To say Sierra Salin is unconventional is to state the obvious.
According to a character-reference by Fairfax Mayor Pam Hartwell-Herrero, it “might be easy to look at him as some sort of wacky, offbeat troublemaker.”
But that, she says, is because “he challenges the status quo, makes us think about our role in community, and always brings a smile and fresh insight to the dialogue.”
He tells me he’s primarily a carpenter and artist.
But he’s also a photographer, jewelry-maker, environmentalist, documentary filmmaker and playful inventor of words.
Sierra, adds Hartwell-Herrero, “is a wonderful family man…ever present at town gatherings and important meetings. He is a…good person who cares deeply for the planet and all the creatures living on it. He volunteers his time on campaigns that benefit the town.”
I find it tough to encapsulate him.
The physical part is easy: He sports shoulder-length, curly dark hair and a bushy gray beard. A gold tooth shines from the rear of his mouth when he smiles.
But when he declares, “I never grew up,” he’s not referring to his six-foot stature.
It’s his man-child passions I can’t boil down.
He usually writes on medical forms, “I am allergic to bureaucracy.”
He frequently scratches that itch.
The 52-year-old’s latest protest targets a tower that would facilitate more cell phones. “Why are we filling the air with electrosmog?” he asks.
His street theater in Fairfax Festival parades has included a Styrofoam drone augmented by 20-foot high “homeland insecurity” surveillance cameras; a mock nuclear reactor spewing dry-ice radiation fumes; and a “plastic drag,” a “visual and visceral” statement about waste and environmental destruction.
When I ask about his first protest, he friskily replies, “When somebody didn’t give me milk.”
Interviewing him in his Fairfax backyard, I ascertain he superimposes original thinking on familiar subjects. He created, for instance, a “peace is patriotic” pinball machine for the 2011 Marin County Fair.
His environmental focus seems ingrained.
He drives his car “as little as possible,” opting to ride his bicycle.
And he fulminates: “We’ve got fracking here, Fukushima there, we’ve got Gulf Oil spills, we’ve got genetically modified organisms everywhere. I’m really, really distressed about the future.”
When he needs to escape, he puts on headphones and stares at stars. “I like solitude and my own space,” he tells me.
Outside, he cherishes his gardens and beehives. Inside, he surrounds himself with “external memories.” Others might call it clutter.
I’m particularly taken with his wife’s weaving-looms and their huge Buddha (“just your basic garage-sale find”). But Sierra is eclectic, unattached to a single dogma. Miniature kitchen flags represent major religions plus Sufi, Gaia, Om and Native Americans.
Fascinating, too, are frames filled with photos of his mother and her shadow.
His art, scattered, falls into a pigeonhole of “whatever strikes me in the moment.”
While comforting, neither protests nor artwork is relaxing. So he unwinds by singing tenor in a barbershop quartet, and by playing dulcimer and guitar.
He’s a Drake High grad who attended two colleges and earned certification as an EMT, which he practiced for years. He’s proud he’s “been physically and vocally involved in the schools — Manor and White Hill — and my community for years.”
His daughter attends Drake, his son Portland State. Another daughter, from a previous relationship, lives in Kansas.
He was born Lothar Norber George Salin in Marin General but toyed with his moniker ever since. He switched to Sierra because he adores the land “between Truckee and Whitney.”
Occasionally he uses Tunafish as a middle name. “People remember it,” he says.
His name-switches occasionally bring trouble — and First Amendment tilting at judicial windmills, such as a skirmish with El Dorado County traffic officials who cited him for using a pseudonym, “Love Heals.”
Ultimately, he was sentenced to 32 hours of community service.
He once signed checks “Bush Sucks!” — “out of frustration with the state of America and the world.” He acknowledges that was “a little confrontational.”
He once stood in front of Good Earth with a dried-out Christmas tree and sixty $2 bills he distributed while suggesting passersby “do something for someone else.” Many folks, suspicious, ignored him.
He once walked into a police station and said he wanted “to turn myself in because society is a menace to me.” “Scram,” they said.
When I ask, “How do we change the world?” he responds: “Love each other.”
The more he talks, the more I agree.
Maybe I’m just a bit wacky, eclectic and playful, too.
Contact The Roving I at firstname.lastname@example.org.