A while ago I wrote a column for another publication and I was commenting about my jog-hikes with my three "dawgs," all of whom I allow to run free. I coined the phrase "free-roamers" to describe my canines.
Afterwards I began to cogitate quite a bit about that term, and I've come to the conclusion that I like its descriptiveness a lot. Actually, it also describes yours truly to a "T."
In truth, I suppose that it actually describes a whole bunch of people who frequent the outdoors. They are the folks who love to travel out and about by themselves, or they may be a couple, since technically, couples are one entity, too.
"Free-roamers" can be hunters, fishers, mountain bikers, birders, horseback riders, hikers, canoers, ranchers or rock climbers and the list goes on. I suppose even a driver of a monster RV can be a free-roamer, but instead of a patch of woods, desert or river, RV-ers wander the country by themselves.
Free-roamers value privacy, independence, freedom, solitude and meditation above all else, I would guess. It is hard for us to tolerate much joint activity with other humans because at some point, we must capitulate to the will of the other. We are not team players!
For example, many years ago my pal Kermit and his grown son came for a deer hunt. We all agreed to go our separate ways afield, then meet at the end of each day at a certain time and place
Having killed a buck, I proceeded to the prearranged meeting site and waited and waited. Worry, anxiety, fear and a whole bunch of other negative emotions overwhelmed me when Kermit and son did not show.
Five hours later, I found the pair about two miles away, huddled around a roaring fire and waiting to be found. My free-roaming was greatly hindered that day!
About five years ago I met Michelle. She was a true modern-day hippie even though she was only 30 years old at that time (all of the hippies I know originated in the Sixties and are approaching their golden years).
She was wearing dreadlocks and a bizillion earrings all over the place and I was initially put off by her. But the more we talked, I found myself identifying with the lady, liking her, and growing to respect her.
By chosen profession she is an herb gatherer, forest wanderer and goat packer, and because of this, she probably knows the Gila Wilderness about as well as anybody can, having camped and explored where others seldom go. She good-naturedly gloated over the fact that she has camped unseen in a grove or thicket and watched horseback riders and hikers pass by without them ever knowing Michelle was within yards of them.
Listening to her, I realized that she was a true free-roamer and I suppose that's why we connected even though our particular outdoor activities were and are foreign to each other.
Once in a while, two roamers will come together in a chance meeting out there somewhere and intuitively identify with each other as kindred souls even though they have totally different outdoor interests. They may share a log, a cup of coffee, a granola bar, an orange and some conversation, as Michelle and I did, then, much like two ships that chance to meet in an ocean, they will part and go their own ways.
On several occasions I have met a horseback rider named Camille out in my wanderings. We usually stop and shoot the breeze for 15 minutes or so, then go our separate ways. But the time together is always enjoyable
One thing that bothers me, though, are those free-roamers who cannot or will not accept alien activities by others, such as hikers for ATV-ers or vice-versa. I will admit that once in a while I'm chagrined when I get out afar and come across fresh horse apples or another ATV-er, realizing that someone else has interrupted my solitude and sense of adventure. But then I grudgingly realize they are true free-roamers too.
Let me emphatically state that it is my belief that a true free-roamer could care less whether someone else does it their way!
On the other hand, I have an inability to understand "social-activity people"—those who choose to do activities in groups of three or more. They seem to have the mentality of "do it the way we do it" or "let's all do it together"—shudder!
Heck, social parties and even driving in a city give me the claustrophobics and inhibit my free-roaming abilities!
I credit my free-roaming propensities to two sources: a god who created me the way I am, and my genetic ancestry. Some of my dad's ancestors were Irish, while some of my mother's were Welsh; they were both Celtic, and Celts were some of the best free-roamers ever to wander the earth. When the genes from both of my parents' bloodlines collided, God made me, the result of which was another true and devoted free-roamer.
It seems that in this current day and age, intolerance and unacceptance are the bywords, but I think it is time for free-roamers to draw together and recognize that we are all kindred spirits haunting the woods, waters and desert and we have a common base.
Let us determine to not criticize, judge and condemn those others who don't do or think as we do. That's the true nature of a free-roamer.
As always, keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever God bless you out there.
Larry Lightner writes Ramblin' Outdoors monthly for Desert Exposure.