'Naked Ned' seeks infinite power while building dams

If he were just another naked man running through the woods, this wouldn't be much of a story. But this naked man has a quest he's been working on for more than 20 years.

For years, hikers, paddlers and fisherman along the Potomac Gorge have talked about the urban legend of Naked Ned, the beaver man of the Potomac. As the story goes, a lanky old man wearing a long white beard and nothing else has been spotted building dams along the river.

Well, the story is true, but the name is wrong.

He likes to be called Chaosmi The Infinite. Chaosmi is a reference to the chaos in the world, and The Infinite comes from his belief in Infinitism; that knowledge is based on infinite number of answers to every question and an infinite amount of possibilities for every situation.

I found Chaosmi 3 years ago with the help of a river guide who had once seen him while canoeing. My editors had heard about "the beaver man" and sent me in search of him.

Since finding him, I've visited him dozens of times and spent many hours on his rocks talking about the river, infinitism and why the Russian Empire drove him to nudity.

Off the beaten path

To say Chaosmi's little slice of the river is off the beaten path would be an understatement. After hiking down miles of trails and across countless streams, you come to his camp.

A turret of rocks topped off by an old beach umbrella and some tarps. It's situated on a cluster of rocks, almost in the middle of the river along a remote stretch of the Potomac, just up from Washington, D.C. It's as removed from the city as one could hope to be.

Between his basecamp and the shore, Chaosmi has built dozens of dams, some stretching 50 yards or more, some just a few feet in length. But combined it's thousands of rocks, large and small, all strategically placed, one at a time.

The dams slow and even redirect the river, creating calm pools and tranquil falls with plants and fish abound. It's an incredibly beautiful spot that he says he been coming to since he was a kid, when his father would bring here to swim.

Chaosmi tells me he’s 65 years old. He stands about 6 feet tall and has a slender build. Long thin white hair streams down his head and face, he's tan from head to toe. When I first spotted him popping up from behind a rock, he reminded me of Ben Gunn from Treasure Island.

Walking barefoot and bare backed across the rocks Chaosmi spends as much time as he can, weather permitting, wading into the river gathering rocks and bringing them to his dams.

He uses old plastic trash cans he has found, then wades out to the middle of the river where the water is about waist deep and loads the rocks in to the can. he then floats them back toward shore and strategically places them one at a time into his dams.

Why is he building these dams?

Chaosmi says he wanted to slow down the rushing river, "to see if it would slow down the flow of the nutrients and the plants could absorb them before they got to the Bay."

Judging from the looks of things, he has succeeded.

In the Spring and Summer. the river rushes past this area. Behind Chaosmi's dams, small pools are home to many fish and the plant life flourishes. Ducks and geese frequently spend time resting here.

On the next page: Why is he naked?

Why is he naked?

Chaosmi says he doesn't like to wear clothes, particularly cotton, because the production of clothing is bad for the environment.

"The Russian Empire diverted all this water to grow cotton, he explained to me one day while taking a break from dam building. "Now the Aral Sea is only about half as big as it used to be."

It turns out that's true. I had to Google it when I got home. It was one of the many things I learned from our chats.

For a naked guy who has spent a third of his life running around the woods and rocks of the Potomac River building dams, he's fairly rational and coherent.

Over the years, he has never remembered my name, but he remembers our conversations. When I told him I work for WTOP Radio, he said, "the traffic station."

He tells me he has a home he goes to, but won't say where. When the river gets too cold to work on his dams, he spends his days hiking..

I asked him if he was searching for something. "Yes," he told me.

"My goal is to be infinitely smart and infinitely powerful, but whether I'll reach that I don't know." he says, but he'll keep trying one stone at a time.