Cottonwood Gulch: Alberto Cacopardo
The following notes are from a journal entry written on August 21, 1978, while hiking in the Rae Lakes area of the Sierra Nevada range in California.
The Land of Enchantment
The thoughts of Monty Billings and Arch McCallum and the future of the Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions weigh heavily on my mind….
One person on staff with me this summer, whom I will never forget, is Alberto Cacopardo. For purely selfish reasons, I needed him in the group with me this summer. Shockingly different, educated, smart, un-charismatic, stunningly right-on with his comments. He is a real person with strong feelings, who has put forward his personal philosophy. He has a fascinating perspective on America, the Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions, and everything around us.
He has an insightful point of view on it all. His “yellow sheet summaries” of three campers, Bobby Krupp, Doug Montgomery, and Spencer Carlson, for example, were nuanced and interesting. Spencer is an ideal camper in so many ways, the others not so much, and Alberto had the quotations and back-up examples to prove his points. His perceptions and descriptions of the boys were keen and usually dead on.
If Alberto had not been there, I would have had even more trouble with the Kevin Taylor. Alberto knew instinctively that Kevin was smoking (he spotted him on the mesa top over 100 meters above, and he knew the tell-tale fingers to the lips, the stamping out of the butt, even without seeing the smoke). And Alberto sensed that Taylor was up to real trouble. I leaned on Alberto’s judgement and he never let me down. He had the trekkers best interests at heart, always.
Alberto told a story about a young boy goat herder in Pakistan. “Paid only one goat calf for a full summer season of goat herding, the boy was full of life. Walking in the high mountain passes with only a cotton shirt and shorts, no shoes — he was happy. Like the boy in Frost’s poem, Birches, he lived and loved the woods. He formed part of the wilderness with emphasis on the word ‘wild.’ He was certainly not an enfant savage, for he could yodel and cook and herd and talk and swing from the trees. Yet he could enter that space which was close to the primal roots of nature. We too could be close to those roots, perhaps closer than anyone of us ‘civilized’ men can admit.”
The stories about Alberto’s lifestyle, places he has lived, languages he knows, and people he loves, were extraordinary. Meeting his girlfriend, Serena, was great. I can see why he is attracted to her. She is smart, hard working and beautiful. All of these and other surprising insights add up to Alberto. He is a paradox: a complicated man yet disarmingly simple. He is charming, casting his spell.
Raised primarily by an English governess, his mother took little time for teaching the two boys. Their father had died when Alberto and Augusto were still very young. Over the years, Alberto has lived in Palermo,Sicily, Berlin, Germany, London, England, the mountains of Pakistan, and the US. The world is his campground.
Gary Snyder, American Poet, wearing sheep herders’ vest
Alberto is an ethno-botanist, a poetry lover (he wants to translate Gary Snyder’s poetry into German and Italian), anthropologist, mushroom expert, hiker, wool spinner, weaver, and that is a short list of his interests. He pursues all of these interests with intensity. He approaches the topics intelligently, and stays with them, not losing interest until his curiosity is fully sated. Only then does he move on to his endless list of next.
Although I do not smoke, I shared smoke time with him and a few bottles of tequila down to the worm. We also had some refreshing beer-after-a-long-day over the summer. All the while we were sharing parts of ourselves, one piece, one layer at a time. I’d love to visit him on his family farm outside of Florence some day. Next summer is out of the question, but some day …
Alberto M. Cacopardo was born in Palermo, Sicily in 1952. Since 1973 he has been studying the Kalasha people of North-West Pakistan and the other communities of that area. Apart from his anthropological work, he has published scientific studies on such disparate subjects as electoral systems engineering, the future of manual labour and contemporary American literature. He is a full member of IsIAO, the most prominent Italian academy for Orientalistic research. He lives in the valley of Mugnone, near the city of Florence and teaches Law and Economics at Liceo Scientifico Statale “Giotto Ulivi” of Borgo San Lorenzo and anthropology at the Scuola di Specializzazione per l’Insegnamento Superiore at the University of Florence.