A Vow of Silence, a Cabin in the Woods,a Terrible Wildfire

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Up in the mountains, Mr. Jones spent much of his silent days feeding the animals, scattering food in myriad hiding places. He took monthly trips into Santa Cruz, often walking eight miles to the entrance of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, where he would catch a bus to town. In recent years, he had taken to catching a ride from a friend or neighbor, or renting a car once a month.

He got many of his supplies from General Feed & Seed Company, where he would ask for eight 50-pound bags of whole corn and eight bags of cracked corn, said Travis Ramos, an employee at the store. Much of the money he received from government benefits or occasional odd jobs seemed to be spent on feeding the animals.

“He kept part of the forest alive,” said Ms. Rhoads.

On his trips to town, he would sometimes tuck in his long gray beard when he worried it would make people suspicious of him — or on a windy day, when it would blow into his face.

Mr. Jones’s cabin had a large window that looked out into the woods. He had a small stove heated by firewood, and he slept on a camping mat on the floor. A few pictures hung on a shelf he had built against the wall, and he kept some perishable food in large, plastic trash cans outside that he watered down to keep them cool.

He was reclusive, but he kept close tabs on what was happening elsewhere. He subscribed to National Geographic, listened to the news on KGO — an A.M. radio station that reaches the mountains — and read The Santa Cruz Sentinel, frequently sending clippings of news articles or political cartoons to friends and relatives. Now and then, he wrote letters to the paper — musing about swallows, railing against rising bus fares or proposing a method for drivers to signal that another car was following them too closely.

Mr. Jones’s sister, Jill, said he chanted through the years to keep from losing his voice. But living alone in the woods began to get more difficult about a decade ago. In 2009, he narrowly escaped a fire that tore through the area. Jill called the post office, worried he had died, but an employee told her he had just come in to pick up his mail.

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