Saturday, October 15, 2011

People on the edges of things

In our travels, the wife and I meet some interesting people. It’s amazing what people will tell you once you start chatting. All they need is some nonjudgmental listener and they open right up.

My wife and I stopped to watch a street magician. After his little act, most people moved on -if they bothered to stop in the first place. We chatted with him a bit. Business was slow, and he had one eye out for the cops. Before you know it, he was showing me how his tricks worked. That was pretty cool for me. In exchange, I was able to warn him about a nearby city that had gotten particularly hostile towards street performers.

We’ve met people who lived in their vehicles. Everyone knows about living in the road in a nice new RV, but we met a lot of people doing it a bit different. We met a guy in New Mexico with a small older battered RV who normally spent the winter in a desert in Old Mexico -a real desert rat. There was a disabled Vet living in a Toyota sedan. He’d taken the passenger seat out to make room for his bed. Everything was in its own compartment and container, very organized. Most impressive was a converted cube truck that still looked like a work truck. The stairs and windows were hidden when it was closed up. I didn’t get a real close look at the interior, but what I did see was top notch work.

We’ve given hitchhikers riders who were living out of their backpacks. There are people who travel the country on bicycle, finding work where they can. There are people who do this as a one time adventure, but for quite a few, it’s their life.

We met one guy who spent half the year in the Florida Keys. He had a battered old car and an old bicycle. The guy new every cheap place to stay in the Keys. Camping cheap in the Keys takes some work. My wife took notes. The other half of the year he lived on an old houseboat on a big lake in Tennessee. The guy looked like a homeless bum, but was incredibly articulate and well educated. I’m glad we made the effort to get to know him.

Now that my wife and I are traveling around in our little sailboat, we’ve discovered another class of character. They live on small, often older, sailboats that never see a marina. Instead, they are tied up alongside river banks, tucked deep into the marsh grass, or in some other out of the way place. Of course, we see them because we are doing the same thing. With the keel and rudder up, our boat only draws a foot of water, so getting out of the main channels is easy. Some of these people appear to have been out on the water for a long long time.

All these people have something in common. They are living on the edge of society. The life of a cubical farmed human is not for them. Many of the things that tie down most people -house, 9 to 5 job, car payments, loans, and all that, have no grip on them. Like weeds that find cracks in the pavement, they thrive.

Something occurred to me: evolution happens on the edge. In the natural world, evolution is fastest in the transition areas: where the sea meets land, where grasslands meet forest -anywhere different environments meet. It also takes place in harsh environments.

Humans, due to our outrageously large brains, have developed a much faster method of evolution: cultural evolution. We can change our culture much faster than our bodies will evolve. The people we meet on the edge of things are experiments in cultural evolution. They are surviving outside of the mainstream and have lessons for any one who doesn’t fit the culture around them.

Most of those people appear to be a lot happier than the “normals.” As the American dream and the world economy implode, it might be good to check out what those happy people on the edge are doing.



  1. Excellent essay, Sixbears.

    Mountain Rifleman

  2. Down here in Florida I see a lot of these “edge livers” and to tell you the truth the older I get the more envious I’ve become of them. Good for those who enjoy the edge lifestyle!
    Thanks for the read, very insightful.

  3. Thanks Rifleman

    Yukon: There are more of them in FL. In NH, most don't stay for the winter.

  4. I have always enjoyed and learned a thing or two when talking to "those people on the edge". You are right about them always being happy. Sometimes hungry but always happy. Freedom does that to you.

  5. ..sounds like a fun way to do things!..norms and values play a big part in why more people don't live on the fringe I think..I hope to get there someday via the sailboat in the marsh grass route..almost to the point where I can get a boat soon!