We woke up in an abandon church parking lot. The sound of a nearby neighbor's dog barking echoed across the desert, as we watched the sun slowly come up behind a single row of trailers.. We did it. We survived our first night sleeping in the van. I was eager to get moving that morning. Not just because we hadn't dare exit the van all night and I was about to burst, but because we were finally in Slab City, home of the squatter.
We pulled up to check out this little oddly situated library amongst the dirt and the rattlesnakes.
Here we met Cornelius. A 27 year old gal from Minnesota who calls the library her home. What an interesting woman this one. Dressed in dreadlocks and wearing her heavy fearless coat of attitude on her back. She says to me as she sips her black coffee, "look, ya'll can take a photo but I'm not gonna pose."
We all sat around the library's bar as she told her story of living life in Slab City. She spoke about the desert summer heat and the harshness of it on her body when it reaches 120 degrees in the summer months. (Can you imagine? Everyday.. for months! ugh.) This girl is a badass and by the way she kept looking at us and our sparkle spandex wearing, freshly showered faces, she also knew this. Maybe it was the kind donation of our coconut milk to stir into her morning caffeine hit that sweetened her lips. But after some back and forth about who we were and why we were there, she eventually warmed up to us.
As Cornelius gave us a tour of the land, she told us about her youtube channel. Through it she has been receiving support, as well as donations to an Amazon wish list where she can fund upgrades to the library.
Cornelius lives in her humble hippy way. She sleeps in her trailer, and spends most of her days working on building and maintaining the library in the city's community.
"I realized the other day that being here is like being in Narnia - there's times when one day can feel like weeks."
"But how do you afford to buy food?" we asked.
Cornelius explained how the EBT system supports the community with their food. She calls it an "autonomous collective" where the members of the community all pitch in their share to buy supplies to live off of. Which sometimes, if they play it right, is enough to get "the real goods."
"We're family. It's not the easiest lifestyle, but we have fun and we take care of each other."
This woman of the desert is living by her own means, doing exactly what she wants in her time and space, and not of one ran by the systemic western culture. As much as I couldn't live in the way Cornelius does, I admire the power that allows her to.