Moral Confusion About Isolation in the Wilderness

When I was growing up, my favorite of our sheepherders was also a true hermit at heart. His name was Vernon — Vern — and in the winters he ran a cattle ranch in Texas where he had to interact with all sorts of people all the time. I don’t know how he fell in love with the (I agree, irresistible) landscape of my father’s ranch near Livingston, but he arranged to be a solitary sheepherder in a mobile cabin with a couple-three dogs all summer long. What I most remember:

He was an exceptional cook who did dynamite lunches for my Dad and me that beat anything we could get in town. We brought him groceries a couple times a week.

He had extraordinary rapport with Shepard dogs. He had an unusual combination of barks and whistles where it seemed like he was speaking to them in a secret language.

He treasured being alone. My mother and I went out to her relatives in Oregon for a couple weeks each summer. My Dad, lonely, decided he would make it a regular thing to visit Vern for lunch each day. First day, fine. Second day, okay. Third day, tense. Fourth day — Vern was nowhere around his mobile cabin. Message received.

He was a master at rifle maintenance. His guns were in perfect condition — gleaming with oil. When he decided to retire, he offered to give one of the nicest items to my Dad as a gift. Dad, a bit socially inept, wanted to pay for it. “You’ll take it,” said Vern, “or I’ll keep it!”

The foundation of his solitude, his enjoyment of being a hermit, was his self-reliance. He shot all his own meat. He couldn’t keep a garden because he had to keep moving with the sheep, but he raised as much veggies as he could.

This is a person with a noble hermit soul.

This is not anything like a hermit.

This is a creepy psychopath parasite thief. Similar examples with murderous impulses (when somebody shows up at the home they’re robbing) are among the most disgusting killers. That this confusion even results in a book is a bleak sign of the times.

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