By Robert Lamb
We are what we experience throughout our lives. Reading has inspired me to do the things I have done and to live a lifestyle outside of mainstream society.
Much of my early inspiration came from the National Geographic magazine. Unlike many young boys, I devoured stories about the wilderness for the content, not the nude natives. One article described life in Siberia and featured a rugged fifty year-old living a sustenance lifestyle. Another described the end of gold mining in Alaska due to low prices and the Second World War. There were articles about the caribou herds and huge salmon runs, and bears, lots of bears. Black bears and giant brown bears inhabit Alaska’s great lands. Monstrous man-killing polar bears stalk villages in the north.
Film also influenced my life decisions. In the sixties, theaters would show fillers between the main features. These short film clips of Alaska and its people had a profound effect on my young psyche. I began to view society as something to take in small doses. I once read a time study of modern man’s lifestyle. A man with a family of three would work ten years to provide food for them. Twenty years to provide a home, etc., etc. I vowed to break out of that mold. I decided early on to become a homesteader. Like the early settlers, I would take a barren piece of land and build a home and life for my family.
After graduating high school in 1975 with a young bride and first child, I was devastated to learn Alaska no longer offered land for homesteading. The program had ended a year earlier. After the birth of my second child, their mother left. With custody of two children, the prospect of ever seeing the land I dreamed so much about seemed remote.
As fate would have it, I met a beautiful young woman who shared my vision of a simple lifestyle. We purchased fifteen wooded acres on the edge of the Catskill Mountains. We started out in an old office trailer and with my two children and our six-month-old son, we began our lives as urban homesteaders. We put in gardens and raised animals. We had cows and pigs, chickens and turkeys. We hunted and fished. Meanwhile, we had to keep jobs. Unlike homesteading in Alaska, here in New York we have to pay taxes for the privilege of owning land. We needed autos to get to work, and of course we needed insurance on the cars and property. So many demands on a man’s time can leave little time to enjoy it all. I have no regrets about my choices. I am proud to have never used fossil fuels to heat my home. I still cut my own firewood.
As the years went by and the kids moved out on their own, I was suddenly floored with the desire to follow some of my earlier dreams. I applied for a job in Denali, Alaska, and that is how Alaska became my mistress. While working there allowed me to see Alaska, it was not enough; I had to experience Alaska. I wanted to feel it, smell it and revel in its wildness. I wanted a piece of it for my own. I purchased five acres near Indian River from the state, and my best friend Jared helped me build a cabin with views of Denali, the tallest mountain on the North American continent. I felt I had finally come home. Home to something I had only ever read about. The land was fifty miles from the nearest phone, yet still I felt the need to get further away from civilization.
So my friend Jared and I bought another piece of wilderness heaven.
President Roosevelt set aside five thousand square miles of wilderness around Prince William Sound called the Chugach National Forest. It sits among several state parks. Wilderness as God created it, with no humans for sixty miles around. It is here, surrounded by towering glacier-topped mountains and a bay full of life, that my soul feels at home. With eagles soaring overhead and bears inhabiting my dreams, I am home. The breaching Minke whales and chattering rafts of otters make the bay a natural entertainment. There are five kind of salmon, as well as halibut and rockfish. Moose and Sitka deer share the forest and tundra with the black and brown bears.
What more could a wandering spirit ask for?
Many things, I might reply.
I have yet to swim in the Arctic Ocean or raft the mighty Yukon River.
Still seeking those boyhood dreams…