Okay, another thing that led me to homesteading is a reality show (I know, I know! Keep reading, its not what you think!) called Mountain Men, which airs on the History channel. This show follows various mountain men, homesteaders, across the country, the more rugged the better. It follows real-life people, in the modern day, living a somewhat primitive lifestyle that most of American might have considered extinct. Mountain Men is about their day-to-day work of surviving on their homesteads, hunting and growing their food, building outbuildings, trapping, chasing off mountain loins, etc. Two of the mountain men it follows in the current season live in Alaska, and two in Montana.
One of these men, Morgan, lives alone on his Alaska homestead with four Icelandic ponies and a German shepherd named Rufus. He’s a newer addition to the show, showing up at the beginning of the 4th season is about to start his nearly 500-mile trek across the Alaskan mountains to his newly-acquired land — on foot. That is a brave man, ladies and gents.
Marty lives farther south in Alaska for part of the year with his wife and daughter,but come winter he flies to the mountains in his one-man plane to his trapping cabin. His income from trapping is how he supports his family, but he spends most of the winter months alone. He’s tough as nails. When he started a new trap line, far away from the old one, he built a log cabin completely by himself. It was one of the most impressive things I’d ever seen. I had thought cabin-building would be a two-man job, at least!
Tom Orr and his wife live Montana’s Yaak valley, where they live mostly self-sufficiently. Most of their monetary income (besides the show, now, I suppose) is from trapping. They eat the meat of the trapped animals, and Tom tans the hides and sells them, as well as selling gorgeous hand-crafted knives. For an aspiring homesteader, his workshop is a wonder to behold! He uses a lot of traditional methods to do his work, such as tanning a hide using the brain of that animal. Not many people do it that way anymore, but that used to be how everyone did it. Strangely enough, every animal has just enough brains to tan its own hide. Cool, huh? I don’t know who was the weirdo who first figured that out though, thousands of years ago. But its inspiring to watch Tom work, whether he’s tanning a hide or making a knife, hunting or trapping or whatever it is he does that day. Its cool to see the inside of his house and all the details of a life like this.
Rich, also in Montana, is basically a professional lion-chaser. Yes, you read that right. When a rancher or farmer has a mountain lion attack, they hire Rich. He and his trained hunting dogs track the mountain lions back into the mountains they came from. His dogs are trained to chase the mountain loin and drive them up a tree, and then howl and bark and basically scare the big cat from coming back. His job is to convince these predators that the livestock of the local ranchers is not worth preying on. He usually doesn’t shoot the wild felines, unless its absolutely necessary, just scaring them far from civilization. It’s nice that its still possible to respect wild animals in that way.
I respect Rich a lot. Its clear that he loves his dogs and his job. He’s been able to find a unique niche to fill to support himself and his family, where he can work outside, with his dogs, and help his neighbors, the other farmers and ranchers, too. Well, I respect a lot of these guys. They are tough dudes, living authentic lives.
Eustace owns 1000 acres of woods in North Carolina that he calls Turtle Island. Every building on his property he built himself, with lumber from his own woods. Almost every episode he’s building something, which is fascinating and educational to watch. He uses draft horses to log his land, because horses can get through in tighter spaces than trucks. And because he prefers horse power. Eustace seems like he could have stepped out of the Civil-War era himself. Most of his tools are old, he recently acquired a hundred-year old sawhorse. Right now he’s also working on breeding hogs and starting a new business venture selling organic pork. I watch this show and note the techniques Eustace and his business parnter Preston use to herd the hogs when they escape or something. Its enjoyable to see other people living the life I want to live, and I learn what I can by watching too.
Over the years, one of the men profiled was (in my not so humble opinion) a fake, but most are genuine. This one guy based in New Mexico, and right away Alex and I could tell something was wrong. All his clothes were brand-new, not a speck of dust, no wear whatsoever. And they were like a parody of what people think cowboys dress like; it was embarrassing. On one hunting trip with his son, they broke open a log and supposedly ate the grubs inside. Except, they were freaking mealworms! The bedding stuff that mealworms come in was still sprinkled all over the log. Between Alex and I, we have about 25 years experience working in pet stores. That wasn’t going to fool us. When we looked this guy up, it turned out he’s an actor who runs a fancy-schmany ranch retreat for rich people. He sells canned hunting trips, which means he has tame, farmed bison living in fenced-in pastures. Rich assholes pay $10,000 to drive up to the buffalo, get out of the car, and shot it, and call that a “hunt”. No sportsmanship. No challenge. No skill needed. I hope they at least eat the meat, because everything else about it offensive enough already. There were many other problems that we were able to spot, that showed he was faking or uneducated in these basic skills (Seriously, he wore blue jeans to go deer hunting. I’ve yet to go deer hunting and I know this is a big no-no. The color blue makes you stick out like a sore thumb to the deer). Anyway I don’t want to spend this whole post talking about what this one guy did wrong. We usually fast-forwarded through his parts, he was so annoying. Thankfully he was only on for a few seasons.
So, Mountain Men is still a reality show, and of course there some problems inherent in that, but overall its been a very positive experience. When I started watching Mountain Men, I already had an inkling that I wanted this life. Watching this show especially would bring out the longing in my heart, that Jenna Woginrich calls barnheart, what I’ve described before as a kind of nostalgia for something I’ve never had. Now some of these homesteaders are far more hardcore than I’ll ever be. I’ll certainly not be living alone in the Alaskan wilderness anytime soon! But I have to credit them, for being another stone that was added to the form taking shape in my mind. It helps to see that there are other people out there were are aiming at an independent lifestyle. And it helps to realize that there are others with much scarier homesteading problems, that mine are small in comparison. If they can accomplish something so big and scary in such formidable environments, then surely I can carve out a homestead in the much more forgiving climate of the Ozarks.
Some Thoughts About The Media We Consume
The Weekend Homesteader by Anna Hess suggests as one of the many small projects, one covering Media Consciousness. She says the average American spends twenty hours watching TV each week, although to be honest I think it may be more, if myself and friends were anything to go by. She has two projects for the Media Consciousness section, one of which is keeping a media journal. In it you would record not just how much time you spend on media (and that includes computer games and radio, not just TV), but what it was, and how you felt before the activity and afterwards. In this way you begin to understand how media affects you. I did this a few years ago and it one of the reasons I decided to stop watching the news. News is rarely informative, mostly biased, and always pretty depressing. I’ve given up on my obsession with staying TOO “well-informed”, which does nothing but drive you crazy, and is mostly about stuff that you can’t control anyway. Most of my news comes from the internet, but it does come from reputable sources. Part of the reason for this is that I’ve found I’m less profoundly depressed by reading news than seeing it. This is something I frequently have to remind my brother about, however. I might read an article about the latest police shooting; I DO NOT want to see the video of it. Of course its a good thing if the video helps bring someone to justice, but I know myself. I don’t want to hear it and see someone lose their life.
Ms Hess also writes about the affect that media consumption can have on a homesteader’s commitment to voluntary simplicity. She writes:
One of the most troublesome aspects of mainstream media is its tendency to change the way we feel about ourselves and our possessions. Psychologists report that we relate to television characters as if they are our friends, mourning when a fictional character “dies”. Even if you ignore the ads scattered amid your favorite shows, chances are you’re unconsciously comparing your own possessions to those of your “friends” on-screen. Since most of those “friends” drive new cars, have huge wardrobes, and live in fancy houses, you feel obliged to follow suit. …. After removing the peer pressure exerted by glossy magazines and upscale television characters, I very rarely feel like I want to buy anything1.
The first time I read this, it made me realize something interesting. The TV shows my brother and I had faithfully watched for years were already rewiring our brains to devalue material items, unless they were really cool homesteading tools or something of that sort. Almost all our “TV friends” were survivalists of one sort or another. I read the Little House on the Prairie books as a kid and they never really left me. The Walking Dead, Revolution, both apocalypse shows focusing on survival after society collapses. Falling Skies was another post-apocalypse show I watched, this one caused by an alien invasion instead of zombies or terrorism. The Last Ship follows a Navy ship, and focuses on rebuilding society after 90% of the human species is wiped out by a pandemic. Then, of course, there is Mountain Men, which I’ve already discussed, that follows real-life people in the day-to-day work of surviving on their homesteads, hunting and growing their food, building outbuildings, trapping, chasing off mountain loins, etc. The top three YouTube channels I watched the most at that time were An American Homestead, Becky’s Homestead, and Food Farmer Earth, and that has mostly held true. You can guess from their names what they were about. Even Star Trek, which had been my happy place since I was a child, although placed in future, the society of Gene Roddenberry imagined “was no longer driven by the acquisition of material things. We work for the betterment of ourselves and humanity.”
1Anna Hess. The Weekend Homesteader: A 12-Month Guide to Self-Sufficiency. Skyhorse Publishing. New York. 2012. page 331.