The season premiere of "Mountain Men" aired last night on the History Channel. The first season followed three men—Eustace Conway, Tom Oar and Marty Meierotto—as they tried to carve out a living in Alaska, Montana, and the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. The second season has added a few new mountain men, including Rich Lewis who chases mountain lions away from populated areas with his walking stick and pack of hound dogs.
The appeal of the show is not hard to miss. These men fight, scratch and claw to provide a living for themselves and their families. They work in the dirt, woods and mountains. Food usually comes from animals they themselves have killed while hunting. They have a fierce independence that many long for, but never step out of modern comforts to get. One of the characters sums it up quite profoundly:
“What do I do for a living? I live for a living.”
Ah! Such simplicity. There’s an intrinsic desire among all of us to make our own way. That’s not to say these men don’t require other human beings. Each has established relationships that make life in these remote areas possible. They barter, trade, and assist each other. But all this is built on mutual assistance and friendship. It harkens back to an era where your neighbor was your friend and ally.
Of course, modern life and conveniences are pretty great, and I don’t want to over-idealize frontier living. Cars, air conditioning, and the grocery store are certainly fantastic. But there is an independence that we lose by enjoying those comforts. I’d argue that most Americans still wish we were a little bit more like the way we used to be when we could sustain ourselves. These men have found a way to survive almost entirely on their own and that is the show’s appeal. It scratches the viewer’s itch to go conquer nature without ever getting off the couch.
Though they star on a reality show, so they might be getting the best of both worlds: modern money and independent living.