Urban Scout had a reputation. Good or bad, it depends on who you ask. From 2003 to 2009, he evolved from a fictional movie character, into my full blown alter-ago and muse. In 2006 I began blogging under the moniker to encourage more people to begin rewilding. The end goal was to spark a movement that was large enough to where I could assemble a group of people (back then I used the term “tribe” but I avoid it now) to go live with the land in the style of immediate-return hunter-gatherers. Over the span of several years I wrote many short essays on my blog “The Adventures of Urban Scout”, received a lot of attention for my antics, and garnered a lot of fans. It wasn’t all roses though. I likened Urban Scout’s voice to George Carlin’s; angry rants filled with curse words and strong opinions. This style had a specific audience who “got it” and another audience who had a tendency to be offended by the work.
In 2008 I assembled many of the short essays into this book, Rewild or Die. I couldn’t afford a professional copy-editor, so I had a few friends proof read it for me (including my mom!). In defiance of standard writing rules (the book itself written in an experimental form of English) I left in some typos and grammatical errors. This was partly out of laziness and partly in protest. It felt appropriate to publish the book with some rough edges. While many people appreciated the book, the lack of standardization, consistency, and conformity to American English “rules” of writing made the book less broadly appealing.
Two published reviews exemplify the polarization of subjectivity in regards to how the writing was received. One of the reviews said that the book was:
…emblematic of a text filled with poor grammar and misspelled words. It was difficult for this former teacher to gloss over the poorly edited text…I have serious problems with the messenger’s butchering of the English language…Scout should have stayed in school a little longer, if only to polish his writing skills…as if I have time to deal with juvenile delinquents who do not know how to write.
The other review couldn’t have been more different:
Urban Scout writes really well; not only does he write well, he appears to be constructing text in the manner of an artisan: few words are wasted or superfluous, and the style matches the context effortlessly. Or rather, it seems effortless, though I have little doubt that a great deal of effort has gone into each and every one of the essays…
This dichotomy shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. Therein I realized that Urban Scout was a niche. If my goal was to encourage more people to rewild, this voice was limiting to that goal. Beyond just its limits, it also had the potential to alienate; during a book tour my car was totaled by haters. Tires slashed, windshield smashed, and an insult scrawled on the passenger side. That was when I decided that Urban Scout was finished. It was time to hang up the loin cloth and find a new muse. I stopped blogging regularly, discontinued the book, and began focusing all my efforts on Rewild Portland, a non-profit organization that I founded.
Almost immediately I received some angry messages from long time supporters of Urban Scout, asking me what happened, why could they no longer find my book. Initially I ignored them. One in particular was persistent. A man named George Steel (who is now a dear friend) threatened me that if I didn’t make it available again, he would create a bootleg. In a sense, any damage from the book couldn’t be undone. Once something goes online, it lives there forever. Since the essays in the book were formerly blog entries, they couldn’t be erased. Apparently they couldn’t be forgotten either. I conceded and told George that if I were to put it back out there, I would want to have it copy edited and have a better design. So began a journey that has lasted a few years. I met a professional copy editor who took on the work. George created a new typeface. I redesigned the cover. If I can’t get rid of it, the least I could do was polish it up a little bit.
I was still really apprehensive about putting it back out. Then I got a message from an old-timer of the Rainbow Gathering tradition. He had sought me out to thank me for writing the book. He said that the Rainbow Gathering had originally been created to do something like rewilding, and that over time it became just a party scene. The elders lamented, but the middle generation didn’t seem to care. He said that he found my book among youngest generation, duct-taped together with notes in the margins. They were bringing back the original intention of those gatherings, through rewilding, through my book. I’m sure they had other influences, but the image of my book in the hands of some teenagers, duct-taped together with notes scribbled in it made me realize that Urban Scout does have an audience, and that it was worth keeping alive if not for me, for them.
I still love the book and I don’t think it’s bad. I’m embarassed by parts of it, but in the way that I’m embarassed that I wore JNCO jeans in high school. I don’t agree with everything I wrote in it, and it’s not really my voice. I was 25 when I wrote most of it, drinking large amounts of black coffee and typing out long, angry rants at the behest of my peers. I’m nearing 35 now. My rewilding journey has taken me in many unexpected places, and I’m more excited about the work and writing that I am doing today. Still, it feels like a great time to re-release this book, as most of the rewilding literature I see in the mainstream these days feels more like Rewilding Lite™. While I disagree with the tone, and some of the content, the end goal is the same. Urban Scout had a sense of intensity, wholeness, and urgency in regards to rewilding that I don’t see much of elsewhere. Rewild or Die isn’t a book for everyone, but maybe it’s just right for you. There’s only one way to find out. Get yourself a copy here: