Connor's Corner: The Woodsman With Stories to Tell

By Connor Magee Storytelling has always been integral to humanity. For millennia, humans have been telling stories for entertainment, to t...

By Connor Magee

Storytelling has always been integral to humanity. For millennia, humans have been telling stories for entertainment, to teach lessons, to lighten the mood. Even today, in a society dominated by technology, everyone has a favorite story. Movies, music, books, video games, television shows -- they all tell stories.

And there are people among us to whom the art of storytelling is as natural as breathing air and drinking water. Gifted in the ways of the word, they make us feel the story, not just hear it.

Craig Ricker is one such man.

If you’ve driven along Los Alamos Road in Murrieta in the past 10 months or so, you may have seen him in his yard. Located across the road from Rail Ranch Elementary School, Ricker’s home is on a small, well forested plot of land. It is in his yard where he spends most of his day, providing the people of Murrieta with all the wood we could ever need.

But Ricker is not simply a woodsman; he is a man with an epic story to tell. Born in Laguna Beach, the last of six kids, Ricker was allowed to "do what he wanted" by his parents. And so he did. At age 15, he watched the movie "Excalibur" for the first time and -- inspired by Arthurian legend -- became determined to embark on his own epic quest.

In 1981 at 16, the self-confessed "Beach Kid" had finally saved up enough money to make his dream come true. He rode his bicycle across America. That bike ride changed his life forever.

"I really had an epiphany in Wyoming," explained Ricker.

The trip opened Ricker up to nature, the outdoors and a way of life that, during a time of rapid industrial and technological growth, was declining steadily. He followed his maiden voyage across the states with two more bicycle trips -- one in Europe, the other in the USA -- and a brief stint in corporate business.

"I did the corporate thing; it bored me," he laughed. So in 1992, Ricker resolved to complete another quest.

"I was looking for the energy in life. Positivity, optimism, that sort of thing," he said. So he left the U.S. and moved to Russia. In a world where east-west global mistrust is rampant, Ricker had many interesting experiences with our Soviet cousins.

He told me about how he and his dog, Bob, were backpacking across Siberia, trying to ration their food, when their trip took a turn for the worst.

"The trip was supposed to take two days. In the end, it took 14," he said.

When desperate, thirsty and starving, they came across a group of Siberian fisherman.

"They asked me how much fish I wanted. I said, 'How much do you have?' We stayed up all night. They cooked the fish and Bob ate the scraps. They didn’t even charge me anything. They were really nice people."

Ricker lived in Moscow for a lot of the 90’s, bumping shoulders with celebrities, royalty and persons of interest wherever he went. But like everyone else, he was hit hard by the financial crisis and was eventually forced to relocate to an ancient Russian village 250 miles north of the capital.

"There was like five log cabins in the town," he said. "It was very rustic. I was sad because I felt like I was seeing the final death throes of country life."

After bouncing around from village to town to city for a while, Ricker finally settled. But he soon began to wonder whether the locals really trusted him.

"Everyone knew of me; I was the American," he said. "They used to call me 'our American Spy'. I got offended at first, but they meant it as an affectionate thing."

Ricker embedded himself in both the local and the national culture. He became an avid fan of Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, particularly Gogol’s scathing satire "The Inspector General" (known also as "The Government Inspector"). But eventually, he said, he was accused of "bogus crimes" when tensions rose between the U.S. and Russia. He was advised by a friend that he should leave if he wished to avoid a worse fate. So he came back and purchased property in Murrieta.

Before he left Russia, Ricker wrote and published his own book, entitled "Stroma".

"My book is basically a modern adaptation of Gogol’s 'The Inspector General,' " he said. "It did really well. I became the most famous person in my city. More people knew my name than did the mayor’s."

His book even received national attention, earning rave reviews from a member of a prominent culture channel on Russian television.

"It was really big," Ricker said. "My aim is to get it published in English, too."

When asked why he splits and sells wood, he smiled.

"I do it for the people I get to meet, and I get to share my story with them," he said. "Plus, it’s good for my health, physically and mentally. If you do nothing but read and write for 17 hours a day, you tend to get a bit loony."

Throughout our meeting, Ricker had a number of customers approach. He split the wood in front of them, offering them heaping barrows for a modest price, and told them the story as he told me. He told it with a smile on his face and joy in his voice. And as we listened, his customers and I, we wore smiles, too.

Connor Magee is an English man living the American Dream. He loves reading, writing, rugby and his wife. His column will appear here weekly. If you have an interesting story to tell, feel free to email him at cfmagee90@gmail.com.




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