Life Begins Outside the Window
The Ozarks of the 1950’s were different from those same rugged old mountains and valleys today. We lived in an isolated place, before the days of interstates. The highway that wound past our front door was as wide and well traveled as the average unmarked county lane today. We played softball on the pavement, in between cars. It’s not surprising that I grew up with the woods for a playmate — that’s where we lived, in conditions that hadn’t changed much since the end of the Civil War and the departure of the Baldknobber gangs.
Then I had to go to school. I spent every spare minute staring out the window over the fencewire and hog lot and red clay road, to where the trees began. Daily I plotted my escape, making lists of essentials for the grand day when I hit the trail and left it all behind. At home I assembled my gear, testing it on weekend forays. With bits of Army surplus and the war souvenirs of my father and my uncles I explored the old places within my rather short reach. Well, twenty miles was my goal, I kept working for a twenty mile hike. I did manage that once, over very tough terrain, and it took me a long time to get home. I took a chance and followed a road I found, and on that road a car passed me and people in the car stopped and waved at me and I was too tired to respond. They left. I actually knew those people but when you have no blood sugar it’s hard to respond in social ways. I walked home. Even my dog, Champ, was tired. I got back just after dark when my family was about to call to call the police, but I did my twenty miles. My father was fond of telling me that I could pick a direction and walk and never find a road. I kept looking for that mythical trail that would take me back in time, but it seemed I always missed it. I’d always find that road, and it would pull me home again.
That was a long time ago, but I haven’t changed much since then. I still have a closet full of gear, enough for any outing I might be able to try. Anywhere I choose to go, I bet I can put together a kit for it. I’ve done Arctic survival training in Alaska, jungle survival training in preparation for a tour of duty in Vietnam, hiked the mountains of the Thai/Cambodian border during the Pol Pot regime, and been to enough strange places that customs officials used to gasp when they saw my passport, thinking I was going to make their day. I learned quite a lot from those military survival courses but in many ways found them lacking, focused on rescue instead of a sustaining way of life. What taught me the most about survival was repeating the things the pioneers and Native Americans did to get by in the old days. If you want to know why people were so fond of carrying tomahawks in those days, get a tomahawk and start using it. Best survival tool ever for the North American woods. Actually doing things helps separate the useless gear from the gear that works. It’s not about temporary survival. You have to live there.
I haven’t been every place I want to go. I still think what it might be like to do what Daniel Boone did when he was old, to just hit the trail and wander for a few years. I may get pieces of that adventure yet. Like most of us, I take my wandering a few days at a time. Until my next entry into the old world where the trail will never take you past a road, I look at gear and stay ready. This website began as articles about that gear — what works and what won’t, and the occasional interesting gamble on something that might. Since I have retired, things have changed. I’m not so crazy about going to the exotic places. I live here, and my life is about living.
I still spend a lot of time looking out the window across the fields. Always, I’m thinking, Someday, I’m going to escape. But for now, I’m living the life I always wanted. I used to think I’d have to move to Alaska for it when I retired, but Alaska pretty much moved down here to Indiana and we joined up. One of my neighbors stopped out front the other day when I was working the garden and we talked for awhile, which is fine if it only happens once or twice a year. She said, “You spend all of your time here?” and indicated the house and the property, a lush mass of food, hay and unfinished projects.
I laughed and said, “Yes! Yes I do! and why would you think that’s a bad thing?”
If we learn enough, there does come a time when all you need to do to access the other side of the world, or even places no one has ever gone, is close your eyes. Abraham Lincoln said, “The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land.” He was right. I’m doing that.
Jimmy Two Hats