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Even a mountain man needs help

Meals on Wheels delivers a lifeline to Dan'l at his cabin
by: Jim Hart Daniel Stevens, also known as the “Sandy Mountain Man,” steadies himself with a cane while he stokes the pot-belly stove in his rustic cabin a few miles north of Boring. A couple of weeks ago he was lying in a care-center bed for more than a month, but volunteers came to his rescue.

Editor's note: This story is about the Sandy Meals on Wheels program, but the tale begins in a nearby forest where we learn the Indians are hostile to the white man.

Siblings Josh and Sarah skip along a narrow forest path, on their way to their grandmother's cabin, when they suddenly stop in their tracks. The sight of an old man bent over a wagon wheel causes their little hearts to beat faster.

They feel very vulnerable, afraid to admit they are scared. So they take short quiet breaths and tip-toe behind a tree.

How odd, they think: There's no wagon nearby. What is he doing to that wheel?

Creeping closer, they depend on the safety of a large tree. Soon, the two children realize the old man is spinning the wheel, which is perched above the ground, and he has a mound of clay in the center that he's shaping into a pot.

'Hello, mister,' the kids say as they timidly move closer to the rustic sculptor, wearing a threadbare top hat.

'Name's Dan'l, the Sandy Mountain Man,' he says. 'What's yours?'

'I'm Sarah,' says the older child wearing knee boots, 'and this is my little brother, Josh,' clad in striped overalls and a flat hat.

'Where'd you come from?' she continues. 'We haven't seen you in these parts.'

'I live in a hollow tree,' says Dan'l. 'The Indians don't like trappers or loggers, and they tried to drug me, so I ran from them and hid in a tree until the drug wore off.'

How Dan'l found a wheel

But Dan'l wanted an old wagon wheel, and Trapper Ben showed him exactly where one had been buried, back in the 1860s, when a logger's wagon crashed.

To retrieve that old wheel, the old trapper had risked life and limb (and maybe scalp) to get that wheel out of its 'grave' and avoid the Indians.

So Dan'l, a former trapper, spends his days deep in the forest, spinning not only that old wheel but also spinning yarns that'll keep the most bored child interested and asking for more.

For the past 30 years and even to this day, old Dan'l comes out of his hollow tree, moseys down into Meinig Park during the Sandy Mountain Festival and sits beside his old wagon wheel spinning pots and yarns that have kids' and adults' eyes and ears glued to every word that comes from the old bearded man's mouth.

How Dan'l makes pots

Dan'l often tells the story of how he got started throwing pots on wagon wheels. Last week, he told that story for the Post while warming himself in his forest-covered cabin in front of his pot-belly stove. The idea came to him, he said, when he was a child growing up near Pleasant Home on his father's potato farm.

'I'd plow the fields, and the potatoes would rot,' he said. 'I decided I didn't want to do that anymore. I saw an Indian working a pot on a wagon wheel, and I thought, 'Geeze, I'd love to make pots, and I could be a potter and not have to plow this mud every year.' I knew while I was growing up I was not going to be a potato planter in Pleasant Home.'

Fast forward to 2012

So Sandy's Mountain Man, who now lives in a rural forested area a few miles north of Boring, has been teaching for decades, is a potter and artist, gives lectures (which means he tells stories) and does stand-up comedy similar to commentary by PBS's Garrison Keillor on 'Prairie Home Companion.'

But in the past three months, the mountain man has been figuratively cut down. A bout with cellulitis, a bacterial infection of the skin and associated tissue, had him in hospital intensive care for three days and on his back in a care-center bed for a month.

During his recovery, which could take up to six months, he also was confined to his bed at home for another month. He used a walker to move from the bed for essential tasks. But he was unable to care for himself in any normal manner.

So Daniel Stevens - the Sandy Mountain Man - who brings smiles to many Sandy residents and visitors at each year's festival no longer had the ability to share himself or his skills with others. He couldn't even dress in mountain garb and tell Pioneer stories at the Sandy Community Center.

Fortunately it wasn't July, and he felt he had time to recover from his illness before his next trip from that hollow tree to spin his wheel and a few tales under the tall trees in Meinig Park.

Humility replaces pride

But before next July, this independent man, who has made a habit of volunteering for many local activities, now had to swallow his pride, let go of his independence and endure a humbling experience.

Since his children live in distant cities, including a daughter in Canada, he had no one close to assist him daily.

'I was totally down in my house,' he said, 'and that's when I called the Sandy Meals on Wheels. It was a very humbling experience, but I had to ask.'

It has been a difficult and painful recovery, he said. Stevens hasn't been able to go anywhere since early October when he went to the hospital.

'So I had to ask for help,' he said. '(Meals on Wheels volunteers) brought a substantial amount of food, so (with each delivery) I had food for more than a meal (usually more than a day).'

When he does leave his mountain cabin, he's expecting to 'eat humble pie' again.

The Sandy Mountain Man will have to get into an electric cart and drive himself around the grocery store to get food. No doubt, that will feel strange.

Stevens is an incessant volunteer. Even during his recovery, and while he was not feeling well, he consented to visiting the Sandy Community Center to tell stories during the center's Christmas dinner.

'That was my thank you to the volunteers,' he said, 'for helping me out for a few weeks.'

MEALS ON WHEELS BY THE NUMBERS

Programs in the Sandy district

95 - individuals served last fiscal year

832 - minimum volunteer days needed/year

12,704 - individual meals delivered

20,800 - miles driven on four routes/year

$8,405 - donations and fundraising,

$10,334 - recipients' contributions/year

$12,871 - Clackamas County contribution/year

$30,000 - city of Sandy contribution/year

National programs

50 - states with Meals on Wheels programs

5,000 - number of U.S. programs

1,000,000 - meals served per day

Up to 1.7 million - U.S. volunteers

1950s - Meals on Wheels started in Philadelphia

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Answers from Sandy Community Services Director Nancy Enabnit

Why does the city support this program?

Sandy puts a high value on non-essential services because its managers understand the holistic approach to providing a good community for its residents.

When and how did the city begin this program?

It was back in the 1970s. At that time there was a lot of federal money (Older Americans Act) that covered all the expenses. That's changed (no additional federal money), but the city has honored its commitment.

What is the physical size of the Sandy district?

Includes the Oregon Trail School District plus Damascus and some of the Gresham-Barlow district, with the exception of the area east of Alder Creek (which is covered by the Hoodland Senior Center).

What does the program need in staff members? Who pays them?

Food service manager, client services coordinator, administrative secretary and Meals on Wheels coordinator - all part-time. City of Sandy budgets salaries to administer the food service program and Meals on Wheels.

What makes a person eligible to receive Meals on Wheels services?

Qualification is based on nutritional risk, not economic need, with priority given to low-income people over the age of 60 by making meals free to that age group.

What is key to continuing the program into the future?

Having a large number of willing volunteers to call upon when the need increases. Sandy sends drivers out on four routes each day - each between 15 and 30 miles. That translates to a minimum of 832 volunteer days per year.

Are there other partners that assist Meals on Wheels programs?

Two nonprofit organization help raise money to support the Sandy Meals on Wheels: the Sandy Golden Age Club and the Clackamas County Meals on Wheels.

Where can I get more information on Sandy's Meals on Wheels?

Contact Community Services Director Nancy Enabnit at 503-668-5569 or send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .