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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Book Review: Kuff Questions the Nature of Change

June 2, 2008

By Bettina Lehovec
The Morning News (Arkansas, USA)
May 31, 2008

FAYETTEVILLE - As a philosophy student in college, How Kuff grappled
with life's biggest questions: Why are we here? Is God real? What can we know?

He realized the answers lay in living, not exploring abstract
theologies, he said. The young man completed a master's degree in
math, traveled extensively and built a career in computer information

How Kuff is a local author living near Red Star in the headwaters of
the Buffalo River. He recently published "Changing History," a
Chaucerian-like novel he began after a mountain bike trip through
Tibet seven years ago.

Yet he never stopped questioning, repeatedly choosing the road less
traveled as he raised his family in a solar-powered home in rural
Newton County.

How Kuff discusses the philosophical concepts in his novel. The book
is the culmination of his whole life experience, he said.

A 1999 mountain bike trip through Nepal and Tibet rekindled his
desire to explore the big questions in a book.

He returned home and began writing. The result is "Changing History,"
a novel self-published through iUniverse in November.

Patterned on "The Canterbury Tales" by Geoffrey Chaucer, the book
brings together seven travelers in an unexpected snowstorm in Tibet.
As the travelers wait for the storm to subside, they share the
stories of their lives. A Tibetan Buddhist monk and nun, also trapped
by the storm, serve as spiritual guides. They deepen the conversation
to address broad human concerns and the interrelatedness of the
travelers' tales.

Each of the main characters is wounded in some way - by family,
society, environmental issues or war. The group encounter helps them
realize they must make peace with the past, Kuff said.

"They realize that they are part of a changing world and that they
are interconnected to what has gone on before. Although they might
want to feel that they are free, the past follows them and they need
to deal with it.

"We exist not only in the present but in the past and future at the
same time. Every single thing we do affects everything around us -
and gives us great responsibility and great power, both."

Kuff set the book in Tibet to highlight the themes of personal and
political freedom, he said. Environmental issues also figure
prominently. The rivers that feed much of Asia begin in the Himalayan
nation. Kuff sees control of natural resources as a major factor in
China's 1949 takeover of Tibet.

The recent wave of protests against Chinese rule underscores the
struggles he addresses in his book.

"What's going on in Tibet is kind of a microcosm for what's going on
all over the world. It's the pinnacle - literally and figuratively."

His bike trip through the rugged nation was a highlight of his life,
he said. He and wife Kate pedaled 500 miles from the capital city of
Lhasa to Katmandu, Nepal. A side trip to Mount Everest took them 17,
600 feet above sea level.

The group tour included seven cyclists plus guides, giving him the
template he developed in his novel.

A Commitment To Nature

Water is an important theme in Kuff's book - and in his life. His
home is situated on 150 acres at the headwaters of the Buffalo
National River. When the U.S. Forest Service decided to allow
clear-cutting in the area in 1989, Kuff led efforts to stop it.

As president of the Newton County Wildlife Association, he filed
numerous lawsuits designed to halt the use of clear-cutting,
bulldozing and herbicides. Five major rivers flow from that part of
the Ozark National Forest: the Buffalo, the Kings, the White, the
Mulberry and the Piney.

"The headwaters of the Ozarks is a major watershed," Kuff said. "We
were all about protecting that."

It was a volatile time, with loggers lining up on one side of the
issue and environmentalists on the other.

Environmentalists didn't win the lawsuits, but the legislation slowed
deforestation and spurred the Forest Service to review its policies,
Kuff said. More environmentally friendly policies are now in place.

Kuff is assisting the Forest Service with a mountain bike trail
system in the headwaters area, he said. With his clear hazel eyes,
pointed ears and long sideburns, the activist resembles a forest elf.

Kent Bonar, a longtime friend, said Kuff has a deep commitment to the
natural world. He's not afraid to voice his opinions - a trait that
can draw people to his cause and turn others away.

"He definitely has convictions on what he thinks about things - and
is pretty vocal about saying it," Bonar said. "He's pretty intense
about his whole way of life. ...

"He has a good positive attitude on things, as much as a person can.
He feels a moral responsibility and a conscience in relationship to
the natural word that shows if you're around him very long."

Mike Haley, another longtime friend, characterized Kuff as "a very
driven person."

"He's intense. When he wants to do something, he puts his head to it.
He's not afraid to work hard. ... He's very intelligent, very
involved with the (Headwaters) school and with politics, an avid
mountain biker. ...

"I admire How. He thinks for himself, instead of repeating a party
line or what someone else says. He's genuinely concerned with the
world, with the environment, with the political situation in the
world and the country.

"He's a genuinely caring person."

Questioning The Status Quo

Kuff's life story reflects many of the conflicts experienced by his

He was born in 1952, "the year of the hydrogen bomb," he says. His
father was in Korea the first two years of his life. Kuff grew up in
inner city Baltimore, living with his mother above her parents' grocery store.

His parents weren't particularly religious, but they dutifully sent
their son to Hebrew school. He was kicked out at age 12 for
disrupting the class with questions, Kuff said.

"I was always a skeptic, always asking the why and wherefore of
things. ... I've also always been analytical, drawn to patterns (in
math and life)."

He dropped out of high school at age 16, disillusioned with a system
he viewed as meaningless. Kuff lived on the streets of several East
Coast cities before making his way to northern Wisconsin, where he
worked as a lumberjack.

Living in the woods appealed to him, but the hard physical work and
the long winters wore him down. He entered Northland College in
Ashland, Wisc., at the age of 22 to study philosophy and math. He
went on to earn a master's degree in math from the University of
Minnesota in 1980.

Kuff met his wife, Kate, at Northland. The two spent summers on the
road, hitchhiking and hopping freight trains across the United States
and into Mexico and Canada. They came through Fayetteville in 1978.
They liked the community - and the climate, which beat the harsh
winters of the north. They moved here permanently in 1982, buying
land in Newton County.

Kuff taught at Headwaters School in Pettigrew and at North Arkansas
Community College in Harrison for several years. In 1985, the couple
moved to the Washington, D.C., area so Kuff could pursue advanced
training in computer technology. They returned in 1988 with their two
young children, Lenni and Heron.

Kuff started a software engineering company called Headwaters
Management Systems. He provided software development and data
analysis for clients from home. A specialty became computer
technology for the parking meter industry. Kuff had clients in China
and Israel as well as many U.S. cities, including Fayetteville.

Kuff has been semi-retired since 2005. His focus is on writing, he
said. He plans to write another book about a naturalist. Where
"Changing History" is a macrocosm of universal truths, the new book
will be a microcosm, he said.

His aim with his writing is to get people to think.

"I'm trying to do what I can to get people to look at behavior that
keeps them from realizing the full potential that we are. ...
Thinking and acting in certain ways keeps people locked in patterns
of behavior. We need to see those patterns to change them.

"It's not that I have great answers, but I think I have developed a
lot of questions that will provoke thought. That's why I wrote the book."
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