When Yvon Chouinard, the climber and environmentalist and the co-founder of the outdoor-apparel company Patagonia, spends days by himself at a house he owns in Moose, Wyoming, his wife, Malinda, the other co-founder, often sends mass e-mails to their friends, with the number of the landline there. “He likes phone calls and will be alone,” she’ll write. Chouinard, who is seventy-seven, has a cell phone but hardly ever turns it on. He does not use e-mail and disdains the proliferation of devices. He considers Apple to be a manufacturer of toys. “I’m getting more and more marginalized,” he told me. “My friends are constantly e-mailing with each other, and I’m excluded.” To the suggestion that he take it up, he says, “It’s too late.” On his own in Moose, he fly-fishes, reads, ties flies—and fly-fishes some more. He can fish all day. He does not require an audience, although he likes to have someone around to outfish. Taciturn as he may be, he still prizes company. He has a lifelong habit of collecting garrulous friends and yet a tendency to induce some measure of taciturnity in all but the most voluble of them. His style of reticence is contagious.
Chouinard spent the heart of this past summer as he often does, wandering around the northern Rockies, visiting old friends, and fishing the prime trout streams of the greater Yellowstone region. He did so with one good arm (rotator-cuff surgery, in June), a scarred cheek (basal-cell removal, in July), and a heavy reliance on his tenkara fly rig—a simple pole with no reel, the latest implement in his long-running crusade for simplicity and thrift. Now and then, he checks in with the office—Patagonia headquarters and his primary home are in Ventura, California—but for days at a time no one really knows where he is. Malinda sends e-mails to the people he is supposed to be with, in case there are things he should hear or do. He’s less involved in the management of the company than he used to be, but since he got into the gear business, more than fifty years ago, he has frequently disappeared for months, sometimes for half the year, to climb, kayak, surf, ski, fish, and ramble around the planet’s wilder precincts, whose preservation he has dedicated the better part of his life to. He comes off, these days, as deeply disheartened, perhaps even defeated, and yet Patagonia is bigger, and more active in environmental and labor advocacy, than it has ever been.
On a Thursday night in late July, Chouinard sat in an easy chair by the window of the Moose house, ice pack on his cheek, glass of red wine in hand, left leg up on the arm of the chair. He had on flip-flops, tan fishing pants, and a green Salmonid Restoration Federation T-shirt, which a young busboy at a café had complimented an hour before, to no reply from Chouinard. A high-country twilight had him half in shadow. The window faced west, out onto a sage-and-wildflower meadow of several acres, and, beyond that, a phalanx of cottonwoods and spruce, and, beyond those, the Tetons, with the sun now sunk behind the dusky silhouette of the Grand. Chelsea Clinton was on the radio, introducing her mother at the Democratic National Convention, in Philadelphia.
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