The words “mountain men” conjured up a faint memory of a long-ago western movie where the mountain man was covered with animal skins, a beard and shaggy long hair.
The intro caught my interest, so I began watching the program. Slowly it became clear that the program followed the lives of three men who literally were living off the land in three different locations: Alaska, Montana and North Carolina. After 15 minutes into the program, I was hooked and stayed with it for three hours.
Somewhere along the line, a few years back, I remember my son showing me a survival TV show. It amounted to a scenario where the survivalist was “dropped” into a location and had to survive on his own. Meanwhile, the cameras would roll as he taught the viewer what could be done to survive in a given situation. Compared to what I was seeing on "Mountain Men," his adventures were a walk in the park.
Two of the men had families that they were also taking care of. Marty the mountain man in Alaska had a wife and 4-year-old daughter. In the summer, they all lived together in a log cabin in one location and in the winter he flew his own very small plane three hours away to a small cabin where he ran trap lines over the winter. His trap lines gave him pelts he could sell to generate a cash income.
The Montana mountain man, Tom, was an older man who was a former bronco rider of 28 years. He and his wife lived in a log cabin throughout the year. They generated a cash income by making knives and other Native American type crafts from hides and antlers.
Eustace lived alone in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. He lived on a 500-acre piece of land on a 1,000-acre piece of property called Turtle Creek Preserve. He took on interns to mentor in the skills he used for survival. He generated his cash income from cutting trees and selling pre-cut firewood to the locals surrounding his property.
Although I’ve been exercising now for weeks, I was exhausted just watching these folks live their daily lives. They had all been living this way for decades. All three men had learned to hunt and trap from their fathers, and at very young ages they all knew they wanted to live off the grid. They hunted their own meat, grew crops, heated with wood and repaired everything on their own.
As I continued to watch this series, I became more and more intrigued with the level of work these men had to do to not only get through the day, but prepare for the seasonal changes. There was a lot of hunting to be done.
The Alaska man flew for three hours back to his wife and daughter with his goods from trapping. Then he loaded them into the plane and they flew to go on a caribou hunt in order to get their meat for the coming winter. I was impressed that his wife got her caribou on her first shot, and I was shocked as the three of them (yes, even the 4-year-old helped with her little hunting knife) cleaned, skinned and packed up the meat in less than a half-hour so they could fly back to their home before dark. Later, he returned to the hunt sight, shot another caribou, did the cleaning, skinning and packing, and loaded the meat and himself back in the plane to return to their cabin.
As the Montana mountain man and his wife prepared to deal with the upcoming winter, a neighbor called upon him to set traps in the pond that his family used for their water, as the beavers were taking over the pond and their feces contaminated their only source of water. So, Tom dug out huge heavy traps, hauled them to the pond and set the traps. When he returned weeks later to check the traps, he had only gotten two of the beavers. They yielded him some pelts in exchange for his work. He could hardly walk by the end of his venture, as his old rodeo knees were giving out, but no complaints were heard.
Certainly, these staunch mountain men have developed a very high level of skills to allow for such independent lifestyles.
I think about how dependent I am on all my creature comforts; cars, stores, electricity, running water, heat, grocery stores and all forms of media. Thankfully, my access to media has allowed me to learn about these men and their families as our parallel universes go on existing.
Although they might not like it, I think they could survive in my corner of the universe, but I think I’d really be out of luck if the reverse ever came to pass. So, for now, I’ll just continue to enjoy being a “mountain man” vicariously.
— By Janice Beuschel, Tribune community columnist. She can be reached at her website, janicerbeuschel.com.