Stories

Woof’s Story

[I grew up in a] middle-class family and I was a bright kid. My dad was an LA County sheriff for 25 years, he retired in 2004.  My mom had a little bookkeeping business and was a substitute teacher. We lived in this really small town in Pine Mountain, California. And it’s like in the Los Padres National Forest, very small. 

I decided I wanted to learn how to fly a hot air balloon. So I got my gear and I get off this Greyhound bus in Colfax and I’m going to meet up with my buddies the next day.

I go into this gas station for a cup of coffee and I’m 30 cents short on the coffee and the guy doesn’t want to give it to me. So I left the change there and took the coffee. He tackles me out the door, spills my coffee and rips this really cool fur coat I had.

So I get assaulted, I grab my bag and I’m walking off and the cops find me, they arrest me, charge me with 422 and petty theft because I was 30 cents short on a cup of coffee. I caught a felony charge and went to jail. It’s complete isolation. They said in my video arraignment, that I waived my rights to a speedy trial. So I went back to court, they said they’d let me out today or tomorrow if you sign this plea agreement. So I signed it and ended up becoming a felon. That was a huge mistake. It was not accurate, it did not represent the truth and it later on cost me another 120 days in absconding charges because I was transient. They lost track of me and after so much time I got a ticket in Monterey and they said, “oh you have a felony warrant out for your arrest”. Oh, that’s going to cost you 80 days. So I did even more time then. 

After I got out, I made my way to Santa Cruz. Coming through Santa Cruz, I met some cool folks. I was doing this thing where I was reading books out loud and my friend would play the guitar, and we would just read books out loud. That was super enjoyable because I had read enough books quietly out of jail. 

It happens to me again when I’m working for the Homeless Garden Project. I’m staying at city hall, it’s raining and I have this mat. I’m a very neat and organized rester, I do sanctuary in a compact, neat way. But my name gets ran and here it comes again, I have another absconding charge. I wasn’t thinking when I signed that agreement that they were trying to trap me in that county. And it’s cold there, they had nothing for me. I was just passing through and got assaulted. But my work at the Homeless Garden Project was able to write references and they helped me work with the probation officer. I have to check in one more time in person and send him evidence that I’m still working and that’s it. I’m off of probation December 23rd of 2023. 

Having a job really helped me out with getting out of jail, otherwise, they wanted me to go to jail for 16 months. They wanted me to go to prison.

Thank goodness to the homeless garden project and the support that I have there because having that like function ability, participating in society on some level has kept my probation at bay. I’m no longer going to jail for no reason.

So I have a transient caseload and I’m a violent felon apparently, which is pretty crazy if anybody knows me. I know I’m pretty polite.

But my main thing, all things aside, is I am a naturalist. Seeing how beautiful nature is, and how emotionally connected I am to it. Seeing all these trees, and like the sadness of logging, how it hurts my heart, and learning about the birds. What I really wanted for a period of time to ease my soul and my heart, was just to be by the beach, and hear birds chirp, and it still works for me.

It’s just nature in general, the views and getting to know the birds and realizing how I’ve gotten this big and I haven’t got to know any of my neighbors really. I became very interested in my plant neighbors and my vertebrae neighbors, even my amphibian neighbors, my fish neighbors, and I just really enjoy it.

I realized pretty quickly that trying to obtain a bunch of stuff wasn’t going to help me if I had to cross the street, move around, feed myself. Just keeping stuff out of my life was going to be what was going to work if I’m going to be living out of a bag. It’s a challenge to have all my tangible goods down to 32 liters of volume. 

I’m comfortable. I can cook my own food. I don’t have a bathroom so I have to use public restrooms. That’s kind of frustrating.

Being a part of this community at the Homeless Garden Project was a huge answer for me. Cause I was like, what are you actually willing to do in society? It came down to, I was willing to work in a garden. I was also considering orchard work but I still don’t like the way all that produce has to be transported. It still relies absolutely on this combustion and toxic infrastructure. 

It is really hard to be like a purist in this world. I do cross the street on occasion and I’m still learning how to cross the street. Just like I’m still learning how to steward land and get back to nature. But I’ll take a job gardening, especially if they’ll hire me knowing that I live out of my backpack. 

I was getting pretty good at living off of like, five, ten bucks a day.  Because I wasn’t starving to death. There was food. And I love working, I love doing stuff during the day. So that’s a big reason why I’ve stayed around in Santa Cruz. And if it wasn’t for the garden project, I could have ended up doing an unjust prison term or something for being transient. 

I do obtain the nicest view and rest in probably the nicest real estate in all of Santa Cruz County. I could see the lights of the boardwalk reflecting in the water, and dolphins go by in the morning, and hawks land on the trees. There’s surfers out there surfing right now because the waves are big. There’s a lot of active people running, biking.  And I’m on a cliffside in between two Monterey Cypresses. There’s probably ten in that particular grove right there across the street from St. Joseph’s, right before the serf statue. You might notice one of the trees I’ve been sleeping with, we’ve been in a relationship now for like, well over a year. I bring her flowers, and sometimes other pieces of beautiful wood, and I rest there.

I swing my hammock and the Pro Rainfly. It’s all very compatible, but I stay dry and comfortable, and I have a 35 degree north west wind face ultra light sleeping bag, compacts down real nice, washes up. I have my Jet boil and a water vessel, usually a couple of books, a notepad and toiletries, toothpaste, shampoo, bar soap. That’s pretty much it. A lot of my produce I grow myself at the Homeless Garden Project. I sowed the seeds there.

I’m responsible for their greenhouse. I have a lead production role and responsibility for a greenhouse. So I grow lots of food, like broccoli, all types of different brassicas, romanesco. All winter long I’ll have plenty of chard, kale, there’ll be a whole variety of different beans. So on that level, I get a decent amount of my vegetables from a garden that I grow them on, which is really rewarding.

These are ingredients for a healthy lifestyle: eat good, healthy, fresh produce, exercise, take a nice walk, and sleep well. And I think that promotes health. It’s very fulfilling to me.

I also go to the grocery store. I have not figured out how to eliminate the grocery store from my life. I’m gonna give it up. I’m gonna no longer acknowledge it. I’m working towards that goal. It’s not as easy as I thought.

My core group of friends were like the “working unsheltered”. We’re kind of nerds. We hang out, read books, and play board games. Some of my friends have 40 hour a week jobs and they’re making better than minimum wage and still can’t afford to live here. Some are camping in their cars, some just have part time work, we’ve just kind of like assembled together. I think friendship and community is more valuable than any amount of money. 

There is a huge community out there when it comes to land stewardship being involved with the Coastal Watershed Council and getting to have hands-on experience and seeing a whole restoration project through. This weekend I’m spreading seeds and get to spend a lot of time with the river ecologist and one of her advisors with years and years and years of experience of observation and such a wealth of knowledge. I get to go for walks with him and learn a lot. And I get to, so I would get to walk up and down the river with amazing people that teach me so much and have really helped me appreciate and learn the world around me. And that’s through building relationships and having like minded interests. 

I’m hoping to continue practicing sustainability and find something in the land stewardship world, like land stewardship technician. I’m actually gonna be taking a Permaculture Design Certification course this February.

Society’s not for me. I don’t wanna be forced into having to drive a car, living in a house, or having bills. I wanna enjoy this beautiful region, and have a community.

It’s unhealthy for me to compare myself to others with money and what people consider success and I just found that to be an unhealthy thing for me to do.

You can’t even tell that there’s a being that lives there. There are some flowers on the tree and some unique pieces of wood there, but there’s no trash there, and there’s not even a piece of plastic debris anywhere around there because I ensure this.

It’s something I feel that I’m earning my keep there by making sure that plastic particulates aren’t blowing into the ocean. That’s how I like to keep things, always nicer than when I got there. There’s, and it’s, it stays like that. And I get to think about the grasses that are going to be growing and the plants that are there and what’s going to show up that shouldn’t be there.

This story was collected in November 2023 by Andrea Feltz, Community Conversations Program Manager