Where is Home?

Where is home? Where, indeed, is home when you sleep in a tent one night. Or your sleeping bag cast out under stars. Or the horse trailer of someone you met 2 hours ago on the side of the road. Or someone’s spare bedroom. Where is home to the man who is traveling the land with his mules?

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, adventure, fence

Traveling the land with mules. Brick, Cracker and me at the start of our journey.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, adventure, fence

The first glimpse many folks get of me and my mules. Here, mules Brick and Cracker graze the highway shoulder on their lunch break. (Gray, KY)

I have been thinking of home lately. About a month ago I kissed Julia goodbye and rode out the front gate. Julia is my wife.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, adventure, fence

Brick and Julia.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, adventure, gate

Riding out the front gate.

The days have passed in a wave of packing up, saddling, riding 8 hours, unsaddling, unpacking, going to bed and starting it all over the next day.

As on all voyages, the longer you’re way from home, the vaguer the concept of home becomes. All the new places you spend the night, all the people whose life you absorb in your travels, start crowding out your concept of home, of where you left.

And that’s okay. You can’t hang on to everything when you leave. That’s part of voyaging. You have to put down your present life so you can sally forth.

But what do you hold on to and what do you put down so you can ramble away?

I hold on to my link to Julia, not the pile of tin and lumber we call home.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, adventure, fence

Julia hanging laundry off our front porch. The beans provide much needed shade – and tasty meals – during summer’s heat.

This is new territory for me.

Setting off on a journey as a married man is a whole new chapter in my travels. I’ve sailed around the world, pedaled around Tasmania, taken a cart across Newfoundland and I traveled both ways across America by mule….all alone. I’ve always traveled as a bachelor.

Not so this present trip. At the end of most days, reception permitting, I call Julia and we catch up about the day. Of where I’m staying and how muddy the yard is and how Brick and Cracker’s feet are holding up and, if I haven’t been to the grocery store in a while, I’m down to eating lentils and quinoa.

We run our voices through each other’s minds and that keeps the connection intact. Okay, it’s not the same as a hug or a kiss or just sitting quietly together. But like a muscle exercised, it keeps the synapses intact.

But home?

There’s not that daily re-linking to the place. It’s more important for me to stay connected with Julia than the roof over our head.

But folks I meet along the way are curious. Where does the guy with the mules live?

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, adventure, fence

The mules and me. Some days I wear a top hat. Some days I wear a helmet.

Not many people ride mules across the land any more. When folks meet me, many look at me like I stepped out of a history book – a man from the chapter where the photos are black and white, the men are skinny, wear hats and have large families. The sort of snapshot of Americana you’d see propped on someone’s night stand to show how great grandad lived back in the Good Old Days. To many, home, where I might live, is probably a shack built with a hand saw and wrapped in brick-patterned asphalt siding.

Here, in case you’ve been wondering, is where I call home.

Home is a cabin in western North Carolina. Home is about an hour and a half from Asheville and half as far from Boone.

Home is a hand built cabin where the primary weed eater is the mule, the water from the tap comes off the mountain and when we have guests, often as not, they have to sleep outside in a wagon or Julia’s studio. “Studio” sounds grand. Don’t get any big ideas. It’s 82 square feet.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, adventure, fence

Home. Instead of a lawn mower, we rely on our mules and pony to do the mowing. A hot wire fence keeps them from wandering away.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, adventure, fence

The back yard on a mucky spring day. The barn is straight in the back. Julia’s studio is off to the right.

Our home is 450 square feet. We have 18 windows, no TV and the doors stay open most of the year. In summer, the wrens fly in the front door and out the back. They’ve learned it’s easier to shortcut through the house instead of flying around it.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, door

The back door. It’s 16 feet away – straight through the house – from the front door. Through the window, you can see the hay pasture where the mules graze.

We understand this fleeting notion of home. Julia and I try to spend as much time outside as possible. Without exaggerating too much, Julia says home is where you come inside to sleep at night. Then you go back outside.

You see, home is an expansive concept for us. It spreads beyond the kitchen, the porch and the bedroom.

Home isn’t just the square box on the property tax bill. Home extends to the barn and up the mountain to the clearing where the limber twigs bloom in May and ravens glide down in October. Home includes the waving hay pasture and the pond with the Pickle Raft and the dark canyon where the chantareles grown. Home runs to the ridge under the Big Dipper, the mule pasture and the chestnut tree where the whippoorwill calls in June.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, adventure, fence

Sky riding. Julia catching the last rays of the day up the hill.

But home is too big to carry with me on this trip. I think of slivers of home when I bed down at night in a trailer, my tent or someone’s couch. Then I think of Julia and home fades away as her memory gives was to the blackness of sleep.

In the morning, my mules and I will set off again and home will fade just a bit more from my mind. My link to Julia stays bright and strong as ever.

Post Script: You can read Julia’s thoughts on what it’s like for us to be apart on her Old Dog Diaries blog.


You put out the question where is your home. Your home is with your wife physically now beside her. I could have responded to your email privately but since you set this blog up with a comment section it had become a public forum. How to respond back pretty well kept me from sleeping last night. If what I am going to write here destroys our friendship, so be it. I’ve made my decision and I am going to live by it. There are no way that I will ever take these words back. As a ordained minister for nearly 21 years, I have the moral and spiritual obligation to use anything as a teaching tool to help (guide) you and others who might read this at a later time.

When you took those wedding vows, you made a commitment to each other (a binding contract both morally and spiritually) as other people watched and GOD as witness that you became one flesh to be separated by nothing (no person or thought or desire) until death. Your personal wants and desires should have become second place under the Love and Compassion that you should have for Julia. Julia should have become your first priority. Your gallivanting days of riding off into the sunset on your mule(s) by yourself should have been over. Period. No question about that. No way to get around it.

The very second that your lead mule took it’s first step off of your property you broke that commitment (contract) to be beside Julia until death. In fact the very second that the thought came into your mind that you needed to go out on the another adventure (possibly by yourself), you broke that contract. All you did was go through the motions (just empty words with no meaning or conviction behind them) because you were slightly convicted that you had to make your living together legal in the eyes of the law instead of just shacking up together. There possibly was never any true love between the two of you.

Talking on the cellphone is somewhat okay but what would ever happen if there was a serious emergency? How fast could you get back home if Julia got seriously injured or had a medical emergency that could possibly kill her? How fast could you get back home if there was something wrong on your homestead like a fire?

In GOD’s eyes, you are no better than somebody who is having a sexual relationship with another woman while being married. You are a virtual adulterer. You have become married to adventure and your traveling around. You could even say that you are having an adulterous affair with your mules.

Julia should be at your side wherever you go. The marriage vows she took are the same as yours. Let nothing come between the two of you until death. The second that Julia made the decision to stay home and take care of her dog, she broke her vows. She put her dog over you. She might as well be considered as being an adulterer too.

After reading Julia’s blog, there is an unwavering fact that her dog is extremely old and seriously ill. Any vet would tell you that after examining it, the decision should have been made to painlessly put the dog to sleep. Why should anybody allow any creature to suffer from pain and living with it’s body destroying itself? That is animal cruelty. Julia should be considering the quality of the dog’s life instead of the quantity of time that she would have it be with her.

Rev Johannes Myors · Friday May 3, 2019 · #

What an uncompassionate and strange minister the Rev Johannes Myors is. I am glad he is not my minister.
Bernie and I do truly love one another and nothing has or will come between us. If you love someone you support them in their endeavors and dreams.
To put down a currently healthy and happy dog that I adore is insanity. Snookie is healthy right now and in no pain. My vet and I will have his back and when he needs to be put out of his suffering he will be. Currently and happily, that time is not too near.
This Rev would be better off turning his critical, unloving eyes inward for he knows not compassion nor true love.

Julia Carpenter · Friday May 3, 2019 · #

Pete Lupo
2019-05-03 11:36:10

I was first introduced to your travels by who, but none other than Bernie Harbert’s! Bernie considered you a fellow traveler and knowing my admiration for individuals living an authentic life knew I would be interested in your story.

After reading your RANT about the lifestyle’s of Bernie and Julia I was shocked, but I must say not surprised!

To make such a blatant statement just proves that you know absolutely nothing about the man, or his family. Bernie and Julia’s commitment to each other is obvious to those of us who know them personally. When Bernie travels, whether alone or with Julia they ask for nothing other than a place to rest for the night. His travels showcase the ultimate truth about the human species, that most people are open, friendly and more often than not…. KIND!
Bernie approaches all people with an open mind and not a preconceived agenda on how they should act, but instead see’s us all as equal. We would all be better human beings to follow this example.

Oh, by the by, you forgot to mention in your RANT about how Bernie has always been there for you when you got lonely on the road and needed a compassionate ear to listen, or how he lent sage advice and expertise on getting “your book” out. Oh, and you forgot about his monetary donations to your cause as well.

If this RANT is any example of the good you feel your doing for the world, maybe you can do more good by picking up a paper route!


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