Mountain Man and Healer Woman
An interview in Colorado about living off the grid, marijuana, guns, healing and Native American Wisdom.
(My Medicine Bag and a Bear Claw)
Last week I went to Colorado to visit some family members. In the process I got the pleasure of meeting a few family friends. These friends are currently living a natural life – off the grid. One is a mountain man who was born in the mountains of Colorado and has learned the art of tracking animals and living naturally from a young age. His wife, a woman of Native American descent, has also lived off the land for most of her life. I decided to interview both of them for Metal Gaia, so they could give me some insight on what it is to live “a natural life.”
Most modern people today (including myself) have never had to grow/hunt their own food, haul their own water or worry about bears trying to break inside the house (I’ll get to that later!)
(For reasons of anonymity they’ll go by “Mountain Man” and “Healer Woman” in this interview. They requested that I not use their names or take any pictures because they enjoy their privacy).
Metal Gaia: I’m just trying to find out how to live off the land today, so let me get started and ask you, what brought you up here?
Mountain Man: I was born and raised here – up in the mountains. My house had a hole – a door in the roof – in order for you to get out in the winter time, because the snow got so deep. It could get up to 20 or 30 foot deep.
Metal Gaia: So when you were born and raised there, did you live off the grid there or is this something new that you are doing?
Mountain Man: We had power but we also had solar. The power was for when people came out and we’d put on big lights.
Metal Gaia: What about your current situation?
Mountain Man: We don’t have any electric here. The only bills we have here is our insurance and our phone bill, and it’s about $120 a month. So as long as you pay your land tax you can go tracking rabbits or anything up here. We don’t have TV channels. Our cell phones work…here or there. But we don’t have internet or nothing. A lot of kids keep telling us to get the internet, but we’re like nah. We’re here to keep away from the outside world.
Metal Gaia: Yeah, that keeps life simple.
Mountain Man: Yeah, you don’t have to worry about nothing. If a war goes on you’ll find out overhead (points to the ceiling) or from friends from the outside. It’s pretty nice.
Metal Gaia: So how do you get your food?
Mountain Man: We try growing our own food. We do our shopping once a month. We go to the big town, one hour away. An hour there and an hour back. We do our big shopping stock up, we go into town to get cigarettes – that you don’t go off of. I’m looking into growing tobacco this year.
Metal Gaia: What do you grow right now?
Mountain Man: Our friends grow squash, tomatoes… One of our friends is going to grow bananas. He has an Earth House and lives off the grid.
Metal Gaia: I’ve heard of Earth Houses. It’s like a sustainable house you can make from recycled material and trash?
Mountain Man: He’s got milk jugs, beer cans, tin cans – all the cans we had when we moved here. Our friend would take to recycle and put in his house. It’s very nice, it’s got its own water source and everything. If he finishes it, he’ll be one of the very few people out here who have started and finished their own Earth house. Most people bail because they either go broke or get burned on the project. He’s built it all himself. He’s packed 800 and something tires by hand. We also have marijuana growing all over in the backyard. [laughs] It’s legal. My wife has the red card and everything.
Metal Gaia: Has the recent legalization of marijuana changed much for you guys?
Mountain Man: I do security for a guy for 20 bucks an hour. It’s kinda weird. We go from marijuana being illegal, to a point where I’m guarding it so no one will steal it, because it is legal! He’s one of the biggest growers out here. He’s one of the only white kids born and raised out here. Since we’ve been here we haven’t had to pay for any. He gives us pounds literally! He provides everything the big shops have because the shops have to buy it locally. So he’s been trying to do that. There is only one good store out here. All the other stores have gone out of business because they are after the money and not the health medicinal. A lot of people up here are hurt. To people around town I say, “Hey how are you doing, here’s a joint.” We were giving them out to everybody for Christmas – candy cane wrapped joints.
Metal Gaia: That’s a great Christmas present. You got your green and red – the green is the weed.
Mountain Man: My wife – if she wasn’t on it – her medications would run us almost 800 a month. The guy that I’m growing for, he has really bad nerve damage. When we give people weed they say “hey this is really good.” Well that’s because we’re growing it in the ground, we’re growing it right. Everyone around here is growing weed hydroponics. I don’t like the hydro.
Metal Gaia: What is the bad thing about Hydro?
Mountain Man: It can mold. You gotta add chemicals to it all the time. Marijuana plant grows better on its own.
Metal Gaia: So, I’ve heard that you’ve seen wild cats out here?
Mountain Man: Oh yeah. I’ve been putting in a drive way for a gentleman around here. I went up there hiking the first time. I was just 20 feet from the top. A big rock was on top. The rock fell down. I had my 30-30 and my pistol with me. And this big cat was watching me from the cliff. And his head was about a foot and a half wide. He weighed over 500 pounds. He got pretty close and I took my shirt off. I put the shirt in the tree. He went after the tree. So I got outta there. Next day I was up there at my friend’s, about 300 yards from there, I heard a snap of the branches and I just missed the cat with my rifle by half a foot. He jumped off into the woods. Last hunting season I went up for my shirt. It was hanging in the tree. My buddy got it out of the tree and said, “I don’t think that cat likes you very much.” (The shirt looked like Swiss cheese).
Metal Gaia: So, what advice would you have for someone like me who has never lived off the land?
Mountain Man: Keep to yourself. Get your own gardens growing, get your raise beds, get your own soil. The soil around here is not good.
Up here where we’re at, everything migrates here in the winter time. There’s mountain bucks, mule deer, bob cat, antelope, bear, lynx, minx – we get cats that come out and watch us. They don’t come after us. I’ve had bears walk up on me when I’m coming out of the woods. I’ve never been attacked by any of the critters around here.
Metal Gaia: Why do you think they don’t attack you?
Mountain Man: I don’t know. I’m from the mountain. I was born and raised up here. In my old house my buddy has nine cougars as pets. He’s got a big fenced in yard. We go and play with them all the time.
Metal Gaia: So I guess living in the mountains, you’ve learned how to deal with animals.
Mountain Man: Yeah. Do you believe in crystals? I’d like to show you something. (Pulls out a crystal). You know what the clear ones look like? This one here, when I was going through Chemo and Cancer, I kept this crystal with me all my life. It was solid white when I started. If you feel the crystal you can feel the heat coming out of there. That is the poison that was in my body. That’s what my hippy mountain friends tell me.
Metal Gaia: So it started out white before your cancer, but it’s dark blue now.
Mountain Man: A lot of people trip out on it.
Metal Gaia: I was thinking about moving out and living off the land at some point in my life.
Mountain Man: The way things are getting with the guns and everything you don’t want to be around the city.
Metal Gaia: Because all the criminals will have them and the law-abiding citizens won’t?
Mountain Man: Well if they try taking them away from people it’s gonna get stupid. My friend says, “ya’ll live in the country. You don’t have anything to worry about.” What they’re going to do is outlaw certain guns and pull you over if you have one. But they’re not going to outlaw all of them at once because they’d lose half their army trying to get them away from half the people in the city.
They’ve got gangs, mafia, they’re not going to give up their guns. They know about those people, but they don’t know about the people out here (in the country). There are people out here that have semi-trailers buried in the ground and they’re stocked! And don’t think they (the police) wanna come out here. These people own their land. They know their own area. I put guns and knives in the yard so if my wife ever has a problem… The dogs also let her know that people are out here.
Metal Gaia: So if I wanna live out on the land…
Mountain Man: You can do it, it’s not hard. Keep to yourself. Get a gun.
Metal Gaia …grow a garden.
Mountain Man: If you go to meet someone, and something’s pulling you on your tail, you’re not sure about them, go by your instincts.
Metal Gaia: Do you feel that if more people lived off the land – would that solve a lot of problems in the world?
Mountain Man: My grandmother is 100 years old and she’s still alive. She’s been teaching prison ministries for years. She is very rich. She said if the government left us alone and let us do what we were doing back them we would be better off. We grew our own food, made our own clothes, everything was made here in America. Now if you find something made in America it’s worth Bucks! Because nothing is made here anymore. If more people start growing marijuana that would help the ozone because marijuana puts out a lot of oxygen. A lot of farmers are just waiting for it to become permanently legal.
Metal Gaia: So…it’s technically legal, but they’re still working out the kinks in the legal system?
Mountain Man: If you think about it. Two states went legal at the same time: Washington and Colorado. Washington said, “we want Federal help.” Colorado said “kiss my fucking ass, I’ll grow that shit on my own.” So the state runs Colorado, but if the Feds came here – they could fuck with the people who have the red card. In Washington nobody could do anything to you. But here they can.
Metal Gaia: Was there anything else you wanted to say about living off the land?
Mountain Man: Just go by your instincts.
Metal Gaia: So, Healer Woman, How long have you been living off the grid?
Healer Woman: I was born in 1959, in a little bitty town, 14 miles outside the town I grew up in. I have hoed peanuts, picked cotton, shucked corn…I was like 4-5 years old doing that then and getting paid for it. We had running water and a wood heater for heat. When my mother married my step dad, we didn’t have running water and we didn’t have inside bathrooms. We milked cows and slopped hogs. Then my mother worked for a ranch… so I’ve been doing this my whole life. I love living this way. I haul water. I heat up my water to do dishes. I do spit baths…
Metal Gaia: What are spit baths?
Healer Woman: Spit baths are when you heat the water up on a wood stove, strip your clothes down, and you take a bath. If you are going to wash your hair you go outside. But other than that, I have all the conveniences.
Metal Gaia: Because you have TV and radio?
Healer Woman: Well, we don’t have TV. We watch movies. We watch DVDs. We have a radio. We have solar and plenty of wood – a ton of wood. I own 5.9 acres.
Metal Gaia: And the bills are probably pretty small…
Healer Woman: We have two bills: Insurance on our truck and our phone…oh and groceries.
Metal Gaia: [Laughs] Yeah, no 500 dollar heating bill.
Healer Woman: yeah, I don’t have no…trash, water, sewer, electric, internet, car payment…they got all these bills. I own everything I have. It’s all been paid for in cash. I owe nothing.
Metal Gaia: So, for someone like me who has never lived off the grid, if I was to move out here and live this kind of life, what kind of advice would you have for me?
Healer Woman: Carry a gun or a knife. On you ALL the time! Don’t go around by yourself. Kind of get used to the land, the traditionals, get used to your surroundings – where you’re at – listen. A big cat could sneak up behind you and you would not know it. The wildlife is wonderful here.
Metal Gaia: What kind of animals have you seen?
Healer Woman: I saw a … elk, a bear tried to come through my front door, my Blue Healer [her dog] was half way out the window trying to get it.
Metal Gaia: Oh my God…
Healer Woman: I’ve seen Bob Cats, Cougars, Coyotes, Wolves, Badgers, Deer, Bunnies…little white cotton tails.
Metal Gaia: So…you said you are a healer yourself?
Healer Woman: Yeah, I heal.
Metal Gaia: Have you been doing that your whole life?
Healer Woman: No.
Metal Gaia: How did you get into it?
Healer Woman: I got into it through a friend of mine. I have hepatitis C. I tried medicine. It didn’t work. So I started going to Natural Remedies. I’ve been doing Natural Remedies since…well I have been doing them all my life. Let me take that back. When I was little working on the ranch my mother would go fishing a lot in the pond. My mother would take us in the woods and show us what plants we could eat, what plants we couldn’t eat, what plants would kill you, so yeah – I’ve kinda been doing it my whole life. But I really got into it right before they told me I only had 5 years to live. Their medicine wasn’t going to work and I needed something that was going to work.
Metal Gaia: Do you use any crystals like your husband?
Healer Woman: Only if they’re given. You are not supposed to take a crystal. According to Indian lore, you are not supposed to take a crystal unless it has been given to you. It’s like the blue stone and turquoise. I am Cherokee, Chocktaw and Chickasaw. And I do a lot of Indian rituals. I do the summer solstice, I do the winter solstice, I do the giving and I do a Spring solstice because that is when Earth is brand new. I do a summer solstice to talk about things that have been bothering you through the year. Then I do a winter solstice to end the Earth.
Metal Gaia: I guess that’s the cool thing about living out here. You can be in touch with the land. Do you feel that people who live off the land are more spiritually aware?
Healer Woman: Yes. You are more in touch with yourself.
Metal Gaia: Do you feel that people who live in the city and the modern world are out of touch with spirituality?
Healer Woman: They are all into themselves and the fast life and what they are going to get at McDonalds and what kind of video game they are going to buy. Then you have the druggies who go house to house causing people headaches – thieving and raping and pillaging…it’s just…it’s nice to be out of that! I do keep up with the laws and what’s going on my phone… and then to be an inch away from your next door neighbor? How the hell can I breathe?
Metal Gaia: How do you do your healing?
Healer Woman: I use oils. To do them you…the person that you are healing…after they tell you what is wrong…you pray over that person. If you tell me what’s wrong I will get the herbs that I think will help you. I don’t heal everybody. I don’t want that. I just heal certain people. People that are close to me, people that I feel need it. I’m not just going to go out there and heal everybody because I do not proclaim to be a professional healer.
Metal Gaia: My last question is, do you think things in this country would be a lot better if people lived off the land?
Healer Woman: Hell yeah. Yeah…cuz kids today have no respect, they have no honor, no morals, they don’t know what work is. They ain’t been made to work. They ain’t been took out behind the barn and got their ass tore up like I did. I thank God that my mom tore my ass up. You did not walk up to an elderly person and say “Hello Misses Whatever.” You’d got knocked into the next room with a fist, because it was disrespectful. You walked in there and said “Hello Mother” what her first or last name was. That was respect. And if you didn’t….your butt was in trouble!
Metal Gaia: Well thank you for answering my questions.
After the interview, Healer Woman showed me the trailer she makes crafts in. One of the crafts she makes are Medicine Bags. She made one for my step-mother, myself among other members of the family. Her husband gave me one of his Bear Claws to put in my bag.
From what Healer Woman told me, a medicine bag is a representation of one’s soul. You put things inside of it that are spiritually close to you, like an Eagle’s Feather or a Bear Claw. However, these things must be found in a natural environment like the woods (they must be given by the Earth, a trusted friend, or a family member). You cannot go to the store and buy a medicine bag or items to put in your medicine bag.
You must keep the medicine bag given to you close to your heart at all times because it gives you strength, vitality and protection. If someone takes or tampers with your medicine bag, this can hurt you. This is why people must always ask you for permission to touch your medicine bag.
I also found out that quite unfortunately – many Native American people who go into Rehab or jail are not allowed to bring their medicine bags with them. (This is insanely biased since there are a fair share of Christians who can bring Rosaries or Crucifixes of the cross with them to jail or rehab). As a result, the Medicine Bags of these people are more often than not sold into pawn shops or New Age stores. People end up buying these medicine bags and bringing spiritual ruin onto themselves as well as the poor person who had to lose their medicine bag.
Everything is Given From The Earth, Nothing is Taken
Another important lesson I learned: If you use dream catchers or crystals, they should be given. You should not buy these things because you don’t know what kind of energy you will run into. Not only are items like these given, but even life is given – for a temporary amount of time anyways. When you spend time with a loved one, you are borrowing them from the planet, before they go back.
So if you lose them you shouldn’t despair too much because you never owned them – no one ever truly owns anyone or anything. That is arrogance.
Everything in life should be given to you by the planet, not taken. Even the people we enjoy being around are a gift. Part of living a natural life is appreciating what is given to you (even if you only have it for a few winters) and learning how to give back yourself.