For many long-time readers, I get asked this question often. In brief, I say that Urban Scout was a moniker, a muse, and I’ve moved on. This feels unsatisfactory to me, so I’ll go into more detail.
Urban Scout was fictional character created accidentally by me and a friend as a film character during the summer of 2003. He became more of an alter-ego and muse for me in late 2004 when we were wrapping up the short film/tv pilot for the character. From there it turned into a blog and persona. This blog was originally founded as “The Adventures of Urban Scout”. I wrote that Urban Scout was “part fact/part fiction, part man/part myth.” I said that I tried “to use the comedic irony and novelty of our situation as a clever disguise to cloak and spread a truly sustainable world view, for a time beyond our own.” The blog and online persona was very active from about 2006 to 2009. By 2011 I wasn’t writing much here anymore and my book tour in the spring of that year was sort of a swan song for the muse. From time to time I hear his voice in my head and it feels like I have to hold him back. It’s not really *me* but it’s something deeper that speaks through me from a far off place. The place where my soul meets the other world. That’s all I can really say about that.
Looking back now is weird. I had to get my own identity back. Learn to interpret what he says and filter it through my own head rather than just give him the reins. I’m able to take what he says and feels and translate it into something more “broadly appealing”. However, that’s not particularly my goal. My goal over the last few years has been to actively create a rewilding community in Portland, through my non-profit, Rewild Portland. Urban Scout helped me to clarify my own purpose and to understand the power of the muse. I’m too sensitive though. Urban Scout doesn’t give a darn what people think, really. But since we share the same body, or rather because I let him use my body and mind as a vehicle, I get blamed for his assholery. My heart just couldn’t take it anymore. I’m a nice person and I want people to like me. I had to shut him up because his spirit is one of “truth-speaking” and generally people don’t want to hear the truth, and even more especially when it comes from an angry sounding dude. Now that I don’t give him total creative control (so to speak), I feel much happier and I’ve made a lot more headway in creating the kind of life I want to live.
Here’s how it all started…
Long ago I ran a monthly independent film screening called Broadcast. We held the screening on the full moon of every month. For each moon, we would ask a “Sacred Question,” which people could answer by making a video to show at the following screening. Honestly, I don’t remember the question that inspired me with this particular idea. Maybe we asked, “Where will you go when you die,” or perhaps, “Who are your ancestors?” It doesn’t really matter now I suppose, but it would feel nice to remember.
Whatever the inspiring question, my idea felt simple yet powerful. I wrote a 60 second monologue about a man living in a post-collapse world, traveling back to the ruins of downtown Portland to observe the ghosts of his ancestors, who had sadly not realized they had died long ago and so continued to go to work everyday (Get the metaphor?). I would place the monologue over shots of me in a loin cloth, camouflaged with mud, and perched on buildings like Batman.
In the late summer of 2003 I asked my friend to shoot the video for me. He obliged. We ran around town shooting little bits here, little bits there. When we finished he convinced me to buy coffee wearing my loin cloth while he filmed me. He said he would capture the footage onto his laptop and give it to me later. As fate would have it, that never happened. Instead, he edited the coffee shop vignette and showed that at Broadcast. A funny 30 second short about a dude in a loin cloth, covered in mud, buying coffee like a regular shmoe. He comically titled the short Urban Scout.
Rewind a few years. During my brief time attending the Wilderness Awareness Community School I met a student who alleged to have gone barefoot for three years, wearing merely sandals during the winter. Feeling inspired to try this, I threw my shoes in the closet and set out to feel the world with my feet. Eventually I noticed I could not go in certain places; no shoes, no service. This gave me an idea. I created the trojan horse of the barefoot movement; cutting out the soles of my old shoes and stitching the top of a pair of socks into them. We used the term “Urban Scout” quite often in those days, probably originating from us city slickers who found inspiration from Tom Brown Jr.’s The Way of the Scout. We used the term to describe someone who used the skills of invisibility and wilderness awareness within an urban habitat. Since the shoes rendered my barefootedness invisible and kept the sensory data feet pick up available, I called the shoes my Urban Scout Shoes. No one ever blinked an eye at them, I never got caught.
An ironic, tongue-in-cheek title for a cartoonish character who obviously did not fit the scout code of “invisibility,” Urban Scout, the 30 second video sent the Broadcast audience into a fit of laughter, telling us to make more. So he and I wrote several more shorts for Urban Scout, but neither one of us seemed to have the time to shoot them. At a screenwriting class I took (that I later dropped out of) I pitched the idea of an Urban Scout movie to the class. The teacher looked at me and said, “This is a short, right?” At the time I thought it would make a great feature length movie, however it felt intimidating to even attempt something like that. The whole class stared at me and I responded, “…Yes.” At that moment, I knew I would write and shoot the movie that summer. I decided to string the shorts we had written into one long short with a story. I rewrote it so many times that the only short to appeared in the longer short: Urban Scout lighting cigarettes for change. An idea that had come to me years previous.
Rewind again, even earlier. At 17 years old, I had just returned from the Tracker School’s summer camp for teens. As I walked down the bus mall a woman stepped out from a shelter, “Do you have a light?” she asked. At the time I didn’t smoke. “No, sorry.” I carried on, but then I had a thought, “Well… Do you mind waiting a minute?” She looked at me funny. I smiled and opened my backpack, pulling out my Bow-drill set. As I began to drill she watched in awe. A small crowd gathering and when I blew the tinder into flames they gave me an applause, while smokers took turns lighting their cigarettes. At that moment I knew I had something. I could feel the potential but didn’t yet know where it would take me.
I spent the summer of 2004 shooting The Adventures of Urban Scout.
To gain more publicity for the release of the short, I created Friendster and Myspaceprofiles for Urban Scout. This led to necessary photo shoots and deeper character development. After shooting the film I continued to do these improvisational shoots, and I began to go out alone, without a camera. I signed Urban Scout up for a local Gong Show where the Suburban Scout and I did a mock battle on stage (which, after a few drinks ended up looking more like a real battle as I forgot to duck for one of the punches) and ended with me lighting a cigarette with a bow-drill. Much of the improvisation helped shape the character and changed some of the script too. But something else, something unexpected happened during that time.
People started calling me Urban Scout. People I didn’t know, had heard of me… I mean, had heard of Urban Scout… The character I played. Somehow they got it confused and thought that Urban Scout and I had the same body. I began to wonder this too. Especially later on, when parts of the feature length script I had started working on, began to manifest in reality…
My promotional antics culminated at the first Nuclear Winter Formal; a multimedia show I curated to serve as the premiere of The Adventures of Urban Scout short film. You’d think it would end there. But during one of my solo improve days something happened to me. As my bare feet touched the hot pavement and as my loin cloth blew in the wind I remembered something. My quest for several years prior revolved around finding out what an animist hero looked like. Somewhere along the way I gave up on that quest… or thought I had. But here I stood, seeming like quite a model for how I wished I could live myself. A man pulled over and rolled down his window. ”
“Hey man.” He said.
“Hey.” I replied.
“What’s with the loin cloth?”
“I hunt and gather. I believe Civilization will collapse real soon and I want to prepare for it.”
“Seriously? What do you eat?”
“Road kill, plants, stuff I hunt & fish.”
“Where do you sleep?”
“I live at Oaks Bottom, a wildlife refuge down the street.”
“No way!? Amazing… Can you teach me?”
Something happened here. Something I can’t explain. A trigger in my brain. It does feel amazing, I thought. Really amazing! But then my heart sank. I didn’t really live this way… But could I?
“…Uh. I don’t… I…” I tried to respond.
“How can I get a hold of you?”
“Yeah. A friend I have lets me use his computer sometimes.”
“Crazy. This is crazy. Thank you so much. I’ll look for you!”
He sped away. Don’t know if he ever found me or what. Never said anything if he did. But something in me changed and I thought about myself, “what a poseur.” I only acted. I played Urban Scout, I didn’t really live the way he does. That seems impossible… but could I? Why simply write the story of your hero, when you couldlive the story of your hero?
I decided to turn my adventures as Urban Scout into a blog and see if I could actually live like the character in the story. Then things got really weird. Urban Scout became such a part of what I have done, that the boundaries of reality and fantasy began to merge. More and more people called me Urban Scout. Or Scout. Or Urbs, Urbby. Bourbon Scout. And on and on. Parts of the script came true, a nemesis revealed themselves; Hippie Scout, similar to Urban Scout’s nemesis in the script, Suburban Scout. I began to date a girl attending PSU for Native American Studies, as Urban Scout dates an Anthropology Major in the script. Multiple stunts, street performances, photo shoots, blogs, Nuclear Winter Formals, internet friends, publicized feuds, summer camps, national and international news articles later… It was funny to see how artistic projects evolve.
Eventually I published a collection of blogs into the book “Rewild or Die”. During the book tour my car was totaled by haters. It was then that I felt that my life was being threatened by Urban Scout and I decided to switch gears and put him on ice. He is still in my head, only now I filter what he says and make it more digestible for people. I also don’t spend as much time writing or blogging, as I have invested most of my time into creating a community of rewilding in Portland so that we can support each other on the journey back to an ancestral lifeway.