Tom on the Upper Mississippi near his hometown on Grey Cloud Island.
An adventurous life lived close to the ground
Tom’s diverse writing career parallels his unusual life, ranging from Mississippi “river rat,” South Seas sailor and Kilauea eruption ranger to political activist, public policy expert, English and writing teacher, and spiritual seeker.
Tom with visiting sailors at the Michigan Island light in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
Tom lived his early life on the Upper Mississippi on a backwaters island of Minnesota river folk, beavers and owls, and ancient burial mounds. When a powerful sand and gravel company tried to expand their strip mining Tom’s family mobilized township residents to fight for their beautiful and historically significant island.
Tom often visited Lake Superior (Gitchigami) where he sailed, camped, snowshoed and dove on shipwrecks. (Later, in 2001, he and his wife worked as volunteer lighthouse keepers in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.)
Working as a deckhand aboard the yacht Endymion off the Tongan Coast in 1987.
Inspired by his Mississippi and Lake Superior upbringing, Tom became an environmentalist as a teenager and later obtained a Master’s degree from the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, specializing in environmental and economic sustainability. In 1979 he joined the University’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs where for almost a decade he wrote policy studies and articles on environmental and other issues impacting Minnesota. He also brought fresh, progressive ideas into Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party as a party officer and a founder and first Chair of the Coalition for a Progressive DFL. Twin Cities newspapers are among the U.S. dailies that have published Tom’s editorials, and Twin Cities public access television stations broadcast his early award-winning videos.
In 1987, exhausted from years of academic and political work and disillusioned by the lack of public interest in sustainability during that regressive post-Reagan era, Tom took off on a vagabond journey that eventually led him to the South Pacific and Hawaiʻi.
That’s when he began writing fiction.