By Mary Ann Wutzke

Issue #76 • July/August, 2002

My husband and I have lived in the desert and mountain back country of Arizona since 1988. We own no home and just about all of our possessions fit into a ’67 VW Bus. Simplicity is our key to freedom and happiness. We consider ourselves hunters and gatherers of the modern world.

We subject ourselves to survival scrapes and take backpacking trips into areas that would rip the skin off the bare legs and arms of the city dwelling, green worshipping, fashion plated backpackers in khaki shorts who follow maintained trails through the “wilderness.” We have become experienced in the construction, usefulness, and practicality (or sometimes impracticality) of crude survival tools such as fire bows, deadfalls, and sagebrush shelters.

We have devised original, unique, and efficient means of collecting and processing wild foods by gathering and experimenting with what nature provides. Leaping the bounds of food prejudice, we dine regularly on such fine cuisine as bear roast and barrel cactus, jackrabbit with mesquite dressing and blue dicks. We have enjoyed barbecued beaver and nopales (prickly pear pads) with chocolate covered tunas (prickly pear fruits) for dessert. We have consumed just about every animal that swims, flies, runs, creeps, or crawls and is legal to hunt in Arizona. That old trickster, Mr. Coyote, is the only creature to take gastronomical revenge upon us—an experience we do not want to repeat. In addition to preparing their meats, we enjoy tanning the animals’ hides, from the discarded elk skins we scavenge during elk season to the kangaroo rats we make into silly finger puppets.

We live out of doors. We cook, eat, bathe, and sleep out beyond the walls that blind and restrain. This has allowed us to know the animals, insects, plants, ambience, and sky as few others do. A teacher true to the heart, I enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience with others who have similar interests. My hope is to help them progress so that they can make their own mistakes instead of plagiarizing mine. Therefore, for the past nine years, I have been recording many of our observations, experiences, adventures, misadventures, thoughts, experiments, recipes, successes, and failures in the form of journals, photographs, sketches, and collections.

It is difficult to realize how much we have learned over the past decade. It seems we have always known what we know now. It is not until I look back to my first journal that I flush with embarrassment at our ignorance. But the learning never ends. Each day presents a new puzzle or discovery so that we feel we have caught but mere glimpses of the profound cruelties, complexities, and capriciousness of Mother Nature.

In order that you may achieve your own version of freedom and happiness, you might consider the following suggestions for simplifying your life.

1. Dispose of, give away, or sell off everything that is not useful, or anything of mere sentimental (we call this semi-mental) value such as knickknacks, souvenirs, and that dearly beloved whatchamacallit. Toss out all those things you “might be able to use someday” such as wood and metal scraps, junk, old spare parts, defunct equipment, that machine whose sole purpose for the past five years has been to keep the garage floor well greased, unfinished projects, and any unnecessary books, clothes, pots, pans, dishes, and furniture.

2. Do not buy anything you cannot afford. Do not take out any loans. Cut up all of your credit cards. Close out your checking accounts and use cash or money orders for all transactions.

3. Do not keep any animals. They only tie you down and cost you money. However, if animals are a must with you, have useful animals—deadbeat pets belong in the stew pot.

4. Do not own a vehicle which has been deliberately designed to be impossible for you to maintain or repair. Do not own any piece of machinery which is smarter than you are.

5. Get rid of toys that you do not use nor enjoy nearly as much as you think you should. Bid adieu to such things as the motor bike you rarely ride or the exercise machine you use as an obstacle course to the couch. Even if you are actually using one now, it will become obsolete because exercise is the natural result of mountains, valleys, snow, open spaces, trees, and children. Sell the motor home and luxury liner you use two weeks out of the year—try a tent and a canoe or row boat and stay away from campgrounds.

6. Downsize your living quarters. You can waste your entire life away planning, building, cleaning, repairing, and adding on to a house. This not only makes you subject to government controls and hassles but also restricts your mobility. Put that time and effort into the enjoyment of your children, your spouse, the countryside, hunting and fishing, horseback riding, or whatever thrills you.

7. No one can deny that children complicate life but most people find them irresistible so I will not try to talk you out of having them. If, however, you are young, do not be overly eager to become a parent. If or when you have children, listen to and observe them. They are full of vital information such as where grandma is most ticklish and they are “simple” wise. They can tell you: A picnic in the woods is far superior to a fancy restaurant dinner. Mud pies are more interesting than statistics pies. Time is more precious than money. Egg tosses are more fun if the eggs are putrefied. Life is a continual exploration. Trails are for followers and conformists. Your butt is for sliding. Bees like to pop balloons. And one big black beetle in the hand is worth 20 television documentaries about insects.

8. Do not work a full-time job. If you presently have a great paying job, after simplifying your life and reducing your expenditures to a minimum’s minimum, you might want to work for a year or two saving every penny you can possibly save and then quit. When you need money, make things to sell for cash or barter; find odd jobs or seasonal contract work. If you do contract work, keep it simple. If after three months you have enough money to last the rest of the year, do not take another job simply because it is available. It is time to go play.

9. Stop trying to function within the system. Do not try to run a business unless it is something very minor and involves no government intervention (a virtual impossibility these days). Homeschool your children. Do not join a union. Do not work for the government, accept any government monies, or participate in any government programs. Once you buy into their game, you have to play by their rules which are anything but simple. If you think you stand to gain something by entering into partnership with the government, just ask any trapper what it has profited the animal who has taken the bait. Acting against one’s conscience is also a complicated, tangled web. The government acquires money through legalized extortion. But, unless you allow the government to determine your values, you probably still live by the old-fashioned adage that stealing is wrong. Therefore, do not let your greed convince you that it is okay to rob your neighbor simply because the government is holding the gun to his head.

10. Avoid clocks, radios, telephones and, most of all, television like the plague.

11. Never forget your own mortality. This will make every minute precious. You will feel the urgency of living each moment to its fullest, of enjoying your family rather than wasting time bickering, and of doing what you want to do now instead of some surrealistic time in the ethereal future. Your values will change and you will transform from a sedentary haver-observer to an active experiencer-doer.

12. Marry your best friend.

13. Stop trying to be someone else’s notion of success.

If much of this sounds painful, you have not come to terms with the fact that you do not own things, they own you. The proof of this is in the pain. However, when you discover how much more free time you have, how much more relaxed you are, how much more fun you are having, how much happier you are, how much more likeable you are…the list goes on, it will suddenly occur to you that you have not simplified enough. We have less than everybody we know and yet my in-laws do not give us Christmas presents because, “It is hard to buy for someone who has everything.” I do not know if they realize the profundity of their own words, but once you do, you will be giggling with delight all the way to the dumpster and… FREEDOM!


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