Uncategorized #17 – Earth Ships

May 13, 2020 in Uncategorized

There’s a homeless man who lives in our neighborhood. He tends to move around from spot to spot, with a very large collection of belongings, his drums that he sells, and occasionally with a friend. Sometimes I’ll see him set up in front of the entrance to the subway. He will typically be there for a few weeks until the police decide he needs to move—him and his entire camp. I’ve also seen him moved, scraped from the street, by a multitude of city agencies. I know he’s been hospitalized a number of times over the years. He’s a double amputee, without legs above the knee, but somehow, he survives.

I’ve sort of known him for about 10 years. Sometimes he will say something to me, usually something friendly–a few times an obscenity. I don’t really pay much attention to what he has to say. I just walk by and reply with an under the breath “hey.” Today I noticed he has moved into the spot by the entrance to the park, right across the street from our apartment. He’s been in that spot many times over the years. I imagine it’s a favorite for peddling his drums to folks heading toward the drum circle on Sundays. He has friends who bring him things, and people who just seem to hang out with him. To me, he is an Earth Ship—a disconnected vessel, floating across the land.

Earth Ships are a real thing. I first encountered them in the late 90s while camping in the four corners region of the United States. They are mostly created and inhabited by separatists who wanted to live off the grid in the 1960s. They are usually constructed of recycled materials, bottles and tires and things that promote a self-sustaining environment and lifestyle. They generate their own electricity and clean their own water for drinking and showering and waste, and they tend to farm their own food. They are somewhat of a tourist attraction, as they have a unique appearance and tend to be interesting from a design and architecture standpoint. They don’t actually move like ships do, but they off the grid—a disconnected vessel, floating across the land.

There’s something that connects for me between the Earth Ships and their separatist nature, and our homeless neighbor. This desire to be in the world in a certain way, bound by circumstance, but still orbiting the sun like the rest of us. This time we’ve had so far in quarantine has had me thinking about how we live, how we work, where we are and why. There’s something very pleasant about sitting on the lawn in Prospect Park, across the street, sun falling on our faces, Brooklyn strolling by. Sometimes it looks like a postcard, or an episode of Sesame Street, and I can feel and smell the reasons why we are here. And then we walk back to the apartment, past the Earth Ship man, and I wonder how he sees the same scene. Why are we all trapped in this giant city together–on top of each other? Why are we living in harmony, commuting with brief cases and trench coats?

Lately I’ve wondered what it would look like if we de-industrialized the country. If we moved out into the farmland, detaching from the grid a little like the Earth Ships, but maybe not so much so that we can still get Amazon delivered. But, spread out across the country, dispersed and evenly distributed and locally sourced. Why do we all need to cram ourselves into these tiny spaces, elbow to elbow, tensions mounting, stuffed into train cars and bumping into one another—all of us breathing the same recycled air.

It’s been a little while since I’ve written anything.


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