Author: Kalie Garrett ’13
After I set up my tripod in the middle of an anonymous trail, I stepped back from behind my camera for a moment to take in my surroundings a little more. Carlisle parks are really quite beautiful and quite underrated. It was as I was taking in the scene that a man from the woods appeared from behind the trees and said something along the lines of “hello, my name is Jim the mountain man, would you like to see where I live?” I didn’t see much of a choice, and moments later, 47-year-old Jim and I were sitting around his fire talking.
I was born in Mechanicsburg and learned to fly fish by the time I reached eight years old. Later, I lost my fisherman job to marijuana and after highschool, I joined the U.S. Navy and was stationed in Virginia. Again, I got into trouble, hung out with the wrong crowd, and was kicked out. After, I worked for my older brother for 4 1/2 years as a hunter. I was born with a pipe wrench in my hand.
Jim eventually ended up at Penn State but, due to several DUIs, he was forced to leave school. He was married as he jumped from job, to school, to job.
My wife sold my car after the DUIs. I guess she cared for me, I figure I would have just gotten myself into more trouble with it. No, I have no children but I would love to. We divorced in 2005, my wife and I, and I lost everything. We had this black lab named Tia and a cat I found on the road named Tiger. I loved them, I loved them so much and they loved each other. You don’t often find that, cats and dogs are meant to hate each other. My wife gave our dog back to the Humane Society when we divorced, the cat was gone. I lost everything, and decided to live of the land.
The more Jim talked, the more obvious it became that this man was, for lack of a better description, perfectly normal. It was almost frustrating to see him sitting there in the woods, living so spontaneously and financially limited, which lead me to ask “why dont you get a regular, paying job?”
I have ADD and ADHD problems, but mainly I just love what I do here (in the woods). My friend who works at the Gingerbread Man has tried getting me to move in with him into an apartment but I just know I wouldn’t be able to keep the payment up. I would have problems holding it down, but out here I am able to say well ‘if I fail, I fail.’ Yeah, there are a lot of homeless people just sitting on park benches, whereas I am trying to do something. Living out here is a constant full time job.
With that said, the little money that Jim makes comes from making furniture, mostly chairs, out of the wood that he finds around his small campsite and selling them in town to local buyers. Everything you would expect from a man that lives “in the wild,” Jim is that and more. He sleeps in a small tent, rolls his own cigarettes, wears a red sleeping cap he sewed himself, eats from canned foods and what the local churches provide. But, as I expected, living out in the wild is not as carefree and romantic as the movies make it seem.
There are some days when I just want to give up, and there are days when I am on top of the world. I also have sleeping problems so I have to work all day long in order to get a goodnights rest. I was never a boy scout…I make a lot of mistakes, I try to learn from them.
For the winter? Yeah I’ll build a log cabin. It will take me about a month. My mom came up here the last time I did and took some photos of it. I’m trying to get prints, I’ll show you when I do.
But for now, Jim’s camp is completely open; although you would not be able to see it when walking on the trail if you were not looking for it. However, once you find his “house”, you also find how easily it would be for someone to take advantage of the man’s small amount of belongings and simply steal them. And eventually Jim began to talk about this problem.
I have lost a lot of hope out here, and that hurts. Over $600 worth of my tools have been stolen and I plan on living here (in the woods, despite what authorities may say) until that is compensated for…people take my things as they are walking. Bill (a friend) bought me a backpack and that was stolen along with my ID, SS card, camera, and glasses. That hurt. Real bad.
With that said, we talked a little about his interaction with the locals…he says he attends the church as often as he can, and walks into and around town frequently. And, oddly enough, Jim does actually know a bit about our small liberal arts college:
I listen to the Dickinson college radio station all the time, it’s the only station I can get on this radio, he laughs as he tries tuning in the small hand radio, I love some bluegrass. Dickinson’s a law school…I wouldn’t mind attending it actually. I think the students could be a little more friendly though. They have the choice to say hi, if they cant say hi back to me, that bothers me. They act like they are better than me…
Note: Jim asked that I kept his exact location quiet, but I will say that this man lives closer than you would expect…