POULSBO — The sounds of car engines never stop swirling past the grove of mostly western red cedars in the place Chris Christensen called home.
Hidden from the world that whizzed by, the 54-year-old kept what he called “the Shiloh,” a wooded island encircled by the onramp from Highway 305 onto Highway 3 south.
State Department of Transportation workers on a lunch break hiked in and discovered his body Wednesday morning. But they also came upon his meticulously organized world: a campsite with finely raked dirt, a sturdy green shed and a tent filled with bins of scrupulously folded clean laundry and cases of Steel Reserve beer.
Though he spent much of his time in those woods, Christensen, who said he was a Vietnam veteran, was no stranger to the town he came to not more than a decade ago. He hauled every last piece of lumber for the shed he built from a nearby Home Depot. He talked often with volunteers and employees of North Kitsap Fishline, a Poulsbo food bank. His veteran’s benefits allowed a monthly stay at the Poulsbo Inn, where he befriended the staff.
“He was the kindest man,” said Pam Ackley, who knew Christensen through her work at Fishline. “But he was a quiet man.”
The Kitsap County Coroner’s Office hasn’t been able to find any of his relatives. But in his time in Poulsbo, members of the community became his family.
Terri Douglas, general manager at the Poulsbo Inn, said getting to know Christensen did require patience.
“He was kind of quirky and very opinionated,” she said. “At first you were afraid of him, because he had this big temper. But once you realized it was all talk, you saw how kindhearted he was.”
He seemed deeply affected by his experiences in the military, Douglas said.
He had a problem with others touching him. Christensen once told her that he was so afraid of the nightmares, he drank himself to sleep each night. The only time he had problems at Fishline was when he’d been drinking, employees there said. Poulsbo police officers added that they’d gone to local grocers on a couple of occasions for reports of his outbursts.
“It’s just sad very sad,” Rae Rodriguez, Fishline’s client services advocate, said of his death. “He suffered from being a veteran, and from his alcoholism.”
But he was proud of his home beside the highway, Douglas said, one he’d built after being evicted by police from a similar campsite he’d created nearby. Though he’d come back and officers had suspected he was somewhere in the area, “he didn’t cause any trouble,” said Poulsbo police Sgt. Bob Wright.
Nor did he leave a trail — he recycled every beer can and piece of trash, keeping them in hanging bags behind his green shed. Upon surveying his home following his death, Wright called him a “totally environmentally friendly guy.”
He would embellish stories, telling Wright once that he had “permission from the governor” to mind the city’s land there. Poulsbo Inn staff also heard tales of his work as a secret agent. Over a decade, the stories never changed, leading them to think he believed them, too.
To Douglas’ amazement, he’d juxtapose tall tales with intellectual discussions of politics.
“He knew everything that was going on in the world,” she said.
In February, Christensen’s drinking appeared to have caught up to him. He’d developed cirrhosis and was hospitalized.
Douglas had gone to visit him at Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton. His eyes lit up when she and others came. And in that one instance, Christensen gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek, she said.
She’d given him an emergency contacts card in his wallet in case his condition worsened. But upon his discharge from the hospital, he vowed never to go back.
“ ’I’m 54,’ ” she recalled him as saying. “ ’If I die, I die.’ ”
Christensen’s dream, Douglas said, was that if he won the lottery, he was going to buy a La-Z-Boy recliner and check into the hotel until his winnings ran out.
The Poulsbo Inn staff plans to plant a tree at Christensen’s highway home, Douglas said.
“He died so misunderstood,” Douglas said. “He was so kindhearted. But I know other people realized it, too.”
The Kitsap County Coroner’s Office has not been able to contact Christensen’s family and urges anyone with information about his family’s whereabouts to call 360-337-7077.