Yes, it’s true! It’s finally happened! We have hung out with homeless bums!
They were really quite nice, actually. They were overwhelmingly generous
with the little that they have, and we got to share many wonderful stories
around a warm fire in the forest on an Island outside of Charleston.
It all started with Lala and I going over to the island to check out a dinghy
on the shore that we suspected was abandoned. On our way over, we passed two
sailboats rafted up together at anchor that were in dismal shape. They were
utterly unclean and covered from bow to stern with junk. They had been there
so long that not only was there green slime growing on the hulls, but full on
colonies of oysters! Imagine two sailboats covered with four inches thick of
oysters the entire length of the hulls!
Regardless, when the captain waved us over, we went over to say “hi.” Gus
was his name, and in his dirty ragged well worn clothing, he invited us
aboard, which we accepted with reservation. These boats looked like they
were garbage trucks on their way to the dump. What we found was that Gus was
not the captain, in fact. He had just arrive two weeks earlier by hitch-
hiking across the country from Alaska! When he made it to Charleston, he met
and fell in love instantly with the real captain of the vessels, a warm and
friendly woman by the name of Danita. As it turns out, Danita has been
living on the larger of the two sailboats at that very spot for seven years.
Yes, she dropped the anchor seven years ago, and has not moved the boat
since. She’s just been living there…free of rent…free of a
mortgage…and free of taxes, for seven years!!! The second boat, we were to
find out, was one that she got for free by claiming salvage on it because it
was an abandoned boat. So after she got it, she rafted it up to her primary
vessel to nearly double her living space. They said that they are in the process of getting the smaller boat ready to sail south, and that’s why the boats are covered in stuff. We just can’t imagine how they’ll have that boat ready to leave by Wednesday like they said!
They made us coffee and we sat and talked for a while in the warm Carolina
sunlight. Then this creature climbs out of the cabin–slowly and
methodically. His movements were strange and slow like a sloth. Danita
introduced him to us a her son. Apparently he went blind at birth and wa
born prematurely when Danita was in an accident. So he lives on the boat
with her and just feels his way around. He was sweet, and instantly wound up
cuddling on Lala’s lap.
Gus told us that he and some other people have been starting up a Rainbow
Tribe camp on the island with the dinghy that we were going to inspect.
Rainbow Tribe is an extended network of people who like to live on the land
and live lightly so that they leave no trace. They live outside and camp and
have great gatherings in majestic places like the redwood forests, the Green
Mountains of Vermont, and the Black Hills. I’d been to a couple of northeast
Rainbow gatherings, and they really blew my mind.
Never before had I experienced people living communally out in nature, sharing
their resources, cleaning the lands, and enjoying music, fire, and dance at
night. At the time, it really opened my mind to what is possible outside of
the rat race.
Have you ever had a time when you lived outside in the majesty of nature in a
glorious place, away from cars and electricity and rules, and every day you
would have delightful interactions with friends and meet new ones that
The Rainbow tribe taught me about how a communal camp kitchen is set up in
the wilderness so that large masses of people can live in a place for a while
and eat gloriously well. The Rainbow tribe taught me the concept of “leave
no trace.” Usually when I go to regular public campsite and public parks, I
see litter everywhere, but after a Rainbow gathering the site is actually
left in better condition than it was found before the event!
So after we disembarked from the two floating dumptrucks, we made our way to
the island for the evenings fire. Lala bought her drum, and we made our way
through the marsh to the forest where the fire lay. We were greeted by a
small band of hippies that welcomed us and offered us wine and food. Through
the course of the night we met two dredlocked hobos both named Zack, one
clean cut chubby lad called “Panda Bear,” a fun and inviting man named “Fox”,
a young sweet blond woman Called “Lovey,” and a quiet bearded man with a
Yukon hat called “Sunny.”
These guys are what most people would call “homeless,” but they’ve set up a
sweet camp on this island and had a fun little community going on. For food
they would “dumpster dive” at night behind fast food restaurants and super
markets. For money they would “fly signs” which means that they would
“panhandle” or ask for money on the street with a cardboard sign that read
something like “Hungry Homeless Hippy.”
Even with next to no money in their possession and little to no belongings,
they shared food and tobacco and stories with astounding generosity.
One of the Zacks told us of how he’s rode trains (illegally) with Sunny for
over a year now. Not only have they ridden trains and hitch hiked and hiked
all across the country, but they’ve done it with Zack’s cat, Aguganimzazluzler.
Forgive the spelling, but it’s a really unusual name! Upon inquiry, Zack
told us the pedigree of Aguganimzazluzler, and you’ll have to listen to the
podcast to understand how amazed we were!
He’d trained the cat (pun intended) to sit on his backpack for hours while he hiked or jumped on or off of a train or caught a ride of the road. Other times, the cat would walk along beside him on a leash just like a trained dog!
The next night, I went back to the island without Lala to say goodbye to the
little clan. I came upon only Lovey and her boyfriend “2-nice,” a black
dred-locked young man who wore a cigarette lighter around his neck like an
amulet. We sat around the warm fire and waited for Zack to come back from
his dumpster diving run. While we were waiting, Panda Bear
appeared from one of the tents. He had been napping. He told me about how
last night he had said to everyone that he’d really like to get some single-
serving bottles of wine. It was an off-the-cuff comment quickly forgotten by
everyone. He went to sleep, and his friends went off to dumpster dive.
When he woke up in the morning, he stepped out of his tent to find a case of
single serving wine bottles awaiting him! That night his friends scored the
case in a dumpster! That was the first and only time that they’d found
alcohol in the trash, and it was amazing in light of the fact that it was
exactly what Panda Bear had been wanting. These guy live lightly on the
land, and although many would call them things like “homeless” and “bums” and
even “low lifes,” they are still graced by god and tap into the flow of
mother universe like any blessed man. These simple people have so little,
and they share so much, and God graces them regularly.
A little while later Zack appears at the fire hauling a huge laundry bag on
his back. He drops the heavy bag to the ground by the fire and borrows my
flashlight to illuminate its contents. Like a hippy Santa Clause, he starts
pulling out pints of fresh raspberries, bags of ripe plump grapes, huge
avocados, large cucumbers, onions, green peppers, and even four small basil
plants! The bounty was seemingly endless, and as I sat gazing at the huge
bag of food, I marveled at the magic of this world. He had found all of
this in the trash…a telling sign about the wastefulness of our consumer
culture. I would estimate that it was about four full paper grocery bags of
fresh produce! Food was passed around the small circle to anyone that wanted
any. A grill was placed over the fire, and sweet peppers were put on to
roast over the coals.
So many times over the years I would walk by a bum on the street who held a
sign asking for money and look at them with condescension. So many times I
would also give them the change that I had in my pocket. Regardless of my
decision each time I passed, I’d always feel uncomfortable. Now though, I am
both inspired by these people and reset by them. I don’t have the desire to
live their dirty lives, but I respect their creation of community, their care
for each other, and the abundance that they are graced with by living in the
moment. They have found a way to live outside of the main consumer culture
and yet within it. They travel the world and see exotic places on almost no
money, and they have music and laughter at night while the majority of us
chew on ads for the next ipod or sexual enhancement drug or lowest carb beer.
Zack gave me a basil plant, pint of raspberries, green pepper and cucumber to
take with me. I could have taken four times a much and still left them with
enough produce for a week. I thanked them all for their graciousness and
told them that they inspired me in new and unexpected ways. We all gave
well-wishes for our separating pathways, and I disappeared into the night to
find my dinghy to return to wee happy and lala with God’s gifts under my