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.