free land

Something free sounds pretty good to an 18-year-old manboy.

The summer before my senior year of high school, I went up to Minnesota with a buddy to work for a high-voltage electrical contractor.

The contractor was building power line towers in Minnesota…and Mike’s father had gotten us onto a ground crew in Hinckley.


That was a pretty crazy summer for a young kid.  I have lots of stories from that time, but this morning I’m thinking about the bus ride I took from Minneapolis to Spokane, WA when the summer work was over and before school began in the Fall.

(We used to get some of the best cinnamon rolls I’ve ever had at this place when I lived in Hinckley….”Tobies” is what it’s called…funny how many memories swirl around good food)

On the bus ride, I sat next to this college kid who told me about the Homesteading Act up in Alaska.   Apparently, if you were able and willing to go up to Alaska and live on a piece of land for a couple of consecutive years, the land was yours.   They’d give you the land if you’d homestead it.

Free Land !!

I don’t know why my parents never told me about that.

I don’t think wild adventure is tops on a parent’s list for what they want for their children. From my own perspective as a parent, I think sometimes that safety and predictable achievement is a lot easier to deal with…but I do want the kids to know that it’s a big world out there and that adventure is possible.

Just don’t do anything really crazy on my watch.

What a contradiction…the old “do as I say, not as I do” in action.

Anyway, by the point this guy told me about the free land in Alaska the Homestead Act had been repealed…I guess that happened in 1976…but according to the article I read, homesteading was still allowed until 1986 because of a provision to the repeal.

So if I’d been an orphan and really adventurous, I could have hopped a freight train, chainsaw in hand,  hitched a ride with a trucker up the Alaska Highway…then hiked deep into uncharted woods and set up camp.  That could have been the plan…although I’ve heard that it’s hard to hitch rides “chainsaw in hand”.

This was about 1978 when I was getting all this good information about Alaska…riding a bus from Minnesota to Washington.

Visions of sugar plums  free land definitely filled my head for a long time.  You read enough Kerouac and Steinbeck and… and you get kind of infected with thoughts of movement and adventurous life experiences.

Remembering that trip…and how it felt to find out that you could do something like homestead up in Alaska…makes me realize how obsessed I have been with “somewhere else” in my lifetime.  Do Norwegians share some gypsy blood?  Or is it just part of the “human condition” to want to wander and explore?

If I could give my children the Wanderlust…that would be a good thing, I think.

It’s good to explore.


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