1.21.2009

goodbye chi

This is Robert Chiarizia - better known on Creque Dam Farm as Chi.


Chi left island early this morning to travel to Washington state. It was a sad occasion for all of us because we have all grown relatively close to him during our first week. He is hoping to come back in early March, which would be great. I sure hope I get to see him again.

He is an expert in primitive living and permaculture, among lots and lots of other things. He is the first person I have ever seen start a fire using only wood, string and prayers (I have now seen this achieved several times, but Chi was the first). He also lived here on the farm in a wikiup, or wigwam.


The grass hut took him almost a month to build, although, he said if he had worked on it full-time, he could have finished it in 5 days. I wish so much that these pictures could convey the spectacular environment inside Chi's hut. It really was a sight to see.

I say "was" because it burned down two nights ago. It was easily the saddest, yet most comforting thing that has happened since I have been here. It kinda hurt my heart to see Chi's home go up in flames, but it was amazing to see the entire farm gather in a matter of minutes around the blaze, keeping it from spreading, and eventually putting it out. Our community definitely stepped up to the plate and took care of something that could have easily gotten out of control.

Before the fire took it up, the hut was one of the coziest places I've been in a while. It really spoke to Chi's personality as well. Shaped like a teepee, but framed with bamboo and thatched with guinea grass, the wikiup sat large enough to fit five or six people inside with a fire burning, and with Chi's belongings scattered around the inside edges.

On Sunday, Chi invited Ryan and I to his hut for a Native American Indian tobacco ceremony. He taught us how the Indians used to structure their ceremonies, and what each segment of the ceremony meant, both practically and symbolically. He also showed us all of his primitive tools.


He had a huge stack of throwing sticks like the ones the Druids used to use to hunt for food. Chi had carved into one of the throwing sticks "for dem mongoose". He also had his bow drill, that he sometimes uses to start fires. He showed us the fire pit he had dug out, where we baked potatoes and onions in tin foil over a fire fueled with dried termite mounds. He had baskets weaved from palm leaves that were full of different roots and flowers and fruit rinds, that he uses to make tea and other food. He had several tin cans full of wood ash and dirt that he uses to make camouflage. He also had tons of little jars and dishes made from clay that he dug from our property that were drying on his cooking stone near the fire. And everything had a story.

He showed me a pillow that he received from a shopkeeper in Morocco while traveling with some Canadians he met in Portugal. He showed me his patches and other badges from his time in the Air Force and in the Persian Gulf War.

Chi was/is definitely a coyote. He was always on the edges, right where you couldn't see him. He wasn't a teacher, but I learned so many things from him. Through the stories he told, and through the many many questions of ours that he tried to answer, I was learning without even realizing it. I especially learned from him as his home was burning down. I ran over after seeing a huge blaze from my cabana. The fire he had started inside jumped up really high all of a sudden and lit the grass walls on fire. The hut was gone in a matter of minutes. Chi, and the three others that were in the hut when the blaze started, were able to pull out most of his stuff before the whole thing caved in, but he definitely lost some things.

Although I could tell that he was deeply bummed out, Chi was easily able to brush off the emotion of the situation, laugh with the rest of the farmers and praise that everyone was okay.

I will miss Chi.

4 comments:

Will Rucker said...

ben, i really miss you man. i realized after you "video-chatted" with me and audrey and adam that you probably noticed i'm wearing your maroon long sleeve shirt right now. all i can say is, sorry! i snuck it up here. i'm an ass. sorry. i just really like this shirt. it's comfortable.

although, on the other hand, i doubt you care, because it looks like you're probably not in the mentality of "needing" or "wanting" "things". just looking at your photos and reading your posts, i can remember the mood you're in.

it reminds me of the a.t. when hiking the a.t. i kinda got in that whole "i never want to want more clothes and stuff than i need" mindset. i'm just really jealous because i miss being in an environment stripped of all the facebook and glittery gucci purses and bat poop eyes and starbuck's.

honestly, when i went into towns when i was on the trail..i felt really self-righteous and proud of myself for looking poor. sounds dumb maybe. anyways, all that to say, i remember the feeling by reading your experience.

love ya.

ck said...

that was a great post, ben. i felt like i got to know your friend in just a few paragraphs. it seems so rare that we meet people we admire, and even rarer that we share this admiration with others. thanks for sharing.

Mom said...

Ben, it is so much fun reading your blog and then reading Will's comments. You are both so talented in the way you express yourselves.

I enjoyed reading about Chi. Sorry he had to leave.

We miss you!

max. said...

ben. ditto to what CK said. i feel like i have a feel for what chi is like, though i know the blog posting doesn't really do him justice no matter how much you write. it's one of those things you have to experience. when i heard about his fire i was bummed out, but after reading what you have to say about him, i feel sad. then the last photo makes me happy for some reason. i dunno.

hope all is well brother.