Friday, January 12, 2007

Our Father

I will not lie when I tell you that all my stereotypical images of what a "drop-out" would look like were personified in the incarcerated visage of one Alan G. Como. The handful of you who read this blog likely know by now that I think myself to be pretty open-minded and a self-described progressive. That may lead some to believe I have rainbows arcing out of my ass, a peace-sign tan line permanently inscribed on my chest and a visible furrow plowed into my forehead from years of tie-dye bandannas. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. I look like every other drone in the world who holds down a job to keep the cogs of the system well-lubricated with blood and to make enough money to keep my family in gruel. So it pains me when I must admit to holding such prejudices. I don't like admitting to such things because it makes me appear less-than superhuman. But I am just a man. I am fallible and made of flesh. I pray you seek my heart through my words and not just my moral weakness. But I have to admit, when I saw his face, I allowed all my prejudices about those who reject civilization to peek out, if only for just a moment.

When word of the arrest of Alan G. Como came to my ears, it piqued my interest. I live within a manageable driving distance from the beautiful and vastly underrated Adirondack State Park in New York. For those who are unfamiliar, the park is over six million acres of land in northern New York state that contains 3000 lakes, 2000 miles of hiking trails, 30,000 miles of streams and rivers and the entire Adirondack Mountain range. Fully half of the land is slated to be "forever wild" with the remainder being tightly managed. The park is the same size as the state of Vermont. I've spent some time up there and my uncle retired from being a local business owner in that region. It is remote, rugged and has volatile weather. It is also serene, verdant and awe-inspiring.

I am not waxing poetic to be maudlin or to educate those who think New York is nothing but concrete and taxi cabs. I am painting a picture that most of those who yearn to live a freer and more primitive life already hold in their heads. This is the sort of place one imagines when selecting a place to "drop out". This is a place where others have done such things. But this is also the place where police arrested Mr. Como under suspicion of 60 separate counts of burglary. Those burglaries were allegedly performed to secure supplies needed for survival. Mr. Como is not suspected of stealing expensive jewlery, electronics or anything other than items required for survival. This doesn't excuse the crimes, it just places him alongside Jean Valjean. His main crime was living alone, in the woods for over 20 years. His root crime was choosing to live apart from our society and within the confines of nature.

This is where I feel a bit ashamed to admit that I harbor such prejudices, yet I do. When I saw his grubby dwelling, I nodded to myself as if I'd built it myself. When I heard the stories, it was as if I'd written them. When I saw his mugshot, I thought, "There's the sort of man who lives in the woods." I am very interested in hearing what comes out of this.

It was just a couple days ago on Urban Scout's site that I commented how the desire to live a life outside of "civilization" will likely require one to live as a dependent or as a fugitive. This is exactly what I had in mind. This is the sad image I have in my head of those who wish to actually be free from the constraints of this, so-called, civilized world. These people are compelled to live on the edge and become fodder for "America's Most Wanted". It grieves me because it shouldn't have to be this way. One shouldn't have to be wealthy enough to afford hundreds of unspoiled acres or become a stereotypical "mountain man" in order to avoid the poison of the modern world. I don't know if Mr. Como was a person inclined to steal as a standard behavior or if he was forced to do so because he had no other way to survive. Given the facts as we know them, I assume it was the latter. I don't condone stealing, but I understand it in his case. Wouldn't it be better to simply allow people to live this way? I don't pretend to know the answers to all the nagging questions that are raised by such a statement, but I do know that we can never really call ourselves "the land of the free" when men such as Mr. Como are not allowed to actually be free unless it is defined as being shackled to a job, taxes, a mortgage, a car payment and a week's vacation in Amish country each year.

I don't feel sorry for the man, per se. I pity him because I pity all of us who are foolish enough to believe we are free. I weep for us because this man, for whatever reason, actually did what most of us only dream of doing. I mourn our world because we are foolish enough to think this man is the strange one rather than we who freely support this oppressive system (and I do, sadly, think him strange).

This is the face I see when I think of "going wild". This is the face I'm required to see because the system we live under won't have it any other way. God knows we couldn't have a happy, productive, prosperous, and close-knit community of neo-primitivists living in our park lands, could we? What sort of signal would that send? Why, we can't just have people quitting their jobs and running off to form tribes in the woods! Who would be here to watch our TV shows and buy our crap? No, we need to make it illegal. That way, the only ones who even try it will be the ones for whom it is as necessary as breathing. It will only be those who need it like the diabetic needs insulin and the drunkard needs a drink. And we all know what those types are like, right?

I'm so sad for him. But likely, Mr. Como would be sad for me. At least he got caught daring to live as he desired.

But, perhaps I have it all wrong? Maybe he's just another nut living in the woods like Theodore John Kaczynski or Randy Weaver? It may be wrong to try and made someone a symbol or a living martyr, especially when all the facts are still out there. But I really doubt all the facts will come in on this one. So, I'll just pretend that this man is a hero rather than an insane criminal. I'll pretend he is a man abused by the system when all he wanted was to be free. I'll sadly think about his captivity in a police cell when all he's known for 20 years is his six million acre room in Adirondack State Park or other wooded places. I'll be sad for him as I remember the line, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."


Blogger Marcy said...

Question: how do you get only a portion of your post displayed on the front page with a link to click to read the entire post? I've looked through all the settings I can, and I can't find anything to make that change.

January 13, 2007 6:00 AM  
Blogger Frank Black said...


Go to this link and the process will be outlined. Be certain to always, always, always save your template before you make changes! I've gotten into the habit of saving the template before I start any editing and then saving it again after I've made the changes. Then I will comment on the changes I've made so I know what the hell I did. I realize that sounds compulsive, but after you've made your 14th change, you'll understand why I do it. :)

Good luck.

January 13, 2007 8:30 AM  
Blogger casemeau said...

Hi Frank,
This is exactly like the story from 2003 of a man who was discovered living in a cave on a mountain in my town, Flagstaff. Except the man here had not committed any burglaries (it's possible that Alan Como is innocent.) The man here, Thomas Crawford, had been living in his cave for 11 years. His crime was setting up a residence in the National Forest, which is against the law. What is common between these two cases is that "concerned citizens" reported the camps. In the news video about Alan Como, the snowplow drivers were even made out to be heroic citizen-sleuths. It's sick.

January 13, 2007 12:44 PM  
Blogger casemeau said...

By the way, my favorite quote from Thomas Crawford, as he was packing up his belongings and accepting his fate, was this:

"It's time to get back to nature, you know?"

The man lived in a cave, fer cryin' out loud!

January 13, 2007 12:48 PM  
Blogger Marcy said...

You know it's sad that we are told from birth on this huge lie that America is a Free Country (TM). It's complete and utter bullshit. When you can't sleep anywhere you want, you're not free.

Yeah, Concerned Citizens (TM) are nothing more than prison guards.

January 13, 2007 12:55 PM  
Anonymous Urban Scout said...

Yeah. This sucks.

He did things that brought attention to himself, ie stealing. He also stole the same kinds of things during each robbery, leaving behind a "signature" which could then, as we see now, link him to many robberies. The other thing was the snow. He left a trail during the worst time to leave a trail. Anyone can do simple tracking; follow the line in the snow.

A large part of his need to steal most likely comes from his individuality. Groupthink, or tribe can provide everything from nature or garbage without stealing. Rewilding isn't about stealing for your provisions, it's letting nature provide them.

I'm not saying that raiding for supplies has nothing to do with is. The Apache raiding neighboring tribes quite frequently. While it is sad that we are forced to always be on alert from the gaurds of civilization, who hate us more for being wild than breaking their laws, it can also work to our advantage. Predators force prey to pay more attention. Leave no trace, no tracks. This is why the Scout skills are necessary for those who wish to rewild themselves. Break up your routines, leave no trace, travel in groups.

Invisibility is an adaptation. Civilization is killing itself, and some are even contributing their lives to bring it down faster. Others like myself, are working towards preserving humans in this post-apocalyptic world. In order to make it to that world, we must adapt and become invisible to the civilized beast. Otherwise, we'll end up in jail for some reason or another. For everyone who gets arrested, there are dozens who are out there living this way.

To me, the saddest part of this story is not that he was arrested or that he is being punished for being wild. The saddest part to me was that he was living alone in the woods. Humans are not meant to live alone, we have evolved in social organizations. This is the saddest part of all people who wish to "return to nature" but go alone, leaving their very nature behind them.

January 13, 2007 6:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I planning to live like that for a year, starting this spring. I still might. The thing is I want to go back to school and get a degree in philosophy.

I like how they said he was big and strong with little body fat. I bet he was eating venison. Maybe he was snaring deer. That would be one hell of a healthy diet. Especially up there, the deer are more spread out and eat wild food instead of corn and stuff.

I lived in a tent in the woods for a month or so and lived out of my car for about a month. I thought it was a lot of fun.

If I did the year long wilderness thing, bet I could avoid detection. I never got detected living in a busy area in the middle of Madison wisconsin in this little nature preserve owned by UW.

The draw back for me would be the isolation. I could do it for a year though I think.

There are whole communities of squatters in alaska. I'll find the link

Ted Heistman

January 13, 2007 10:19 PM  
Anonymous Don said...

This story tells us more about ourselves that it does about him. It is impossible to live totally free because it makes people jealous. Those so called "concerned citizens" are reacting to the sight of freedom as they struggle to keep an income and an eventual retirement with a pension so they can buy a condo in Florida.

As pointed out by Quinn, we are controlled by locking up the food. You allow yourselves to be exploited because you need food and are convinced by group think that you have to "fit in." But as pointed out by Tainter in "The Collapse of complex societies" every problem we encounter has a solution that is more complex than the previous solutions. Eventually the complexity reaches a point that people turn their back on the complexity. Once that happens the jailers lose control, the citizens let the Huns in the gates and the rulers are thrown out. That they cannot tolerate but as Jaread Diamond shows in Collapse" all that wealth buys one is the chance to be the last to starve.

As for the need for society, many people do not need it at all but it is forced upon us by locking up the food. I could be very happy off all alone by myself. Maybe not in a tarp covered hole, I like my books too much for that. My dream and aim is ti find a place where I can be completely alone with my books and a shop.

Forgive this post as it is very disjointed. I am tired from spending several days preparing for heading for the Arizona Desert. I will not be alone for a while but I will be away from this status symbol land.

January 14, 2007 12:05 AM  
Blogger cheapstreet said...

Remember the incident with the Branch Divideons in Waco, TX? Movies such as "the Parks is Mine" and "Rambo" hit upon this issue was well.

On the bright side, in our society, Mr. Como now has the opportunity to write a book on his story.

I like the irony that our country is based upon individual rights and freedoms. But don't be too much of an individual or exhibit too much freedom.

That said, I could go live anywhere else in the world. But I think I will take my chances this country...

and read Mr. Como's book when it comes out...

January 20, 2007 9:18 PM  
Blogger Theo_musher said...

If he didn't steal, he would have a better case for his lifestyle.

Sure "Thou shalt not steal" may be based on hierarchy and religious oppression, but then again it might just be a good idea lots of people have come up with at different times.

Kind of like the Golden rule.

I'd say hunting and trapping without a license might be on more solid ground morally, but still could end a guy up in jail. But there would be more people pulling for him.

I mean breaking into a house and violating people's privacy like that is not noble. I guess he has to take his lumps now. Of course if he were a bear or maybe even bigfoot it would be ok, but then again he might get shot.

I guess total freedom doesn't mean you have a right not to have it taken away. Maybe it just means you have the right to do whatever you can get away with for as long as you can get away with it.

January 22, 2007 1:00 PM  
Anonymous Dropout said...

It's a shame, because he probably could have gotten the supplies he needed from a church or goodwill organization, trash, flea markets and yard sales, kind strangers, etc. One would presumably need more than a few items over a twenty-year period, but couldn't he earn a few dollars as a day laborer or some other short-term work that wouldn't compromise his lifestyle?

Readers of this thread might be interested in the following, related website (not mine):

If someone really wants to lead a "legit" life in nature, I believe there are wild places where raw land is affordable even to those of more limited means. This would likely require paying taxes and thus being part of the system, but other than that they should be free to live off the land however they like.

January 25, 2007 1:58 PM  
Anonymous Don said...

I know this is a bit late but I was waiting for more replies and I have been hiding in the Arizona desert for the last two weeks. The reason I was waiting for more replies is I was waiting for the comments that he lived by stealing and that is wrong, but is it?

What is wrong from stealing surplus? As I read the article I got the impression he was taking from summer homes that were not occupied. He was taking surplus. What is the moral standing of owning a summer place that is used for only a few weeks a year when millions in this world have no homes at all? Why should someone have two, three, or more homes while others are forced to live is substandard housing or no housing at all? All those homes stocked with food and toys are nothing more than the throw away surplus of a culture of greed and selfishness gone out of control.

I read somewhere that some of the Walton family have eight or more homes each. One member maintains a home in San Diego just so they can grow untainted organic food for a child, a home built by forcing others to buy chemical laced food and live in substandard housing.

This guy was more than right by living off the surplus. I must cheer him on and condemn those who feel he is a threat, a threat to what, the common order? His existence calls into question all that we consider good and important, and all I can say is "more power to him."

I have several homes, I spent the last few weeks parking my trailer in he desert, last summer I parked in an Ozark hollow, I have parked on an organic vegetable farm and alongside a fireworks stand. But still I have a much better home than many of our citizens even though it is only 256 sq. ft. and has wheels under it.zhxiauiu

January 29, 2007 12:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been looking around the net, and am shocked and surprised at how many people are interested in the hows and why's, and how many others are coming to their own conclusions or thoughts about Alan Como. It saddens me to see all of this. So few people online have even noticed the oddities that point to the why's and hows and all the answers. I will just continue to pray that after almost 30 years missing, we will have him home with family soon. May I also suggest that you do searches on things like schizophrenia, schizoaffective, bi-polar, PTSD of veterans. This may help you all to understand alittle better this situation.

August 29, 2009 5:20 AM  

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