Tilden’s “Ranger Tim” hooted owls and folded eucalyptus in jungle gyms
The beloved “Ranger Tim” Gordon – aka Ranger Mud, Ranger Danger and Ranger Wiggly – who has led children and adults on endless adventures for 34 years through the hills of East Bay from his base in Tilden Park , died peacefully on September 20 in Moraga.
Tim was born April 20, 1935 in Cherokee, Iowa, and spent as much of his first 10 years as he could roaming cornfields, neighbor barns, and stream banks during the hot, warm months, and to go sledding in the same stream. banks in snowy winters, following his big brother Bill. He had a pronounced tendency to be late for school and let’s just say his mother Harriet had more than a passing acquaintance with the principal of the school for either of his mishaps. He, however, under his leadership, dutifully collected bacon grease, cans and newspapers for the war effort.
In 1945 his father, Max, a reporter for the local newspaper, found a job with the Californian Salinas and they sailed across the continent in a 1934 Ford sedan that had seen (much) better days and reached the coast thanks to partly to a welded engine block in Custer, South Dakota.
By the time he was in high school, he and his friends Dennis Cahill and Eric Brazil were venturing into the nearby Ventana Wilderness for nighttime adventures, carrying gym bags attached to homemade frames and subsisting on pork, beans and of Hershey Bars.
In 1953 he moved to Berkeley to attend Cal, majoring in geology and also taking painting classes. Inspired by Jack Kerouac, he and his two buddies spent a few years “on the road” before Tim returned to Berkeley, finished his studies and began looking for work. It didn’t take long, in 1966, for him to hear about a job at Tilden Park, and as they say, the rest is history.
In Tilden, the newly created “Ranger Tim” is delighted to take the kids to the park to learn about banana slugs, eucalyptus trees and the ever-elusive “gate to the forest”. He led night hikes where he taught families how to talk to owls, hooting them when they called them back.
His work with children from places like Richmond and East Oakland who had never seen this incredible natural playground in their backyards brought him immense joy. The look on the face of a child who had never seen a tree grow with anything other than concrete created palpable pleasure on his face.
He has guided generations of Junior Rangers and Ranger Rovers through the Tilden Wilds and beyond. The adventures were legendary. Building trails, removing invasive plants, hiking in East Bay, State and National Parks. Countless Backpacker’s Pantry s’mores and rehydrated foods (some good, some… questionable).
He could be found parading in the How Berkeley Can You Be parade, dressed in his naturalist uniform and a papier-mâché frog mask. He enjoyed hosting the Jack-o-Lanterns reunion at Le Conte Elementary School (now Sylvia Mendez). It told stories about Coyote, Wicked John and Wiley and the Hairy Man, as well as the semi-autobiographical “Wolf Water”, about a former cohort of firefighters who drank water from a wolf’s footprint… then the chickens were starting to die. Allegedly. At the semi-annual Harvest Home festival in Tilden, he pulled a gopher snake out of his shirt during a snake talk, which was greeted by elated oohs and ahhs, and it sparked water fights between fire engines.
He taught children how to build domes by folding young eucalyptus trees into a ring, then raising fantastic natural jungle gyms out of the base, with the peaks rising 20 or 30 feet above. the back lawn of the Tilden Environmental Education Center. He helped the Junior Rangers make coracles (English round-bottomed boats that were tarred, sealed, and taken out to sail on Jewel Lake).
He served as a mentor to young naturalists and student assistants, some of whom continued to walk in the footsteps of his legacy. One such example is James Wilson, who currently runs an outreach program to bring underprivileged children into parks.
A lasting memory that many children have of Ranger Tim is the walk on a boardwalk that leads most of the way from the Environmental Education Center to Jewel Lake. One of my favorites was convincing the midway hikers that the bridge never ends, and sadly, that they would do this hike forever. He would never allow a child to stay scared, however. If anyone took the joke too seriously, he was quick to reassure and often brought the frightened child up front, to lead the hike with him. He was intuitively good with children and knew how to make them feel safe and respected. His family hope to rename the Endless Bridge Walk in his honor.
In the 1980s, he also joined other families in anti-nuclear activism, as part of a group called “Parenting in the Nuclear Age”, participating in marches and sharing ways to reassure children of the fact. that they were all working for change.
Shortly after his retirement in 2000, Tim was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. At first it seemed to overwhelm him, but soon after he connected with other people with the condition and they built a community around exercise and mutual support. It became “PD Active”, which continues and grows to this day. For a decade he took John Argue’s Parkinson’s and The Art of Moving course, cycling through town for as long as it was safe. And until 2019, he participated in “Dance for PD” by Claudine Naganuma and the chorus “Tremolos” by Lauren Carley, for which he sometimes wrote new words on old satirical songs. He and Donna also hosted a fair for people with Parkinson’s who were writing or being other types of artists.
With Claudine’s help, and despite his advanced Parkinson’s disease, he choreographed and performed a first dance with his daughter Megan at her wedding. He also recited Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky at the event, to everyone’s enjoyment.
The family would like to thank Tim for the exceptional care he received in his final months, when he moved to Moraga Retreat, under the remarkable leadership of Ana Blaj.
Tim is survived by his wife, Donna Mickleson of Berkeley; their daughter, Megan Gordon Turner of San Rafael; her self-proclaimed “Bonus Daughter” Cielo Fisher of Oakland; his sister, Jane Wittmann, of Anderson; and his brother, Chris Gordon of Pacific Grove.
A commemorative celebration of his life will take place at Tilden Park and will also air from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on October 30. For planning purposes, please email Donna at [email protected] if you would like to attend.
For those who wish to honor his memory, a fund is being created to support and expand the work that brings underserved youth to East Bay parks. Details will be available at the memorial; you can also email Donna to get the information when it becomes available.