Tent Life

We’d hung out again with the couple I’m calling Lester and Joanna. Whatever discomfort had come from our dalliance with four marriage seemed to have faded over the two years that had passed. All of us had gone through many changes since our time on the road in the buses and there was some renewed incentive for couples who wertente still living alone in buses or small tents to become more communal – to form more multi-family households.

Stephen had mentioned this on several occasions at services – that if we were going to really live the teachings, we had to put ourselves into situations that pushed us a little harder to drop our egos. Sharing a household was one of those situations, and Lester – being the Farm’s “scammer” – was bringing home more of the Army surplus squad tents that could accommodate two small families.

We’d been living in buses for over two years and moving into a 16 x 32-foot tent sounded almost luxurious, even if it was with another couple. Anita was pregnant with our fourth kid and I had begun to work as a nailbanger with our neighbor Michael, who came to the Farm with some construction experience. I’d smashed a few fingers in the learning process, but I was beginning to feel competent at swinging a heavy framing hammer, driving soaped-up 20-penny nails into rough-cut green oak timbers. I could put together the deck upon which we’d mount our tent.

We found a nice spot on a gentle slope at the end of what was being called Oak Ridge. This ridge ran off of Third Road and paralleled Second Road. It was a pretty remote spot compared to what we’d become used to, living at the Head of the Roads. No more easy walk to fill the propane tank or pick up the rationed groceries. No more of the convenience or being close to the main traffic where we could hitch rides to other destinations or to the House or the Gate. We’d be at the end of the line, down a rough logging road that was quickly beginning to erode.

We secured some posts – 6-inch in diameter tree trunk sections provided by the chain saw crew – and dug post holes to hold them. I’d learned the basics of laying out square, plumb and level construction and got the crude foundation and floor framing together. Lester delivered us some salvaged tongue and groove flooring he’d gotten through the wrecking crew. Over the course of a few days we had ourselves a tent platform. With help from a few of the neighbors on the ridge we erected the tent and tied it down.

The tents had small, translucent plastic windows with tie-down canvas covers. Their doors were canvas curtains sliding on steel cables. At the eves they were about 5-feet tall and at the peaks about 10. There was a heat-resistant grommet in the roof through which you could pass a stovepipe. We moved in as soon as the tent was up and we arranged with the Housing Lady to bequeath our bus – the former Santa Rosa bus, with attached bread van – to another family.

Lester brought home more salvaged lumber and a few old window sashes. We built simple frames for the tent walls and mounted the window sashes in them to provide more light and ventilation. We build bed platforms for ourselves and the kids. We got ourselves an upright coal-burning stove in which we’d burn wood. The advantage of these coal burners was that they were lined with bricks that would hold the heat longer during cold nights.

We’d moved in during the spring and living the tent through the summer was not so bad. It was cooler down on the lower end of the ridge than it was up near the open space at the Head of the Roads. Not much breeze, but complete shade. We’d keep the windows and doors opened, but still it was cave-like inside with the dark green canvas absorbing whatever cheerfulness the light might bring. Lester scammed some rugs to lay on the splintery floors, and even managed to score some old chairs for us to sit in.

We were fortunate that Lester – being the scammer – got use of a banged up pickup truck that allowed us to haul laundry, propane tanks and water containers (our water system had not yet reached the end of Oak Ridge), and provide us and our kids transportation to the store, the school the rest of the Farm.

There was a narrow trail that led down through the holler and up again onto Second Road. We took that trail to Sunday morning services and to the store when the truck wasn’t available. We walked a lot, covering several miles in an average day. We hauled loads by hand, carried kids, food, tools…if it was portable, we carried it.

I’d brought back my old 26-inch bike from a visit to my parents and that would come in handy for quick trips involving one person with nothing to carry. When I had Gate duty, I’d walk the bike up the steep end of Oak Ridge Road and then pedal the 2-plus miles to the Gatehouse. That bike did not last very long; the Farm wore it out quickly.

Tim, being over a year old, was walking but could not be expected to keep up on such long distance treks, so he spent a lot of time on my shoulders. And as Anita got further along in her pregnancy, she, too required more help getting around. We found out soon after moving in that Joanna was also pregnant. We’d be having two birthings in the tent as we headed into winter.

I knew from visiting some of the earlier tent families during the previous winter that the canvas shelters were almost impossible to heat. How we’d make it through – with firewood needs, two newborns and three other kids, a remote location and the rain, ice and snow that we’d experienced those first two winters – I had no idea. But we felt strong and indomitable. We didn’t spend time worrying; we just expected that we’d figure it out.

We did get into a pretty intense sort-out at about the third month of our cohabitation with Lester and Joanna. Somehow, as these thing seemed to develop, Joanna’s number was up and her problems got all the attention. It had to do with stodginess or – as we would frame it – an unwillingness to drop her thing. She was a nice lady but Lester had begun to feel that her being reserved and less outgoing than him was somehow preventing us all from getting as high as we could have been. And, as usually happened in such cases, the more attention was put on Joanna to change, the more into her shell she retreated. Which would lead to yet more attention being focused on her and the situation continued a downward spiral.

Anita and I joined in, piling on Joanna to the point that we both began to feel ripped off by her refusal to cop. In frustration, we contacted the somewhat priestly four-marriage that lived across the holler on Creekview and asked if we could bring our problem to them for counsel. They invited us and we accompanied Joanna – like a condemned prisoner – to the encounter group.

I’d been living in the Farm’s developing culture for over two years, but I still felt like a neophyte when it came to matters of personality change and social intervention. I was willing to follow Lester’s lead, but when he couldn’t even get his own wife to change, I wondered where the boundaries might lie – what was fair or unfair?

The members of the four-marriage could see the energy dynamics and it was a relief to see other adults take over the process for an hour. By the time we left, the three of us felt vindicated, but poor Joanna was still lost in the ruins of her upbringing, unable to see the path to resolution.

Some time later, Joanna moved in to Stephen’s household for a week. She returned a changed woman, or at least with more of a clue as to how to behave to avoid further scrutiny. And sometime after that – but before the due dates of our two babies – Stephen went to Europe. He had a court date for sentencing coming up and he felt he had work today across the Atlantic. Autumn rolled in. The leaves turned and began to fall. We battened down the tent and started stockpiling firewood.

It was like camping out, and yet it wasn’t.

Technologies for Living – Year 2

We were reasonably settled. The locals seemed to have reached an equilibrium point about us. The hippies, though strange and possibly immoral, kept to themselves except when they were spending money in the local economy or helping out some neighbors. We were breaking even and that was OK.

Meanwhile, those of us with any craft skills were hard at work training the majority of us who had none. There were a few carpenters, a few gardeners and even tractor drivers, a couple of printers, programmers, radio experts and electricians, nurses, teachers and plumbers. Because there was no infrastructure beyond The House, a tumbledown shack, a sheet metal barn and some dirt roads, we had our work set out for us.

We invested in used equipment and bought nothing new. This included  a press and copper cooking pans for making sorghum syrup, several vintage trucks and tractors, farming implements, a road grader and backhoe, our aforementioned phone system, big Harris printing presses, washing machines and driers for the laundromat, refrigeration units and a surplus Greyhound Scenicruiser bus.

Through an informal apprentice system we manned crews for construction, vehicle repair and customization, food growing and processing, book publishing, primary health care, midwifery, road and water systems, phone installation and maintenance, and canning and freezing.

We cooked on propane stoves and one of the few exceptions to allowing outside businesses into the community was the propane truck that would fill the large supply tank at the head of the roads. No matter where you lived on the Farm, you had to fill your household tanks from that central supply. If you lived within a hundred yards or so, like us, and had a 5-gallon tank, you could carry it to and fro on your shoulder. Forty pounds. No sweat. If you lived further away, or had a larger tank, you needed wheels – at least a little red wagon and probably a motor vehicle – to handle the refill and transpo.

Firewood supplies came from wherever you could get them during the first winter, but by the second we’d established a working relationship with Homer Sanders, who owned his own wildcat sawmill. We helped him harvest hardwood logs and he taught our guys how to run the mill. In exchange for labor we’d take a share of the sawn timber along with the slap – the bark-covered slices that had no value for construction. The logging/firewood crew would drop off the slab – sometimes cut into stove-sized pieces, sometimes not – in locations ranging from public piles to custom home delivery. You’re luck in getting firewood might vary according to how close you were to someone on the wood crew.

There was also the Salvage Crew, who arranged with local towns and property owners to demolish structures in exchange for our keeping the materials – lumber, bricks, roofing, flooring, windows and doors. These resources were trucked back to the Farm for use in building our own structures. As with any other resources, the policy was officially to provide to those who needed them. But since we were all in need of these resources and there was never enough to go around for everyone equally, some game-playing and deal-making was involved in the distribution.

I’ll bring you firewood if you drop off some bricks.

I’ll let you use my crew’s truck if you fill and pick up my propane tank on your way.

I’ll bring flooring to build our tent platform because, well, I’m driving the truck that carries the flooring.

Some days you were lucky; some days not so lucky. And some people were in a position all day, every day, to make deals. It was perhaps not the most idealistic demonstration of spiritual collectivity, but it was the most organic and practical. Trying to manage pure equality would take a bureaucracy and we simply didn’t have the people or money to support such a management structure.

The functions most closely approached bureaucracy and the “power of the state” were probably the Gate, housing and manpower.

The Gate needed to keep track of the comings and goings of everyone. We kept a Gate Log that tracked every visitor that arrived and/or entered, and every vehicle that exited, whether visitor or resident. It was all hand-entered and visitors were told how long they could stay. If they didn’t show up at the Gate on the day they were schedule to leave, we’d call or send someone down on the Farm to get them.

Housing was closely related to the Gate because anyone staying for a night or more needed to be assigned a household to stay with. That household was accountable for them. And given that we had little housing, even at the most primitive level, putting visitors up was almost always a stretch. And yet, we hoped for visitors once we got beyond our initial “closed gate” period. More visitors meant more potential members, which meant – we hoped – more resources for growing a larger and more exemplary intentional community. And once we issued our invitation to any expecting mother to come to the Farm and have their babies home-delivered for free – along with our offer to care for and even adopt unwanted babies – our housing obligations expanded to providing homes for up to 3 months for these temporary individuals or couples.

Housing was also charged with finding homes for people who, for whatever reasons, needed to change dwellings. We were a restless, nomadic lot, and in the communal living experimentation process, people would often find themselves incompatible. Good enough friends to live on the same commune, but not good enough to share the same bus or tent or small house. For many others, the beginning of childbearing defined the need for more or more weatherproof spaces. It was like musical chairs – to make room for one family required another family to move. There was never a situation where a new housing development opened up. It was always “just squeezing by” and whoever was in the role of Housing Lady (it was always a lady, just as there was always a Bank Lady) had one of the most socially challenging positions on the Farm.

Manpower was almost as big a headache, for whoever sat in that chair had to balance the Farm’s needs for public services with those of income. Strictly through word of mouth, the manpower guy (always a male) learned of every person’s situation. Were they gainfully and effectively employed? If not, did they have an excuse? Did they need to learn a new skill to fill in a vital gap in community needs? Were they a problem to their crew or straw boss? Was diplomacy required or did they require a more hard ass approach?

The deal was, you did as much as you could. Every resident needed to be tapped into the Farm’s needs. But due to many circumstances – our frequent epidemics of debilitating flu or the need to be home with newborn babies or the occasional visits from off-the-Farm family, or the need to move or build a new dwelling structure – even the most responsible hardworking members might become unavailable. And yet, operations could not be shut down when it came to farming or using the good weather to construct buildings, or keeping paid crews working in the field.

We were inventing self-governance practices as we discovered new needs. We didn’t adopt any established practices and procedures; we made it up as we went along and everyone was supposed to go along with our ad hoc solutions. There were occasional protestations and flareups. It was obvious, sometimes, that our systems were not capable of dealing efficiently with business needs. Sometimes operations seemed just plain dumb, but most of us were willing to give the people with the responsibilities the benefit of our doubt. I’d think, “Better them than me” in those position. But being a frequent Gate man, I did my share of negotiating and taking the heat from frustrated friends as I twisted their arms to persuade them to take yet another visitor into the confines of their family lairs.

Our technology for handling these social transaction was ingrained in our way of communicating with one another. The engine that drove it was our mission – our agreement – that these difficult passages needed to be negotiated as gracefully as possible as the means to demonstrating global level collaboration. Patience and surrender were the teachings. We had all come there as students.

A letter home

A letter sent to my younger brother – early Summer 1972

Dear Gary,

I haven’t written a letter (except to the folks) in a long while. The Farm has been going through heavier and heavier spiritual evolution as the Universe gives us more stuff to integrate. We realized that we didn’t have our shit together when we let that girl die here. Stephen said the other day that when she died the Farm just didn’t have enough energy to go around – not enough juice to sustain that one monkey that needed some.

After that we seemed to go through a resurgence of higher voltage things – Stephen’s 4-marriage became a 6-marriage (BOGGLE!), the band got picked up by a studio and put together a bunch of amazing music. Stephen’s family is going to be on David Frost on the 23rd (I’m not sure of the date) and maybe Dick Cavett on the 19th.

More and more folks have come to stay though “officially” we’re full. I was on the gate last weekend and I let about 24 people in to visit. Most of them had come to live, some to check it out. I told them all that we were having so many visitors that they could just spend the night. Our “policy” was to tell them that, then let them in the gate if they were cool,or cool them out if they weren’t. Then, once in the gate it was their karma. As it turned out it was twelve folks’ karma to see Stephen and get to live here. But Stephen said Friday that we just can’t handle no more people on the parcel of land we got. There’s 500 of us or thereabouts. So we’re tightening up the gate – being firm about being full, being picky about who we let in. We’re specifically asking visitors why they want to visit this religious monastery of which Stephen is our respected spiritual leader and teacher. Some folks think it’s a commune likeMorningstar or Wheeler’s Ranch. They’re appalled at finding a gate and even more outraged at being asked their business. Lots of them don’t get in. The way it is is that folks shouldn’t come to the Farm even to visit unless they want to learn about something. Cause, ready or not, once they’re inside the karma’s fast and can easily blow your mind. Mine gets blown pretty often still. Stephen’s getting 6-married blew the whole Farm’s mind.

The band has established their own label as a subsidiary of a country music label, Million Records. Our thing is called Mantra Records. The label will be a big, beautiful peyote button. It should be out in a couple weeks. It’ll be a double album with, I think, 9 cuts. Lots of tripping music. It will start with an Om recorded in the barn. I’d never heard one recorded before. It’s amazing. The band did all the recording on peyote and you can feel the stuff when you listen to the records. PLAY IT LOUD. They did the mixing on grass for sensitivity. All the cuts are live. The only changes are from mixing – adding tape loops, echo,reverb , raising and lowering different instruments. When you open the album there’s a big family portrait of the whole Farm – except Anita and Timothy and me. We were picking up Anita’s mom at the airport. The band is getting a Scenicruiser to tour with. They’ll always play for free. That’s only fair, music being a pure energy exchange anyway.

Timothy jabbers all the time now. He really digs standing up while we balance him. He’s gonna be a hoofer, a real explorer. He’s 15 lbs 10 oz, 27″ tall.

We almost moved into a house with 3 other couples, but we decided to hang out on the deal for X amount of time ’cause we didn’t feel like we had enough agreement to do such a heavy deal.

Get yourself a Caravan book now. First editions may someday be collectors’ items.

Tell Sharon to stay out of the cities. All there is there is the downfall of Western materialism, European and American student sexual subconscious and crazy drivers. Tell her to do a village tour. She’ll meet nicer folks.

I’m not into selling the guitar for moolah too much, but if Brian has an old bicycle in good shape that he could ship to Lawrenceburg, Tenn, I could dig making a deal. If anybody has such a contraption it would help getting around these 1000 acres. Brian could just pay shipping – I hear it’s cheap.

It would be neat if you could get down this summer to sort out your head a little. It’s good for you (GOOD) to get this sort of relativity after spending the other 360 days of the year assuming you have to make it rich on a material level. Sometimes you feel strung out on the idea of making some money so you can afford to hang out some – Then you can get stoned. Well that material plane can never satisfy you. Never, ever. If you keep looking for it there, it’ll elude you.

So with that thought implanted on your brain, we send our love and hopes that you’re getting higher.

Clifford, Anita and your nieces and nephew.

Are you gonna cut your hair for Ma Bell this summer?


The world within, the world without

For the first time I remembered in my life, I had no access to TV. There was no daily paper. At times I’d walk back to the bus for lunch and hang my transistor radio from the ceiling to listen to the mixed format station in Nashville. Occasionally I’d hear the news on the half-hour, but there was little interest in talking about it – especially since we hadn’t officially decided that radios were cool.

All of our attention was on building the community socially, spiritually and physically. We’d become industrious rather than intellectual. Stephen warned us to not fall into the trap of being “conceptual,” but to focus on being real and in the moment. For those of us with liberal arts degrees, our educations had gone for naught. It was time to learn how to put our bodies to work and how to collaborate with our neighbors without ego.

Unfortunately, for me, the idea of the ego was conceptual. But that’s what friends were for – to let me know all about my ego and its ways. And as I learned about these flaws that, for 21 years, I’d managed to hide or at least escape awareness of, I began to practice noticing other people’s ego trips. This forced me to realize how many people I’d known, mostly through school, whose egos took great liberties with others. In fact, some of the most popular people in school had been chock full of ego – that’s what made their personalities stand out.

And as I’ve said before, the Farm’s founding members were far from a bland, homogenous bunch of subdued personalities. There were many characters, including some whose personalities had become notorious in the Haight Ashbury years before they arrived on the Farm. Some of them – sadly, I thought – came with the baggage of being well-known trippers. They knew it and, once word got around to those of us who’d never been part of the San Francisco scene, we knew it, too. My father always taught me to judge people only by my interactions with them, so I tried not to reflect back on these folks the expectations that others had taught me. And yet, I could see why they were regarded differently.

But I was also prone to seeing the telltales of ego in people who were otherwise regarded as cool. Even Stephen’s personality stood out, for me, as somewhat affected. Not always, but in certain settings.

In the first years, one room in the House became known as the place where Stephen would hang out and talk with folks. Being part of the Gate crew, I would sometimes need to enter the House for one reason or another, and if I didn’t need to return immediately to Gate duty, I’d stick my head in the room where Stephen and a dozen or so people were sitting on chairs, pillows and the bare floor. There were even a few times when I’d take a seat myself.

Stephen sat in a corner on a stuffed chair. At his feet would usually be a couple of women – married and/or single – one on each side, often leaning up against his legs. Joints were being passed and, while some people like myself seemed to be there just to be part of the scene, others would be there for a purpose, seeking Stephen’s wisdom and feedback. Sometimes it was clear that a person had been summoned to appear before Stephen and receive a teaching – for a transgression, for an attitude, for ego-tripping. He’d be stern, then would end with a joke and the whole room would laugh.

It seemed so exotic to me, like a tableau from a Renaissance painting, and combined with the stoney atmosphere my visits would leave me with a sense of having witnessed magic. And yet I would find myself not wanting to be the recipient of those teachings in such a setting. And I would find myself feeling uncomfortable with Stephen’s almost royal style – as if he was sitting on a throne, surrounded by courtiers. There must have been something wrong with me to think that way about my teacher.

I was much more at ease simply working and getting shit done than I was when plumbing the depths of people’s psyches. I could accept that I had problems about which I was blind, but I was trying hard to be a good person and I didn’t know how much room I could possibly have for improvement. Could I become enlightened? If so, what would that mean? What would I do? Would I still dig ditches and bury pipes?

The Gate exposed me to people who didn’t have such issues on their minds. Generally, we’d deal with three kinds of visitors:

  • Pilgrims were spiritual seekers who’d heard about the Farm as an ashram for Stephen or at least as a spiritual community. They came to investigate the possibility that this was where they were destined to be. Some of them would end up joining us – once we opened ourselves to new members – and some soon learned that we did not fit their needs or styles. Our lifestyle was a hard yoga if you were used to comfort and day-long contemplation.
  • Locals were people from the region who’d heard about us as a curiosity or phenomenon and just had to see it for themselves. They mostly had southern accents, and represented a spectrum of people from farmers to merchants and white collar folks. Some were suspicious and fearlful while others seemed excited by the fresh new variety that we’d introduced into their culture.
  • The third type of visitor I used to call Rascals. These were a mix of locals and pilgrims, intent on testing us at both the verbal and physical levels. They’d open with friendly questions, but you could feel the underlying mistrust and hostility. Soon they’d be challenging or even threatening on the subtle plane.  Perhaps our most important duty in keeping the Gate was to not let these people in.

Being smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt, we understood that we might be seen as a threat to religious morality – a settlement by the Devil himself, delivered to test local pastors and congregations. The Sandy Hook Church of Christ, which we would pass whenever driving to and from Columbia, had sent its members to our Gate repeatedly to feel us out as potential converts. What a trophy we would have been for them, if they could just bring us to Jesus!

We realized that we needed to co-exist with these close-by neighbors, and we did honor Jesus as one of the true avatars who’d taught the truth to the masses. So we invited them to visit us as a congregation on Sunday mornings. For several weeks, after we’d meditated in the horse barn (accompanied by the natural sounds that large draft horses tended to make), the Christians would arrive – sometimes dozens of them – with their pastor. Then would ensue some of the sweetest liturgical debating you could imagine.

Why wouldn’t we accept Jesus as our only god and savior? Well, we did, except that Jesus was also the Buddha and the many other spiritual saviors who had appeared through human history. The discussions were deep and interesting and hilarious. No one was converted either way, but we proved ourselves to not be threatening or scary to these neighbors. Weird, incomprehensible, kooky maybe. But not the Devil.

I could better relate to other groups as a member of my new group than I could to my group as an ego-plagued individual. I felt at ease representing the Farm group to visitors. But not all visitors could be converted to trusting us. One morning I arrived for Gate duty to find that the Gate house had been set on fire and burned.


Army surplus for pacifists

There was deliberate irony in anti-war demonstrators wearing clothing made for fighting wars. I’m not sure what the message was besides the fact that the clothing was well made and really cheap to purchase. I had a jacket and a parka that I wore through most of 1968 through 1970, in class and at demonstrations alike. I loved shopping at the surplus stores. My father – having served as a landing craft boatswain during invasions in World War II – had brought home a cache of war surplus gear, including American, Japanese and German helmets and a Japanese carbine. These had been fascinating objects to my brother and I growing up. I’d also been spellbound watching an endless selection of newsreels from the war on TV, and I’d fantasized their heroics for years, playing “guns” with my friends.

So opposing the war in Viet Nam was not a rejection of the troops for me. It was a reaction to being lied to my the government that was supposed to be serving us. And though I was committed to staying out of the war in Nam, I still felt some envy for those who got to wear the cool uniforms, use the cool gear and learn the cool skills of combat. Maybe that’s why I was so comfortable in a fatigue jacket.

As I’ve said, Stephen was a combat veteran and he had no problems with the military as a producer of tools and a model of organization. He taught pacifism, but we never felt opposition to the citizens who joined the military; it was the philosophical stance that killing would bring peace that we rejected. As it turned out, we were perfectly happy to make use of the gear that the military no longer needed. That gear, we discovered, was auctioned off regularly at a military depot in Memphis. We needed some stuff, so we sent our scammer with the Big Pickup and a pocketful of cash to see what he could score.

Our needs were many, but most critically, we needed weatherproof shelter and some way of improving our communications around the Farm. Sending couriers would simply not do for all the connections we needed to maintain. And so, on return from our first foray to Memphis, the bus-turned-into-flatbed brought heavy canvas tents and an Army Signal Corps phone system with plenty of handsets and transmission line.

The tents were of two sizes – the small General Purpose six-sided tent that was 17 and a half feet in diameter, and the medium general purpose tent that was 16-by-32 feet rectangular shaped. The tents had been well gpsmall2-660x416used; many of them had patches and unpatched tears. They featured small plastic windows and guylines. They smelled like paraffin and mildew, but they would keep out the rain and wind while providing enough room inside for bed platforms and kitchens. Each tent also had a special insert through which a metal stovepipe could fit, allowing us to use wood-burning heaters.

The phone system required only that we string the sheathed two-conductor copper cable through the trees and connect enough power to it so that the ringers would function. The handsets were like the simple home phones of the time, but instead of dials, they had a single button that, when pressed, sent a beep to all of the phones on the system. It was one big party line. We decided to identify each household with a Morse Code pattern that was distributed on a printed list as our “phone book.” As if we’d dropped back into the early years of the century, we were thrilled by this technological revolution.

“Hey, give me a call when you know when we’re going to meet. I’m long-short-short-long-long.”

“Cool. And if you wanna tell me when you know, I’m short-long-short-long. Or is it short-long-long-short?”

Your home phone would be constantly beeping and you were often unsure if the pattern that just beeped was yours or one similar to yours. Not everyone’s timing for sending the codes was the same. Some beeped stacatto, some in more lazy patterns that slurred shorts with longs. And anytime you picked up the phone, you could expect to be barging into a conversation in progress.

“How long you guys gonna be? Can I have the line in, say, 5 minutes?”

And since few of us wore watches or had time pieces in our dwellings, even those intervals became meaningless.

So interrupting calls served as just another excuse for checking in with people you might not run into in person.

After the first winter, when several of our Army tents were pitched on the cold, bare ground, the convention became to build flat, level wooden platforms of the dimension of the tent, and then including some simple framing to support the tent walls. Salvaged windows could be fit into these frames, providing more light and ventilation during hot months. Some tried installing skylights in the canvas roofs, but I don’t know of any that didn’t eventually leak in our downpours.

Soon, we were destined to have the tent-living experience. After over a year of living in buses, we were ready for a change.


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.


The Bath House

There was a certain amount of urgency in our installing a water system. We’d just gotten the system delivering water on the Martin farm when it was time to move to the Swan. There were two water towers on the abandoned boy’s camp property where we’d appropriated the original tower, and we now had a use for both of them. One would go on the high point of the new property, near The House, where the deep well was located. The other would go in the lower residential neighborhood, drawing its supply from a robust spring down in the hollow between Second Road and an as yet unnamed ridge.

We’d sent a crew to the camp to fetch the taller of the two towers, with our one degreed mechanical engineer designing a system for lowering the tower into the bed of the Big Pickup – our converted International Harvester school bus. The tower was hinged at the bottom of two of its legs and the plan was to use a tripod of telephone poles to support the tower as it leaned over and gradually lowered into the truck bed.

There was apparently some miscalculation in the stresses and forces of the tripod, for one of its legs snapped and the tower dropped from a considerable height into the truck bed, doing damage to both the Big Pickup and the tower itself. Repairs were made and the tower was successfully brought home. At the Farm, we decided to rent a crane to raise the tower into its place on the hill. Then came some prolonged ditch digging. I got pretty good at swinging a pick axe and busting the hard chert soil. Slowly, we fed the black plastic tubing into the trench on its long run to the Sorghum Mill and the habitats beyond.

Work had begun, meanwhile, on a communal bath house at the lower end of Second Road, near the meditation field. We couldn’t wait until the water line from the well supply reached that far end of the settlement. The tower from the Martin farm was replaced to a location along Second Road and our idea for pumping water up from the spring was to use a gas-powered engine to drive the pump. Paul and I were still working together and Jose – our chief mechanic and welder at the motor pool – presented us with the motor he’d removed from a VW bug to use as our power source.

“Here. But you gotta rebuild it.” He smiled. Nice gesture. “I got a book you can use.” He handed me a grease-stained copy of How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot.

“There’s some wrenches over there. Lemme know if you need any help.”

I looked at Paul. “Well, I’ll let you know when I’m done.”

It took me two weeks to tear the engine down, get the new parts and put the motor back together. It took another week, working with Jose, to get it running. After an additional week, we had a frame welded together with a belt drive to turn the impeller pump. Supposedly, that pump – driven at the rpm we calculated – would push the water up the 150 feet we needed to reach the top of the tower reservoir. A fresh tank of gas would have to be delivered down the treacherous gully every few days, given our estimates of water usage in the bath house.

Of course, we also had to excavate the spring and build a cement block enclosure with a wooden spring house above it. That took another two weeks. Then we installed the pumping gear with a fuel tank located some 50 feet up the hollow for safety sake.

Amazingly enough, after some fiddling around with the contraption, it worked. The little air-cooled engine could pretty much idle and fill the 5,000 gallon tank over the course of about 8 hours. We could never quite relax, though, knowing that a motor was running down in the hollow without anyone keeping an eye on it. So I spent a lot of time sitting alone in the hollow watching the motor run. If it had been quiet, it would have been a nice meditation. But it wasn’t.

Once the bath house was finished and the water line run down the road, our days of skinny dipping in the creek or pouring buckets of water over one another in the woods seemed to be over. Now we had a place to soak in a tub or shower under propane-heated water. Yippee! Sure, it was a long walk from most places, but it seemed like an efficient idea. Locating it at a low spot meant that we’d have plenty of water pressure.

The bath house had a dressing (and undressing) area and a bank of shower heads, much like my old high school gym’s. The only difference being that it was co-ed. At first that didn’t seem like much of a hassle, but it soon became a big problem. Actually there were several problems.

Problem One. Some of the ladies began to notice that some men would park themselves in the dressing area for what seemed like an unnecessarily long time. Couldn’t they just dress and move on?

Problem Two. The Farm had – after a period of time when we didn’t invite visitors to stay – re-opened the Gate to allow visitors to stay for varying amounts of time. This involved working with us, getting dirty, needing a shower, and making use of the co-ed bath house. Was seeing us naked part of the deal?

Problem Three. We’d already had some bad experiences with spreading infections. Unless we had a fulltime bath house cleaning service, the risk of spreading even more infections seemed to have increased.

This all got brought up at Sunday services – which was quite a bringdown after getting high at meditation. Just the thought of men gawking at women under the showers was a bit nauseating. Was there no decency? Was that the best we could do as spiritual students?

Almost immediately the bath house underwent renovation to divide the men’s and ladies’ halves of the building. That seemed to eliminate the first two concerns, but when the hot weather returned in the summer, we knew the sanitary risks would rise.

At least, though, we now had water spigots located along the roads into the residential areas. We no longer needed to rely on the draft horses to deliver our water. We could begin piping water into our buses, our tents and our few houses. We’d risen above the standard of living of most people in the world.


Discovering our beginner’s mind

Stephen was very clear about this: he considered his teacher to be the Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki. Although he drew from many spiritual traditions and histories for his teachings to us, Suzuki Roshi – the founder and abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center – was “the real thing” from whom he’d learned firsthand. I’d heard of Zen, but had never learned a whit about it. The closest thing I’d encountered to Eastern spiritual practice was Ram Dass’s Be Here Now. But as we’d be instructed each Sunday after meditation, Stephen’s lecture, some Q&A and socializing, there were spiritual books to read, many of them traded and circulating around the Farm.

At some point we found ourselves with a copy of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind – a small compilation of transcribed lectures by Suzuki. I’d already had a chance to read some of the writings of D.T. Suzuki, an unrelated Japanese citizen who’d lived as a Zen monk and went on to explain Buddhism and Zen to Americans in the 1950s. From his books I began to get some conceptual understanding of the Zen philosophy. But Stephen was adamant about the need for us to “don’t get conceptual.” Our path was supposed to be one of paying attention and experiencing what was happening in the moment. Sitting zazen – the style of meditation Stephen taught – was “practice” for being in that immediate state of mind.

Reading Suzuki Roshi’s talks gave me something akin to an understanding of what that was about, but the essence was elusive. I read the entire book over the course a few hours and could boil it down to two words: Just Sit. This was both troubling and comforting. Troubling in that I had some idea that I was living on the Farm in order to attain enlightenment. Could I just sit and get there? Wasn’t there some kind of process I had to go through to break through? The comforting part was that Suzuki de-emphasized the attainment part. You could not become enlightened by trying. You had to give up trying.

Stephen assured us that if we extended “just sitting and paying attention” into all of our activities, we could make much of our work and life into a meditation. In that context, he would refer to the Farm as a “family monastery” where we were all student practitioners who worked and were not celibate. We were “householder yogis” whose practice included marrying, having children, working and living with one another, internalizing our spiritual discipline with the daily challenges of a new from-the-ground-up society.

There were many people on the Farm who’d seen and studied with Suzuki Roshi. Their respect and love for the man was clear and deep. So when Stephen left for California in the late fall of our first year on the land, word got around that his teacher was seriously ill. In fact, Suzuki had been suffering with cancer for the past year and Stephen was able to visit with him in his last days. (Here is a video of Shunryu Suzuki lecturing during that last year). He passed from this life on December 4, 1971 and I had to accept that I’d never have the chance to sit with him.

Though Zen was a core element of our spiritual practice, it was not the only one. Stephen had his own identity as a teacher. We did not live and practice like the Zennies in California. We incorporated nuggets of mystical wisdom from Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Native American, and precursor ideas from the likes of Hermes Trismajestus.

Stephen emphasized truth, not only with one another but “unto thine own self.” About this, he was willing to get up into our shit, and following his example, we were prone to get up into one another’s shit. This forced considerable discomfort and unfortunately became our social signature in those early days. We all came with bad habits and if we didn’t leave them at the gate when we joined the Farm, the Farm would serve as our rock tumbler as we psychically tumbled against one another and knocked off our respective jagged edges. Eventually, we would make one another smoother if we could not get to that state by ourselves.

Buddhists speak of the three jewels – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Sangha – the community – is right up there with the wisdom and the teaching. Sangha comprises the social support of your fellow practitioners. But sometimes that support could be roughly provided. Having earned my Bachelor’s degree in psychology, I would often recognize what Freud called “projection” being used as a defense mechanism in the guise of community teaching. I would come to understand that I resorted to it myself, not just with Anita and my new friends, but with my distant family members who wondered, from the letters I’d send – what had come over me.

Just as four-marriages stood for a higher level of commitment to the rock tumbler metaphor – being married to three others providing more opportunities to straighten up than being married to only one person – singlehood seemed to hold a stigma of avoiding this therapeutic friction, so singles were especially vulnerable to being regarded as trippers. Especially single men, many of whom had led rambling, free-spirited hippie lives for years before the Farm. Stephen’s wary eye would catch them exhibiting a range of uncompassionate, selfish and cavalier behaviors.

On several occasions, he sent them off the Farm for 30-day missions, which happened often enough that we all knew what “a thirty-dayer” was. Out the gate with nothing but the clothes on your back. Don’t come back for at least 30 days and bring some organic sacraments for the community. From these missions we got necklaces of fresh peyote and psilocybin mushrooms (preserved in honey, no less) .

Stephen also established a living arrangement for single men prone to selfish behaviors and assigned it the offical name Rock Tumbler. The residents of this 16-by-32-foot Army squad tent were expected to learn how to live cooperatively while being diligently up in each others’ things about every detail of personality. The rest of us anticipated graduates from the Tumbler to be fine, gallant, upstanding gentlemen. This did happen occasionally, though there were no guarantees. There were also some exceptions to the singles-only condition; some married men also spent time tumbling or on thirty-dayers.

Spiritual practice was the environment in which we were immersed. We adopted the language as well as the perspective, and most of the time it brought joy and fulfillment to living experiences that were as primitive as those of early settlers on the American frontier. We would get hot, cold, wet, dusty and miserable, but we had a purpose that overcame doubt. I’d made it through my first year of practice when my first child was born – a little Buddha in the Shades of Blue bus.


Settling the Swan

The Martin Farm had been practice, a dry run for the real thing. We’d had to treat it as such because we had no choice. For all we’d known, we could have been there for over a year. Sanitation and shelter couldn’t be put off, and even as it was we’d experienced epidemics of hep and staph. Nasty wake up calls indeed. But now began a whole new era where the land would be our own. We’d talked enough about the prospect over the summer to crystalize the agreement that this would be a lifelong commitment. We had big plans, deep, long and noble plans.

Buses that hadn’t been cranked over for almost 5 months got lowered from the blocks that had held them level with tires off the ground; their engines were jump started by the motor pool guys and they trundled up the road and out the front gate. Being one of the disabled buses, Shades of Blue sat there forlornly waiting for the next round of migration, to be towed by one of the stronger trucks to a new parking place on the new land. Finally our turn came. The chains wrapped around our frame and we lurched along down the rutted road, out onto Drakes Lane and through the hollow, past our trailer-dwelling neighbors, to the new front gate.

Most of the arrived buses and vans plus all of our people still living in makeshift plastic and canvas shelters had headed down the crude, overgrown logging roads to what then seemed like idyllic sequestered spots in the forest. Because we were being towed, our choices were more limited. We were dragged down to the far end of the cleared land. We stopped and looked around. Across the field we noticed an oak tree that stood taller and fuller than any of the spindly second-growth trees around it.

“How ’bout over there?”

Jose, our tow truck driver shrugged his shoulders. “Looks good to me.”

The chains were unhooked and we found ourselves in a shady spot with a nice view of the meadows that – we envisioned – would eventually be transformed into fields of grains or vegetables. There were enough low-lying saplings and shrubs screening us from the roads to provide some privacy. We stepped out of the bus and surveyed our surroundings. There was a slight depression leading down to a seasonal creek bed that had gone dry through the end of summer. Halfway down the slope, the Raised Roof Bus had parked with its contingent of single folks. About 30 yards away was the Santa Rosa Bus, with the four-marriage of William and Joseph and their two kids.

“This is your yard, girls,” Anita told Kristina and Janine. We reminded them to watch for the poison ivy and to keep an eye out for snakes. At the Martin Farm a few timber rattlers had been encountered and the locals had assured us that the woods and creeks were home to copperheads and water moccasins, too.


Within the first few weeks we decided to call our place for what it was: the thehouseFarm. We christened the end of the open field where we’d parked our bus the Head of the Roads for it was from that point that the logging roads radiated like spokes from a hub: First Road, Second Road, Third Road and our new address, Fourth Road. At the entry gate to the property, adjacent to the house – which was labeled The House – a small sentry booth was built out of rough-cut lumber. This would be our Gate House. You could fit four people into it, sitting in a circle on its built-in bench, but barely.

Over the first few days as we all wandered around and explored the property, we discovered that if you followed First and Second Roads through the woods, they eventually dropped into beautiful meadows just above the main creek on the property, Cox Branch. The Second Road Meadow was chosen as our Meditation Field where, every Sunday, we would gather before sunrise – just as we had on the Martin Farm. But here, there would be no train running through our meditation. And from the spot at the top edge of the meadow, where we would sit, we would be looking across the canyon of Cox Branch at the thickly forested ridges of our own land.

As we’d done on the Martin Farm, we adopted the creek as our bathing facility. Skinny dipping was the way, and for those first innocent weeks it felt natural to socialize with our friends in the raw. We were opening up to one another at every level.

First priority – again – we set about digging shitters. We were much more spread out on the new land and more latrines were necessary. At the same time, we began planning the new water system and putting together a simple factory for building pre-fabricated houses following a design we called a “Dutch frame,” which was based on trusses shaped like the profile of a Dutch barn. They were as economical a use of two-by-fours and four-by-eight sheets of plywood as you could devise. We all had hopes of having our own simple houses before winter.

The very elegant sorghum mill was being completed on a hillside below the main road. The not so elegant motor pool was being located not far from it. And the barn that had come with the property became the home to two Belgian Percheron draft horses we’d bought from the Amish down the road. Twice every day, those massive horses pulled a wagon through the community – in the morning to pick up our empty 5-gallon water jugs, in the afternoon to deliver the filled jugs.

As we’d begun to do on the Martin Farm, we sent laundry runs in to the Summertown coin-op several days a week. A rotating crew of “laundry ladies” loaded into a box-back truck for the short ride along with sacks and buckets of soiled and smelly clothes. The neighbors in town were no doubt a little put out by our taking over their small laundromat, but they soon adjusted their schedules to avoid us while we set a priority on building our own clothes-washing facility. And as more of our ladies got pregnant and babies started popping, the urgency around clothes and diaper washing would become even more intense.

The weather cooled and the leaves began to fall. The woods were spectacular with color, especially as we’d gaze at them bush-tired every sunset and on Sundays at sunrise after meditation. We were working harder than most of us had ever worked, under primitive conditions, but we were in our glory. In these days we were all the most optimistic true believers. Compared to the cynicism and despair I’d felt a year earlier, I harbored no doubts about my path in life. I’d found a common mission with almost 300 others.

We were establishing a sanctuary. Sometimes we’d think of it as a “family monastery.” Stephen had negotiated a treaty with the local sheriff, T.C. Carroll, where T.C. agreed to not enter our property as long as we kept order within our borders an didn’t export any disorder into his turf. We reached out to our immediate neighbors in the most helpful ways possible, and to a remarkable extent we were accepted into the extended community of Lewis, Maury and Lawrence Counties. At least we were tolerated by even the most begrudging natives.

As the weather cooled we created the role of Farm Scammer – our intrepid shopper for essential hardware items for the community, notably wood-burning stoves. There proved to be plenty of them out of use and available in old barns and backyards in the country all around us. Some had been built for burning coal, some were classic pot-bellies, others were true log-burners. The Scammer brought home sections of stove pipe and flanges for mounting the pipes through our bus and tent roofs. We were all such naifs and amateurs, but we were forced to learn the rough skills of tinsmithery, firewood sawing and splitting, the building and tending of heating fires.

We got ourselves a miniature pot-bellied stove, and in the mild chill of late autumn it had no trouble heating the inside of our bus beyond the comfort level to where we had to crack open the windows.

Anita, like about a dozen other ladies, was definitely showing her pregnancy. Ina May had begun to select other women to train in the skills of midwifery. She’d found a friend and mentor in Dr. Williams, the local country doctor from Mt. Pleasant, who had decades of experience delivering babies at home. All of the pregnant women were checked often by the midwives in training, following the Doc’s guidance.

By the time December rolled around, we were having some truly cold and raw weather, with hard frost in the mornings. We slept under layers of blankets and sleeping bags. The little wood stove could still warm the place, but it held too little wood to burn for long after we’d gone to bed. Mornings would be bitter , with ice crystals on the inside metal roof above us. I’d jump out of bed to load my prepared stack of tinder and kindling in the stove front, light a match to it and jump immediately back into bed, panting, lips quivering, toes frozen, hoping the fire would roar to life. Another frantic scamper would have me carefully inserting the next stage of kindling that would eventually result in enough heat to ignite a big enough chunk of wood we could burrow under the covers for the 20 minutes required to raise the interior temperature.

The Farm was still buying its food wholesale from local dealers, and having put so much money down on the property, the food rationing for that winter was pretty strict. You got a certain amount of flour, a certain amount of oil, margarine, beans, pasta, carob, salt, pepper, oatmeal, and our own Old Beatnik Sorghum Molasses – from the batches that weren’t good enough to sell. We learned to roll tortillas and make bean burritos. Some of us knew a little about edible plants and we’d bring dandelion greens and sorrel when we could find them.

We had plans to put all of our cleared land under cultivation and maybe even to grow on some local rented land. A busload of us returned from an apple picking gig in Michigan with bushels of fruit, but we could only eat so much of it. We had no operations for canning or freezing or dehydrating fruit at that point.

And as the winter came on, the rains came with it. What had been dry dusty roads turned to deep muddy bogs. We hunkered down in the cold. And on one especially frigid night in early January, our son Timothy arrived to this world in the Shades of Blue.


A place to call our own

What promised to be a cataclysmic event – our being caught red-handed growing pot out in the back forty – was promptly relegated to the past and the future. We had plenty to occupy our attention in the present, our accused perpetrators – including Stephen, who had accepted responsibility as the leader of our band of settlers – were released on bail and the trial was continued for a while. Meanwhile, we’d installed running water to standpipes along the main road, the community garden was yielding plenty of fresh veggies, a busload of our people had driven north to Michigan to pick fruit and bring many bushels home, and finally, we’d begun construction on a six-sided building to house the community store and root cellar.

We regarded the store building as a gift to the family who was letting us stay on their land. It was a nicely crafted construction – the first wood-framed building I’d watched being assembled since my father had his design transformed into reality in 1960. So we did have some craftsmen among us. Knowing that there were experienced people in the community to lead our farming, mechanical and construction projects instilled some confidence that we wouldn’t bungle our way into oblivion. The dumbness of the pot caper had unnerved me a bit. It certainly made gate duty more of a challenge, choosing our words even more carefully than before in responding to the questions of local Tennesseans.

Even as it began to feel that we might be digging in on the borrowed property for a while, the news spread that a piece of property just down the road was for sale. It was called the Black Swan Ranch, and its thousand acres had been used mostly as a cattle spread. We’d made an offer and the sellers were taking us seriously. I was amazed, given our sudden notoriety. Though we’d heard no outrage in reaction to the bust, I couldn’t help but think that there’d be resistance to our actually buying property in the area.

A couple weeks later, my fears proved unfounded as the deal was closed. The Black Swan would be our new home. Paul and I were invited to take a look at the land to see how our gravity-fed water system would be laid out. In the motor pool, one of the VW bugs donated by its owner to the community was transformed into a racy looking conveyance for Stephen’s exclusive use in getting around the new land. He called it the Boon Duggy. With Stephen at the wheel, Paul and I followed in a pickup truck for our first look. Just a half mile from our front gate, we turned down a smaller dirt road that led through a hollow and up the hill to a fence line. There was a white single story house and a corrugated metal barn next to a smaller wooden storage structure that showed its age. We stopped and looked around.

The house seemed to be at the high point of the property, withmainroad a dirt lane leading down a gentle slope following the cleared fields that were bordered by wooded ridges and hollows that – we were told – defined the watersheds of two creek systems – Cox Branch and Swan Creek. There was a well at the house – that would be our main source at this high point. But the lay of the land would determine where our residential areas would be. We might need to develop another water source and another system further down the road.

We went exploring, driving down the main road – a rutted, unimproved track that still showed signs of having been used mainly by the cattle herd. The cleared land was said to be about 200 acres. As in the property where we were temporarily holed up, the forests showed all the signs of having been ruthlessly logged of the best trees. What was left were mostly scrub oak and immature hardwoods of the hickory and maple families. Supposedly there were some good sized beeches and maples deep in the creek valleys, but we decided not to venture down the narrow logging roads that traced the ridge lines.

The next week, Stephen announced our plans for moving to the Black Swan. Those plans included our starting our first cottage industry – the production of sorghum molasses, a syrup made from a variety of sugar cane that was used as the southern version of maple syrup from the Northeast. To prepare for getting into that business, we’d build ourselves a sorghum mill where the juice would be pressed out of the cane and then boiled down for jarring under the label Old Beatnik. We’d also, immediately, secure another of the water storage towers from the boys camp where we’d salvaged the tower on the Martin farm. This new tower – a taller structure at 50 feet – would be erected near the house on the new property, at the highest point available. Flexible black plastic pipe would be run down alongside the road to wherever the residential neighborhoods would located.

Once those projects were underway, we’d begin moving down the road – the still-running buses first, followed by those, like ours, that needed towing.

The excitement seemed to drown out the concerns about being busted. The move began in September, 1971.


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