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The Wind in the Pines
A couple years ago I visited a shantytown on an abandoned dump on the edge of San Francisco Bay in California. The dump is a three-or-four-square-mile peninsula of jumbled and broken reinforced concrete sticking out into the water. After a particularly bad earthquake many years ago, the repair crews piled millions of tons of destroyed cityscape into the Bay and then just left it there. After the dump trucks left, nature took over and native scrub brush and huge fennel plants now cover the peninsula. At the time my friend took me on an explore, some joggers and people walking their dogs had carved a few paths through the bushes, but for the most part the dump was breezy, quiet and deserted.
In between the eerie pillars of concrete and rusting rebar, hidden in tumbleweeds, a small collection of squatters had built several elaborate shanties. My guide took me to his friend's house first. She wasn't home but the door was unlocked so we looked in. Built of scavenged plywood, the building itself was humble on the outside, but inside it was neat, compact, and comfortable - like a Japanese home. She had a two-burner propane stove and a well-stocked kitchen on one side and a lofted futon and library on the other.
Poking around further on, we stumbled on a young couple living in a shanty that looked out over the water. We spent some time talking to them and stirring the coals in their fire pit. They spent almost all of their days out on the peninsula, going into the city only to collect water and food stamps. A developer would have paid millions to build on this site over-looking the Bay, but with a little initiative, some daring, and a bag of sheet-rock screws, this couple lived there for free.
Some people thrive on the raw adventure of squatting down town. Hostile cops, violent landlords, hired thugs, drug dealers, angry neighbors, and the regular hassles of urban life all conspire to make city-style squatting a high-stress way to live. Sure, it's not always a crazy struggle. Some of my friends have found unguarded, abandoned building that they have squatted for months or even years without problems, but even at it's best, urban squatting is not for everyone. One alternative to squatting down town is squatting in the woods. Wilderness squatting is also an exciting adventure but with smoother edges and less stress.
Like the shantytown on the dump, a country squat doesn't have to be that far from civilization. In many ways, a small, disused piece of nature close to a town or small city is the ideal place to set up a camp. Outside most towns you can find fields and woods that are walking- or biking-distance from plentiful dumpsters, running water, hospitals, discotheques and so on. But it is a trade off - you are also closer to cops, park rangers, landlords, hunters, and city noise.
Some people actually prefer the isolation of the deep woods. In the West it is possible to camp in national-forest land, hours from even the smallest town. Of course, that far into the woods you will have to be more self-sufficient, perhaps gathering and growing much of your food, but you will gain the security of almost never being hassled by anyone, cops or otherwise. In the woods and in town, the secret to long-term squatting is avoiding being noticed. The further you are from civilization, the easier it is to disappear and therefore the longer you can stay at one spot.
Another way to make squatting easier is to get some sort of permission to stay where you are; call it semi-squatting. Downtown, neighbors and landlords are often willing to turn a blind eye if you seem to be taking good care of an abandoned building. It is even easier to get permission to squat in the woods. Landlords often will give someone permission to stay on a piece of unused land in exchange for acting as an informal caretaker.
Your shelters can range from tents, to tipis, to shanties depending on the weather and how often you like to (or are forced to) move around. Small tents are cheapest and easiest to hide. You can make them camouflaged with a little spray paint. It is also easier to pose as harmless campers if you live in a tent. Tipis are often the ideal shelter in more remote areas. Movable, warm in all four seasons, and much, much more comfortable than tents, a good tipi costs about as much as just one or two months rent for a small room in a city.
Wilderness squatting is easier than city squatting but it isn't foolproof. A good group of people can squat almost anywhere but if a group can't learn to live together well, the squat is doomed to fall apart or get busted, usually sooner rather than later. Humans, as social animals, are strongest and happiest when we are living with other people, but ironically most of us are very bad at it. Social behavior is learned, but civilization only teaches us how to be shoppers and workers, not how to be social human beings. If we want to live well in groups we have to teach ourselves the skills, and that means learning by doing. Keep talking in your group and don't give up. Your reward will be the freedom and adventure of living without work, and the joy of living with lots of friends:
In a large, overgrown field on the edge of a Northeast deciduous forest, I spend my days tending a fire and sipping tea. Squadrons of dragonflies dart around my head, hunting for mosquitoes, while high up above us, a Cooper's Hawk circles, hunting the field mice that rustle through the sugar maple bushes. Mt. Wachussett is in the distance and at night, the moon, red like a drop of blood, rises over the mountain. Some friends and I sit around the same fire, cooking dinner, talking, reading aloud, playing music. Some of us drink beer - others more tea or coffee. Evening usually brings more friends and visitors to our camp who all seem to enjoy the stars, the company, and the world slowed down. We go to bed early to the lonely hoots of a Great Horned Owl and the sound of wind in the pines.
You are not your job, your titles, your possessions, your degrees, your lovers, your relationships, your place of residence, your social security number, your ID, your bills, your worries, your bank account, your age or your body. You are the timeless being that created & perceives itself through those things, and you have the power to play or not play that game. When someone asks me "what do you do?" looking for some title to pin me down, I laugh and say "EVERYTHING!" - Blackout
Posts: 7616 | From: New York City | Registered: Jul 2000