So I'm driving out of town when I see the strangest thing. There's Nat's old Dodge pickup parked at the side of the road. He's roped his battered shooting bench in the bed. And there sits Nat himself with his spotting scope nearby, his deer rifle at the ready, and a six-pack of Moose Drool beer. He's peering over the rifle down the long, empty stretch of road that leads to Hardyville.
Naturally, I have to stop and find out what the heck is going on.
"Climb up here and spot for me," he says.
"Er ... spot what?"
I climb. "Uh ..." I say, settling myself on the bench beside him.
"They say there's hordes of 'em gonna be movin' in," he explains. "I say they ain't."
I gaze down the forelorn stretch of road that leads back to Lonelyheart Pass. A tumbleweed rolls across the highway.
Nat nods sharply. "Libbettarians."
"Libertarians? Hordes? Libertarians don't have hordes, Nat. So what on earth makes you expect them coming into Hardyville?"
"Gulchers," he says, squinting his old eyes against the sun glare.
Ah, I get it. There's been something in the tom-toms lately, and Nat, with his 80 years experience has picked up on it. So have I for that matter. I know exactly what Nat's talking about now.
And maybe you do, too. Have you felt it? Suddenly, after years of idle talk, there's a current – still an underground current, so far, but one you can feel clearly if your feet are on solid earth.
There's a change coming for people who crave freedom.
The pioneers of this change are still few. Like all pioneers (or all innovators and early adopters, to put it in more modern terms), these people appear radical, strange, precipitous, even foolish, to the staying-put crowd. But they're the ones who end up opening trails that others follow.
And these pioneers are moving toward just what Nat said: Gulching.
Gulching, for you non "libbettarians" is ...
"Heads up!" Nat barks.
I peer through the spotting scope and track the showroom-new crew-cab Cowboy Cadillac pickup that's just swung over the horizon.
"California," I say.
Nat firms his grip on the rifle and moves the barrel smoothly to follow the truck as it approaches Hardyville town limits. Then BLAM! he puts 150 grains of .30-06 lead right through both rear-side windows, zinging straight across the back seat.
Breaks scream, black rubber smokes on the road, the truck slews around until it's pointing in the opposite direction. Then with one more squeal and an eight-cylinder roar – the Californian runs for the border.
As I was saying ... Gulching.
If you're not a "libbettarian," you might wonder. Gulching is physically retreating from a society that doesn't value what you value – a society that in fact threatens to eat up everything you value – then maybe eat up you, as well. (Backwoods Homesteaders are pretty familiar with this part of the idea.)
But gulching isn't just retreating FROM. It's retreating TO. And it isn't just retreating individually. You – and your friends -- very quietly slip out of the mainstream world and slip into one where you can do two things: first, live and trade with people who value freedom; second, prepare to bring freedom back to the world, someday when the world might be ready to consider freedom a good thing.
Gulching isn't like the Free State Project, which aims to make political change. On the other hand, it not like the solitary backwoods life, in which one individual or family hopes to get away from it all. It's a little like – and a little unlike – both. It's also compatible with both.
Here's the skinny. A lot of us have been trying to save the world. But the world doesn't want to be saved, any more than a pig wants to sing.
In fact, in the eyes of the world, us "libbetarians" – and constitutional conservatives, and paleocons, and paleolibs, and militia remnants, and classical liberals, and just plain Don't Tread on Me folks – are trying to "save" the world from the thing it most craves – the illusion of security. We're just annoying the pig, in other words.
Someday the world might be ready for freedom. When it is, it'll be a good thing if colonies and networks exist that have preserved the institutions, ideals, and practical know-how of being free. We can come back then. Or our kids can. And we can bring the treasure we've preserved. And the free-market institutions we built underground.
So our job – right now – is to start establishing those colonies, then building those networks between colonies. Our job is to keep ourselves and our children safe and as free as possible so we can save ourselves now and save the world (if it wants to be saved) later.
That's not exactly easy. But that's gulching.
"But what does that have to do with Hardyville?" I ask, thinking aloud.
"Spot!" orders Nat.
An SUV lumbers over the rise. No, not a mere SUV. A Hummer.
"New York," I report, squinting through the spotting scope.
Nat tilts the rifle down slightly, eases it more tightly into his shoulder, peers into the gun's Leupold scope, and – BLAM! -- the Hummer's front passenger-side tire blows out. The Hummer wobbles and swerves. And – BLAM! -- the other front tire goes – and the big, mean machine careens across the roadway and thuds spectacularly into a ditch.
A smartly dressed man and woman scramble out, screaming and running as fast as they can go away from town.
In the distance, a sedan comes over the horizon, stops, picks up the frantically waving couple, then begins backing slowly back over the horizon.
Nat nods in satisfaction.
"Uh ... Nat, do you really think you ought to be doing this? I mean, I think shooting out-of-staters comes under the heading of initiating violence ..."
"I'm not initiatin'," Nat scoffs. "They're initiatin'. Tryin' to fill Hardyville up with riff raff. Anyway, I ain't shootin' anybody. A tire ain't anybody."
I let this slightly suspicious rationalization go. But I can't help but ask, "But if you think they might be gulchers, Nat ... why run 'em off?"
"First of all, because we don't know 'em and don't know whether they've got two cents worth of common sense. You can just call this here a little bit 'o pre-screenin'. Second of all, most people oughta be startin' their own gulches. Not countin' on ours."
"Hardyville is a gulch?"
Nat looks at me as if I'm a few barbs short of a fence and says, "Best gulch there is."
And he's got a point. A gulch is:
- Hidden – and Hardyville is that.
- As self-sufficient as possible. Nuff said.
- And filled with people who love freedom enough to put up with some difficulties. Which pretty much defines Hardyville.
"But we never set out to be a gulch," I point out.
"No matter. A gulch doesn't have to be exactly what everybody always thinks a gulch has to be."
A local truck or two passed while I sat contemplating this and Nat took a drink of beer. We waved. The driver waved. And the truck cruised right on into Hardyville.
A station wagon with Montana plates and a bunch of squeaky-clean kids in the back went by. Nat let it roll. And then another SUV – a real, working SUV with Wyoming mud, Wyoming plates, and Wyoming horses in a trailer behind it – lumbered by. Waves on all sides.
"A gulch doesn't have to be what people think a gulch has to be," I echo.
The original gulch – Galt's Gulch (follow the link and scroll down) was Ayn Rand's creation in Atlas Shrugged.
Unfortunately, anyone who thinks too hard about Rand's gulch will notice some problems. First of all, we just plain don't have the handy ray-screen thingy the novel's characters had that made their valley look like a rugged, uninhabitable mountaintop. And we don't have John Galt's even handier ever-running motor to power our community. And we don't have hordes of independently wealthy folk who can live without regular jobs and who can hire less rich gulchers to work for them.
Slight inconveniences, those.
There were a lot of other things Rand just didn't explain. And 50 years after Atlas Shrugged there are questions she didn't even imagine. Like how can you have a self-sufficient, free-market-based community without its members committing 50 federal felonies a day? And with satellite surveillance, datamining, Echelon, Carnivore, CALEA, etc. how can you have the remotest hope of remaining hidden in any sense of the word? And how can you avoid being Waco-ized when the feds figgure out what you're up to – even if what you're up to is totally moral and non-aggressive? And since you can't realistically hole up and not come out of your gulch, how do you link up with the rest of the world while still preserving your very private free world? And on and on.
Tough questions. But in fact answers do exist. Not guarantees, mind you. But answers.
We can gulch without gulching. We can hide in plain sight.
For instance, a gulch plan might look like ...
"Spot!" snaps Nat as a tiny spec of automobile appears in the distance.
"No. Hey, wait a minute. I want to try rifle duty this time. You spot."
"But you're a lousy shot. You might miss."
"Actually, Nat, I think the problem is I might not miss when I'm trying to. But comon, let me have a turn. I'll be careful. I promise."
So Nat and I quickly change places. And just as I'm finding the rifle's comfort spot against my shoulder, Nat sings out, "Co-lo-rado!"
I hesitate and lift my cheek up from the rifle stock.
"What're you doin'? Get ready!"
"But ... Colorado ..."
"What're you waitin' for? You won't fire 'til you see his Green Party membership card, or what?"
"Comon, Nat. There's Colorado and there's Colorado. Not all of the state has fallen into the Denver-Ft. Collins-Boulder Triangle. Parts of it ..."
Nat puts up a peremptory hand, while he peers into the scope again. Then he relaxes.
"You're right," he grins, pointing.
I squint at the oncoming sedan and – sure enough – there, flying from the radio antenna, is a little yellow-and-black Gadsden flag.
"One of ours," I sigh.
Really one of ours. As the car comes abreast of us, the driver not only waves, but pulls over and steps out. It's Hardyville's handsome young neighbor, Boston T. Party.
"Hey, Nat. Hey, Claire."
Nat offers a Moose Drool to Boston, who shakes his head.
"Just passin' through on your way to Wyoming?" the old cowboy asks.
"That's so," says Boston. "Got a project to get underway."
"Well, raise a fine ruckus," says Nat.
We chat a few minutes, but then Nat nods toward the horizon.
"Incoming," he warns. And I lay my cheek back down against the rifle stock.
There's a lot more to say about gulching – especially how it can be done without everybody having to turn into primitive homesteaders (except those who want to), how it can be done by people with varying levels of skills and different lifestyles, how it can be done without a total retreat from the everyday world ... and perhaps especially how such intense group endeavors can be done by famously unherdable freedom-loving cats.
But I'm afraid those details will have to wait 'til the next column, as Nat and I are a little busy right now.
May 15, look for "Gulching: Yes, You Really Can Herd Cats" (The trick is to let the cats go where they choose and not to expect the entire herd to go in the same direction.)