Welcome to Life on Orcas, our twenty-part series on living and thriving on Orcas Island.
Section 18: Investing in Property
Orcas Island sits in the Salish Sea like an emerald jewel. Its natural harbors and mini mountains offer extraordinary views of Northwestern Washington.
Like the raven who picks up shiny objects and hoards them in her nest, there is a kind of human who covets beautiful places and wishes to own them.
Sometimes called investors, or rich people, or princes, these individuals collect pieces of land, not necessarily to reside on, but to own.
Ownership is a recent human invention, popularized about 12,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture and settlements.
Orcas Island, on the other hand, is about 2.5 million years old. Its voluptuous mountains and lakes were formed by the passage of glaciers. At no time did the glaciers assert ownership of Orcas Island.
In fact, Orcas had no name, but simply was. Animals, plants, and fungi made their home on the island. Fourteen thousand years ago the first human beings visited. These early visitors settled in the region, and benefited from the natural wealth of the Pacific Northwest.
At no time did the original human visitors assert ownership of Orcas Island. They gave it a name: Sx’wálex. In their culture, naming something was not the same as owning it. They had something like a familial relationship to Sx’wálex.
When a human being is in familial relationship with the land, it is not possible to subdivide the land and build condominiums on it. This would be like building condominiums on your mother.
However in 1791, pale-faced human beings from the Eurasian landmass passed by Sx’wálex and renamed it Orcas Island. In their cosmology, by doing so, they took ownership of the land. Or more specifically, a man with a golden hat took formal ownership of the island.
This curious custom has continued to the present day. Now, a human being with something called capital can exchange that capital for a piece of Orcas Island.
While Orcas has a tangible dimension—its earth, stone, trees, fungi—capital does not. It is a fanciful story told by humans to other humans. Nonetheless it is possible through capital-based storytelling to establish that a human being owns part of Orcas Island.
Many questions arise from this assertion.
Does the human own just the surface of Orcas Island? Or the ground underneath, all the way down to the earth’s core?
Does the human own the air over their property? Could they rent that air at market rates?
Does the human own the beach by their waterfront property? Do they own the Salish Sea, as it laps on the shore of their beach? Do they own each pebble on the beach? What if the sea should wash that pebble to a neighbor’s private beach? Is that stealing? Can the Salish Sea be held liable?
A Sentience in space might gaze upon what we call the Puget Sound, and see a variety of landmasses. These landmasses would appear largely contiguous. There would not be tiny lines showing where the 5 million capital property ends and the 700,000 capital property begins.
If we told the Sentience that in fact they could not land on such and such a beach, because a wooden sign with runes warns off “trespassers,” and various stories and magicks tie that beach to a pale-faced biped creature….One wonders, what that Sentience might say, or do?
Maybe they would melt all the bipeds with space lasers.
All that being said, with about one million capital story units, a human being can tell the story that they own part of Orcas Island, and most people will believe them.
Then, they can largely do what they want, due to a particularly bizarre story called Property Rights. The human could build a concrete pyramid on their land. They could sever all of the trees at their bases, and leave them screaming on ground. They could pour poison, such as herbicides, into the delicate tissues of their earth mother. They could use a metal-launching contraption to kill by blunt trauma, the local deer, raccoons, and squirrels.
The land-owning human can tell a story that no one may live on their land. They can erect a dwelling, and then not live in it and not let anyone else live in it. This story is called Property Investment.
Should a local family attempt to live in the vacant dwelling, the land-owning human can order men with metal-launching contraptions to evict, and possibly kill by blunt trauma, the offending family.
Having evicted his neighbors from his property, the land-owning human can reside on it in a perfect story of Separateness. He knows that an invisible magic line ensures that no one may bother him, or ask him how he’s doing, or look into his eyes, when his heart is lost in sadness.
Children might wander near and he can shout: Get off my land.
And no on laughs, because of the story.
And the children leave because they’ve been told the story by adult humans who know best.
And the man finds himself unbothered, untroubled by his neighbors, and by their children.
And though, as he sits on his land, he is cradled by his Mother, by the earth, he tells himself a story, that he is sitting on land which he owns. His self-referential story may thrill his ego, and harden his penis, but it starves his soul. He knows the loneliness of the child who denies his own mother.
He sits on his land. He wonders why his grandchildren never call, never send him a letter, to his address, to the piece of Orcas Island, that most humans agree, he owns.