'José' prefers life in the woods
DOVER — The woods are his home. He’s not homeless, he’s not interested in help, and if his body could take it, he’d go even farther into the wilderness, way beyond the aggravating world he no longer wants any part of.
His name is José — well, that’s the name he wanted us to use for him, anyway. Through snow, sickness and solitude, José has been committed to staying out in his teepee-like tent in Dover for the past 4½ years. And he says he's content with it staying that way, even though he knows it’s going to get worse as he continues through his 50s.
“I worked straight out (for) 38 years,” he says. “I just got tired of it. Pfft. I just got tired of other people. … I just want to get away from it.”
According to José, he had an average working-class life growing up on the Seacoast, but wasn’t comfortable sharing many details of it.
“I just don’t want to go there,” he replies, waving off questions.
For 25 years, he’s used alcohol to “mellow out,” and it’s progressed to the point where he typically drinks a 12-pack or more each day. He apologizes for his drinking frequently during our conversations, but beer didn’t lead him to the woods, he says. It was his divorce.
“That one there put a trigger on it,” he says, “because I worked hard to get what I got, and you can lose it in five minutes.”
For José, a self-described “survivor,” the hardest part of tenting isn’t the weather or the cold.
“You just do” and “you’ve just got to adjust” are phrases he repeated several times when asked about how he keeps warm and healthy, how he shovels out his clean campsite and how he makes it to the nearby road after a snowstorm blankets waist-high powder over the entire area. The only part of tenting he really hates in the winter, he says, is when he has to get out of his blankets to “do his business.”
“Do I like being out here? Yes,” says José, revealing a small, kind smile behind his yellowed teeth and overgrown stubble. “Can I challenge (the winter)? Yes, but I’m getting tired of it, but I’m avoiding a lot of stuff by being out here.”
Instead, the part of living in a tent he struggles with most is the fact that the only “stuff” he doesn’t want to avoid — his kids, ages 10 and 14 — completely avoid him.
“It cripples me. They don’t want any contact with me,” says José, who hasn’t seen his kids in years. “I do occasionally see their pictures and stuff like that. There isn’t much I can do. Well, I could, but I don’t want to deal with the system. I don’t want them chewing me up.”
José isn’t completely removed from society. He is seeing a woman, as he says he does get lonely out in the woods. She even lets him stay at her place from time to time. He’s also a big fan of the New England Patriots and listens to games on a portable radio, and his favorite thing to watch on his phone (when it’s charged) are Foster Brooks sketches from “The Dean Martin Show."
While José feels he doesn’t “need help,” he says he hopes to find a way to some day help other people. His dream would be to teach children wilderness survival skills, as he feels those lessons aren’t as prevalent today.
“You can’t rely on (President Donald) Trump to teach them,” says José, one of several references he made to his disdain for politicians. “I’d like to bring them up. I want them to see they have the strength and can handle it out here.”