The way I knew Ken Clark
by Bodvar "Bo" Skutvik
A few years ago I received an E-mail from a person who introduced himself as Ken Clark of Talequah, Oklahoma USA. I don't know exactly what time it was - a couple of computer crashes and attempts to transfer IN-box contents to ever new mail programs have deleted and chipped the early messages badly - but I believe it was in the first half of 1997 and shortly after I had launched an essay on Robert Pirsig's "Metaphysics of Quality" (MOQ hereafter) on the internet. Ken's first letter was about the MOQ all right, but with Ken's particular cosmic slant to it. A fragment of that still exists:
> ...........another thought that I thought it would be
I had heard about this theory and replied with what little information I possessed and we struck up a conversation on this and other topics more close to Pirsig's ideas that Ken grew more familiar with. One such was the discovery of some immensely old burial sites that proved that mankind from the very start had some sense of after-life and carried out rituals in that connection. It should be noted that rituals are of the RT family that Pirsig sees as the eternal Quality manifest.
Only now did Ken start to tell me the first things from his life's story which was to become enlarged by and by. Shortly after this I also had the first message from the founders of a Pirsig mailing list called the “Lila Squad” (Diana McPartlin and Magnus Berg) I invited Ken to join the group and it got a flying start by a member whose scope of interest and knowledge seemed limitless - at times spiced by a rough sense of humour, but always in a disarming tone. He also wrote privately to me when he had found some interesting new information that he felt needed our attention. Here is the first one on Lovelock's "Gaia" theory that came to be interwoven into his concept of the MOQ:
> Date: 18. september 1997 02:59
Ken's messages to the Lila Squad - later the MoQ Discuss and MoQ Focus - are to be found in the archives and my later private exchange with him will not be published here, but I came to learn more about is life: His childhood in the Texas Panhandle district in the late twenties and early thirties. An area hit by the notorious Dust Drift phenomenon when the eroded topsoil blew wherever the wind carried it. Ken told about his mother carrying dust from inside the house. Outside there was plenty from before, the whole land half buried in the ash-like stuff. Just old enough to join the armed forces during the opening of the WW2 he spent much of it in the Pacific as crew member of various aircraft - as a radio operator more specifically . He mentioned several locations, names that are familiar to those interested in that history. After the war he continued to fly and was stationed for some time in Alaska where our Norwegian air ace Bernt Balchen was commander. From this "northeren exposure" Ken knew much about the arctic conditions and spoke much about it in our exchange.
The last part of his military career I don't know more about than is in his bio. on the moq.org homepage. In 1945 he left the Navy to become a civilian, but after a while he joined the military again - "couldn't get enthused about paying for my own food and lodgings" in Ken's typical phrasing - this time the Air Force where he held a teaching positions until he retired in 1984. He attended a meeting with his old squadron mates in 1998 (?) and wrote a moving letter to me about that - to which I can't but add that such veteran meetings is a shock for us never able to catch up with our own age and finding that our contemporaries have grown OLD. His health was not all good, some respiration problem gave him constant trouble, but did not hamper his optimism nor from keeping up his many hobbies and interests, among those metalworking. I have one copper kettles that he sent me in exchange for one of my paintings. He shared a workshop with his wife JoAnne's pottery where she still makes her earthenware products. He also bought himself an old motor-cycle which he restored and chugged on around the Cornshell Mountain roads, and was in the process of bringing an old car up to mint condition when the illness prevented further work. The coming of the computer age - and later the Internet - was obviously a great thing to Ken who here saw a means for people to communicate across the country borders ...something he certainly was right in predicting.
Through the few years I had the privilege of knowing Ken he gave me much useful information about many things and in spite of the geographical distance between us I regarded him a dear friend. He also delivered many weighty pieces to the Pirsig discussion, at times, when tired of thinking and complaining of a spinning head, in a wry way, but I think he enjoyed this discussion greatly. I only knew the writing side of Ken, but from what I have learned later he was just as charming in real life and was deeply loved by his family.I also learned that he was a capable musician: singing and playing the guitar. During the last monts his health deteriorated further and as known he passed away in April 2000.