For years, many of Oliver’s friends and family had been urging him to write a book about his tools and techniques, but it was not until late in his life, when he was bedridden, that he finally decided that he had both the time and the inclination to share his knowledge with the world:
For a long time I resisted trying to write a how-to book, thinking “What’s the use.” Any library or book store has a shelf of how-to books, many about going back to the land. But what you and I are writing about is even more basic than most of those books, and from a different perspective.
Anyway, I’ve come pretty near cashing in my chips, and my wonder is “Why didn’t I?” My writing is more or less complete, and my conclusion has been that maybe I do need to write on how to do some things. When you offered to help, that was kind of a clincher, as I am not able to write now. That tells me why I’m still living. Maybe it’s something that I have yet to do.
It seems to be working out. I had a big question about whether it would be possible for me to convey to you my ideas about some of these things adequately, verbally, over the phone. The reason it is possible is that you have a long experience with that sort of thing in the past, so that it is not entirely new to you.
Another reason it was possible was that I had developed a system whereby I could type just about as fast as a person could speak. We could simply talk about his life and experiences as I sat at my computer and took it all down.
We held a series of 46 interviews between December 2007 and February 2008, many of which lasted two hours or more. We only stopped when neither of us could think of any more topics. The resulting raw text ran to almost 200,000 words.
The matter rested there until the fall of 2011, when I received a call from Oliver’s daughter, Dorene Cameron Schiro. I’d known her and her family since I first arrived in the Ambler area the fall of 1964. She told me that the Cold Climate Housing Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks was planning to mount an exhibition of some of his tools. (The Center’s founder and director, my friend Jack Hebert, had also lived for a time up the Ambler River back in the day.)
Dorene asked me if I would be willing to work up my notes. We agreed that I would work up a series of essays on various topics that Oliver and I discussed, for presentation on a website. I am proud to present them here.
I am also pleased and gratified that so many other people who were influenced by Oliver have stepped forward with their tributes, memories, and photographs in support of what we have come to call The Oliver Project.
By Ole Wik