I was precocious teenager. I had been sick in bed most of my early years, with asthma, measles and more. I also was with my maternal grandparents when they died at home. Sometime before age 6, I lost hearing and balance in my right ear. Then, at 12 I was in a solitary bicycle accident where I fractured my T5 vertebrae and was in a body brace nearly a year. My parents could not explain anything to me, Catholicism was empty, memorized nonsense. I discovered philosophy in the summer of my 10th hs year (1961) when I was a cancer research assistant at Waldemar Cancer Research Foundation on Long Island. I met brilliant kids from Ivy League schools there who introduced me to existentialism and critical thinking. Lots of reading led to Zen writers like Hubert Benoit, Alan Watts, etc. “Reading Zen Flesh, Zen Bones” by Paul Reps, I realized I had always been a Buddhist. I began going to the First Zen Institute in Manhattan, by myself, 1961-1963.
I have met with Gary Snyder on many occasions in NY, Philadelphia, SF, Berkeley and Seoul. I can't say his dharma had much influence on me. He scrambled Indian tantra with native American shamanism - lots of outward gazing romantic stuff but not true dharma confronting death and impermanence. My dharma has gotten more subtle and deeper over the years - much simpler and less tolerant of cultural accretions, hierarchy, and Hindu-Christian interfaith foggy thinking about gods and God-BS. I have become more of a scientist, and more sensitive to near death and afterlife communications. BS=BS
Yosemite Yin Yang: Portrait of Gary Snyder -- Steve Justice