Here we very well are

Melvyn had called himself Mordecai in San Francisco. He had to leave that nom de Haight behind and paint the roof of his van white to stay with the Caravan and live on the Farm. On Sunday mornings in the pre-dawn darkness he would walk down the main road and blow his conch shell, signaling that it was time to get up and walk to the meditation field.

Not long after we had settled the land, Stephen invented what would become our communal call. Just as the whippoorwills and crows had their own distinctive calls, we needed one to announce our presence across the ridges and between households scattered through the woods. The “yark” was delivered loudly, with an inflection somewhere between a yodel and a distress holler.

YeeeeAaaaaaaaark! As he did with the Om after mediation, Stephen at first initiated it, and then it was picked up responded to by everyone within earshot. It was an eerie sound, coursing across the meadows and through the trees, finally fading into the last few voices out there, somewhere. Like coyotes or wolves but sillier. If you weren’t one of us and somehow got close enough to hear the generation of a yark, it would probably make your hair stand on end.

“We are here,” said the yark. We are all fuckin’ here.

* * * * *

There was one phone at first, up at the House. Soon, a few more were installed for special purposes, again only at the House. If you wanted to make a call, you’d have to clear it with the Bank Lady and whoever was in charge of the phones. Sometimes the guys doing the Gate became couriers, driving or running down the roads to deliver messages. And when urgent news needed to be delivered, individuals would go on foot, door-to-door to alert everyone.

It was one cold morning when I remember Melvyn coming to our bus door to tell us that one of our members had died the previous night. She had come to the Farm at the invitation of her brother, a long time Monday Night Classer. She had some psychological problems, but we believed ourselves to be compassionate enough to accommodate and even heal people with her manic-depressive condition. She was a resident of one of the buses and – on a night when it was too cold to spend much time outdoors – she’d gone way into her manic phase and the efforts of one of her busmates to quiet her down somehow caused here to go into a seizure and die.

This was a hard dose of reality. We’d lost someone already; it seemed like we’d just arrived there. The sheriff was called in. Then the coroner. There was an investigation. The news got out. There were no charges pressed; it was judged to have been an accident. But as a community, we needed a solid spiritual intermediary like never before. Stephen provided just the right perspective. There was no blame. We looked again at the true meaning of karma – that it’s not about deserving. Dying was part of the deal. We’re all born; we all die.

This lady, Judith, was known to everyone because it was her nature to be conspicuous and usually friendly or even hilarious. We all knew her downside, too. But she – like many other challenged individuals who were to follow her as Farm residents – was embraced by the Farm and welcomed as part of our idealistic and inclusive approach to building a new and inclusive lifestyle.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, as we’d lost one of us for the first time, we began producing new ones of us at a fast-accelerating pace. Just after the new year, Anita announced that our baby would be born that day. This would be her third labor and she was sure of the signals.

I ran to ask one neighbor to go and  alert Ina May and to ask another household to care for the girls. Then, as I helped make a comfortable nest on the bed in the back of our bus, a pickup truck pulled up with three women. Ina May had arrived with two of her trainees.

She’d been checking on Anita – and the now dozens of pregnant women – for months and everything looked normal. She looked around the interior of the bus and noticed a stock portrait of Jesus hanging on the side of the bunk bed facing us.

“This has gotta go,” she said, peeling it off the two-by-four framing. “I want you looking at us, here with you, not this phony picture of Jesus.”

Frankly, I was relieved. It was that sappy, puppy-eyed depiction of the white Anglo Saxon Jesus. You’ve no doubt seen it somewhere.

Ina May left, promising to be back for the birthing, but we had one, two or three trainees and helpers there at all times prepare the scene and to keep an eye on Anita.

Part of the Farm midwives’ approach to home birth was to loosen up the mother to allow for the easiest possible passage of the baby. This meant, in part, changing the perception of the process from one of dreading the pain to one of accepting that a natural forces were at work.

Rather than call them “contractions,” we called them “rushes” – like you got when coming on to a psychedelic. You had to ride them out, not resist them. The other important technique for loosening up the mother was to get her turned on. The father was strongly encouraged to put the make on his wife during the rushes as a way of relaxing those bottom chakras.

I’d heard about this, but there had been no training classes for expectant fathers. Once the rushes began in ernest, Ina May returned and I became fascinated by the way she – backed up by her assistants – steered the energy. I was so fascinated, in fact, that I became a spectator rather than an active participant.

“Clifford, we could use a lot more involvement by you if you want to stay in here.”

And with that, I made myself an instrument of her midwifery technique. Late that evening, I was privileged to witness the true miracle of birth, where a living creature that was not here with us one moment, was here with us the next – conscious, breathing, crying, feeling the air in the bus along with the rest of us. It became a joyous party, but with meticulous inspection of our new arrival going on in the narrow aisle of the Shades of Blue.

We had no name waiting for this boy baby. We had a warm spot between us under the layers of quilts. And once the midwife crew left, we moved a kerosene lamp close to the bed and gazed at the little critter we’d made. It was bitter cold outside, the stillness broken only by the pitiful little squawks of a newborn child.



  1. Don James said,

    January 15, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Cliff, this diagnosis of Judith sounds wrong, I’ve never heard of manic depression being related to seizures like that and I was diagnosed with bipolar “disease” when I was 16. But of course I could be wrong and on a related note, I was also diagnosed with a form of epilepsy in 2007. Not the grand mal variety, but a lesser-known strain called “petit mal” where you black out for no apparent reason and lose consciousness. I hit a brick wall while driving. Fortunately I was only going about 30 and no real damage was done. So maybe there is a connection between epilepsy and being bipolar/manic-depressive. My doctor didn’t even want to go into what might be the cause of it, he just read the symptoms and diagnosed the illness, then prescribed this expensive drug which suppresses the seizures.

  2. January 15, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Since Farmola is written only from my raw experience, it’s not meant to be a “definitive history.” I don’t pretend to be a psychiatrist, and I’m only using “manic depressive” and “seizure” in the amateur, rumor-fed sense. These are terms many of the people I associated with used in reference to the incident.

    I never heard a clinical diagnosis of Judith (there were no professional shrinks on the Farm and we eschewed much of the “science” of psychology (remember I’d just graduated with a degree in Social Psychology). I never heard the official coroner’s report. I knew she had her extreme up moods and down moods. I know that someone felt compelled to physically restrain her. I know she died suddenly. Most importantly, it was a tragedy of a magnitude that it could have de-spirited our young community. We made it through our first death, and it was a controversial one.

  3. Don James said,

    January 15, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    Yeah, I can see how such a thing happening could suck the inspiration out. I was a ‘tripping buddy’ for this young man who was probably schizophrenic one day. And James Dodge restrained him because he got violent at one point. He (the tripper) would scream and spit and was definitely out of control. One thing I have to say, The Farm had a LOT of heart going on there at the time I was there. I wasn’t the most analytical guy in those days, but the heart I experienced there was overwhelming. I suppose, in the final analysis, that’s what spirituality is all about.

  4. Judith said,

    January 18, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    well, as I;ve disclosed here, I asn;t there on the Farm but sort of followed the evolution of all these projects from afar through friends’ tales, magazine articles, the tours that brought Stephen and Ina May and some otehr folks back out ehre to the Coast, etc. I know that Stephen believed strongly that if “everyone would interact impeccably” with a disturbed person, that person would find his or her strength and free will and get over it. and I know that the people who worked the Gate or otherwise found themselves tripping buddies to some truly out-oof-it folks were getting burned out by just how much energy it was requiding, with varying and not always encouraging results.

    I also know that in some of his most recent writings, Stephen has said that there are types of craziness that are genetic or induced by bad chemicals or huge psychologicacl trauma that are less tractable than that but that even those types are helped by the same proccess.

    some ways, this is the type of maturing of thought and praqctice that comes with living consciously and being willing to learn from our failures. as one of my high school teachers liked to say, “I was wrong” may be three of teh msot difficult words to utter in succession in the English language. (the Japanese words for appology, I have been told by a scholar of the language and culture, literally mean, “I have difficulty.”)

    what Stephen expected of the intelligent, idealistic peopple who voluntarily became his students and took on a difficult typ of fulltime karma uyoga may not have been as likely to succeed with people with longer-lasting, ore serious problems func tioning. this is where we learn that there are limitations on what we can do.

    thing is,at elast as I see it, our distrust of “professional help” has some basis in reality, and some of the best people used methods not that differnt from being “tripping buddies” on the Farm.” often, the people with professional certification are as bounded by their ideology as any idealistic communard who dropped out of college to join the Farm, I speak as a former mental health worker for one of the more holistic programs that dealt with profoundly disturbed people; we lived communally with seriously mentally ill adolescents in Berkeley and had some spoectacular failures as well as successes.

    that’s part of the big karmic pictue too. in the more litigation-mad world of thirty years later, who knows what would have been said or done about the death of this “other Judith” I;ve often thought that about the death of Ina May’s premature baby on the Caravan, as a matter of fact. by her accounts, Stephen, Margaret, and Ina May all “got him going” and he lived for maybe 12 hours. I’ve commented to frirends since, talking about that, about how they might well have charged the whole family with murder in the present day medico-legal climate.

    we all do the best we can, and perhaps – no undoubtedly – there were some mistakes made. whatever the disturbances were in the larger FOrce there, it was healed and moved along. this is a blessing too.

  5. Roan Carratu said,

    January 20, 2009 at 11:59 am

    This is the best Farm column/story I have ever read, from the beginning to this entry. Nothing can grasp the beauty of the Farm, or the errors we made, but this does a good job, imho. The Farm was more than an ideal, it was a practical necessity in the world, errors and all. Keep it up, Clifford! I check it every day as part of my online routine.

  6. Judith said,

    January 20, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    I’m really enjoying this. thanks Cliff. sent a lengthy set of comments on what I understood as teh strengths and teh weakness of being tripping huddies to people wih some serious issues a couple days ago…did it get lost in the Nrt somewhere? or edit4ed out for some rason?

    I really love the interaction with all of you; pelase advise.

    Judith (not the one who died, obviously…)

  7. Cliff said,

    January 20, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    I don’t edit out any comments unless genuine spam makes it through, Judith.

  8. Judith said,

    January 22, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    will try again when I have time, then. I do have some thoughts on this that might focus a slightly different lens. at the core, it was Stephen’s iealism carried by many that oif everyone jst acted “impeccably” with someone who has disturbed, that person would find his or her free-will and come around. in some of his most recent writings, tephen ahs acknolwdged that while this helps, there are limitations on it.

    anyway, when I have a chnace, I’ll add something in. take care!

  9. Judith said,

    February 6, 2009 at 2:49 am

    I’m not sure but I think Mellyn/Mordecai was art of the pre-Caravan, Summer of Love era circle my aunt wrote about, as in when Bill Paul told her,”Mordecai is much higher than you ar and we want him and not you in our house!” it;s in her memoir, “Scrapbook of a Haight Ashbury Pilgrim.”

    I like the idea of the Up in your Thing entry. Elizabeth had a strong tendency toward doing that even bfore the Frm made i part of psychospiritual discipline.

  10. Karen said,

    February 12, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    I’ve just started reading these posts and I appreciate it that you are doing it. I visited the Farm in the early fall of 1979 when I was 19. I was impressed by the kitchen and the excellant ice bean and the various workshops although most were closed ecept for the bread bakery. I had the opportunity to attend a Sunday morning service. I’d been reading Stphen’s books and read Spiritual midwifery and wanted to experience that “rushing” together with people. I had studied some zen before also, but I was amazed how easy it was to meditate with others doing it and to feel so safe and calm. I was looking at the Farm to possibly join, but I had a dog I’d left at my parent’s home while I visited and my overpowering shyness and how I love Montana so much made me decide not to join. But I admire you all very much. I like the permaculture and non-toxic organic path that the Farm is leaning towards now, too. That was always my desire, too — to not mess up nature with toxic human stuff. Thanks again!

    • cfigallo said,

      February 13, 2009 at 1:52 am

      Thanks for reading, Karen, and for your story of visiting.

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