Oregon Trail, Old Folk Songs and a Frozen or Flooding River

Keith Howard | Friday, June 5, 2015

Some of you may remember an early computer game called Oregon Trail, played on Apple II and early MacIntosh computers, and later ported to Windows. The stated purpose of the game was to teach children about life during the early Westward Expansion by simulating the journey from Missouri to Oregon. That was the stated purpose. The REAL purpose was twofold: hunting deer, buffalo and birds, and shopping for goods for the journey.


Hunting’s appeal is obvious, but preparing for the journey was just as much fun. Walking through the frontier general store, gunsmith’s shop and livery stable to stock up for the trip could eat up a whole class period or four. My daughters played a more advanced version of Oregon Trail (in color!), and they seemed to think the purpose of the game was to fight with each other whether they should buy extra horses, medicine or bullets.


Right now, the Liberty Home is just completing its shopping portion of the game. We’ve got storage, heat, toilet and cooking pretty much set, and we have already taken the ride out of town. Hurray! But . . .


In Oregon Trail, setting out from town was the first stage. Before the game could proceed, though, a river needed to be crossed. Depending on time of year, the river could be frozen-and perhaps crossable—flooding, or running at a normal rate. While waiting for the river to be safe, supplies, morale and gumption slowly but steadily decreased. At this point, the wise traveler would have bought a fiddle during preparations, and a singalong around the campfire would help keep spirits up.


In the Liberty Home version, we are at that river metaphorically. The town we’d planned to site the Home in has determined its zoning regulations don’t allow a person to live in a converted cargo trailer, no matter how noble the cause. They have offered to let us “display” the Liberty Home, but not to sleep in it. Not exactly what we had in mind.


So, as of June 5, 2015, we are exploring other options for siting—and luckily we HAVE other options—sitting on the river bank and pulling out the fiddle for a hootenanny. Unfortunately for the residents of Liberty House, that hootenanny has consisted of me sing an old Eric Von Schmidt song, “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down,” incessantly and without a slavish regard for melody.


If you’d like to suggest other songs while we wait or, more seriously, offer possible resolution to our impasse, I’d love to hear from you. Until then, “Baby, can I follow you down? Baby, can I follow you down? Well, I’d do anything in this gosh-almighty world if you’d just let me follow you down. Baby can I . . .”

-Keith Howard

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