Pirate Utopia on the Coast of Cascadia: What Could Be Cooler?
Out on the edge of Cascadia, there is a pirate raft being built from recycled material, that will ferry people up and down the Columbia. There's an eco village with a composting toilet and a kite powered water pump. There's a thrift shop/ media center/ potlatch. And if you're looking to start a new life, there's an open invitation to you:
Get thee out to Ilwaco.
There, the Neutrinos and friends are laying the groundwork for a community on the water, centered around activism, anti capitalism, egalitarianism, hard work, and fun. Lots and lots of fun. As noted above, they are building a pirate raft (perhaps even a whole flotilla, depending on how many people answer their call), and both the raft and the village project will run on the power of kites, wind, sun, sweat, water, and imagination. (They were creating a community garden too, but Ilwaco city fathers bulldozed and paved it, in a misguided effort to restore the status quo to a little hamlet where the status quo sailed away years ago. That's a whole other story. Nevertheless, they have quite a little garden growing near the eco-village, complete with hydro-powered irrigation.) Seriously, if you've been feeling called to a new life lately, maybe it's the ocean wind that is calling you.
I had heard persistent rumors about the raft project, and decided to go investigate. I was going out to the coast anyway, to do some sea lion defense work. I had been told that the raft would be used, in part, to defend and protect sea lions, so of course I had to see this for myself. I set out early in the morning, not really sure where I was going. When I got to Ilwaco, I wandered around the docks for awhile, meeting some really cool people who live on boats out there, and their dogs. (Why are people who live on the water always so cool?) But I couldn't find anything looking like a pirate raft. Then someone in our little crew remembered something about "big, blue recycling bins." Sure enough, up on one of the banks along the bay there was a row of giant, blue recycling bins. We walked up that direction, and eventually found Tiny Neutrino and his dog, Rosie. In a pastoral meadow overlooking the ocean, Tiny was surveying piles of scrap that would be converted into The Raft. He was waiting for a shipment of scrap wood, being brought up from Manzanita by Earth First! volunteers. And he was eager to discuss the project.
It's not the first scrap raft to be built: The intrepid Neutrino clan has built and sailed at least a dozen rafts, including one which they sailed across the Atlantic ocean in 1998. (For some history, see link to www.realchangenews.org.
Tiny Neutrino explained that they will use all scrap materials, dumpstered and reclaimed, and will create something seaworthy enough to cross the Pacific. (Tiny suggested using the raft to challenge Japanese whaling fleets, take over the high seas, and save the world.) Importantly, it will also be used to ferry people along the Columbia to and from the Climate Convergence this summer. Now, what could be cooler than riding a recycled raft, under power of sail and kite, to the climate convergence? Tiny noted that the undertaking was simpler when he was under the impression that the Convergence would be on the Columbia, but with a little preparation and careful planning, not to mention some information about how to get through the locks, the raft will be fit to travel up the Willamette as well, all the way to Eugene for the Convergence.
These floating gypsies plan to create a whole community on the water. People who are homeless, or people who want a new life, are welcome to come out and help convert "anything that floats" into a home on the water. They will travel up and down the river, stopping to play music, perform, and talk to people about sea lions, LNGs, and the river ecology in little ports and towns along the way. They have plans to convert old, abandoned boats into a flotilla for those who want a place to live independently. (I was later shown one of the candidates for this endeavor -- a peeling old dory dropping long, pink, curls of paint onto the ground, waiting for some family to build a cabin over its hull and convert it to sail or biodiesel power.)
On the day that I visited the site of the infant raft project, it wasn't much to see yet, until I saw it through Tiny's eyes. What had, at first, appeared to me to be piles of rotting old junk sinking into the ground, became the beginnings of something new and beautiful when Tiny brought it all to life with patient explanation. He had everything carefully cataloged and broken down into constituent materials and use. He pointed out usable wood, reclaimable metals, and things that could float. He explained the ins and outs of buoyancy, making careful mention of things that should not be used because they tend to break down in the water and cause pollution. He is well versed in the intricacies of sustainable, eco-friendly, recycled raft building. But this, this was just the beginning.
While Tiny talked, a deer stood a few yards from us in a patch of lupines, contentedly munching on grass and gazing placidly in our direction. Tiny said that there are bears around too, and that they sometimes come around at night. He said he has been staying out with the raft, mostly to protect the precious scrap piles from marauding thieves who also sometimes come around at night. (One such would-be thief was kind enough to drop a much-needed tape measure as he fled the scene. One never knows how the earth will provide, but it always does.) But the heart of the community was somewhere near by. Somewhere I had yet to see.
As the afternoon wore on, it was getting late and I had an interview to do elsewhere. I was about to leave, when Tiny asked if I had been "out to the place, to see Dave." I had not. I was not quite sure where "the place" was, and I did not think there would be time to find out. Tiny said he would be happy to show it to me, and that it would not take very long. "Dave would like to see you," he said. I almost declined the offer, but I knew that he was talking about David Santos, whom I had met at last year's climate convergence. At that time, Dave had been living in the basement of the Clown House, perfecting his ideas about kite power. So on the day that I had met him last year, he was energetically waving around a great contraption of wires and propellers, explaining how he would use the thing to make the world's first kite-powered cell phone call. Something in his nature pulls people toward him, causing one to want to actually witness something as seemingly absurd as a kite-powered phone call. I remember following him out to the shore, and sleeping on the beach under my coat while he and a group of chattering boys tweaked and re-wired and jiggled the contraption for seemingly endless hours. But, at long last, the Eureka was sounded, and it was aloft. Propellers whirled, strings held up, wires transmitted, and sure enough, the wind powered up the cell phone in Dave's hand, and he made the world's first kite-powered cell phone call.
So yes, of course I wanted to see Dave. "It's just a short way," Tiny urged. "He'd love to see you." We all piled into his borrowed Volkswagen van, amid buckets of bolts and stacks of building materials. "I don't usually drive," Tiny sheepishly explained. "But I needed some way to get around out here, and I also needed something to live in till the raft is built because it rains so much." Indeed, there was a comfortable looking bunk in the back of the van. Some of the crew sat there. I teetered on an upturned crate in the back, with Rosie the giant dog who is rumored to sometimes bite. She seemed friendly enough to me. And moments later, we were pulling into a verdant little oasis, behind a pretty, old, wooden house. There was a camper back there, and some oddly picturesque gadgetry laying about, and in the middle of it all, there was David Santos. And I must say, his interest and acumen with kites has grown considerably since I last saw him. A quietly soft-spoken, but warm and energetic man, David is part visionary and part mad scientist. It works for him. And it doesn't take much to get him to show you his wares. Eager and generous about his work, Dave first offered us some food and then spent hours showing us plans and prototypes, explaining how everything works, and demonstrating that he really does know his stuff. He pulled out meticulous drawings of the pirate raft as he has envisioned it. Festooned with billowing kite-sails and bristling with reclaimed technology, Dave's drawings fleshed out the images that Tiny had created for us with words.
Dave engagingly described how the clan is building eco-village on the site, and showed me around. We walked on green, forested trails. There was a composting toilet beneath an umbrella, of which both Dave and Tiny were quite proud. Amazingly, there was almost no odor at all. There were solar powered lights, and kite powered gizmos of all kinds. They hung in the trees, lay in the grass, poked out of the ground, and dangled from wires here and there. Even so, they seemed to blend seemlessly in with the surrounding environment, as surreal and wholistic as any Roger Dean painting. There was a kite pump, a kite powered generator, and some hydro-powered gizmos that whirred in a little stream nearby. Almost everything I saw there was reclaimed from scrap. Dave said it was important to "unlitter as much as you can." Indeed.
He envisions that the pirate flotilla might collect plastic waste from out of the ocean, perhaps using it to build a recycled island. Apparently, someone did something like this down in Mexico, if I understood correctly. He talked about the importance of building community, and invited anyone who wants to join the clan to come on out. "We're really looking for free spirits who want to start a new life out here," he said.
Dave and Tiny, and a shy friend who did not want me to use her name, took us on a tour of the area around the little bio-squat. We walked a block or two over to the Green Dragonfly, a thrift shop establishment that will become a co-op if people show up who might like to become involved in something like that. Dave explained, "The idea is something like a potlatch." He went on to talk about how the little community has been doing outreach and working with the Chinook Indians out there, who inspired the idea for a potlatch. He said that he envisions the Green Dragonfly to be a place where people can come, can get supplies they might need, can work or crash if they want to, and that there will be a media center in the back. "Like free geek, or indymedia," he said. "Do you need anything?" They asked. "Take whatever you want."
It was a tempting offer, as the building was filled with the most interesting and eclectic assortment of royal dulton china, vintage cameras, costume jewelry, computer gear, funky clothes, old books, and gadgets of all sorts. "This is where a lot of the supplies come from," Tiny said. By which I took to mean the supplies used in the raft and village projects. In the back, there were some computers set up, where Dave and Tiny checked their email. They made it clear that anyone who wanted to use the computer, or who needed to take any of the wares, was welcome to do so. They exuded an aura of generosity and sincerity.
Behind the Greed Dragonfly, they led us to the Kite Lab -- a corner of the building stuffed with lengths of cloth, boxes of old clothes, bits of furniture, and other detritus of the post-civilzed world that might be used to raise kites, like phoenixes from the ashes, out of the rubble. In the window, various incarnations of kite-powered instruments and articles about the Neutrino rafts were displayed in a casual manner. On the way out, Tiny playfully brandished a toy blunderbus with a plastic flower in the muzzle, while Dave uncovered a fluffy dog costume, which he explained would serve as his "cold weather gear" for the raft. He shook it out and then put it on and modeled it for us. I must say it was stunning. As we were leaving, I asked whether there was anything that they needed, since I figured there might be people interested in participating in such a unique and fascinating project. They gave me the following list:
Wood, especially plywood
Fasteners (nails, screws, etc)
But especially, they said, "people."
Again and again, they reiterated a desire to invite anyone who wants to participate, to come on out and join them. For more information, or to talk to them about the project, you can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you know how to grow food, build, or DIY, or if you want to learn any of these things, I'm sure they could use your help out there. I know they would appreciate your company. I would highly recommend this radical project to anyone looking for adventure or a new life. I'm thinking of joining them myself. The energy out there is balm to the soul. What could possibly be cooler than a pirate raft, a band of floating gypsies, a potlatch, and an eco-village growing out of the waters of Cascadia?
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