A Deep Breath of Freedom


Exclusive to STR

I have not really spent much time until now thinking about why freedom is so important to me. I love freedom for the same reason I love oxygen: Both are necessary for life. Government is like a fire in a small room, burning up the oxygen and making me fight to get to the fresh air outside. When the Declaration of Independence speaks of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," I think it is simply repeating itself for emphasis. The three things are so tightly bound together that I don't think they can be separated.

Most of my thoughts of freedom center around the outdoors. Freedom to me is the ability to enjoy life and not worry about laws or regulations. Freedom is not the opportunity to take advantage of or hurt anyone. Those kind of twisted desires bring their own chains, even if you don't get caught.

There are many times in my life where I have felt limitless freedom, such as the day I spent sitting on the edge of a cliff, in the roots of an ancient tree. I watched the clouds drifting slowly past far below me, hawks riding the air currents beneath the clouds. I could see the river glistening in the distance and tiny houses that I understood were very important to people I didn't know, people who were the whole world to someone. For that day, I felt as though I were a part of their world, yet isolated from it. On days like that, freedom is a physical presence.

There are also the days of peeling the bark from poles destined to be new lodge poles for my tipi. Seeing the bark curl away from my drawknife and smelling the freshly exposed wood, there is no way to adequately describe the experience. I immerse myself in it so deeply that I chew bits of the bark to more fully become a part of the tree.

Some of my most glorious days of freedom have been spent at the "fleshing beam." This is where deer hides are scraped clean before being tanned. It is hard, messy work. My back and shoulders get tight from the constant motion. The sun makes my skin tingle, as I am often shirtless because of the mess. The yellow jackets swarm around, trying to steal bits of meat from the pile of scrapings. The smell of the deer fat is strong in my nostrils. My grimy hands control the pressure of the scraper without conscious guidance from my mind. It is satisfying work.

Because fleshing a hide is so automatic, the time can be spent in introspection. During times like this, my thoughts range from "meaning of life" topics to "Who was that cute girl at the grocery store?" or even "I wonder where that yellow jacket is going?" Rarely do I even worry about the finished product. If I do, it is only to briefly think of what I have in mind to make from the soft, smoky-smelling buckskin that will result from my efforts.

To unwind, I love to strap on a gun and walk through the sagebrush covered hills, perhaps with a rifle on my shoulder. I keep my eyes open for the glint of bone. I collect skulls and am always on the lookout for a new addition. I carry a spyglass to identify that bird in the willows down in the draw, or that oddly shaped shadow beside the clump of grass. In the dried mud, I see tracks of the animals that have come before me. Our paths crossing, joining our lives on some spiritual level. I will taste the bitter sage and the pungent juniper, and smell the dust on the breeze. I walk wherever my eyes lead me. I don't worry about the clock. If I get the urge, I will set a cowchip in the top of some sagebrush and use it as a target. Funny thing about cowchips, unless you shoot the edge, you can't usually tell if you hit them or not. I am not out to win any marksmanship contests, though. It is just my way of enjoying my freedom.

Freedom is also the knowledge that if you accomplish nothing today, in the eyes of the harried world, it is of no consequence. I once spent an entire afternoon on my belly, following a shrew through the leaf litter. His tiny life did not matter to another being in the entire universe, but it did to me. It still does. I am so grateful for that day. Yet, even telling about this now, I can see how most other people would see it as trivial or as a waste. In a way, I learned more from that "insignificant" creature in that one afternoon than I did in all my years sitting in the prison called "school." The lessons the shrew taught me are not lessons that I can put into words; they are lessons of the heart. I encourage you to take the opportunity to notice the small things and let them teach you your own lessons.

Another way I have of living free is attending mountainman rendezvous. These are gatherings of people who like to learn and practice the skills of the mountainmen of the early 1800s. We dress in buckskin clothes, shoot muzzle loading guns, and camp in tipis and canvas tents. Contests are held. You can display your skills at shooting, throwing the tomahawk, or spinning tall tales around the campfire. There is a contest called the "mountainman run" which combines many skills into one event. If you don't feel like participating, you can nap, relax, and just absorb the aura of your surroundings. No one will judge you for doing what makes you happy.

Anarchy isn't about having no rules. It is about having no rulers who enforce unwanted rules on you. The rendezvous are a lot of fun, but there are strict rules. Usually anything invented after 1840 is forbidden from being visible in camp. You can't fire your rifle anywhere other than in the shooting areas. Everyone is expected to behave with common courtesy, which really is common in camp. I accept the rules at rendezvous because they are not forced on me. I voluntarily agree to abide by the rules while I am there. It is one of the best ways I know to escape from the modern world and still be around other people. There is a spirit of freedom at these events that is unlike anything else you can experience.

Then, in total contrast to these things, I have spent deeply treasured times in a smoky bar room, with people and loud music. These people know me and accept me as I am. Silly as it may seem, I love to sing karaoke. There is a freedom in knowing that if you mess up, no one is going to throw bottles at your head. Rubber balls, maybe, but not bottles! My karaoke friends have been with me through heartbreaks and happy times. Some of them have become friends outside of karaoke. These are people whom I will stand beside and proudly call them my friend. Others, I know nothing of other than what they usually sing. Yet they all are special to me, and have a way of enriching my life.

In none of these things does "government" or "the law" come to mind. Yes, government does try to regulate some aspects of my freedom. I can truly say that I don't think about it when I am living free. As soon as I see a cop, think of a "law," or allow government back into my mind, the freedom evaporates like the dew on a rock under the hot sun.

This presidential campaign I have undertaken has forced me to give up some of my freedom in order to spread my message around a bit. I think it has been worth it. I hope that from reading my words, someone else has begun living more free. I must remind myself that I can't show other people why freedom is so valuable if I don't allow myself to enjoy it.

Do yourself a big favor today. Do something to increase your own freedom, if only for a brief time. Escape that small room where government consumes all the oxygen, or use the fire extinguisher of your own exercised rights and accepted responsibilities to make your world safe for freedom in the future.

Your rating: None
Kent McManigal's picture
Columns on STR: 2