The Man in the Hole.
Dan Price, a modern day hobbit lives underground in Joseph, Oregon.
by The Galfromdownunder

dan talking

MOVIE CLIP: A look inside Dan's underground house
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Daniel Price lives in a hole in the ground.

I follow him on my bike to his dwelling of 11 years, off the main street, down a forested
 track, in a little hamlet called Joseph, way out in the boonies of Eastern Oregon.

'Come and have a sweat lodge, around 9pm tonight, I built it myself.'

I was riding with 1200 others in Cycle Oregon 2003 , the renowned 7-day bike ride for folks who like
company and camping in a cheerful crowd. But the night wore on and the idea of shlepping about
in the damp darkness trying to find the track to his house became less and less appealing. My head
 hit my camping pillow and Daniel faded into yesterday.

But this morning, as we headed out of Joseph, yet there he was, waiting on the corner
to grab me as I whizzed by.

The significance of this doused me like a warm wave. Here is a man who has the time and space in
 his life to watch and wait patiently to bring a new friend into his hobbit-like world.
In third world countries where people value people slightly more than money, this is common.
In a white western middle class America, to stumble across it is a delightful anomaly.

trike in garage dan at door

Left: Dan's WheelWiz trike in it's garage. Right: Dan prepares to enter his 'hobbit hole'.

We arrive at a small mound of thickly intertwined sticks, resembling a bowerbird's lair.  Parked neatly inside
 is Dan's WheelWiz tricycle, given to him by the manufacturer who wanted his free spirit to spin their wheels
 and go tell it on the highways and byways.

Further along is a tiny arched door set into the side of a grassy embankment. The door is about two
and a half foot square, and though it's just big enough to crawl through on one's stomach, it's
solid and curiously inviting,

He pushes back a flap of flywire and turns on a light, motioning for me to crawl in.

inside house

The kitchen side of Dan's 8-foot round underground house.

I enter the a circular space, about eight feet round as he described, and lined with pine slats.
There's just enough height  to sit against the wall with legs straight out in front of me.
The low ceiling is punctuated by a square skylight framing an overcast sky, and there is plush carpet underbutt.

Going counter-clockwise around the space I see a stove, skillet, pantry, pictures, me on a mat.
To my right - photocopier, little book case, CD player, phone, answering machine.
Clothes hung on a stick. Then the door again.

There are no cupboards or chests of drawers.

  'Everything is at arm's length when you are sitting there. It's human scale, says Dan.

'The idea is that you can see everything, no fumbling for stuff - that creates stress'.

Dan is not living completely off the grid - though he's definitely off the gridlock.
There's underground electricity powering his lamps, and photocopier.

'But next year, I'm switching to propane so I can be completely off the grid.
I'll do my photocopying in town.'

moonlight chronicles

Moonlight Chronicles: Dan's livelihood

So what does he do to pay the miniscule electric bill and fill his small frypan?  He doodles.
Since 1992, Dan's reclusive days and nights have been meticulously recorded in an ongoing series
of pocket-sized journals called the Moonlight Chronicles,

His mission: to draw the world as he strolls, hikes and trikes through life.
He has a varying subscriber base of 100 or so fans across the country, who post him $5 per issue to
live vicariously through his minimalist life while slogging it out in the city by day, suburbia by night.
 Each Chronicle is a compendium of drawings, writings, observations, quotes and things you might
never notice because you drove past them too fast, like the corners of buildings seen at a strange angle.
Whatever Dan is doing today, you might read about in the next edition.


Composting outhouse complete with skull and literary sentiments within.

'I've worked out it you can live on around $5000 a year,' he says.
'All you need is a piece of land, and a source of fresh water, and you can make a life.'
Yes, this is America.  Even a hobbit has to pay that electric bill.

He rents the piece of land he's living on for $100 a year.
He also supplements his income with a casual job maintaining the lawns of a cemetery -
you can read the bureaucratic-sounding job description and letter of offer in one of his Chronicles.

'It's a non-stressful, outdoor job,' he says.
  'And one where people around you are unlikely to do your head in with office politics...'

Dan is no vagrant hippie with his hat permanently upturned.
Once a professional photographer who ran SHOTS, a black and white photography magazine, 
he knows how to appeal to semi-corporate types to help pay his minimal dues and fill
his skillet with nourishing organic veggies.


Dan with trike and his copy of 'The Handsomest Man in Cuba'.

Sierra Designs gave him a tent. Patagonia gave him a jacket.
Simple Shoes shod him for several years until there was a change of management. 
A sad day for Dan, the boardroom meeting probably went like this:

Who's this dude? Yeah, my kid can draw too - can it!

WizWheels gave him a $2000K trike to explore the world and draw what he saw by trike-cam.
He embarked on a 3-wheeled odyssey around the perimeter of the States, but got as far as
Florida before road rage drove him to turn around and flee back to his hole.
Sakura provide him with a supply of Pigma Micron archival quality pens to felt-tip his forays into eternity.

We continue the tour. Outside, I inspect a composting toilet in its own enclosure,
decorated wild-west style with a cow's skull and Thoreau-like quotes.

We head for the nearby stream, past some ponds which he made by digging
out channels in the former swamp, thus making a meadow out of marshland. 
I always admired people who can build a house and re-shape land, How did he know where to start'

'I just read books on it and surfed the internet for ideas,' he says.

dan shower sweat lodge

Left: Dan and his gravity-fed shower.   Right: Propane-powered sweatlodge.

Beside the stream is gravity fed shower, heated by an electric current.
Nearby is a tiny pebbly beach, and a little flagstone patio sets off an easy
chair made from found objects and sticks, and a graceful pottery vase with a single fresh bloom. 

But wait, there's more.

Over there, past his jocks and socks drying on a rope between two trees, is a sweat lodge made of shingles.
A propane burner gets the little hothouse hotter'n jalapenos and the lodge is just big enough for two people and a prodigal son.

Shades of Henry David Thoreau's Walden shuffle to mind.

He buys a copy of my book The Handsomest Man in Cuba and reads it that day.
When you structure your life by putting you first, you have time to do things, like read books.

'I used to work as a photojournalist with regular crazy hours. The problem is, people have their lives organized so they are the slaves.
 Basically, the average person spends a ton of their time working for very little money, just to survive.
I spend a very little of my time working for enough money to not just survive, but do what I love - draw and travel.'

For some reason I am reminded of the quote, 'You can have my heart and soul but you can't have my body.'

Dan's heart and soul are in his Chronicles, but his body is not slumped over a desk and
driving to and from work in the dark in a traffic jam.
His body is precisely where he wants it to be - in his cozy hobbit hole, on his trike, doodling all the way.

flower in vase

A man's touch: flower in a vase beside the stream

Write to Dan at his hole in the ground, Moonlight Chronicles, Box 109 Joseph, Oregon, 97846.
To subscribe to Moonlight Chronicles, enclose $5 or more per forthcoming issue.

Copyright 2004 Lynette Chiang All rights reserved