Leonard waves as I approach. "I've been expecting you!"
Since he couldn't have known I was coming, I'm surprised. "I've brought you some paint."
Leonard takes the can from me. "Hey, high-gloss red. That'll go in that big red heart up there. Where's the other one?" He peers at my car as if someone were hiding inside.
I tell him he must be mistaking me for someone else.
One of the men -- distinguished, fit, and 70-ish -- says, "He's not them, Leonard. I'll talk to the museums and see you in two weeks." He and his companion continue on to the Japanese car and soon they are gone.
I introduce myself to Leonard and say I'd like to chat. It turns out that he has been expecting two Canadian filmmakers, but he appears delighted to talk to me. "Let's go sit in the shade by my truck."
Leonard is a wiry fellow, 73 years old, five foot eight or nine, wearing a dusty white hat, gray pants, and a faded blue-and-turquoise shirt with patterns of shells and starfish in shades of yellow. His skin is like tanned leather, and he has flecks of white paint on his upper arms and right earlobe. His hair, when he removes his hat, is long and grayish-blond, mixed with white. His eyebrows are aggressive and sagebrush-thick. He has a thin face with thin lips, bright, birdlike blue eyes, and a long, pointed nose with a flat, dimpled tip, as if a bite had been taken out of it. He is clean-shaven and left-handed.
Though friendly, he's also quite shy, which leads him to speak in the phrases he finds most familiar, the phrases that tell about his mountain and what he is doing here, phrases he has used with dozens of other reporters and film people. There is, I come to realize, nothing insincere about him, but he regards his job as making his mountain and letting other people see it and photograph it. Although often called an artist, he objects to the term. "I've never seen myself as an artist. When people call me one, I say, 'No, don't call me that.' What thrills me most is to let people take pictures of the mountain and then let me talk about the Bible a little."
Leonard was born in Burlington, Vermont, one of six children -- three boys and three girls -- and raised in Shelborne, about ten miles away. "My parents had a 32-acre farm, four or five cows and thirty chickens and four pigs, a little bit of everything, and a two-acre garden, which was too big of a garden because we had to weed it all the time." He has a high Vermont twang, similar to Calvin Coolidge's: "git" for "get"; "kin" for "can"; "hep" for "help"; "jes" for "just"; he makes "church" and "lot" into two-syllable words, and "balloon" a one-syllable word. He has a high, musical laugh and laughs often.
We sit in the small piece of shade on gray plastic chairs by the rear of his '51 Chevy truck. The heat is like being swaddled by 50 heating pads turned up to max. A ragged couch where Leonard sleeps is pressed up to the side of the truck. Chairs, another couch, tires, water cans, a rope, chain, motorcycle helmet, a mountain bike, a shovel, cardboard boxes, a moped, some clothes, a tire pump, three tables, empty gallon plastic jugs, various caps, a rake, and paint cans occupy our immediate environment. On the couch is a Bible. Nothing indicates the presence of money except, perhaps, the moped -- and it doesn't work. The sky is cloudless. From the Chocolate Mountains comes the distant sound of jets making bombing runs, and occasional explosions.
"We had a good life on the farm," he tells me. "But I don't like cold weather, so year-round I like it better here in California. My parents tried to make me go to church as a little kid, and God bless them, they were dedicated and beautiful, but I wouldn't do it. And I never painted as a kid. I tried to paint cars for a livin' many years ago and I got everybody mad at me. So I figured I'd better not paint. I was the youngest boy. I didn't like school much and in tenth grade I quit. I hurt my mother by quittin' and it hurts me now to think about it. I can see her crying. She loved me. My older brother that's living in Ohio is very educated. He went to college in New York City and came out in the top three or something. He worked for a big boiler company and ended up fixing the real bad ones all over the world. I been protected by love. My brother, so many times, probably 80 times or less, I'd ask him for money when I was out on the road. 'I'm broke and I need $20 real bad.' And he'd send me a hundred. And two months later I'd say, 'I'm sorry I didn't pay you back, but I'm broke again.' " Leonard laughs his musical laugh. "My older brother, all through my life, before I came here, always had to kinda take care of me and give me money and he never did let me down. So he supplies love and I can work on my mountain, because, gee whiz, back then I couldn't do anything. But I gave him a surprise last February, because he looked into the Reader's Digest and there was a story on me and he says, 'Leonard! I opened up the magazine and you stared me right in the face!' He got the biggest kick outta that in Ohio. It was a double page and I was right in the middle staring up at people.
"I never drank when I was growing up. My brothers, God bless their hearts, they knew I was kinda the black sheep of the family, and when I was sixteen they said, 'You can go to the beer joints with us, but you're gonna drink Pepsi because fools and drunkards drink.' So I respected them a lot and I never did drink. I'll have a beer now and then. I'll maybe have four cans a beer a year. Last year I don't think I had any. This year I've had about six, so I'm trying to catch up. I remember when I was 16 wanting to go out with a girl and my brother let me use his car and my other brother let me use his suit, and I was all dressed up when I went to the movie with her."