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Jason used to work for Infinity Broadcasting selling airtime to advertisers back in Dallas. Before that, he worked for Hyatt Regency. In fact, the well-sunned 36-year-old earned a degree in restaurant and hotel management before he had his “epiphany” and realized he was seeking his father’s love through financial success.
It was a little more than three years ago when he recalled a memory that revealed to him the reason he had been miserable as a child and unsatisfied as an adult: the day his father abandoned his family. He remembered coming home at the age of 6, his mother looking around and crying, “He’s gone!”
At that precise moment of recollection, Jason decided to change everything about the way he was living his life. Happiness, he surmised, would come only to those who followed their hearts. Two weeks later he sold or gave away all of his belongings, built a rickshaw and took on the life of a nomad.
It’s 10:45 a.m. and Jason, who has been up since 5, is seated on a cushion in the morning sun along the grassy edge of the Venice boardwalk. He has just put the final touches on his display of found driftwood, shells and weathered bamboo root. He has always been good at marketing.
“I try to live every day like it is an adventure. My rickshaw has everything I need to be comfortable outside — my tools, my tent, my sleeping bag. We create our own reality; we create our heaven and hell.”
Jason, who is now missing a couple of teeth, has been living as a nomad for three years. He has crashed in people’s houses and in backyards. He and his dog walked all the way here from Dallas, stopping for periods in Santa Fe, where Jason foraged for wild mushrooms, and in Tucson, where he helped an arts conservatory refurbish a historical home.
“I was 32 when I started walking,” he explains, rolling his own cigarette. “I went west. I started toward the sunset.”
When he first arrived in Venice he got a job with a hemp-clothing company. Then he met a man who carried a big stick of driftwood, and he started combing the shore at night collecting wood, shells and pieces of garbage. That developed into the idea for his stand, which also features hemp jewelry made by his friend Simone the Sea Monk.
Today, Jason has a couple of pieces of sea-mammal bone. One is fossilized; the other, he suspects, is dolphin or shark. One of his favorites is a piece of dark California redwood that looks to him like an aorta: “It could be the heart of nature.”
There is another that looks like a seal; he found it the same day he saw a live seal up close.
“Have you ever seen a seal? They are like teddy bears, or dogs. They are so sweet,” he says, crouching to grab his thermos of hot coffee.
He sells the wood for anywhere from one dollar to ten dollars and says people often bring him things they have found, though he encourages them not to. The other day a young man who hangs out on the boardwalk left him two live starfish, which Jason promptly took back to the ocean before they could die. When he sees the young man next he’ll explain that he doesn’t believe in benefiting from other beings’ losses.
Once he found a 100-pound clamshell, which he placed in a good home with a local resident.
“High tide brings in certain types of wood,” Jason explains, “low tides bring in the shells. Certain types of waves bring the bones. The ocean is amazing, how much life is in there and how much I am learning from gathering. It’s really been stressed to me how everything is living. The fact that we are not preserving the water, and all life, just blows my mind. We are basically committing suicide as a country, as a world.”
Jason, who muses in a cadence similar to the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, says all people are artists, and all artists are inspired by nature. “It’s just that not all of them are aware.”
Aware people will sometimes stop and want to touch everything. Others are “wondering,” as he calls it.
“You would be surprised how many people wonder. They wonder about a lot of things. They wonder why they like what they like; they wonder if the person next to them likes it. There are more of those people in the world.”
He feels strongly that his customers select their own driftwood and shells — pieces they feel drawn to. He encourages them not to seek their friends’ approval when making their selection.
Do you think you are like a piece of driftwood?
In what way?
“Well, drifting. Everything has a time frame. Everything goes back into the ground. I think there is really something to be said about the traveling and the good experiences and exposure to natural environments.”
He picks up a piece of dark wood: knotted and complex. He turns it over for further examination.