Don McLellan, Humboldt Hermit

Other than what Evelyn McCormick writes in her self-published 1984 book Living With The Giants: a History of the Arrival of Some of the Early Northwest Coast Settlers, not much is known about Don McLellan, a hermit in Humboldt County in Northern California. In Chapter 13, "Settlers and Residents," McCormick writes:

Don McLellan arrived unannounced in late 1958 or early 1959. He resided alone for about a year in a redwood goosepen. ... This particular tree, akin to many others, is still alive, producing new needles and cones from year to year.

As may be deduced from  this passage, a "goosepen" is the hollowed trunk of a large and ancient tree -- in this case a redwood. The hollow is created by fire or by age. Moisture and fungi weaken the wood exposed by the absence of bark, and with time the rotting wood collapses inward, leaving a hollow space in the trunk. (see image right)goosepen in a redwood tree

In the Pacific Northwest, early settlers would house their geese and other fowl in these hollows -- thus the term "goosepen." Wild creatures from bats to bears might also inhabit such hollow trunks.

This is where the hermit in the French fairy tale "Princess Rossette" lived:

The queen heard that in a great forest near the castle there was an old hermit, who lived in a hollow tree, and that people came from far and near to consult him.

McCormick's description continues:

The inner circumference of the goosepen was large enough for McLellan to house a wood stove, a few shelves and necessary utensils as well as provisions. This ingenious hermit found that what his new home lacked in girth, it furnished in height.

He immediately went to work with redwood beams, constructing second and third stories above his kitchen. He fashioned a mattress of straw for his second floor bedroom and kept some of his belongings on the third floor. His stove was completed with a curved chimney which forced smoke through a wide crack and beyond the bark outdoors. His tree house was completely within the tree itself.

Another Account

A friend of Hermitary reports the following about Don McLellan, the Humboldt hermit.

When I was a child growing up in Humboldt County, California, my father would take me to visit a hollowed-out redwood tree which he said a hermit had inhabited. It had a stout wooden door with latch, and a wooden floor with a built-in table and cabinet. A ladder took you up to a sleeping loft, and above that was another attic floor which was presumably a storage area. There was a hole in the tree which the hermit had screened in for a window.

My father claims to remember the hermit riding a bicycle into Scotia for supplies.

Scotia, about twenty-five miles from Eureka, was a lumber company town established by Canadian settlers from (logically) Nova Scotia. Our correspondent description of McLellan continues:

I always pictured him as having a long beard and speaking to no one. But a little research shows that the hermit was fairly young (maybe a beatnik) and only stayed a short time. ...

The tree has unfortunately blown down, I believe.