Author Archives

Aaron Gilbreath
Aaron Gilbreath has written essays and articles for Harper's, The New York Times, Kenyon Review, The Dublin Review, Brick, Paris Review, The Threepenny Review, and Saveur. He's the author of This Is: Essays on Jazz, the personal essay Everything We Don't Know, and the forthcoming book Through the San Joaquin Valley: The Heart of California. @AaronGilbreath

The Ways of a Wandering Spirit

Aaron Gilbreath.

It’s summer. Don’t you want to get in your car and drive? I do. Since I can’t, I reread Marya Hornbacher‘s travel essay from Nowhere, a reliable publication for a range of travel stories. Starting in Minneapolis, her road trip begins in a world of motels that overcharge, restaurants that serve bad coffee, and cities that fade into vistas that, as she writes so beautifully, feature “no motels, no Walmarts, just the American landscape sprawled out in all directions as the sun went down.” Then she travels back in time through memories of past trips, where she examines the reasons she travels at all.

I don’t know why I come and go. Why not? Is there any reason or reasoning behind it? How can I ascribe motive to a thing I simply do by habit or nature or flawed design? Once I asked a friend, “Why are you a Buddhist?” We were walking. He answered, “Why not?” I laughed so hard I had to sit down on the sidewalk, it just struck me as so unbelievably funny. He looked at me, puzzled, waiting for me to explain the joke. I didn’t understand his logic; there was no reason for him to be a Buddhist. But then, he was right—no reason why not. At the time, I too must have believed in motive, and reasons for things happening, impetus, choice. Why do I leave? Why do you stay? Maybe I do it by instinct, like a bird flies south, knows how to get where he’s going, knows how to get back. I wrack my tiny brain, but there is no motive, no real choice for or against a given place. A body in motion tends to stay in motion. It’s nothing more than the way you’re aligned. You maybe have a tendency to drift, a habit of wandering off.

As she travels through America and her memories, she keeps trying to understand her desire to keep moving.

I like the in-between places, the pauses, caesuras in space. The places between points, places you pass through, maybe stop for a moment, en route. They have a satisfying sameness, a beige-ness: airports, McDonald’s, rest stops, truck stops, chain hotels. The air in these places buzzes with fluorescence and an acute sense of time. Your body is hyper-alert: you are a body in motion, never a body at rest, and because a body in motion tends to stay in motion, your muscles remain slightly flexed, even in sleep, as if you might suddenly need to sprint. You are always just about to leave. Who uses the drawers in hotels? Some hotels don’t even bother with drawers. Sometimes you don’t even bother to bring your bag in from the car. You just pop the trunk, dig around for underwear and socks, stuff them in your pockets and unlock the door to room 112 or 203 or 1768 or whatever it is, wherever you are. You close the door behind you and sit on the end of the bed, in your numbered nook, tucked neatly into place. You remain at the ready, wearing your coat, ears attuned to any ambient sound.

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Why Can’t California Public Schools Quit Teaching a Eurocentric Version of State History?

vwpcs/AP Images

The missions that the Spanish built in coastal California are beautiful tourist attractions, but their construction involved the enslaving, erasing, and killing the state’s native peoples. For High Country News, Allison Herrera reports on the activists and tribes working to change the way public schools teach California history. Herrera, a member of the Xolon Salinan tribe, describes the forces that shaped the current Eurocentric, whitewashed curriculum. The curriculum omits indigenous suffering, and centers the story around the missions, rather than one that predates the Spaniards’ arrival by thousands of years.

Greg Castro and Rose Borunda, a professor at California State University, Sacramento, and other educators and activists formed the California Indian History Curriculum Coalition in 2014. Much like Rupert and Jeanette Henry Costo, who founded the American Indian Historical Society, Castro and his peers are tired of seeing California’s history books ignore Indigenous people and gloss over the Golden State’s ongoing relationship — and violent history — with the land’s first people. And much like his forebears, Castro is taking a grassroots approach to create regionally and culturally specific curricula.

Borunda says that she and others in the coalition are part of a national movement to put more emphasis on a more accurate history of Native Americans for both elementary and high school students. She points to the state of Washington as a model for how to teach Native history. The curriculum called “Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State” has been endorsed by the 29 tribal nations in the state. It asks thought-provoking questions, such as, “What is the legal status of tribes who negotiated or who did not negotiate settlement for compensation for the loss of their sovereign homelands?” and “What were the political, economic, and cultural forces consequential to the treaties that led to the movement of tribes from long established homelands to reservations?”

“The focus is connecting students to the geography of this place, making them feel more connected to land and water,” says Sara Marie Ortiz, a citizen of New Mexico’s Acoma Pueblo, who worked closely with the Muckleshoot Tribe and with students in the Highline Public School District, just south of Seattle. Muckleshoot is a close partner in creating “Since Time Immemorial” with the school system.

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Learning About Love from Strangers

AP Photo/Jacques Brinon

“I have often had the experience of looking at love from a distance,” Thomas Dai writes in The Southern Review, “of knowing it more as a concept than as the warm, embodied feeling it is supposed to be.” By photographing the inscriptions that lovers leave on rocks, trees, and various public places around the world, Dai finds insight into what queer love is and might be for him. Although sexually active, he examines his desire for encounters versus the kind of romance that leaves its own lasting mark. In the process, he leaves his mark in this personal essay, rather than carved deep enough into bark to kill the tree.

Looking through the photos in my folio, I realize that the lovers’ marks repeatedly appear in places where two entities meet in discord or unity. Romantic vandals leave their marks at the Grand Canyon, where red earth cleaves into blue sky, and at Niagara Falls, where Canada abuts America. The lovers go to Stanley Market, in Hong Kong, to sprinkle their names on the tide line, and they haunt the grounds at Dunkirk and Manassas, where opposed forces once met in mutually assured destruction.

I don’t know yet whether our doubleness needs such commemoration, if I should be getting out my chisel and my paints and going to that border, that wall, that place where often we like to meet. For so long, I have thought about love as a feeling which leaves no such traces, which lives and dies in the moment. I have thought about love through the words of philosophers like Barthes and poets like Ocean Vuong—Vuong who writes: “To love / another man / is to leave no one behind.”

What I have avoided thinking about too deeply is the hope I hold against these words, the hope that we will not disappear into or away from each other, that we will keep our separateness but stay somehow a unit, moving through the world not alone but in each other’s company, each other’s co-feeling. For some reason, I do not balk at the cliché this figure enacts—love as two people’s shared journey, a long march through city and fen. I think of a time long ago, in Manchuria, when I watched many couples casting red paper lanterns over a frozen river. There was a metal train bridge in that city, covered in thousands of lovers’ marks left by people from all over China. I spent hours picking over this bridge as carefully as I could, wanting to record each and every lover’s mark I could find, to bear witness, however fleeting, to all these collected love affairs, these different moments excerpted from so many strange lives. Standing at the bridge’s center one night, I looked out and saw a flock of lanterns detach from the river’s southern bank. The lanterns floated on unsure winds to the river’s other side, where I assume they fell into the snowdrifts as trash.

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Why the Moon Is Suddenly a Hot Commodity

FeatureChina via AP Images

Since astronauts last walked on the moon in 1972, no person has visited this cold lunar body, but a renewed interest in the moon as an economic and scientific resource has launched a new space race. For The New Yorker, Rivka Galchen explores why many countries and private interests, from Boeing to Jeff Bezos, are developing technology and plans to put people back on the moon to mine, inhabit, and use it to launch other space craft.

Now, you will ask me what in the world we went up on the Moon for,” Qfwfq, the narrator of Italo Calvino’s “Cosmicomics,” says. “We went to collect the milk, with a big spoon and a bucket.” In our world, we are going for water. “Water is the oil of space,” George Sowers, a professor of space resources at the Colorado School of Mines, in Golden, told me. On the windowsill of Sowers’s office is a bumper sticker that reads “My other vehicle explored Pluto.” This is because his other vehicle did explore Pluto. Sowers served as the chief systems engineer of the rocket that, in 2006, launched nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft, which has flown by Pluto and continued on to Ultima Thule, a snowman-shaped, nineteen-mile-long rock that is the most distant object a spacecraft has ever reached. “I only got into space resources in the past two years,” he said. His laboratory at the School of Mines designs, among other things, small vehicles that could one day be controlled by artificial intelligence and used to mine lunar water.

Water in space is valuable for drinking, of course, and as a source of oxygen. Sowers told me that it can also be transformed into rocket fuel. “The moon could be a gas station,” he said. That sounded terrible to me, but not to most of the scientists I spoke to. “It could be used to refuel rockets on the way to Mars”—a trip that would take about nine months—“or considerably beyond, at a fraction of the cost of launching them from Earth,” Sowers said. He explained that launching fuel from the moon rather than from Earth is like climbing the Empire State Building rather than Mt. Everest. Fuel accounts for around ninety per cent of the weight of a rocket, and every kilogram of weight brought from Earth to the moon costs roughly thirty-five thousand dollars; if you don’t have to bring fuel from Earth, it becomes much cheaper to send a probe to Jupiter.

Experts predict a host of benefits and problems with this renewed lunar interest, from environmental damage to political tensions involving the 1976 Outer Space Treaty. Some see the moon as more of a solution than a problem.

“There’s the argument that we’ve destroyed the Earth and now we’re going to destroy the moon. But I don’t see it that way,” Metzger said. “The resources in space are billions of times greater than on Earth. Space pretty much erases everything we do. If you crush an asteroid to dust, the solar wind will blow it away. We can’t really mess up the solar system.”

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Canada’s Breeding Ground for Hate

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press via AP

The country that seems so attractive to so many Americans fatigued by Trump, racism, and conservative politics is not immune to the violent nationalism that plagues its southern neighbors. For the Globe and Mail, Shannon Carranco and Jon Milton examine some 150,000 messages posted on a video game app to expose the new Canadian far-right’s attempts to expand its network, recruit members, and influence politics. Better educated and organized than past generations, this new generation of racist, anti-immigrant, sexist homophobes aims to create a white ethno-state. Rather than paraphrase the nationalists’ vitriol, the Globe chose “transparency and accuracy” by including direct transcripts of offensive conversations in order, the paper writes, to paint “a disturbing portrait of a virulent subculture that speaks in a graphic, hate-fuelled vernacular.” This is excellent reporting.

Not long ago, the far right seemed a negligible force. In 2014, CSIS declared on its website that right-wing extremism was not a significant problem in Canada. In part, that lack of concern reflected a view of the far right as self-defeatingly fractious. Groups tended to spring up – and disappear ­– with regularity, often destroyed by infighting. They were dismissed as an ineffectual rump of high-school dropouts who couldn’t effectively organize anything.

According to Barbara Perry, a professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and a leading expert on the far right in Canada, the threat of far-right violence here is often underestimated. Between 1985 and 2015, her research shows, roughly 120 violent incidents in Canada could be attributed to far-right groups and individuals. That compares, she says, with a relative handful of incidents that can be attributed to Islamist-inspired suspects, who tend to draw far more intense scrutiny from police and intelligence agencies.

Among the most horrific examples in recent years were a deliberate attack on police in New Brunswick in 2014, in which three officers were killed; and a shooting at a Quebec City mosque in January, 2017, that left six people dead. In both cases, the men convicted of the killings had been radicalized online.

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Did One Young Scientist Discover the Paleontology Pot of Gold?

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid impact seems to have nearly eliminated 99.9 percent of life on Earth, but scientists still have questions about the conditions leading up to this mass extinction. A dark layer of ash and debris known as the KT boundary marks the dividing line: above it is the Tertiary Period, below it is the Cretaceous period, or the time of dinosaurs. Until 2013, scientists had found very few dinosaur remains in the nine feet of material immediately below the boundary, and there was no agreement about the dinosaurs’ decline leading up to the asteroid impact. Then a paleontology student named Robert DePalma made a monumental discovery in North Dakota.

For The New Yorker, Douglas Preston tells DePalma’s and the asteroid’s story, as he spends time with him at the secretive site of what might be the greatest scientific discovery of the century. As DePalma is not yet a known entity and his discovery is just coming to light, some people in the scientific community find him unreliable and doubt his interpretation of the fossil evidence.

The following day, DePalma noticed a small disturbance preserved in the sediment. About three inches in diameter, it appeared to be a crater formed by an object that had fallen from the sky and plunked down in mud. Similar formations, caused by hailstones hitting a muddy surface, had been found before in the fossil record. As DePalma shaved back the layers to make a cross-­section of the crater, he found the thing itself—not a hailstone but a small white sphere—at the bottom of the crater. It was a tektite, about three millimetres in diameter—the fallout from an ancient asteroid impact. As he continued excavating, he found another crater with a tektite at the bottom, and another, and another. Glass turns to clay over millions of years, and these tektites were now clay, but some still had glassy cores. The microtektites he had found earlier might have been carried there by water, but these had been trapped where they fell—on what, DePalma believed, must have been the very day of the disaster.

“When I saw that, I knew this wasn’t just any flood deposit,” DePalma said. “We weren’t just near the KT boundary—this whole site is the KT boundary!” From surveying and mapping the layers, DePalma hypothesized that a massive inland surge of water flooded a river valley and filled the low-lying area where we now stood, perhaps as a result of the KT-impact tsunami, which had roared across the proto-Gulf and up the Western Interior Seaway. As the water slowed and became slack, it deposited everything that had been caught up in its travels—the heaviest material first, up to whatever was floating on the surface. All of it was quickly entombed and preserved in the muck: dying and dead creatures, both marine and freshwater; plants, seeds, tree trunks, roots, cones, pine needles, flowers, and pollen; shells, bones, teeth, and eggs; tektites, shocked minerals, tiny diamonds, iridium-laden dust, ash, charcoal, and amber-smeared wood. As the sediments settled, blobs of glass rained into the mud, the largest first, then finer and finer bits, until grains sifted down like snow.

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Keeping the Focus on the People: An Interview with Joe Kloc

Photo of the anchor-outs Therese Jahnson.

In his memorable Harper’s feature “Lost at Sea,” journalist Joe Kloc captures the struggles of the approximately one hundred people who live on salvagd boats off-shore from affluent Sausalito, California. Theirs isn’t a subversive lifestyle choice. It isn’t alternative living. The people known as “the anchor-outs” are essentially homeless and have found a way to survive on the water, instead of on land.

Thanks to the second tech boom, San Francisco has forced many residents to leave the Bay Area in search of affordable living. Yet the anchor-outs live in view of the famously expensive city’s famous skyline, and new residents arrive regularly, buying discarded ramshackle boats and becoming part of a tight-knit floating community who survive on their wits, salvaged materials, shared resources, and food grown on deck and gathered on-shore. On calm sunny days, they call their life outside Sausalito “Shangri-lito.” During a bad storm, they struggle to stay afloat. Death hangs over this aquatic community as much as poverty. Kloc illuminates their lives with great care and nuance. He spoke with me about his story and this community by email.


As your article mentions, you first started talking with the anchor-outs in a Sausalito park in 2015. Was your entry into their world pure happenstance, or had you heard of this community before?

It wasn’t happenstance. I first heard of the anchor-outs in 2010 or ’11, from a friend who grew up in Marin County. I tried at the time to write a pitch for the story, but failed. I could never figure out what it would be about, what the arc would be. That was a blessing. Twenty-four-year-old me would not have been a good fit for the job. I would have romanticized the anchor-outs and their troubles. When I returned to the idea years later, after having spent some time on Richardson Bay, I realized that the situation was more complicated. Time passed harshly on the water, and luck changed quickly, but the anchor-outs found meaning and friendship in their lives despite it all. That became what I wanted to write about: how people trapped in poverty lead beautiful and complex lives. Hopefully that came across.

Yes, the beauty of their social ties came through clearly. One of the things that moved me was that sense of community, how they share resources, time, and loyalty. Did they treat you, an outsider, with suspicion? As a journalist, how did you develop enough trust to be allowed so deeply into peoples’ worlds and then walk that line between reporter and friendly acquaintance?

The man named Innate Thought was very helpful in bringing me into the fold. That is just who he is. But it also didn’t hurt that a year before we spoke face to face, I had found his email on a YouTube video that he had posted, of anchor-outs meeting with Sausalito city officials. I sent him a message, and though was too busy to talk at the time, when we eventually met in 2015, that bit of history gave him the sense that I was invested in his story. Once we spent a few days together, he began making a lot of introductions for me. I recall him saying to Larry Moyer something like, “He’s a reporter, but don’t worry, he isn’t looking for a scoop.” What exactly that meant I’m not sure, but it appeared to put people at ease. Then I just stuck around long enough that I sort of became furniture in their lives. That’s a great place to be, in terms of access. But like you said, that’s where the line between reporter and friend becomes difficult to navigate. I was sharing their food and talking about the hardships in their lives. A bond did form. There were times when we’d argue about politics, or mourn the death of an anchor-out that we all knew. I tried my best to build the trust in our relationships around me being fair to their stories. I think all that most people want is a fair shake. They never asked for anything more.

People living in poverty are harassed in so many ways, from restrictive local ordinances to aggressive law enforcement. It is often motivated by false assumptions that dehumanize and isolate struggling people, cutting them off from the world.

From your first 2015 park encounter with them, it took you four years to report and publish this story, but really it took about eight or nine. How does a writer stick with a story that long?

For one thing, Innate and Melissa would occasionally call me on the phone, sometimes just to say hello. That gave the project a momentum of its own in my life. But more to your question, once I settled on the idea that the passage of time would drive the story, it was harder for me to stop reporting it than to keep going. The longer it went on the more complete it felt, and the more confidence I gained that I could fairly portray the people and circumstances involved, though I’m still nervous about having gotten those things right. Eventually, I did feel I’d reached an endpoint. Many of the anchor-outs I knew had either passed away or left the anchorage or fallen out of touch. I knew I was very lucky to have had this window into their lives, and I felt obligated to keep up my end of the bargain.

The anchor-out Larry Moyer lived on Shel Silverstein’s old boat. Now that Moyer has died, what’s happened to that boat?

There is no easy answer to any question about boat ownership, but here goes. First off, when Larry was living on Shel’s boat, he was not anchored-out, as Shel’s boat, the Evil Eye, is docked along the shore. I’m not sure who lives on the boat now. The last I heard, not long after Larry died, Larry’s wife, Diane, moved out of the Evil Eye and onto the boat where Innate and Melissa had been living when I first met them. That boat was known as Larry’s boat, as it was the boat Larry had lived on before he moved onto the Evil Eye. When Diane moved to Larry’s boat, Innate and Melissa moved to a shrimp boat. Innate told me they were very happy with the arrangement. It was always stable when a storm came through.

‘Many [people] assume that a person who looks broken must be shattered, when in fact he is trying to fix himself as best he can.’ That was the story I tried to tell.

Your story touched gently on the tensions between the anchor-outs and the people who live on shore — the landlubbers’ claims of increased crime rates, the bar patron’s comments about them being homeless — but were there layers to these tensions you decided not to include? You mention “efforts to remove them.”

I want to note that there are many people in the area who aren’t opposed to anchor-outs, who have a lot of affection for them. Several churches organize hot meals, and locals bring food to the park. That said, the efforts to remove and regulate the anchor-outs are both real and complicated. Some people advocate for a mooring field in the anchorage, and others believe no one should be allowed to live out there at all. Had I far more space, I would have gone into detail. But I think, in a story of this length, the day-to-day lives of the anchor-outs would have gotten lost in discussions of local politics. This may be wrongheaded, but I felt that, for what I was hoping to accomplish, it was more important to keep the focus on them. People living in poverty are harassed in so many ways, from restrictive local ordinances to aggressive law enforcement. It is often motivated by false assumptions that dehumanize and isolate struggling people, cutting them off from the world. While I was reporting, I thought about the book Sidewalk, by Mitchell Duneier, who spent years following the lives of booksellers on the sidewalks of Greenwich Village. He wrote, “Many [people] assume that a person who looks broken must be shattered, when in fact he is trying to fix himself as best he can.” That was the story I tried to tell.

The Enduring Myth of a Lost Live Iggy and the Stooges Album

Iggy and the Stooges performing at the Academy of Music, New York City, December 31, 1973. Photo by Ronnie Hoffman.

Aaron Gilbreath | Longreads | April 2019 | 48 minutes (8,041 words)


In 1973, East Coast rock promoter Howard Stein assembled a special New Year’s Eve concert at New York City’s Academy of Music. It was a four-band bill. Blue Öyster Cult headlined. Iggy and the Stooges played third, though the venue’s marquee only listed Iggy Pop, because Columbia Records had only signed Iggy, not the band. A New York glam band named Teenage Lust played second, and a new local band named KISS opened. This was KISS’s first show, having changed their name from Wicked Lester earlier that year. According to Paul Trynka’s Iggy Pop biography, Open Up and Bleed, Columbia Records recorded the Stooges’ show “with the idea of releasing it as a live album, but in January they’d decided it wasn’t worthy of release and that Iggy’s contract would not be renewed.” When I first read that sentence a few years ago, my heart skipped the proverbial beat and I scribbled on the page: Unreleased live show??? I was a devoted enough Stooges fan to know that if this is true, this shelved live album would be the only known full multitrack recording ever made of a vintage Stooges concert.

The Stooges existed from late 1967 to early 1974. They released three studio albums during their brief first life, wrote enough songs for a fourth, paved the way for metal and punk rock, influenced musicians from Davie Bowie to the Sex Pistols, popularized stage diving and crowd-surfing, and were so generally ahead of their time that they disbanded before the world finally came to appreciate their music. Their incendiary live shows were legendary. Iggy taunted listeners. He cut himself, danced, posed, got fondled and punched, and by dissolving the barrier between audience and performer, changed rock ‘n’ roll.

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The Difficult Case for Assisted Plant Migration

AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Climate change will drastically alter the distribution of the earth’s native plants and animals. In California, ancient sequoias that have lived in the mountains for thousands of years could find their landscape uninhabitable. In an effort to save these iconic giants, a group of eco-rebels are ignoring the predominant scientific thinking by helping the species establish new habitat in Oregon. Called “human-assisted migration,” this extreme movement isn’t something the species can do on its own. But is it the right thing for people to do?

For The Believer, journalist James Pogue visits the mountains with the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, to understand assisted migration’s philosophical complications, and to rethink genetics, cloning, and what it means for an organism to be native to a place, versus naturalized. “The state is among a group of climatic regions that have become cradles of biodiversity,” Pogue writes.

But for how long? A drastic portion of California’s plants may go extinct without some kind of intervention. And since we have already intervened on the climate that these plants depend on, perhaps it’s silly to think of a pure, untouched nature. Silly—and uncomfortable. I began to wonder about how we apply the idea of nativeness to humans. This seemed rich, in a country where we have done our damnedest to extirpate the native population, and where blood-and-soil nativism among the whites who displaced them led to the election of Donald Trump, whose policies make it all the more impossible to address the environmental cataclysm wreaking destruction upon the plants of California. These questions are not actually new: the great evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould dismissed the notion of native superiority as “romantic drivel” in 1997. Alwin Seifert, a German botanist once described as “one of the leading landscape architects of National Socialism,” took the idea to a grotesque extreme, writing in 1929 that he “wanted to bring garden art into the struggle”—in other words, to use native plants to fight rootless cosmopolitan globalists. I still loved my native plants, but an ecology that embraces the jumbled world as it is seemed worth exploring.

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Living Off the Grid in California’s Coastal Waters

AP Photo/Eric Risberg

While San Francisco tech millionaires spend their days disrupting things and hailing Ubers to meetings, a small group of people live nearby on salvaged boats that might capsize in a storm. Known as the anchor-outs, these industrious people grow food on their decks, make repairs with found wood, trade with each other, and talk about the way people live onshore. Money is scarce, but on good days they call their life outside Sausalito “Shangri-lito.”

For Harper’s, editor Joe Kloc spends time with these scrappy survivalists to understand why they choose this life, or how life chose it for them. Is their situation freedom or a trap? Heaven or hell? And how exactly do they survive? If you’ve ever fantasized about ditching society and finding a quiet place to live outside the system, you’ll want to read this.

On sunny days, the anchor-outs make for the waterfront. They toss their garbage in the dumpsters outside a 7-Eleven and gather together on a four-acre stretch of grass called Dunphy Park. They lie in the shade of box elders and oaks, reading to one another from the newspaper as their children play nearby, ankle-deep in the water. Some discuss their stays in the county jail. Others dream up inventions they will never build, like a heater made from magnets or a shower that runs on a gas-powered generator. Once in a while, a small group convenes near a boat slip to hear a sailor with a long beard and a gnarled walking stick lecture on the anchor-outs’ right to live on the water, a case he makes with dog-eared copies of county ordinances, maps, and city contracts that he prints at the public library and carries around in grocery bags.

I began spending time in the park a few years ago, drawn to the ease with which the anchor-outs took what came their way. Court dates and rough waters always loomed, and the church van promising a free hot meal was never guaranteed to arrive, but these were only temporary setbacks; the anchor-outs had built a paradise, if only the rest of the world would let them enjoy it.

One afternoon, on an early spring day in 2015, I struck up a conversation about the bay with an anchor-out who went by the name Innate Thought, though he was born Nathaniel Archer. Innate had lived on the water for more than a decade and was now almost fifty years old, with a sun-worn face and a generous, worried smile. He was sitting on a bench, listening to a portable radio. He told me he was happier living on the water than he had ever been, and explained his contempt for the world ashore with a story about requesting a free packet of barbecue sauce from a cashier at the local Burger King.

“She said, ‘I’m sorry, I have to charge you twenty cents.’ I said, ‘I know, I remember when we were going through an economic crisis and Burger King replaced those plastic menu boards with TVs. So I know you’ve incurred some costs.’”

Innate fixed his gaze on me. “What was she protecting?”

I shrugged.

“She’s protecting against me coming in every day, taking five sauces, and selling them outside.” He asked if I understood the damage that is done when everyone expects the worst from one another.

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