Next morning I awoke. Not with a snap, rather I crossed a gentle line between barely asleep and barely awake. I don’t wear a watch, haven’t for years. My cell phone is my watch. I reached for the Droid, It blinked five a.m. at me. It also told me it was 45 degrees outside of my toasty sleeping bag.
Thoughts of Roy, the mountain man, flooded my brain and pushed me into consciousness even as my body protested the yank from my eiderdown womb. I got up for my morning whiz.
I fired up the furnace and donned my fleece jacket and wool watch cap. I reached for my laptop, its metal shell was a block of ice on my lap. I slipped my legs back into the sleeping bag.
Questions tumbled in my mind. The very look of the man had promised a story. I asked myself how to get to it, how to get to a level of trust.
Is he the freest man I’ve ever met? Am I less free than he? What is freedom? His? Mine?
A few months before, in a binge-purge of simplification aimed at keeping me in the ring after a near-TKO by the national economic dive, I had divested myself of two condos, a lot of debt, a ton of personal possessions, and moved aboard my motorhome. I gave myself a sabbatical in which to inhale fresh air. The breeze wafted in from a doorway that had opened in my mind: a forgotten craving to wander the continent. It was nearly thirty years since I last indulged my Inner Gypsy.
I decided to wait a day, give Roy time to manage his life and write for a while. Today I would make notes of answers I wanted and the questions that might draw out his story.
The following day I rode my bike down the road he’d pointed to. The paved road ended a mile from my parking spot. I rode several miles further over the eyeball-rattling washboard without seeing anything that looked like a camp. Several ATVs, carrying shovels and buckets passed me.
Back and forth down the road
Finally, at one of the dry washes I noticed the single track of a bicycle tire amid the braided furrows of ATV tracks. I followed the track, fifty yards later I came upon a camp.
Roy, hatless and barefoot, squatted amid an orderly camp. A few bushes backstopped his camp. All that he possessed was arranged in a row on the ground: his household goods, a few utensils, canned goods, several gallon water jugs, a box of wooden matches as well as a disposable lighter. There was a canvas saddlebag and a leather pouch and a pair of serious hiking shoes. Adjacent to this closet/pantry an Indian blanket was stretched out with two more folded at the end. Atop them was a paperback book and a notebook that lay open with a pencil at the spine.
At the foot of his bed was a small campfire. Two rocks supported a grate and the black iron frying containing something sizzling away beneath the aluminum lid.
“I had to cook up all my meat before it went bad. I scraped off the mushy green stuff. “ He opened a bottle of some sort of barbeque sauce and poured it onto the meat.
We talked, light and polite, for as long as I could resist asking him.
“So, Roy, what makes you a free man?”
“It’s hard to be free anymore. They took all the land. No place a man can run a few horses. They could have left us a little something. Utah, Nevada, Colorado, somewhere. There is not a valley left that doesn’t have people in it. There are too many of us.
They outlawed all hunting for food, afraid all the animals would go extinct. You can’t even shoot a deer for meat any more. Hell, the whole country is eating cow now. They could leave us have a few deer.
I should have gone to Brazil when I had the chance.”
“When was that?
“When I was young, my twenties.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I met a woman who was too sweet to take to Brazil.”
I believe Roy has a sense of freedom different from most of us. Different from people whose lives unfolded in a more conventional way. Is freedom nothing left to lose? Or ridding yourself of the things that own you?