box as a home
As much as people want to do more camping, they will complacently sleep in their box with poor air and unnatural noises only because of the availability of conveniences. I rely on buildings too, as I house-sit and couchsurf in my particular temporary circumstances. However, when one practices sleeping outside, sleeping in a box becomes a mere option instead of one's sole routine. Burdened with few possessions, or keeping them in storage, one can live in a complete way and satisfy the soul. On the other hand, reality can appear starker when one sleeps out - but so be it.
We are almost all prisoners of boxes we call homes. They are homes, but nowadays are rarely built to be Earth-blending. Unobtrusive and ecologically functional homes in the U.S. are considered weird and substandard, although since the 1960s primitive and simple designs have enjoyed a resurgence. It's less urgent for the soul to escape such structures.
Inside the typically modern home is an obscene array of pollution devices warming the globe. I refer without exaggeration to the heedless reliance on luxuries thought as necessities by hundreds of millions of us. It is tempting to always use the appliances when they are present, and easy not to share them with neighbors who are hardly known to us.
That can present a problem for one who seeks the freedom of the outdoors. Older consumers are particularly wary of a stranger, especially a "nature person," looking for a place to lay his or her head. Understandably, a stranger in the neighborhood may be a crazed criminal, although rich-looking people are rarely so suspected. With violent crime so much more common in the last several decades, it's no wonder one does not normally consider knocking at any old door, and asking for minor assistance - let alone hospitality - of a random U.S. urban or suburban home.
Nature in her beauty and abundance allows relaxation and active meditation, reducing stress and friction between people lucky to be there. You gather around the campfire for companionship and enjoyment, feeling the flow of nature's peace.
People spend so much time in cars that people almost live in them, as well as in their houses or apartments. Some sleep in cars regularly, a much better use for the things than running them (on petroleum). Sleeping in a car is not quite sleeping out, unless it's a nondriveable car.
A bicycle is handy for sleeping out, and you can always replace a bicycle dirt-cheaply. Not even having a bike works too, but walking around with all your possessions for sleeping out is a giveaway to the vigilant property-owning/serving classes.
Staying warm and dry is harder some times of year, depending on the climate of the bioregion. The West Coast of the north American continent is generally more inviting than the rest of the U.S. But no matter where you do it, the rewards of feeling like a free animal and in touch with nature are incomparable. Earth lovers should head for the outside and leave the polluting and the pollution behind and in the past. Do it for the Earth and the future, as a revolutionary act, or because it feels good.
Unfortunately, even patches of nature are disappearing everywhere in the development-mad regions of civilization. In the U.S., cities have become privatized fortresses - anti-poor and anti-homeless. It's not original to point out that Jesus's parents would probably not be well received today in their time of need, by most households and institutions in this country.
When one is houseless in and around U.S. cities, he or she is like a hunted animal. But we're all hunted animals. It's just the illusion of security that a box brings that allows people to feel non-hunted. Instead, they are trapped, and they can be found there. Yet, to them this is vastly preferable to "having nothing." Some people think they are what they own.
Where people are consuming the least in terms of energy, paper, plastic, etc., they are far kinder to the Earth than upstanding citizens supporting the local and global economy. In towns that have embraced the Kyoto Protocol to cut greenhouse gas emissions, homeless people - particularly the car-less - should be treated as honored citizens encouraged to keep up their less consumptive and less self-consuming life styles.
To be barely surviving, in terms of material tonnage, is at least to not live in a fantasy world (like the middle-class or very rich person might). In the U.S., the facade of a kind, open society fades quickly when homeless or nomadic people make the dutiful drones of the materialist herd uncomfortable. Society's growing tendency is to forcibly move people away who are unqualified to shop.
Campgrounds needed for
This is tantamount to an anti-homelessness law. It is just what was ordered by some downtown merchants and other proper folk of what has been hyped as the most progressive town in America. "Sleeping is not a crime," goes a protest slogan in Arcata. City Councilman Dave Meserve is trying to assist the homeless, which has been a rare act for politicians of the past. He is already rather busy trying to pass a City Resolution calling for our Congressman to initiate impeachment of George W. Bush.
The local chapter of Veterans for Peace is working on establishing a nomadic camp. Some vets like sleeping out as therapy for what they endured in Viet Nam. One Vet for Peace told Culture Change that in the 1930s, during the rough economy, homeless camps were established around the nation that were self-governed.
Arcata's approach - if the city council does not keep ducking the issue by continuing to criminalize homelessness - will be to help establish nomadic campgrounds up and down the coast. The reason for careful planning and coordination with distant cities is to avoid making Arcata a sole destination for homeless people, if it has the only nomadic camp for hundreds of miles. A well-designed, well-run camp for the homeless would feature showers, the ability to use an address and a phone for job qualification, and other amenities. Arcata's activists also plan to draw upon proven efforts elsewhere. In Portland, Oregon, for example, homeless people erected Camp Dignity almost three years ago, and have successfully dug in for the duration despite little public tolerance initially.
Locales and practices
Many environments for sleeping out abound. Who cares about sand? Or redwood leaves? It's all good. You take what you can get. Make a pillow and mattress out of nature's materials. To be truly off the grid, do without the techno-gadgets that turn camping into an artificial incursion into nature.
Camping out as recreation is healthy under almost any circumstances as quasi-direct experiences of nature. Sleepin' out is different: getting funky, being feral.
Walking and even biking around in the dark without a light, both on roads and in nature, is sometimes necessary. Some day soon there will not be abundant energy for many of us to have artificial light. Fortunately there is always some light at night in addition to both street lighting and our friend the Moon Goddess: starlight. With that, I bid you a good night outdoors where you may enjoy yourself. Watch the sky, the ground, and the horizon - things you don't do when you're stuck inside the box. Feel more human!
- Read about Dignity
Village, a tent city in Portland, Ore.
Jan Lundberg formerly ran Lundberg Survey Incorporated which once published "the bible of the oil industry." He has run the Sustainable Energy Institute since 1988. It can use your assistance and generous help.
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