17 years on Desolation Row

Letter from Slim Wolfe

Mountain Life – July 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine


Now entering my 17th year as a Desolation Row desperado, I find myself debating the next moves on the old chessboard of existence. I’m pretty comfortable here despite being too close to the highway and not having a wooded spot to enjoy. But I’ve got a strenuous sort of existence with not much hope of letting up, and now I’m past sixty I wonder when I’ll find the time and energy to keep things rolling along. I’ve also realized that I’m not immune to little annoying injuries which can slow me down just when I need to maintain the pace. Nor do I have a handy son or daughter to bring by an amplified phone, for example, should I suddenly lose most of my hearing — as happened to a friend this month.

On the other hand, there’s no place I might go which would be either affordable or tolerable. I thought about rigging up an old school bus with a roof full of solar panels and a portable woodshop so I could head south for the winters, but I wonder how well vagabonds are received in the present climate of suspicion, how well independent poor folks might be thought of in the world of the new holy trinity: that’s money, the father; technology, the son; and humanity, the holy ghost who gets mentioned but rarely understood.

The other choice is to just dig in my heels and hang on. More than once I’ve put off a southbound migration on account of some spinach in the greenhouse or an old hen I didn’t want to abandon, or a shop project which dragged on because the shop is hard to heat. This year I’ve got a much expanded greenhouse which can double as a sunny work-space, and I’m about to boost my electrical capacity so I’ll get more work done on short and cloudy winter days. Homemade electricity is getting more expensive by the year, but it’s not going up as fast as fuel or food.

I’m thinking I need to make this move while I’m still moving fast enough to recoup the expense, but I’m also thinking of humanity which has and does survive without the convenience of power. Up until about age 45 I got by living in the tent or the car, preparing food over a firepit or a fold-up-stove, and lately I hardly recognize myself, loaded down with a rambling homestead, a growing arsenal of power tools, and by god, a pressure cooker to hurry the frijoles along. Once, not so long ago, I could find a spot to call home, in the forest, under a bridge, or in an abandoned house in the city, living on air, as it seemed.

Now the uncertainty of that is less than appealing, but who says life is less uncertain in a house? America’s best-known vagabond-radical, Utah Phillips, passed on last month, and tramping doesn’t seem to have much cachet in these modern times. Maybe a hundred years from now “surfing the net” will be as passé as riding the rails. Life out of a backpack, life out of an old van, life out of a cabin, and now, life out of a laptop. Go figure.

Slim Wolfe

Villa Grove