Sunday, August 18, 2013


My long-time friend, colleague, and one-time business manager Ron Melander is being evicted – or more correctly, squeezed out – of his rented residence on a ridge overlooking Fort Ross in Sonoma County, California.  I think it’s a shame, and wish I could find him a place to live. 

For some months a number of us have been trying to help him find a place, keeping it quiet out of respect for his privacy, but the situation has now escalated, and frustration drives me to go public.  Both for Ron’s sake and because his situation, sadly, is one that a lot of people practicing “shovel-bum” archaeology today ought to anticipate and prepare for.
Not that Ron was ever exactly a shovel-bum.  I met him at San Francisco State University decades ago when we were both anthropology students there.  He went on to manage the archaeology lab at U.C. Santa Barbara, where he was something of a mentor to archaeologists like Shelly Davis-King (no relation), Joe Tainter, Bob Hitchcock and Larry Spanne.  He quit as a matter of principle during the student revolt at UCSB against the Viet Nam War; Ron supported the students and wouldn’t continue as an employee of “the Man.” 

When we both wound up back in northern California and I organized a small consulting firm, Ron became my indispensable right-hand man, business manager, chief cook and bottle washer, guitarist and music composer.  He remained when I fled California for New York, DC, and points-elsewhere, working for the folks who inherited my company and then for others, and playing in various bands.  He went back to college and got into paleontology, doing a remarkable paleontological survey of Point Reyes National Park.  Eventually he retired to his ridge overlooking the Pacific, where he’s gotten by on Social Security and odd jobs – painting and grass cutting – until now.
The land on which Ron’s rental and several others stand is owned by the Soper-Wheeler Company, a large land and timber outfit.  A few months ago Soper-Wheeler advised all the tenants that their rentals were at an end, and gave them set times within which to make other arrangements and depart the premises.  Ron has vigorously searched for new digs; his daughter, son, and several of his old friends and colleagues have been trying to help.  On July 1 I sent the following letter to the president of Soper-Wheeler (Some particulars removed to protect privacy):

Dear Mr. Soper:

I am one of several colleagues and friends of Ron Melander who are trying to help him find a new place to live now that you are evicting him from the cabin off ______ that he has rented for the last several years.  Unsurprisingly given the value of land and housing in the area, neither he nor we have yet been successful.

I question neither your right to evict Mr. Melander nor your rationale for doing so; I am writing only to request that you be flexible about implementing your decision.  I visited him last week and found him packed up and resigned to departing, but as yet, despite our best collective efforts, he has no place to go.  Particularly considering the efforts he has made over the years to keep the premises clean and – especially importantly – to control the exuberant and flammable plant life (now growing rather alarmingly around both houses), it would seem an elementary act of kindness on your part to let him remain in the cabin for a few more months while we all help him seek new quarters.


I received no response, and as of yesterday the water and power to Ron’s rental had been cut off.
I post this in the hope that someone in Sonoma County or its environs has a low-cost place that Ron might rent; if so, please contact me at  And I guess I post it too as a warning to youngsters in archaeology.  You too will, like Ron and me, grow old, and you need to have a thought for your future.  I offer this not as discouragement but as a caution; we live in unsympathetic times, and the decisions we take in our youth reverberate through our declining years.

1 comment:

Janet said...

HI Tom
I actually stumbled into your blog several months ago while reading another website about environmental impact studies in the Great Basin for large-scale solar projects. I was on that website again today, and decided to check out your latest, not even knowing you had posted this. I have reposted it on facebook, unless you have an objection, and hope to still find a place in his immediate area. One note, his power wasn't cut, it was his phone, which is paid for by him! Since his only internet connection is dialup, that means all my communication with him is cut off, so I can't check in with him like I normally do on a regular basis. Anyway, thank you for putting this out there. Janet