Reinterpreted: a backwards glance into the life of Rider South

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Tonight I believe I experienced true humility. I expected a good story; the truth about a man who had an unusual life experience. What I discovered was a great understanding of the intricacies of living life.

Rider South, now 79, is the son of the famed Marshal South who was best known for his the chronicles of his primitive desert living experiment with his family that lasted 17 years starting in 1930. Now living in The Middle of Nowhere, New Mexico, Rider agreed to do a 10-day tour with Diana Lindsey, arranged by Sunbelt Publications, talking about his story on the mountain, which included a return visit to Ghost Mountain. The last stop of the tour was San Diego History Center.

Diana Lindsey, probably the foremost expert on the history of the Anza-Borrego, set the stage by telling the story of Marshal South and his life as a poet, novelist, journalist, potter, homesteader, founder of a local militia, and admirer of women. The stories were above and beyond the history that I knew and had read. Diana painted the picture of a man who sought attention for his passions but quit as soon as his work reached popular demand for fear of it becoming a “job.” He was creative, independent, stubborn, and self-serving.

As Rider took the mic, it was easy to see that he had not inherited most of his father’s traits. He seemed apprehensive even though this was this final time he had to speak. His descriptions of his life and experiences felt distanced from any emotion of his life in the desert. When asked to describe his his return to Ghost Mountain, he described the difficulty of the trail at 79 compared with his youth as well the change of landscape. When asked about whether he felt jealous of other kids upon seeing them in books with houses and appliances, he merely responded… they were just books and other people’s lives. He spoke of returning to civilization and graduating from Point Loma High School as if it were just another day. Rider married the love of his life, Lucile, late in life (she was 68) although he followed her everywhere her path would lead. Last year, she passed away at 100 and 1/2. She was an inspiration in her own right.

After the talk, I had the privilege to meet Rider. We spoke of his miniature poodle, Suzy, who watches him fall asleep every night. He shared how he likes the dry weather of New Mexico and how his town has one of every store he needs, just enough. I learned his brother and sister now live in the rainy northwest and how his grandchildren are spread far and wide. He gushed over our store associate who gave him a postcard after he had inquired the price. He had never heard of a postcard that cost $1.60… He remembers when they cost a penny, and that included the stamp! This simple gesture of kindness he will forever remember.

Self-conscious of his age and the consequences of aging, he expressed his travel frustrations when his friend told him he was too old to drive the trip from New Mexico to San Diego.

“I’m so old!” He exclaimed to me as he picked up a painting his father had painted of him as a child on the mountain. But youth has not escaped him. It was reflected in his eyes when he received the postcard. It could be seen as he spoke about the things that mattered most to him, right now. And, you know what… It wasn’t his father, nor any of the years he spent on that mountain. That was the past. They could stay there. It was his dog, his wife and his simple life in a place that had just enough. Just enough.

Image of Rider South from East County Magazine

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