July 3, 2016
This morning I watched an Animal Planet channel documentary about three or four families living in the far northeast corner of Alaska. They are among fewer than a dozen individuals who have had permission to build cabins on National Forest Reserve land. No more permits have been issued since the 1980’s and when these folks and their kids die, or within 100 years of the issuance, whichever is sooner, no one will be able to occupy the small cabins they have hand-built from logs.
One couple raised two daughters in their tiny dwelling, and the husband and wife still go there all winter to hunt game upon which to subsist, and trap furs for a bit of income, now that the girls are grown.
One man has wintered alone in his cabin for 40 years and says with absolute certainty that he is the only human alive who knows the 200 square miles of mountains and woods in which he runs his trap lines. A third youngish couple is thinking about having a baby next year.
All spoke of the absolute freedom they experience. All mention that the price of that freedom has been their utter separation from other people they love.
The families move around from year to year among three or four cabins they have built, in order to allow the game and fur animals to replenish their populations sufficient to support the human predators who hunt and trap them.
The man living alone lost many of his supplies this winter when a bear broke into his cabin while he was away. This winter has been so cold that there has been no game whatsoever. Instead of a couple of hundred martin in his traps he has had none. Instead of a moose and a caribou to sustain him he has subsisted upon grouse, squirrel and rabbits and has not been able to maintain his weight. In the middle of the documentary, sad and discouraged, he gave up for the year and went back to the city to get a job.
The woodsmen and women all talked about how they loved the utter freedom of their lives, which caused me to reflect that freedom is only absolute when there is literally no one else around, and that all other circumstances necessarily make that freedom conditioned upon and relative to the needs of others. Freedom declines in some inverse mathematical relationship to the density of the population. And this sets up another inverse relationship between the desire of some people to control others, and the desire of others to retain as much freedom as is possible for all members of the community. It is this latter struggle within which most of us live out our lives.
I think the stories of individuals in the wilderness somehow made it more clear to me this morning that I have made a choice to live among other people, and to endure the inevitable disagreements about how to accomplish that.