Brambles and Scrapes

Keith Howard | Monday, July 13, 2015

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Oregon Trail computer game, and recently I’ve been re-reading Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove tetralogy, which of course puts me in mind of one of my 10 favorite movies: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.


You may remember the scene in which Etta is introduced to a bicycle for the first time. After Butch has given her directions, she looks into his face and asks, “Do you know what you’re doing?”


“Theoretically,” he says.


If Etta can learn to ride a bike based on that, then I can theoretically learn how to master the Liberty Home. With training wheels off, here are some of the brambles I’ve ridden into and scrapes I’ve encountered:


  • Handling fan mail. It’s gratifying but odd that I’ve received 15 or 20 questioning emails, and two snail mail letters. I answer each one with a measure of what I consider wit and aplomb, except for the few from folks that seem unhinged. Without going into detail, let me just say that the Venn diagram showing the intersection of survivalists and white supremacists appears to have significant overlap, and that section of humanity seems drawn to writing. For the record, I am all in favor of surviving—it is, after all, fun to be alive—but I am not preparing for any apocalypse, divine or human. Even more strongly, I don’t have any particular affinity toward any skin color. Since I’m adopted and know little of my genetic background, I told my three daughters when they were very little that they could choose whatever ethnic background they wanted. Hence I have one Irish daughter, one Kenyan daughter and one Jamaican daughter, at least as self-identified. I am not performing any service for the white race or any other. Verstehen?
  • Human Cat Box challenges. Funny how everyone wants to know how I go to the bathroom, yet not so much the process of disposing of waste once it’s left my body. I’ve constructed a small compost pile about fifty yards from the Liberty Home, and weekly drag a bucket to be emptied and covered there. While the smell is noxious during this process, it dissipates completely within twenty minutes.
  • Life without reliable Internet. My phone handles emails and texts with some reliability, although the connection is spotty and uncertain most times. Having wasted hours, weeks, months of my life traveling from site to site on the interwebs, I actually find it freeing to live without, at least for ten or so hours a day. For more insight, please see Norman Mailer’s essay, “Of a Small and Modest Malignancy, Wicked and Bristling with Dots,” originally published in Esquire in, I think, 1978, and read by me in a photographic darkroom in Germany. But I can tell I’m beginning to stray so let me draw this to a close.


Life in the Liberty Home is settling into a mid-summer pattern. Lucy and I go for 30-minute walks in the morning and the evening. I make coffee over an open flame. We hear the whisper of the woods as we drift off to sleep and wake up. The insulation in the walls, unnecessary now, will keep us warm when the weather changes and the days grow short. The windows and fans will shut securely to keep out November’s winds.




-Keith Howard

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