Reading time: 6 minutes, 1200 words
This is Aaron (pictured above).
One year ago I asked readers of my blog to recommend radical people that I might spotlight in some journalistic way. To my astonishment, I received a handful of emails from around the globe, all telling of sundry, exceptional characters, and Aaron was one of them. Although I wanted to meet all those paragons who were recommended, Aaron lives closest to me (in Oregon), and his story intrigued me most.
At the time I didn't have the means to travel to Oregon, but I contacted Aaron via email and we spoke a couple times. He taught me in brief of his "homefree" philosophy ( a term Aaron says more accurately describes him than "homeless"), and of his sustainable methods.
Last month I finally made my way to Ashland, Oregon and met Aaron at the local free box, a Crayola-blue wooden booth in the parking lot of Ashland Recycling Center where donated clothing is distributed to those who need it. I waited ten minutes at a nearby table before Aaron arrived.
At first glance, I could see Aaron is healthy, despite his unorthodox lifestyle. His body is fibrous and taut, his eyes like two topaz stones. A splintered, flint-orange beard grows from his jaw, and he wears sandals cut from a rubber-bottomed rug, strung to his feet with two black nylon cords. Simple, deliberate, calculated. Aaron, from his ideology to how his pack is organized, is intentional.
I also met Aaron's two dairy sheep, which provide Aaron his dietary staple—sheep milk—and learned that they generate a small income for Aaron by mowing Ashland residents' lawns; they can clip a yard with their teeth in about two days.
We sat at the table for an hour or so, talking, laughing. A man named Joe joined us. My friend DP sat at the other end of the bench, bullshitting with Joe. Except Aaron, we all smoked cigarettes in the hazy midday sun. Aaron avoids caffeine, alcohol, drugs, and foods procured unsustainably, though he does have a penchant for cannabis.
Later, while smoking joints on the bank of Ashland creek, Aaron introduced me to wikicurrency, an information currency that self-sufficient street dwellers can trade in. It consists of trading-card-sized pieces of paper printed with valuable information about edible plants, farming, survival, and water filtration. There are even units with inspirational quotes. The currency, which Aaron prints at the library and keeps bundled in his backpack, could replace the US dollar. In theory, I could teach you how to plumb a house; you could teach me how to raise and milk dairy sheep. The medium for our exchange, of course, would be wikicurrency, printed with the secrets of our respective trades.
This may sound preposterous, that people would give up their precious greenbacks in exchange for wisdom, knowledge, community, friendship. Aaron, I think, would disagree. However, for all his idealism, Aaron seems to recognize the formidability of saving the world, for, as I witnessed, he ultimately dispenses wikicurrency freely, so long as one values the information tendered. On the other hand, maybe this doesn't suggest that Aaron thinks his own efforts futile, but shows that he is generous. Regardless, Aaron explains that we don't need to subscribe to his experiment, rather we should start by unsubscribing. In his words, "we don't have to do everything necessary to save the world, we just need to stop doing what is unnecessary."
Since returning from Oregon, I've spoken with Aaron via email, and he has agreed to let me stay with him for a time, to show me the ways of homefree living. Though I'm not yet sure when this will happen, I hope to further document Aaron's life and ideals, to journal my experience with him, and, if I'm being completely honest, to learn how I might intelligently live on the street.
I realize how absurd this may sound, that I, an almost-middle-aged man with a family, a home, a job with benefits and a college education should want to live on the streets. But have you considered the absurdity of our so-called civilized ways? Compliance with that, to me, feels like lunacy.
Aaron wouldn't allow me to photograph his face that day, because he believes first-person imagery tells a better story than that of third-person. He wears a GoPro around his neck in an effort to document the world through his eyes and occasionally uploads his footage to a Youtube channel. We had to laugh about this—that I wanted to point my camera at his face, but wasn't allowed to, yet his GoPro lens was pointed directly at me.
As I reviewed these two photographs of Aaron upon returning home—the only two I made—I was reminded of the quality of that experience, and I reflected on what it means to live a quality life.
I often speak of essences as though they are some intangible, unseen material presence; but I don't actually believe this. My concern with essences, with the underlying qualities of things, has to do with feeling.
It is on a feeling that we dare sail the seas. It is on a feeling that we risk falling in love. It is on feelings that we base our beliefs. It's true that all of these activities involve cognition, even rationality, for we calculate our seaward journeys before stripping our ship from the moor, we deliberate about whether our object of affection will make a good life partner, and we reason about our beliefs, considering their consistency with our experience, but, in the end, how do we deem our reasoning to be sound, except by a feeling, albeit a delicate one?
Each of us has this refined feeling capacity, a sentiment that works like a kind of intuitive echolocation, sensing what the eyes and ears and prefrontal cortex cannot. The final and only task in life, from my view, is developing the courage to ever follow that feeling. Necessarily, it's irrational. Because the feeling never says, "Follow the herd, do what makes sense." It says, "Here is a quality experience. Here is your life, and you can only gain it if you go alone, in the dark." Perhaps that's my intrigue with protagonists like Aaron: they've followed the feeling. Aaron, from my view, bears a certain mark of quality.
Aaron might resist my thoughts here. He has detailed his reasons for living the way he does on multiple websites, the mother of them being HomelessShepherd.com. Therein one can learn the ways of sustainable street living and glimpse a pastoral philosophy informed by a desire, a feeling, if you will, to save humankind, and to start with oneself, a philosophy similar to what our wisest sages and loneliest artists have extolled.
Then again, maybe none of this will come as a surprise to Aaron, for in true street-prophet fashion, he predicts the future, writing on his site, "people will begin dropping out of society to pursue the new shepherding renaissance that is mixed with modern DIY technologies, advanced food foraging knowledge and improved dairy genetics!"
God and Aaron willing, that's what I hope to do, or something like it. Maybe that's how Aaron will change the world: by educating and inspiring one person at a time.
If you'd like to support Aaron in his efforts to educate others on responsible homefree living, you can donate here.