Wisdom from the Cave

At ninety-three, Richard Zimmerman broke out of his nursing home and hitchhiked all the way back home.  He didn’t want what others wanted; he wanted less.  He needed less, and wouldn’t let anyone give him more.  At last, at the age of ninety-four, he laid his head down and died.  The way he wanted to, alone in his home he built, with nothing but his cat, his dog, and his guitar.  He left no earthly tender, but that of a heart.  He wrote no books, but the one his life penned daily.

To understand the man you have to go back to World War II.  After serving honorably, Richard returned to the States during a time when names like Cougar Dave, Wheelbarrow Annie, and Beaver Dick were famous.  These were famous for their simple and courage to reject the status quo of having things.  Many of these eccentric personalities lived in Idaho caves.  And in 1947, Richard Zimmerman, who later became “Dugout Dick”, joined them.  According to reports, his transformation began when his crossed a wooden bridge over the Salmon River.  Once there he built a makeshift house on the side of a hill. Dwelling set up in a cave he spent the next sixty-three years there.

You’ve probably read about canyon loners such Richard before. But to fully understand who they are and why they live a certain way requires us to remove a few things ourselves. It’s difficult to grasp how simple and peaceful life can be when iPods are playing, cell phones are vibrating, and email notifications populate every device we have. None of this is bad, but many times in order to move forward we have to take a step back. Or even a step into another person’s shoes.

Zimmerman grew up on farms in Michigan and Indiana. After leaving home young, he worked odd jobs to earn a living. Herding sheep and cutting wood were never beneath him.  While the world grew faster, he slowed.  He never had a telephone or television.  He didn’t think those things were needed.  He decided to live this thing called life his way.

For a man with no monetary resources, he was marketed well. National Geographic published several stories on his life, after which the Tonight Show came calling for an appearance. He declined. So why take the space in a book about wealth to highlight the life of a man who lived in poverty? Very simple – he didn’t just chase his dream, he caught it.

I would argue that Richard “Dugout Dick” Zimmerman lived a more authentic life that many of the world’s elite.  Because authenticity has nothing to do with what you have, but everything to do with who you are. There are happy rich and happy poor. Money alone cannot determine either. But your decisions will.

We’ve discussed risk, investing, decision-making, and the financial factory. We discussed these subjects in a way that may have been different than you expected from a financial book.  There are hundreds of magazines and books with pretty charts, graphs, and ticker symbols in every store in the country.  My mission was not to place my intellect on the page, but rather appeal to yours.  There simply aren’t enough voices representing the financial industry that understand why Richard lived the way he lived. And the beautiful thing is, you can live the exact same way with $10 million in the bank.  It is an approach, not a balance sheet, a realization of how short life, and how the window of opportunity is perpetually closing. Your money is what Richard’s cave was to him. He built it the way he wanted it. His cave was comfortable for him and he didn’t allow anyone or anybody to enter who didn’t fit his ideal for life. What a great metaphor.  Even loners have friends. In fact, Richard’s put him in that nursing home at the age of ninety-three when his health began to fail. But he always said his desire was to die in his cave. And so, a fragile Richard Zimmerman broke out of that nursing home, and hitchhiked back to his cave, where he eventually passed away.

If Richard could accomplish so much with nothing, how encouraging to know it can done with wealth. Wealth doesn’t have to cause endless activity; it can birth just the opposite. A meaningful, passionate life full of only the thing and people you want in it. Don’t chase your dream; go catch it.