Thursday, July 23, 2009

Giving It All Up Is Cheating

Native Americans had soap. Really. It may not be what we like to call soap – fatty deposits mixed with unsavory synthetic stuff – but they did have soap. They bathed. The kept clean.

What I don’t like about people like Daniel Suelo (read about him!) is that they are high on their own sense of self-importance and superiority because they do something that other people see as being dirty and crazy. They interpret the world through a lens that says that they are the ONLY people who have the right idea about how the universe works, and that the rest of us are too stupid and too entwined in our worlds of electronics and war and being clean that we will never understand.

The idea behind the article above is that this guy, Suelo, after studying anthropology and traveling around Ecuador, decided to shun money and society and live in a cave with neither. So outside of Moab, UT, this man scavenges from garbage dumpsters and roadkills, refuses to bath with any kind of cleaning material and squats in his own cave. He also indicates that he is trying to personify the awesomeness that is the Native American culture (as if there were only one) because, apparently, they all thought that Europeans were crazy because we are all obsessed with shiny, yellow-colored rocks.

So let’s start with the obvious. As previously established, Native Americans had soap. My money is on the fact that Suelo has no idea, and even if he does, has no idea how to make it.

Secondly, NOBODY uses their own cave as a bathroom. Nobody ever has. It’s like training a puppy: put it in a crate, and it won’t pee inside it because that’s it’s home. There is an innate desire to not soil where you sleep. Humans are the same way, and peeing in your own cave has its cultural basis only in some crazy white dude who misinterprets culture because he thinks he’s superior.

Thirdly, Native Americans may have thought we were crazy for being gold-hungry, but let’s not forget that in one particular culture, men got their kicks by cutting off the noses of their wives. Indigenous Americans had their own vices, whether kidnapping women, cutting off fingers of enemies, stealing skins for mere pride or cutting down every single tree for hundreds of square miles at Cahokia so they could build the biggest mound, so let’s not pretend that our own desire for useless ores was any worse—or better—than anyone else’s. Suelo has fallen into the very stereotypical trap that so many liberal white people do: romanticizing Indians to the point that we forget they all had their problems, too, before Whitey showed up.

Finally, I would just like to point out how useless Suelo is in society. In Native American cultures, and, in fact most similar cultures around the world, including early Whities in Europe, every adult in society or a village or whatever else designated a social unit had a role to play. Everybody had to contribute something, whether it was as a war leader, a basket weaver, a sculptor, an arrowhead maker, a hunter, someone who gives spiritual guidance, whatever. Everybody was responsible for a job, everybody had to be part of the society. Everybody contributed. What does Suelo contribute? He lives alone, he practices almost total self-sufficiency (with the exception of some dumpster diving and begging his friends for food), but what is he giving back? Simply put, he doesn't.

Granted, at least this guy seems to make intelligent decisions, unlike the "Into the Wild" guy, who, in his total arrogance, endangered himself and others by not following rules and cost the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior TONS of money they didn't have cleaning up after him (and I could go on… very strong opinions about that guy). And really, if Suelo wants to nix his carbon footprint and live in a cave, power to him. But I’m a socialist at heart, which means I genuinely believe that everybody has to give something back. Suelo is giving nothing back except an interview, during which he expresses his acceptance and emulation of the neo-Native American (and no less damaging and degrading than the Red Man) stereotype and a superiority complex. I respect that affluent people may sometimes be hit with the desire to just get rid of everything and live simply, but there is such a lack of good affluent people in the world with the power to actually change it, that giving up affluence seems like a cop-out. How about, instead of selfishly shunning your education, money and worldly insight, you use them to make a difference?

In the movie “Ever After” (a cute little Cinderella story with Drew Barrymore), Drew says to the Prince: “You have been born to privilege, and with that come specific obligations.” She’s trying to convince him not to shun his status, but to embrace it and use it for change. I believe that such lucky people have a responsibility to do so, not to live in a cave.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Island Nights and Island Rhythms

We arrived too late for much of anything on St. Croix. The cities were dark and pulsing with the underground rhythms of an island awaiting emancipation. Work and responsibility and catering to tourists were things of yesterday, and tonight was a night for beaches and fires and reggae and heat.

After checking in to our villa, a small and sticky but open concrete building complete with lounge chairs, geckos and a composting toilet, at Northside Valley, we slipped back into Frederiksted to search for food and, most importantly, cold beer. We found Rhythms, an appropriately named open-air beach bar at Rainbow Beach, one of the popular ex-pat hangouts on the island. One corner for beach, one corner for a band, and two corners for sultry nights of sweat and booze and salty air. "A Bronx Tale" reflected curiously off of a white bedsheet hung on the wall, faces of actors and the sounds of Holywood fading in and out between a low Egyptian cotton thread count, a makeshift movie theater on a makeshift island, and a lonely game of Connect Four sat shoved into a dusty shadow around the backside of the bar. The bartender cajoled with the locals, a rough crowd of unshaven tour guides, SCUBA bums, and organic farmers, Statesiders looking for something a little less Stateside, a little less refined, perhaps a little less real.

The night was tired and thick and heavy, the air closing in around us and our cold beers, threatening to overcome our sensibilities as soon as the draught ran dry. The food was hot and cheap and smelled of charcoal and island apathy, and the breezes, almost insignificant in the wake of the stifling wet heat, kicked sand into our teeth and eyes and noses.

Herman Wouk described it as Hell with palm trees, but like the wayward Norman Paperman, I saw nothing but a white man's fantasy complete with Hellish heat.

Taken from our porch at Northside Valley; a 30-second exposure taken in the dead of night during the light breeze that so fickly avoided our windows. Notice the stars in the sky!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Road to St. Croix

The seaplane never got above or even close to the elevation at which I live...

Life at sea level for a mountain girl means breathing in oxygen like it makes you high and being able to run a mile without losing your breath....

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Jonmikel and I bought a house! It's a cute little bungalow with "creative" additions (meaning they last owners had a lot of free time and did them themselves...), some nice hardwood floors, a wood-burning stove, a small yard with mint, taragon, basil, and some other random spices, an irrigation ditch, and some pretty nice views.

Check it out here!