Leave Room For the Mountain Men

There needs to be room for people who would seek, without hurting others, to exit a life that doesn't appeal to them.


Bryan Clements
J.D. Tuccille

2013 marked the tenth anniversary of the death of Bryan Clements. My friend's obituary in the Arizona Daily Sun attributed his passing to "complications following brain surgery," though the reality of his end was rather weirder and more interesting than that suggests. So was his life. Bryan was a part-time mountain man, and a model for some of the attributes of Rollo, a main character in my novel, High Desert Barbecue. He mattered not just because he made the world a stranger and better place, but also because the room for his existence is an underappreciated feature of what can be an all-too stifling and rule-bound society.

Bryan lived in Southeast Asia for a while, which was everybody's best guess as to where he picked up the fungal brain infection that did him in. But by the time I knew him, he was living much of his time in the forests and deserts of northern Arizona. He'd work for a while—database programming was one of his money-makers—and when he'd topped off his bank acccount and had his fill of civilization, he'd disappear into the wilderness.

Bryan's lifestyle meant that he could drop off the radar and reappear rather unpredictably. I answered a knock on the door one day to find him standing on the doorstep, literally hat in hand. With him was a companion apparently excavated from the dry gulch that time forgot, and who spoke only authentic frontier gibberish. Bryan translated while I broke out a few beers. A wildfire had cut them off from their camp at the head of Sycamore Canyon. Did I have any gear to spare?

I did. One of my tents and some other equipment kept them going for several months.

Sycamore Canyon, the location of that cut-off camp, featured in an event that inspired a scene in my novel. A group of us backpacked up the canyon, past Parson's Spring, and made camp amidst the rocks on the canyon floor. The next morning, we awoke to clear blue sky, and bitter cold. One of the challenges of canyon hiking is that the sun takes its time in making its presence known. The day may come, but you shiver in the shadows until the sun is overhead.

My girlfriend (now wife) and the rest of our group set to making a fire, but Bryan and I decided, if the sun wouldn't come to us, we'd go to it.

So we climbed the canyon wall. The climb was … hairy, but do-able—especially since all we wanted was to reach that splash of warmth we could actually see. We pulled ourselves over ledges, scrambled up oversized stairs, jammed our feet into toeholds, and belly-crawled over fossil deposits. Finally, we reached the top and luxuriated in sunlight. We found cairns there that I think marked a continuation of Packard Trail, which is probably more popular with cattle than hikers.

That climb later inspired Rollo's and Scott's wall-scaling and elevated gun battle in High Desert Barbecue.

Bryan was something of a gut-level anarchist. I knew he'd voted Green and Libertarian at different times, to the extent that he voted at all. And if the occasion called for it—meaning, if he was in the mood for an argument—he was capable of taking an Ed Abbey-esque stance favoring the end of civilization. But then, if anybody was fool enough to take his side on that position (and Flagstaff isn't short of such fools), he was perfectly capable of dropping it like a hot rock and arguing its absurdity. After all, somebody had to brew his beer, and desert canyons crowded with parched and starving grad students were going to be both grim and rather short of cold suds.

Basically, Bryan liked to be left alone.

He may have often been on his own, but he wasn't alone in his preference for life beyond civilized boundaries. The Arizona Daily Sun wages endless editorial-page war against the "transient camps" that appear around Flagstaff during the pleasant weather. And it's true that the "transients" that encroach on a town can go beyond annoying and be outright dangerous, with poor fire-tending by boozed-up inhabitants a constant threat.

The Daily Sun editorial board would have you think that characterization is true of everybody who prefers sleeping under stars over sleeping under a roof. But, as with every population, there's a range of responsibility and manners to be found among "transients" as among those with a formal address. In fact, even some of the transients living near town conduct themselves well enough to go undetected for years on end. Thomas Crawford lived in a cave within walking distance of Flagstaff for 11 years before he was discovered by chance.

Those who live further out tend to bother nobody, and live entirely off the radar—so long as they resist the temptation to offend against others and make themselves targets. Usually, you hear about them only when they meet their end—often amidst comments about how they couldn't live indoors or abide by the rules.

Bryan, and some of the people I met through him, were living proof that, headlines and uptight editorial writers aside, a good many of those who find the rules too constricting and the walls too claustrophobic are willing to live and let live. Trying to force those who don't hurt others into treatment programs or shelters against their will, as some of the smugger commentators would do, is a recipe for violence. Hell, it is violence that just begs for resistance. It also speaks poorly of our willingness to tolerate those who take a look at the world we've built and say, "no thanks."

Maybe not just intolerance, but insecurity. I suspect those who chase after wilderness dwellers have a lot in common with the sponsors of the Ex-PATRIOT Act and similar measures to punish people who would turn their back on the United States to live and work elsewhere. You can sense their rage that anybody would want something different than establishment-approved life under the watchful eyes of jealous would-be masters.

I like roofs a little better than Bryan did, though my tolerance for rules is about the same. I may never follow his footsteps into wilderness habitation, though I've considered it from time to time. But whatever our own preferences, there needs to be room for people who would seek, without hurting others, to exit a life that doesn't appeal to them and make another for themselves.

NEXT: Remy: All I Want for Christmas is U ...

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  1. Speaking of mountain men, this is always worth posting:

    Merry Christmas!

    1. my best friend’s half-sister got paid $13253 a week ago. she is making money on the computer and moved in a $315200 house. All she did was get blessed and apply the information explained on this web page


  2. I wonder why reason has not looked harder at Gypsies. They seem to embody many ideals of being free from the state.

    If more close to home perhaps a look at Mexican immigrants and migrant workers. For the most part I only read about them from a left wing perspective (or from a right wing perspective that says the left only want them here for the votes). But i think there is an outlaw libertarian perspective about Mexican immigration that is often ignored. They literally are defying the state and arbitrary law to better themselves.

    1. Not every Mexican immigrant comes here illegally, but I get your point. I guess you could argue that illegal immigration falls under the counter-economic activity advocated by SEK3 and his Agorists.

      1. counter-economic activity

        How is the free voluntary movement of goods and services (labor) across boarders counter-economic activity? If anything I would think prohibiting it is counter-economic activity.

        1. Because they use up government services and don’t pay for them?

          Beyond that, with an unlimited labor pool, wages would drop down to nothing.

          Americans aren’t going to leave to find jobs elsewhere even if they can’t find any, nor will they simply work for low wages and shut up about it. They will go on government assistance (as will the immigrants, eventually).

          1. So you favor big government over free trade because of the special case of the need to regulate labor?

            1. No, he’s saying that the increasing use of government services is inevitable until the system can no longer support the scale of involvement.

              That’s the whole point behind Cloward-Piven, BTW–put as many people on various welfare programs as possible in order to overwhelm the system’s capability to support them, thus sparking a revolution when the Free Shit Army doesn’t receive their GIMMEDATs.

        2. “Counter-economy” is shorthand for “counter-establishment economy”. Clearly it’s still economic activity, just activity that deliberately occludes the state.

  3. Time to start Christmas shopping.

  4. I’m trying to absorb the fact that it is illegal to live in a cave.

    Land of the free?

    Is it too early to start drinking? No, it isn’t.

    1. From looking into the link about the cave man, it does not seem as if it was illegal to live in a cave; it seems that it was illegal to live in a cave on public property. Presumably it would also be illegal to build a house in a national park.

      1. Illegal to live in a cave on public land. Living in a cave on private land without consent is trespassing. What’s the alternative?

        1. Well, the alternative would be to buy a plot of land to live on. But I would bet that even then, assuming you had set aside enough in an account to pay the property taxes, they would find some code or health violation if you didn’t have a proper structure or septic tank.

          I have somewhat offhandedly considered the idea. Not sure if it still exists but there used to be a website by some real estate office in AZ which had a list they called “UFO Landing Sites”. These were huge plots of land going for minimal prices. Some had descriptions like “needs a good 4X4” or “owner says there was a road before”.

          1. There are still lots of places where you can build yourself a place with little meddling from the authorities. Look in rural areas in states that are relatively non-intrusive as to property rights. Rural MO is one such. We have land in rural MT. There are other places. Do, however, expect a lot of the land to be off-pavement, possibly off-grid, and “need a good 4×4”, or even “need a good 4×4 and a snowmobile” which describes our place.

    1. Emma Stone! A real Ginger…yummy.

      Happy to see she’ll be in the next Spider-Man.

      1. Nope, she’s actually a natural blond. Sorry to bust your bubble.

          1. Yeah, and actual redheads usually have blonde or very light eyebrows.

            Emma Stone very clearly dyes her eyebrows.

            1. Can you find ONE pic where Emma has blond eyebrows? I’d bet natural brunette before blond.

              1. I’m a natural blonde, and my eyebrows are closer to brunette. My redheaded toddler has eyebrows to match his hair.

  5. Fungal Brain Infection? This adequately describes the major disease afflicting most Americans right now. Unfortunately, they don’t die from it, but keep on infecting other Americans.

    1. Maybe you should off yourself to stop the spread. For the children. And for everyone else.


      2. Dear Episiarch,

        Here is what you can do while I am offing myself. Stick your index finger up your Hershey Highway, lick it clean, and while you are doing so, pretend you are eating a candy bar instead of your own shit. Don’t like my comments? Dial 1 800 EAT DUNG. Have a nice day Anal Breath.

        1. Are you dead yet? Please don’t respond, as not responding would be the best indicator that you are, in fact, dead. Actually, never posting again would be the best proof of that possible. It’s not like anyone gives a fuck what you say anyway. You dead yet now? Don’t answer that. Oh man, I hope you are. Think of it as a Christmas present to everyone else in the world.

          1. Dear Episiarch,

            Sorry a–wipe, I’m not dead yet. And I plan to keep posting because I know it irritates you. No one gives much of a f–k what either one of us thinks anyway. Have a nice day moron.

            1. No one gives much of a f–k what either one of us thinks anyway.

              I was thinking that exchange was going to be a bunch of content-free insults, then you inadvertently stumbled across some truth.

              Partially. Epi, sometimes, when he isn’t in a drug-induced rant, says coherent or even interesting stuff. Not usually both at the same time, but one can hope.

              1. Epi, sometimes, when he isn’t in a drug-induced rant, says coherent or even interesting stuff.

                Don’t listen to him!!!

                He is a dirty dirty anarchist!!

                1. Dear Corning,

                  The reason OTRTM says dirty, dirty things to others is because OTRTM doesn’t like to be insulted. When someone is rude to him, he gives them a dose of their own bitter medicine they dish out to him, in the forn of of dirty, dirty, and more dirty. Got it?

                  1. I am talking about Epi.

                    He is a dirty dirty anarchist.

                  2. Woooosh!

                  3. Dang mandalay, you sho do have a thing for poo. It’s almost like you get off on the thought that you’re grossing someone out with your juvenile insults.

                    1. Dear General Butt Naked,

                      I don’t “get off” on poo. I thought you would enjoy it because of your posting name. However, I can switch to pee or barf if you want. Let me know soon, so I can change gears.

  6. Gremlins is the best Christmas movie.

    1. The worst thing that ever happened to me was on Christmas. Oh, God. It was so horrible. It was Christmas Eve. I was 9 years old. Me and Mom were decorating the tree, waiting for Dad to come home from work. A couple hours went by. Dad wasn’t home. So Mom called the office. No answer. Christmas Day came and went, and still nothing. So the police began a search. Four or five days went by. Neither one of us could eat or sleep. Everything was falling apart. It was snowing outside. The house was freezing, so I went to try to light up the fire. That’s when I noticed the smell. The firemen came and broke through the chimney top. And me and Mom were expecting them to pull out a dead cat or a bird. And instead they pulled out my father. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit. He’d been climbing down the chimney… his arms loaded with presents. He was gonna surprise us. He slipped and broke his neck. He died instantly. And that’s how I found out there was no Santa Claus.

      1. Well…I think you should all try and get some sleep.

      2. This part of the movie always bothered me. Even as a kid I knew chimneys weren’t big enough for a human with a shit load of gifts to fit through. Dad was dumb.

      3. Dear Episiarch,

        Thanks for another bowel movement in print. You are a f—ing literary genius. Have a nice day a– chunk.

        1. Why am I not surprised that you’re too stupid to get references, even ones directly tied to the comment it’s responding to? Are you dead yet? What’s taking so fucking long? Are you stupidly trying to asphyxiate yourself again? You complete moron, you need a brain for that. No, no, use a gun or stick your head in the oven and light it. Get creative. I know thinking isn’t your bailiwick, but try and ape someone who isn’t as dumb as you. You’re probably good at that.

          I’m just going to assume you’re dead now. After all, you are already brain dead, so that’s pretty damn close.

          1. Give him to me, Epi. I’ll take him to the kennel, they’ll put him to sleep. It will be quick and painless compared to what I would do to him.

            1. Blessed hamilton,

              Such violent talk! MY, my. However, your post is still about as worthless as a pile of dried up dog shit on a back road in New Mexico in high summer. What Redneck Trailer Trash Court do you live in? Have a nice holiday turd bird.

              1. However, your post is still about as worthless as a pile of dried up dog shit on a back road in New Mexico in high summer. What Redneck Trailer Trash Court do you live in?

                No one’s interested in your childhood holiday memories.

    2. Die Hard.

    1. Bender: Hey, Kwanzaa-bot! Where you off to?

      Kwanzaa-bot: Ah, you didn’t hear about it? Hanukkah Zombie’s having a luau at the B’nai B’rith. You coming?

      Bender: Word!

    2. Santa is a Squarehead. 😀

    3. In the quiet room was a black Santa, jolly as could be. He asked me what I wanted for Christmas and even urged me to ask for more..

      Huh. I thought the president was vacationing in Hawaii.

    1. What is this elf on a shelf meet Internet crap.

      Elf on a shelf exists because of the Internet.


      Fuck I hate Christmas.

    1. If only it could have been you that was gunned down, retarded sockpuppet. I would laugh so fucking hard.

      1. We love you too.

      2. EP. Are you still posting that bowel movement in print?

    2. An accidental shooting is no more a reason for banning guns than an accidental drowning is a reason for banning swimming pools. So make an actual argument or stop posting.

      1. Do you NEED a swimming pool? Huh? Well, do ya?

        1. As long as it’s less than 7 gallons.

    3. Jesus what is bringing out Trollkind this evening?

      1. hamilton,

        Your stupid is bring us out.

        1. Your stupid is bring us out.

          Most intelligent thing you’ve posted so far.

        2. Oh SNAP! That was a burn right there!

      2. When you’ve alienated everyone who ever loved you and find yourself bitter and alone behind a keyboard, the joy normal human beings experience during Christmas-time is especially grating.

        Mary Stack is literally the Grinch, except she is an abject failure compared to him when it comes to stealing Christmas. He managed to grab a bunch of presents and mistletoe. All she can do is bleat and squeal in the hope of disrupting your caroling.

    4. Let’s ban bicycles – they kill 100s of people a year.

  7. Why am I reading Reason today? Or at all right now? I’m at my in-laws’ for Christmas. No booze anywhere in this house. I’m here for another 9 days.

    1. And there’s no local liquor store?

    2. Have you considered sterno?

      1. Or jenkem?

          1. That was for Epi above. Christmas squirrels.

    3. Well, I wish you a merry x-mas. And I will feel for you too. But you must have known this was coming and didn’t bring some for yourself?

      I have to suffer a bunch of noise with my in-laws but at least they drink and they always make sure I get enough to drink as well. I assume it must be some sort of survival instinct on their part.

    4. No booze anywhere in this house.

      RUN. Just go anywhere.

  8. For those of you complaining about spending the holidays with your family, it could be worse

    North Korean military forces were deployed to retake control of one of the sources of those exports, the rich crab and clam fishing grounds that Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of the country’s untested, 30-year-old leader, had seized from the military. In the battle for control of the fishing grounds, the emaciated, poorly trained North Korean forces “were beaten ? very badly ? by Uncle Jang’s loyalists,” according to one official.

    The rout of his forces appears to have been the final straw for Mr. Kim, who saw his 67-year-old uncle as a threat to his authority over the military and, just as important, to his own family’s dwindling sources of revenue. Eventually, at Mr. Kim’s order, the North Korean military came back with a larger force and prevailed. Soon, Mr. Jang’s two top lieutenants were executed.

    The two men died in front of a firing squad. But instead of rifles, the squad used antiaircraft machine guns, a form of execution that according to South Korean intelligence officials and news media was similar to the one used against some North Korean artists in August. Days later, Mr. Jang himself was publicly denounced, tried and executed, by more traditional means.

    Junior was also reportedly very drunk when he ordered the execution.

    1. So the old man was muscling in on the kid’s turf and scam? Let that be a lesson to anyone else who thinks they can ignore the kid’s hit-men!

      Bad as Obo is, at least it’s not yet like the place is run by the mafia.

      1. The federal government is run almost exactly like a mafiosa gang that is inordinately concerned about PR.

        Mafia: order hits.

        Obama: Drone kill list.

        Mafia: Protection money. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to that nice business of yours.

        Feds: Taxes. Pay up or we throw you in a cell and take your business.

        And so on.

        1. The federal government is run almost exactly like a mafiosa gang

          Nonsense. The mafia never paid 400 million bucks for a website that doesn’t work. The mafia may be immoral, but they aren’t stupid. To be both immoral and stupid requires government.

          1. Sad, but true!

          2. But the mafia would sell the government a website that didn’t work for $400m.

    2. Japanese media reported the the uncle’s execution used 90 rounds of machinegun ammo. I assume they started at the ankles and slowly worked their way up.

  9. Speaking of mountain men, I recommend a documentary by Herzog about trappers in Siberia. Amazing life. These people arevery content to go for months without seeing anyone else, and talk about self reliance- I had the impression that they were always one small mistake away from death, yet worked this way for decades.

    It was also delightfully free of lectures about environmentalism and global warming and such. And made a point of how irrelevant government was to the community (although trappers worked territory that had been assigned through the gov’t)

    1. I saw this on Netflix not long ago. It’s a great watch.

      I also watched Into the Wild last night. This article made me think of the scene where the guy wants to take his kayak down the river and is thinking, “You need a permit to float down the river?”

      1. To clarify, that would be the Colorado river running through the Grand Canyon. Not a bad movie, either.

        1. It is good. The hero was a liberal though. He won’t get any respect here.

          1. The hero was a liberal though.

            Leave it you to characterize a naive overgrown adolescent who wandered into the woods with no idea what he was doing and killed himself with his own stupidity as a “hero”.

            1. Yeah, he pretty much killed himself by mis-identifying some type of bean or seed which he ate in quantity and temporarily left him with the inability to digest and intake nutrients from protein. Oh, and he could probably have walked out if he had gone 1/2 mile further up (down? I forget) the river that was blocking his path.

              1. The movie showing him giving up so fast on the river crossing was very puzzling. I’m not very familiar with the true story but it was the most frustrating part. You mean he’s not going to scout for another crossing or make a raft?

        2. Alexander Supertramp was some dumbass hippy who killed himself in Alaska.

          Decent movie though.

    2. My wife’s Uncle Fuzzy was in one of those documentaries from the ’70s about people living off the land in Alaska. Last we heard from him a few years ago, he was still up there. The people who do that are pretty damn dedicated.

  10. Just polished of a big bottle of Trader Joe’s “holiday vintage ale”, which is just rebranded Unibroue brew. Fair and delightful but not Trois Pistoles nor Fin Du Monde .

    1. No, but well worth it for $5 a 750 mL. And it ages quite well…

  11. OT: As some of you know I live in Georgia and we have a GOP Senate primary coming up. Four of our House members are leaving to run for the seat. There are three nutjobs (Gingrey, Paul Broun, and Tom Price) and one “good” GOPer – Jack Kingston.

    That poor fucker has no chance.

    1. On this holiest of nights….NEEDZ MOAR CHRISTFAG!!!!

      1. Speaking of christfag:…..homoerotic

        1. While this is um, interesting, one of the comments took me to this site, where one can read some interesting scriptural references that will help you impale the next facebook poster who call Jesus a socialist.
          who would jesus tax…

    2. You think Martin Luther King is a nutjob.

      How are we supposed to parse which ones are actual nutjobs?

      And no I am not going to look it up. If you want me to care about Georgia you are going to have to tell me.

      1. Why do you bring up MLK? He bores me and I seldom discuss him.

        He did emulate Thoreau and I respect him for that.

        1. Why do you bring up MLK?

          Because it highlights the many times you threw out the baby with the bath water in your crusade to name all Christians nutjobs.

          This is why I cannot trust you when you willy nilly call someone a nutjob. Because of your past behavior I need you to walk through the steps in which you classify 3 guys running for Governor in Georgia to see if it is a solid assessment or just another time shrike screams “christfag”

    3. As many of us know, you are a lying scumbag who lives in Washington D.C.

      May a truck run you over on this fine Christmas day.

  12. Merry Christmas, Reasonoids.

  13. Happy Festivus.

  14. uptil I saw the draft for $8854, I accept …that…my brother was like realie earning money in their spare time online.. there brothers friend haz done this 4 only about seven months and recently paid for the depts on there home and bought a gorgeous volvo. see page

  15. For the rightwingnutjobs here – a modern XMas song by Aussie Tim Minchin.

    1. I thought this would be more your speed

      1. Now THAT’s worth $15 an hour

  16. Palin’s Buttplug|12.24.13 @ 10:10PM|#
    “For the rightwingnutjobs here”‘

    For the dipshit shreeks here, a big ‘fuck your daddy!’

    1. Needs more labels.

      Merry Christmas to you, too.

  17. It isn’t Christmas for Mexican-Americans until…

    1. …or Tejicanos as well.

  18. It’d be interesting to see the moral justification for transients on private property in a stateless or minarchist society with little or no public land (for which we all advocate).

    1. PM|12.24.13 @ 10:58PM|#
      “It’d be interesting to see the moral justification for transients on private property in a stateless or minarchist society with little or no public land (for which we all advocate).”

      They’re called ‘tenants’; pay the rent, stay as long as you can afford.

    2. In such a case it is a lot easier for benevolent landowners to open up swaths of land to allow tent cities and shantytowns to spring up. Since Building codes and health standards are so strenuous, this is presently impossible without major problems of State interventionist repercussions for the landowner.

  19. Oh, and:
    You can’t have Christmas without one helping of Nutcracker.

  20. Also, Justin Bieber announced his retirement this evening.

    1. Naughty – don’t tease me like that!

  21. Can an unsealed bottle of brandy go bad? I’m pretty sure the bottle my mom keeps in the cabinet above the fridge has been around for 5 or 6 Christmases.

    1. that’s your inheritance.

    2. Well, it’s prolly not gonna ferment.

    3. Meh, I’d drink it. What’s worse, being sick or being sober?

      1. I’ll just add it to the eggnog. My mom and I are the only ones who drink it anyway.

    4. Define bad…

  22. And so long, Oak Ridge:…..ed/282549/
    Would have been interesting to see a time-lapse from mud swamps to the housing project it became.

    1. All that green lawn. I can see some senior NCO standing around all day in 1944 yelling at people to stay on the walk and keep off the grass.

  23. Watching Pleasantville on Encore.

    Very libertarian movie. And Reese Witherspoon.

  24. Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.

  25. sadly gubmint house does not like people who just want to be left alone. It cannot control them

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