Ruess is on our minds again this summer, thanks to not one, but two new biographies. The first is Philip L. Fradkin’s Everett Ruess: His Short Life, Mysterious Death, and Astonishing Afterlife (University of California Press, 332 pp.) The second is David Roberts’ Finding Everett Ruess: The Life and Unsolved Disappearance of a Legendary Wilderness Explorer (Broadway, 394 pp.)
Ruess was the son of nomadic parents who settled in Los Angeles and he grew up with artistic passions and a relentless sense of wanderlust. As a teenager during the Depression, he drifted solo north to San Francisco and the Sierra mountains and back to the deserts of the Southwest – along the way meeting people like famed photographers Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and Edward Weston, and painter Maynard Dixon.
During his brief existence, he displayed a charming precocity, showing sensitivity as a writer, poet, photographer and free-spirited thinker.
At one point, he wrote in a confident, self-assertive letter to his brother, that he could never remain captive to a city. “Even from your scant description, I know that I could not bear the routine and humdrum of the life that you are forced to lead,” he wrote. “I don’t think could ever settle down. I have known too much of the depths of life already, and I would prefer anything to an anticlimax.”