabin a root cellar, crisscrossed by an elaborate drainage system, preserves his vegetables all year. Cucumbers usually last till Christmas, enabling him to wind up the calendar year on this cheerful note:
Dec. 29: Same weather all day. Pleasant. Beautiful moon. Roads all blocked and isolation complete. But no great matter here with ample reserves of all necessaries.
Although he is a natural ascetic Tucker is not a hermit, and as a young man he did not foresee his present retirement from society. Around Shoal Lake, Manitoba, where he settled on a homestead two years after coming to Canada in 1895, he is still remembered vividly by senior citizens as an excessively polite young man and an excellent gardener, who once ran for councilor, who circulated a petition that resulted, in 1909, in the closure of the Jubilee and Albion saloons and who kept books for the local branch of the United Grain Growers. He lived in a cabin in the trees on the shore of a small lake that now bears his name. He used to write such lyrical articles in the Shoal Fake Star about the natural wonders of the district that one woman says, “I would never have appreciated this beautiful part of Canada had it not been for Joe Tucker.”
He is also remembered as a determined young man who harangued the local council to build a causeway across Tucker’s Lake (then called Ferrier’s Lake). When the council refused on the ground that it would cost eight hundred and fifty dollars and would not serve enough people, Tucker built it himself. He used a method lifted from a book about ancient Roman road building, which advised laying fascines, or bundles of brush tied tightly together, on the bed of the water to be traversed, then filling in with mud and stones. Except for a modern culvert, which he also built, Tucker’s causeway, copied from the Romans, is still used today to cross the hundredyard neck of Tucker’s Lake.
In 1911 Tucker moved to Saskatchewan. In the summer of 1921, which he says in his diary “was really delightful for residential purposes at Sub Rosa,” he
decided lo detach himself from society, which he was sure was going mad. an objective he pursued with lively enthusiasm until 1926. when he was seized by a fateful illness.
“1 was sure 1 was going to die," he recalls. "I was miserable thinking of my life. Why hadn't I made a better show of things? The reason must be. 1 concluded. because I don't understand. ‘If 1 get well.' I promised myself. ‘I'll mend that serious deficiency.’ By the end of November it was quite clear that 1 was not going to die so I decided I would have to stick to my resolution.
“On New Year's Day, 1927, I began to study five hours every day. Seven years and ten months later 1 woke up and found that educated Joe Tucker was quite a different fellow than Joe Tucker in ignorance."
Tucker used the six-volume Popular Educator published by Cassells of L.ondon in 1852 and compiled by a group of professors from Edinburgh University. In these thousand-page volumes courses in shorthand, mechanics, chemistry, physics, astronomy, mathematics, geography, natural history, history, Greek. I.atin. French. English, music, art and architecture are compressed on eight-byten pages in double columns of pica type. After a year of this Tucker noted in his diary that he was beginning to have eye trouble.
Oct. 1927 Note: Re: Spectacles: Emmie sent me a pair of number elevens from Woolworth’s in London costing sixpence and sixpence the case. They proved too strong as I had to hold the book eight inches from my eyes to get clear definition. whereas I like it twelve or fourteen. I sold the number elevens to Robertson (the postmaster) whom they suited.
Subsequently he got a more suitable pair of spectacles from Woolworth’s in London. They served him while he filled hundreds of now-yellowing two-for-anickel exercise books with his careful studies, including translations of Virgil’s Aeneid and Homer’s Odyssey. They also served him while he learned to paint and sculpt, using pot clay found below the topsoil of his garden and photographs
for models. He is still wearing the same glasses and he is still studying for he found, he says, that “knowledge is a prime factor in the enjoyment of life."
Knowledge gave Tucker more than enjoyment. It gave him also a clear and candid eye. capable of foreseeing such events as the Munich crisis in painfully sharp perspective:
Nov. 12. 1938 Note: This month it became clear that European civilization as we know it has definitely and permanently collapsed. The snow is here to sta\.
It stiffened his resistance to bureaucratic bungling:
Feb. 28, 1941 Note: One month’s Country Guide lost by the Quislings in the post office in Regina.
And it helped him to accept change and decay with philosophic calm:
July 30, 1942 Note: Began remodeling home to meet the deterioration ot conditions in western Canada and the world in general.
At this juncture Tucker added to his cabin a new roof and two rooms twelve by fourteen feet, which he describes as the east wing. In them he lives spaciously in summer, enjoying the passage of the immaculate air through two screen doors, and retiring to the snug confine-* of the west wing in winter, at home with life, a perfectly happy man.
"I'm happy.” he says, “because I've enjoyed every day and every year ot my life. I enjoyed high adventure while I was helping to pioneer the last ot the great frontiers—western Canada. Now 1 am enjoying an honored old age—-at any rate my neighbors seem to like me—and ‘this is of more value than all the pleasures of youth.' That's Cicero, in case you don't know.
“I'm rich because I have more money than 1 need. If I think of something I want—anything at all—I have simply to buy it. Like that, for instance." With a gesture as expansive as the Saskatchewan sky. Tucker pointed to his latest and finest treasure — a new edition of the World Almanac, price one dollar and thirty-five cents, -k