Breaking Away

C__K R__K (OC)

Ava on point and the boys closing in yesterday.

Months ago I watched the documentary “Happy People” by Werner Herzog. In the time since then I’ve been thinking about it constantly while mindlessly performing my work tasks, which involve dangerous machinery that could render me useless, and about a month ago it fucked me up – not the machinery, but the film. Not in a way that a film would normally move a person, but on an existential level that made me rethink my entire relationship with the world, specifically with the natural world, and how I spend my energy within and among it, and how I don’t wish to spend my energy on the world of men.. I promise I’m not going to go full Kierkegaard or Walden on you or anything. It took me into territory not even remotely related to the film and I traveled to some dark places and asked myself some difficult questions. Since the New Year I’ve somewhat regrounded and have placed troops back at the gates to ensure I don’t end up in a mad house. I didn’t go fully bonkers, but god damn near it. If you haven’t seen this film I implore you to watch it. It’s streaming on the Netflix and is worth a watch if you read this here pile of dribble. And I promise it won’t make you insane, as my own mind ingested it as a catalyst or a trigger in my own metaphysical melt-down. I was primed for it like a flint musket.

The past year I’ve had a theme of referring to the pursuits I enjoy as either “silly” or “ridiculous”. Why would I say such a thing about my favorite pastimes? Simply put, if you consider an efficient use of time and energy to be either A) Chasing super hero birds over mountain ranges while burning far more calories than are possibly attainable by harvesting said super hero birds, or B) Standing in a freezing river swinging or drifting artificial flies to a diminutive and diminishing population of steelhead with out the guarantee of even being able to take one home, let alone catch one.. then you are probably a sportsman. I myself have been a sportsman for most of my life. It’s fun to do things the difficult way and pursue difficult prey, and it validates that you are above the needs that are met by capturing a winged or finned meal. It also shows you how disconnected and disjointed our relationship with the natural world has become in our recent tenure as modern humans.

We don’t take to the field or water for sustenance in the belly anymore, we go to medicate our jaded minds and mend our fractured hearts. We go to try and reconnect with that part of us who used to paint with blood in caves, who knew the land like we know our commutes, who answered to nothing but hunger, who felt the same rush we do when our rods bend, feathers fly, and fur crumples. We have become sportsman, the distant effigy of times most mark as gone and others realize are still hidden here but are afraid to pursue.

The three major things that modern society has rendered onto us that enable us to be “sportsman” are 1) Industrialized food that usually comes at the cost of natural resources and wildlife habitats that decline species and force strict limits and closures on fish and game. 2) The abundance and availability of food from the Agricultural Industrial complex (see #1 above), and 3) The most free time and free energy ever seen in human history. We don’t have to spend time feeding ourselves anymore, somebody does it for us as long as we fork over the money. We don’t have to keep our fish, we have some in the freezer from the market from origins usually unknown. Most modern sportsman fish for fun and hunt for the challenge ala the sport. Not the meat. Not the nourishment. Not the subsistence.

I know it’s difficult in most places in our ever populated world to live off of the land. And to further that I know the majority of people do not wish to live in a semi-agrarian hunter-gatherer society. I don’t want them to wish that either. There simply isn’t enough to go around, and what we have left is ever shrinking. I do feed myself a small share of my sportsman spoils, but it is not a life sustaining amount. And that bothers the hell out of me. And if I do get lucky and draw a big game tag every few years, I’m still out of luck on the off years – at least while I’m living in a place without guaranteed access to natural food sources.

But god damn it, what the fuck am I doing?

I’m young, I’m strong, I’m tough enough to brave the wilds. But am I brave enough to rip out the few remaining hooks of this modern world to devote my time and energy to the business of subsistence survival? To leave to a place where I can achieve the primary human necessities on my own terms in accordance with nature? I don’t know yet, and I probably won’t for awhile, if ever. I’m still the mouse that barks. And that’s what is tearing me apart.

These questions and notions have always tickled me pink, but they have always seemed so novel, so unnecessary and distant. I myself have become a victim of convenience and circumstance. Born into the richest country on earth that exudes obesity with every Rascal Scooter on every corner, the stars and stripes proudly waving behind them next to flag effigies of Dale Earnhardt. The country that prides itself on status and who’s socio-political framework resembles more that of feudal europe than that of true democracy. I punch the clock (for an honest and small American company at least), I do the dance. It’s so easy to fall into, so easy to belong. So easy to forget why people like you and I are so fed up and unhappy.

These aren’t new revelations or notions, and as I said I’ve felt this way for as long as I can remember. But something about that damn documentary and my current consciousness set the wheels in motion at a dangerous speed. I wish to answer the bell, to be brave enough and strong enough to do so, or I wish to make do and get on with it. I just hope I’m brave enough to chose the right path and deal with the consequences, to break free or to break even. Hopefully both.

21 responses to “Breaking Away

  1. Werner Herzog, Existential angst, and the big three-zero… now that there is a perfect storm.
    I do feel your pain, or at least I used to, its more of a dull ache now. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed and savor the small victories – sometimes you don’t have to conquer the earth, just your own world. And never under estimate the cleansing power of a well deserved freakout rave up.
    Damn, just ran out of fortune cookie bromides.

    • Brother I feel the angst like embers now, ones that I can at least scoop to the back instead of those far reaching flames of my teens and twenties that just burned all around me. But that sense of guilt I get from living most of my adult life under my own terms while doggedly submitting to the turgid flow of society gives me sour grapes. I don’t wanna live in the past anymore, I’ve wasted too much time on that. But I don’t want those coals to burn out when I’m still awake.

  2. I don’t think you’re alone in your thoughts. I think about ditching my job and doing things on my terms, which would be living in the woods and enjoying everyday. I can tell you this, once I hit 20yrs at my j.o.b. Im doneski. Hopefully my efforts in the gym and in the mountains will keep me spry enough to be able to enjoy the wilderness when I’m 47 (holy shit that sounds scary). Until then I’ll work for the man (ya im da po-po) and enjoy my three days off. I’ll watch that documentary and probably report back that I’ve gone off the deep end and shunned society and chose a life a solitude and poverty in the woods.

  3. Watching Werner Herzog was your big mistake. His films do tend to do that to a person. Have you seen Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about the Chauvet Cave in France? Beautiful. And stirring on a deep level.

    As for your angst, it’s normal, and utterly a function of living in a modern society that you recognize as an artificial construct, but one which you ultimately realize you’re an integral (and largely inextricable) part of. Been there, done that. Been struggling with the same basic internal conflict my entire life. I suspect that you’ll eventually discover, as I did, that life is not an either/or proposition. Choose your battles, choose your ethos, and accept that you straddle two differing and often contradictory worlds, both physical and spiritual. Duality makes you who you are. Accept or reject whichever tenents of those conflicting states of being you choose to accept or reject, and be happy, for nothing’s more dull than being one-dimensional.

    But then again, I’m a classic barking mouse, so take that with a salt lick…

    • I’ve had this angst since I was a young teen and didn’t understand it. I’ve understood it for a long time but for some reason this god damn movie sent me into a fervor. The internal conflict has been there since I could remember, and I have come to terms with it before, but the whole thing is like wrestling a python. You gain some ground, struggle, lose, relax for a minute, struggle again, it squeezes tighter, relax, die. Doesn’t sound appealing, as you know.
      I’ve never been able to straddle a fence, for both my benefit and more often detriment. I wish I could have it both ways, but I’m too damn stubborn. Guess I’ll get broken down even swifter.
      I’m softening to the idea of life on both sides of the fence, it’s just hard for me to swallow.

  4. This, along with your other writings, blows me away. If you do go rouge you should make the trip back to the Land Of WiFi every-so-often to update this thing. It is a several minute escape, and provides for more minutes of “f–K, what if…” thoughts that hopefully someday lead to actual actions.

  5. I took my twenties off and did lot’s of things that made me somewhat surprised when I made to thirty. Getting into a “career” that would provide for some long-term financial stability was not at all easy or that much fun at times. Guess I did not have the clear vision to work little and live simply. Did get into a career that provides an opportunity to have some big jolts of adrenaline on a fairly regular basis and also be able to travel to lot’s of different places (wildland fire management with a federal agency). That helps to soften the hard edges of society somewhat. So definitely feel that burn as Chad Love said way better than I can – use it to keep you focused and out the door. Read the Lochsa Story by Bud Moore ( I knew Bud and he suffered the same as we do – how to try and function in a society that doesn’t value the same things we do. Let us know how the next howling at the moon session goes!

  6. Larry! Rob and I watched “Happy People” in November and it left me feeling muddled too…well…muddled and desperate to learn axe craft.

    I wrestle/ed with the same questions (before and after “Happy People”) and I don’t have any answers. However, I have been on more hunting trips than ever this season, I have been skijoring the heck out of my dogs when they aren’t hunting, I’ve spent more time than ever rambling in the mountains and strolling the sagebrush, I’m dedicated to rarely answering my phone and I continue to make a living creating hand crafted goods…but sometimes my life still feels stuffed with too much of the wrong things, like I’m feeding the wrong wolf and squandering my time (my life?).

    You know, it’s hard to legitimately unplug from the modern world these days because we are all so HYPER-plugged-in to begin with..waddling about fat and ugly with the easy and instantaneous nature of EVERYTHING. Maybe the way to go about a life shift is to slowly whittle away the things you don’t really need — objects, relationships…etc. Find your way back to purity and simplicity by taking small steps in that direction. Learn to know what you can go without. I firmly believe that simplicity is in direct relationship with joy. Watching “Happy People” only reinforced that notion in me.

    Go well, little dude.

  7. That’s a great documentary. It’s comforting for me to see that someone else is disturbed by their pursuits. I vacillate between “why do I even fish?” and “I’m going to live on a riverbank for the rest of my life” quite often.

    I’m disturbed by the fact that– if I continue on my current path– I will leave a legacy of “that guy really liked to fly fish.” Some days I think that’s awesome… other days it feels pretty damn shallow. You’ve definitely delved into the roots of such obsessions more than I have but, personally, I think I’ve landed on a need to straddle two worlds like Chad Love mentions above. That said, I think there’s some room there to lean to one side of the fence more than the other (i.e. I think it’s still ok to be seen as hardcore compared to the average joe). I mean, I don’t think it’s healthy to be 300lbs and mobbin walmart in a rascal– nor do I think it’s healthy to become a lonely, cold, insane mountain recluse. But I do think there are people suited to living in NYC and playing the stock market while others are better suited to living in the mountains and harvesting some of their own meat. Granted, I think most Americans are out of balance in that they don’t get outside enough, but I also think that pure living off the land isn’t a practical reality for the amount of wild resources we have in the lower 48.

    An experience that really affected me was meeting a guy on the river that lived in a van and fly fished every day. He also looked like he drank a lot and he mentioned he had kids and family that he wasn’t on great terms with (turns out it’s hard to get custody when you’re a drunkard living in your car). I thought I wanted to live in a van (which I actually was doing at the time) and be a trout bum the rest of my life– until I met someone that did it. Since then I’ve realized that I’m happier and healthier if I remain engaged with friends, family, and faith– to the point that it regularly interferes with the amount of time I spend on a river or on a mountain. I think it’s a balance that feels a lot more like a bunch of equal tensions pulling different directions, rather than a peaceful equilibrium… and one that I’ll probably spend the rest of my life figuring out. It’s a bit cliche but maybe it’s about the journey, not the destination? I dunno…

    All that to say– great post.


    • Well said my man.

      My problem is that it’s always been hard for me to find a middle ground. I either want to take something all the way or not do it at all. I’m getting better about that, because that obviously sets one up for a life with many great disappointments and few greater victories and I’ve gotten tired out by living that way. The balance is there and as you said you can lean to one side heavier than the other. And I hope to accomplish that.
      Cheers bud and I hope you’re doing well up there. Might be in Oregon steelheading in a few weeks if the rains don’t hit the Northern California coast. I’ll keep you posted if you want to sneak away to a warm wall tent steelhead camp.

  8. I think the take away is that one should pursue the internal quest that is our true passion or else we will destroy ourselves in pursuit of our wants according to society’s perceptions. I’m with you in the pursuits of the outdoors to bringing me closer to who I am and not what I perceive I am.
    Great blog , Uncle Larry!

  9. This has been a learning year. There are some solid pockets of birds in the regular places, just have to follow the clues to find them. This has been my worst shooting year and have my self to blame for limits not enjoyed. If I didn’t love the dog work, photography, and the walk, I wouldn’t be out their just for the devil-birds. HA

  10. I’d like to offer something profound but I’ve got no answers. However, the idea that we have more free time than any other time in human history I’m not sure is true. Hunter gatherer cultures were thought to have a ton of free time, more so than us today. That we first emerged following that lifestyle, and we seek it in our “free time” today, suggests we may not be so much a species of tools as we are a species of leisure.

    I’ll check out the movie.

  11. It’s definitely all do able. There are things to be sacrificed in order to meet those goals, but you got to live your life on your terms. The last thing I want to happen is when I die the Universe looks at me and says man you fucked up. You got to make the trip out here this year. It isn’t about the fishing or hunting here, it’s the people and the opportunities that are here. I’d rather have this conversation over a bottle of whiskey than on the web.

  12. I read your post. I watched the film. I hate you.

    Just kidding, it stirred in me the same urge I have been suppressing for years. I suppressed it to work, raise kids, send them to college, try to save for retirement ( I’m one of the few remaining private sector workers left in this country), live near our elderly parents, buy health insurance, etc.,etc.,etc.,etc., I’m now 52.

    I go home every day after work and tell my wife let’s bolt now we are running out of time. I don t know how you reconcile the urge to flee and try a self sustaining life versus staying put and fulfilling my genetically induced responsibilities.

    Great post. Thank you.

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