Not many people can say they actually knew a mountain man. I did. Our neighbor growing up was an older man named Gordon. He lived in a double wide about 150 yards down the road, but totally out of sight as both our plots were surrounded by the thick, deciduous forest characteristic of our upstate home. He sold us our house when he got divorced and carved out a little corner of the land to continue living on. He could have just been the eccentric guy that I waved to as I jogged or biked by, but my dad decided he was precisely the kind of man that a couple of young boys should know. My dad was right.
The first time we went out with Gordon it was to check his beaver trap line. We spent a full day in knee deep snow that ended with me lying on top of a pile of frozen, dead beavers in a snowmobile trailer, clinging desperately to the metal frame to keep from being thrown off. Yet, somehow, all of my memories from this day are exceedingly positive. It was the first time I shot a pistol and at lunch, when we broke out our pb&j’s Gordon made a fire and warmed some beaver stew that simply looked an order of magnitude better than what we were eating. By the end of the day, my brother and I had actually strung a couple of the dead beavers up on a thick branch and carried them between us like we were Native Americans.
As we got older Gordon began to bring us to Lost Creek. Lost Creek was a semi-permanent camping site he had forged for the summer months, a ten mile hike into the underutilized public swamp lands on the edge of Adirondack State Park. Each winter, he would stash the homemade wood stove and pack everything else out. Then, each spring, he would rebuild his elaborate canvas cabin which became home base for the summer hunting and trapping seasons. He had done this for years, and had never encountered another person. We would eat woodland creatures (simply but deliciously prepared) by the wood stove in his comfortable but rustic structure at night and listen to stories of his adventures. By day, we would check the traps, explore the woods and drink as much water as we could hold from the artesian spring that day lighted 50 feet from the camp.
Gordon walked those uneven miles in and out again and again, more often then not pushing a heavy load of dispatched critters or supplies in what was essentially, a customized, back country wheelbarrow. It is all the more remarkable because he walked with a pronounced limp, a souvenir from his days as a paratrooper who specialized in setting up communication posts behind enemy lines.
My last trip to Lost Creek post dated my complete loss of interest in dispatching animals for fun, food and profit. I brought a book. I don’t think Gordon ever understood my transition to bookish quasi-jock. Shortly after I went to college his hip was too bad to hike and he made his last trip to lost creek with my dad to extract the last of his stuff. I guess I can’t say I was surprised when my dad told me that he put his shotgun in his mouth less than a year later. I can’t defend the decision, but I also could not imagine him living another ten years in that trailer.
In retrospect, Lost Creek was a time machine. What we got to experience was about as close to the lifestyle of the first European settlers as could be reasonably imagined. But my dad’s precise pedagogical objectives were a little eccentric. It was the end of the cold war, but he was very much a product of it. One of his admitted objectives in raising us was to give us life skills to survive a nuclear winter. But I think the less precise goal was to offer a compelling alternative to the MTV culture we were buying into uncritically. It was a different vision of humanness. It was a different vision of human connection to the rest of the world. It was a way of living where satisfaction was uncorrelated with efficiency or possession. It tempered the devotion of my worship at the temple of the Watertown Mall with the understanding that people live robust, content lives that were totally other than the impoverished version of the American dream I was being offered. I consider the opportunity to know a mountain man a fine bit of parenting on my father’s part. I hope I can find individuals who will affect my children in similar ways.
 My dad did stuff like this all the time. I remember that he would send me over to the house of a family friend who was a widower to play dominoes. When I protested that I did not have anything to talk to an old dude about, dad replied ‘ask him about the depression.’ The pedagogical value (and character formation) of these dominoes games far exceeded any social studies content I ever received on this era.
 Being the first born has obvious privileges, but when the snowmobile has 3 seats and there are 4 people and a trailer full of dead beavers…lets just say that they don’t totally seem worth it.
 I never even got close to the bottle we were shooting at, making it an experience that would affect the way I experienced action films for years.
 Or, more likely, as if we were Ewocks.
 Permanent structures were not allowed on public land.
 Including not one but two bear attacks. There was also a story about how he was hopelessly lost (and when Gordon was lost, it was likely some of the least traveled woods in the north east) and suddenly happened upon a random compass laying on the wood floor. He said, ‘You see boys, this is how I know that God is always looking out for you.’ This was the only insight we ever go into his faith.
 He would always stop by our house after catching a fisher or shooting a bear. We always thought it was cool but rarely considered the effort it must have taken to haul a full grown bear 10 difficult miles out of the woods.
 At one point I could skin a muskrat in under ninety seconds. This, surprisingly, was not on my PhD qualifying exam.
 Though most of our experience to MTV culture was second hand because we lived so far away from ‘town’ that cable never actually made it to us…leaving us with 4 channels. My brother recently said in a sermon: “I have watched a whole He Haw standing next to the TV holding the bunny ears. He Haw was the Saturday night live of my generation…if you were really really rural.” You would think that this would have preserved me from owning a pair of hammer pants or Skidz overalls…sadly it did not.