Twin Oaks - week 2 (journal)

November 1st, 2006 by Benjamin

10/21 - Saturday
We took a tour of Acorn and a nearby Earthship this morning. I saw a hot tub and fire circle at Acorn that I didn’t know existed while I was there. The Earthship was the first of its kind that I’ve seen. I was impressed that a livable, low-energy structure could be created utilizing old tires filled with packed earth (along with some lumber, plumbing, etc.) My work in the afternoon was the “bio-filter” project. Twin Oaks is in the process of constructing a more ecologically friendly way to treat/dispose of the waste from their Tofu production. Most of my job involved digging trenches out of mud that smelled like rotten milk. It was the grossest job I’ve done here, and it still wasn’t as bad as humey (humanure) shift at Dancing Rabbit (which wasn’t too bad).
I hung out with Coyote again. He liked the Michael Franti CD I burned for him. There was a different crowd in there this time, and we stayed until 6:45 (he usually kicks us out around 6pm). I skipped dinner and went straight to the Samhain pagan ritual-combination-sweat lodge which one of the members had organized with her teacher. The sweat was nice, but overall the spiritual aspect was weaker for me than at my previous sweat lodge experience. However, I was able to articulate a life realization: Up to now, I have been searching for understanding. I feel like this part of my journey has been completed (at least for the time being). Now, I’m searching for connection.
When all the visitors got back to Aurora, we played descriptionary, with predictably hilarious results. We’re starting to collect our own “in-jokes.”

10/22 - Sunday
Slept in this morning - a nice change - until 10:30. Woke up and had brunch (a waffle, then some rice & beans) - did another Tofu boxing shift and then worked on Hammocks a little before and after dinner. After dinner, I hung out in compost cafe - one of the few smoking-allowed places on the campus. It felt like college - people working (or thinking about working) hard all day - and then partying, drinking & (talking about) fucking at night.

10/23 - Monday
Last night there was a going-away party for one of the TO members - lot’s of great dancing and fun. Alex & Jessie voted me the best male dancer (wow!) out of 4-5 people. I took Callista up to hang out w/ Coyote and I realized that he is one of the coolest people I’ve ever known. What I mean by that is: when someone does something and it’s a cool thing to do, or they run into a situation and react in a cool way - he does that, and just keeps doing it over and over again. Did some food processing work peeling garlic for 3 hours this morning, then a garden shift in the afternoon - mulching, weeding, etc.

10/24 - Tuesday
I’ve been thinking about pizza - cheese pizza - not obsessively, but it seems to be the first thing I crave in community. Serendipity! Dinner was pizza and brownies. Good pizza too. I’ve been invited to hang out with members, welcomed to dinner tables, and one of the members said she thought I was the “special visitor” (not short-bus special). I’m feeling so much love here. Callista & I have become cuddle buddies. I went to the “playground of death” with Carmen after lunch - they have swings hanging from gigantic trees, two zip lines and a huge net. It’s like an adult-sized Showbiz Pizza playground. It’s a Twin Oaks tradition for each visitor group to throw a party in their third week. We planned ours tonight - it’s going to fucking rock.

When I think about my friends back in Austin, I feel like I’m slipping more and more into my own subculture. I was always more “hippy” than they were, but out here I’m normal. It’s very similar to my experience with TAMS, only for a different subculture. I went from being a geek in high school to TAMS, where everyone was a geek. TAMS was great for me socially, and I feel like I could have a similar experience in a place like this.

First week at Twin Oaks (journal entries)

October 24th, 2006 by Benjamin

10/13 - Friday
First day at Twin Oaks. There are 10 people in our visitor group: Jeremy (my roommate, does research for Google); Ethan (works at Whole Foods in the beer department); James (studying sociology/psychology of architecture); Carmen (a smart young Colombiana); Calista (taking a break between high school and college); Alex & Jessie; Mark (English); and Tina. Everyone but Mark and Tine are under 30. Dinner in “ZK” was nice - although the cafeteria setup is kinda weird. They have milk dispensers! We already have labor schedules for the week to fulfill our 38 hour labor quota (usually 44, but not counting Friday). I joined the sauna after dinner and our first “oreo” (orientation). It’s supposed to get down to 29 degrees tonight, but you wouldn’t know it the way we were standing around naked and jumping in the pond. A bunch of the visitors came with me to the sauna - cool group I think.

10/14 - Saturday
Wow. What a fuckin’ day. Yes already. Had a tour this morning - basic stuff, nothing shocking. The food so far has been great - an eggplant/marinara/cheese thing last night and a mexican-style tostada thing tonight - with home-grown ground beef, cheese & sour cream from the dairy, tomatoes & salsa from the gardens, etc. I’ve heard that pretty much the only veggies they buy now are apples and onions.
After lunch, we had a Hammock shop tour and I had a personal lesson in macrame-ing the “harness” - where the ropes connect to the ring. As I was walking back to Aurora, the visitor building, I got an invitation to Ultimate Wrestling. I got very tired and sore, but had a lot of fun. It reminded me of the night I wrestled with the interns at Lost Valley. We had a “visitor’s social” after dinner where we socialized with some of the members - from 7:30 to - the last of us visitors left around 11:45. Fucking A.

10/15 - Sunday
The food continues to be outstanding, though I’ve been more gassy that usual lately. Dinner was stuffed bell peppers, spaghetti & “tofu balls,” salad, etc. I did a Tofu Boxing shift today - 700 boxes to pack (6 cubes each), but there were a ton of people (10-11), so we got it done in under 3 hours (the scheduled time). I’m beginning to see the advantage of scheduled labor. The emphasis on production (of tofu, hammocks) is not something I’m keen on, especially when the materials (wood, yarn, soybeans) come from outside the farm - thus hiding their (un-)sustainability. But on an individual level, it allows for a variety of work. I watched a couple movies after dinner - Art School Confidential & A Prairie Home Companion. Every weekend, 3 films are each shown at both an early (7:30) and late (9:15) showing.

10/16 - Monday
I worked with Woody today planting garlic. I’m still somewhat sore from the ultimate wrestling, but it didn’t interfere with the work at all. This morning we got an oreo (orientation) this morning from Coyote about the labor system. What a trip! The guy is the last of the beatniks. We had a birthday party for Carmen (one of the visitors) tonight. I secured some home-brew wine from Bok Choy, one of the members here; it was made from forbidden fruit, and delicious!

10/17 - Tuesday
It was rainy today, so my dairy clean shift was canceled. To make up some time, I worked in the hammock shop for a couple of hours. I hung out with Coyote for a bit - he feels like the last of the beatniks. I’m so tired - I helped Bok Choy with de-stemming grapes this morning (at 8 o’clock), as payment for the wine.

10/18 - Wednesday
The child oreo today brought some stuff up for me that I hadn’t considered before. A community (as in, IC-intentional community) is a step towards a new tribe, but not there yet. I see a tribe as a cohesive whole - able to exist and continue in a somewhat steady state. They have traditions and culture and know what works for them. An IC (as I see it) is a group of people on that path, but still figuring things out. Twin Oaks hasn’t yet figured out how to integrate adolescents - there is no maturity ritual - they go from dependent children at 17 to members with full quota responsibility at 18 (if they so choose).
I sliced peppers and peeled garlic this morning - fun conversation while working around a table. We had another sauna tonight. I drank plenty of water this time. After checking my e-mail, it looks like a Sirius visit will come together, but may be more expensive than my other stops @ $25/night + 4hr/day.
When I came into Aurora this evening, Calista and Ethan were talking about the devouring nature of civilization - I mentioned Derrick Jensen and they’re already on the same page. I’m coming to the belief that the communities movement is no more a “solution” than recycling. It will all come down eventually. I still think stories are our best bet. These ICs are the little experiments - maybe we can learn from them. Why am I here? Because this is the closest thing that I’ve found to how I want to live my life. These people are all going in the same direction as me.

10/19 - Thursday
Keenan led our legal oreo, and described how Twin Oaks treats members’ assets when they join. It is set up so that while members are here, they are (by policy) as financially egalitarian as possible. Money owned before joining or funds earned outside the community may be spent only when the member is off the farm (i.e. on vacation). To me, the system seems to discourage abundance, which seems backwards to me. I would prefer to see something closer to / approaching a gift economy.

10/20 - Friday
We got our new labor sheets last night. At Twin Oaks, the week starts on Friday and goes through Thursday. Someone said that this is to hide the fact that there’s no weekend at TO. You can request a day or two without scheduled work (or more), but there is no regular “day off” that everyone takes. Everyone is responsible for fulfilling 44 hours a week. It works out to about 6.2 hours a day, and includes everything from working in the garden and making hammocks to cooking meals, doing dishes, going to town to shop for the community, even some activist work like Food Not Bombs. The labor system is central to life here. Labor is measured with credits in hourly units. It is responsible for much of the enforcement of the egalitarian ideal. It serves as an accounting system and a local currency, and to help channel resources within the community. Children are given a certain number of hours of “child care” each year, which the parents can use themselves, or pay to other community members to take care of their kids. When sick, you can claim up to 6.2 hours a day as sick time - your job is to get well. If you work over quota one week, you can slack off the next week, or save up hours for a longer vacation - either on or off the farm.
There are plenty of things to do here - both for labor and for fun. There are almost too many things to do, even fun things. This afternoon I had to decide between doing yoga or writing this journal. I’m never bored - at work or at play.

Acorn - journal entries

October 13th, 2006 by Benjamin

9/23 - Saturday
My welcome at Acorn was pretty informal. I was introduced to Erik, who had already given a group tour earlier in the day and was visibly worn out. He showed me my room and gave a quick orientation on the essentials - bathrooms, snack kitchen, offices, business meeting on Sundays, a heart-share meeting for working out interpersonal conflicts on Thursdays. He gave me a list of “cultural warnings” about things at Acorn which some find shocking. The list included things like it’s a clothing-optional community and it’s dirty or messy or sometimes dirty and messy. Immediately after he’d given the list, I forgot all of them, having experienced everything that he listed at one communities already. Acorn is still on-grid for power. Their water comes from a well or a spring - something local and renewable. There is one composting toilet, but it doesn’t seem to get much use since there are 2 regular flush toilets in the bathrooms. There are no solar showers yet.

9/24 - Sunday
Ken gave me a tour of the gardens this morning - they have about 3 acres under cultivation (quite a lot for a community of this size). Most of it is for the seed business, but some of that produce can serve dual purpose. Isolation of crops becomes an issue when growing for seed, to ensure that there’s no cross-polination. I did some sweeping this morning, then cleaned and reorganized the pantry. There was supposed to be a weekly business meeting tonight after dinner, but it didn’t happen. The food I’m eating is mostly organic and pretty much vegan (some dairy), though the desserts don’t skimp on the sugar. One thing that’s struck me so far is that people don’t talk much at the meals. It seems like it might be more difficult to connect/make friends here. I’ve had plenty of time to spend on the internet - they have wifi in the main building (called Heartwood) and grid power. We had a storm today, so it went out for a while (satellite internet). I feel a yearning for more connection. Maybe I’ll spend some time out in nature tomorrow.

9/25 - Monday
woke up feeling crappy - had a bad taste in my mouth - every time I burp I taste rotten eggs (is that bile?). ate some lunch anyway, hoping it might flush whatever it was out. just made me feel worse - by mid-afternoon I felt shitty. had diarrhea most of the day. ate a piece of dry toast for dinner. drunk lots of water and herbal tea (oat straw, chamomile, some mint), and then, after dinner, I heard someone say that lots of people get sick (stomach bug) when they first get here. hopefully it’ll either be gone tomorrow or the next day. did laundry today, packed some bulbs and helped prep peppers for storage. I’m taking the down-time as an opporunity to read The Watchmen - Alan Moore’s famous graphic novel. I took a walk out to the end of the property today - it was fairly uneventful.

9/26 - Tuesday
Felt better today. The stomach bug appears to have been a 24-hour thing as promised. The toast I had for breakfast settled in okay, so I had a real lunch and dinner. Lunch was just leftovers, but dinner was a scrumptious chinese feast! There was a cabbage/tofu stir-fry, fried rice, and broccoli in a yummy brown sauce. The “snack kitchen” has tons of bread - bagels, loaves, etc. I’m eating lots more white flour and sugar here than I usually do, and I’m doing more work in the office (shipping bulbs, etc). Hopefully I won’t start gaining weight. One of the members here, a young mother, said that she really liked being pregnant, and really liked giving birth - she’d love to grow and have children for other couples (with their egg & sperm) - a womb-for-rent so-to-speak. I want to talk to her more about that.

9/27 - Wednesday
Felt great today. Did some digging in the garden for potatoes - we probably filled ten 5-gallon buckets with them. Shipped some more bulbs (onions and garlic) for the seed business.

9/30 - Saturday morning
slept in - until 1pm - totally didn’t realize I was sleeping that long, but I guess I needed it.
The Seed business here has the feeling to me of a family business - like Quinn’s idea of a tribal business.

10/02 - Monday morning
Whatever sickness I had has been going around - several people have had stomach troubles now. I’ve been pretty congested the past several days - not green, so no infection, but I can’t tell if it’s just allergies or what. Not a huge inconvenience, just means I’m blowing my nose a lot. Last night, one of the Acorn members put on a “fancy” meal with lots of lucious Indian food - all vegan, of course; we dressed up and played a talking game at dinner. The question to answer was “what is the best thing that’s happened to you today/this week?” For me, it was that meal.

Monday night
I got to see a business meeting tonight. There are only 4 full members, and another 2 on the membership track, so the meetings have more of a family/house meeting feeling than a community/consensus feeling. That is, the process is a lot more informal with people going through the list of things to discuss and people saying their pieces. In more consensus-focused communities, they will usually have a facilitator who goes through a more formal process of asking for criticism, suggestions, supporting comments, etc. to make sure that everyone has their say. With the way decisions are made and things are run around here, it feels a lot like a family business with a big, extended family.
I’ve spent lots of time online here, compared with other communities. The guests are introverted and the members are busy. I’m still not connecting much, but that may improve. It’s very laid back here - everyone makes their own schedules. The commune idea seems nice.

10/3 - Tuesday
Feeling crappy again - picked beans this morning and got sunburned. I’m all achy, but don’t think my glands are swolen yet. I haven’t been sneezing like usual - maybe the sinus thing turned into an infection?. no other symptoms so far, apart from being tired and crappy feeling. time for some restful sleep.

10/4 - Wednesday
I slept restlessly all night - lots of hot/cold/sweating/chills. But not too much pain, and nothing coming out of me. By mid-day, the crappy feeling was gone.
Erik calls the other community members his “friends” as in, I’m going to go talk to my friends about XYZ or I’ll get my friends to help with ABC. I asked him if he had a lot of friends here, and he admitted that he’s one of the two extroverted people in the community. For some reason, Acorn attracts introverted people. I think this may be one reason I’ve had difficulty connecting here.

10/9 - Monday
I’ve been congested for the past week or so - a couple of days ago it got really bad. I started feeling sick - achy muscles, swolen lymph nodes - it got down into my lungs. I was hacking up — okay, so you probably don’t want to know exactly what I was hacking up, but it was gross. But by this morning it was back to just sneezing and coughing again. Hopefully I’ll be more or less healthy by the time I start my Twin Oaks visitor period on Friday.
I haven’t been writing much here. It feels like there’s not much going on. Since everyone’s so introverted, there’s not a whole lot of conversation, and there’s not much night-time activity. We’ve had a couple of nights playing board games - including one called “Apples to Apples” which was pretty fun. One night we watched some Star Trek episodes on DVD (2nd season), and I showed Waking Life one night. Compare this with other communities I’ve been to where we’ve had drum circles, sing-a-longs, game nights and much more conversation in general.

Yesterday felt like the first real day of fall. We’ve had colder days, but yesterday had that combination of warm sunshine and a cripsness in the air that makes me think of crunchy leaves underfoot and making out on roofs of buildings in the cold.

This afternoon I’ll head over to Twin Oaks for their more formal three-week visitor program.

Blue Heron - journal entries

September 23rd, 2006 by Benjamin

I got within 2 miles of Blue Heron Farm and had the hardest time finding the damn road! There’s some construction at the intersection so it’s not well marked. Roy & Maria (my hosts) seem pretty cool, and really nice. I’m sleeping in their 5-year-old daughter’s room - I guess she’s sleeping in their bedroom. The house is really nice - completed only 10 months ago (by a contractor?). It’s passive solar, but otherwise traditional construction (not strawbale or anything), and still on-grid for power. The water comes from a ground well here at BH.

9/18 - Monday
Started out with a small family breakfast - oatmeal and fruit. Maria left for a multi-day job (she and Roy are both interpreters for the court system). Mia (their daughter) was going to take me to the community garden, but we ended up wandering all over the neighborhood. I met a few people including Tim & Sally, who have just finished a documentary looking at peak oil, climate change, etc. They have interviews w/ Daniel Quinn and Derrick Jensen, two influential authors for me. I’ll get to see it tomorrow, then we’ll have dinner and go “contra-dancing” afterwards. (I’m told it’s like square dancing). Today, we went to the Human Kindness Foundation/Kindness House (community), with whom Roy has been volunteering for 10 years. I did some office work, cut some grass (with a scythe, which I have done before, but was not prepared for this time), picked some figs, had dinner. I cut into some fallen pecans and the juices have stained my hands. Not to mention the blisters and my seasonal “molting.” Almost forgot - we started the day (before breakfast) with walking meditation or 7 minutes, then sitting meditation for 20. The house has a whole upstairs room for this purpose.
I asked Roy today if I might sit in on the business meeting Saturday and he said there are some issues/troubles in the community now and it might not be ok with everyone for me to observe.

9/19 - Tuesday
Wow! What a fucking day! Started out with some yard work - weeding, gravel allocation, had lunch and a short rest, then over to Sally & Tim’s place. The documentary What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire is great - it pulls together peak oil, climate change, economic collapse, and other big issues, but also brings in the cultural dimension - “how did we get here” - looking at the systems that have gotten us to this crisis point - the “slowly-boiling frog” stuff. It’s long - 2 hours and 20 minutes, but well worth it. It’s not finished-polished yet, but enough to send to Sundance for consideration. Dinner with them was nice - Rosemary chicken, fresh coleslaw and pesto pasta (which I’ve had 3 times now, I wonder if someone local makes it?). Then the contra dancing! OMFG awesome! Sort of like square dancing - in that there’s a caller who describes each dance before you do it, but not as white/honky as I was expecting. Dances start with a “partner,” but depending on the dance, you will probably spend more time dancing with others in the group (”neighbors”, who change after every round), in foursomes called “sets.” There were people of all ages, some very gute girls - early 20’s I’d guess - I think there were a bunch of people from a local college. The band tonight was a fiddle, keyboard, guitar trio called Red House - playing good bluegrass-y stuff - one of the better bands they’ve had recently, I’m told. I could imagine it done with hand drums. On the way there and back (about 1.5 hours each), we had some good conversation about the documentary and surrounding issues. We saw a fox, then 3 deer when we came back into Blue Heron.

9/22 - Friday
When I came in on Sunday, Roy asked me if I had any specific skills or talents. I mentioned the Permaculture class that I took and we’ve been talking about putting in an Herb Spiral since then. This morning it finally got done! Last night, I took a walk to see the 2 ponds here at BH and sat down next to one for the sunset. I witnessed fog forming on the surface of the water and swirling around, almost like it wanted to form a shape. Before I got up to leave, I saw two deer run past the pond. I ran into Murray in the garden on the way back. His building is a timerframe house insulated with straw-bale and covered with an earthen plaster finish. We talked for a while about Blue Heron. From his description, it sounded like BH has their share of interpersonal conflicts, and are working on ways to work through them. They’re planning a non-violent communication workshop for the community in the next couple months. They had considered bringing the Heart-Of-Now folk out for a session, but it sounded like some people are not ready to dig up their old emotional stuff. I feel like any community started from this culture must be a healing community.

Over the past few days, I’ve been reading Malidoma Somé’s Of Water and the Spirit, and finally finished it today. He talks about his initiation into adulthood in his home village in Africa. His people are very well connected with nature and the spirit world. He talks about magic, nature spirits, visiting other worlds. The kind of things you read about in psychadelic trips. To me it feels related to lucid dreaming, which I’m getting closer and closer to. Just the other night, I was dreaming and did a lucidity check, but failed (I asked myself if I was dreaming and decided that surely I was not). I feel myself drawn more and more toward this “spiritual” awareness path - delving into dreams, possibilities, connectedness.
9/23 - Saturday
Mia had her 5th birthday party last night - lots of folks came - maybe 10 adults, and only 1 or 2 kids. Most of the adults seemed disinterested/low-energy, etc. We had sandwiches and pizza, followed by the richest most decadent raspberry chocolate cake I’ve had this year. It reminded me of those chocolate cakes we used to get from Central Market when someone passed the Level 2 exam at DJ (you guys know what I’m talking about). I left this morning before the business meeting started. I don’t feel like Blue Heron is what I’m looking for in a community to live in at this stage in my life, but my experience here has been wonderful - much more than I expected. I give thanks.

more journal entries from Earthaven

September 21st, 2006 by Benjamin

I’ve been at Blue Heron Farm since Sunday night, and will be here only until Saturday. It’s already been way more than I expected. I’m finishing up my journal entries from Earthaven below. Hopefully I’ll get a “summary” out covering some technical details about EH before too long.

At one point at Earthaven, during the sushi party on Saturday night, I had a moment of clarity - I could see myself in my current position - like a little plant flowing from place to place along the river.
Read the rest of this entry »

journal entries from Earthaven

September 6th, 2006 by Benjamin

8/26 - Saturday evening
I’ve only been here 2 days, but it almost feels like I’ve been here 2 weeks. I’m staying at the A&A guest house as a work-exchanger. I’m sleeping on the 3rd floor on a couch/bed thing right next to window. There are lot’s of sleep spaces up here (and really all over the building). Lyndon Phelps is here! I had e-mailed him years ago about dillo hours [local currency for Austin] while he was living at the Rhizome, but never met him face to face until here at Earthaven. The vibe has been very good. I joined the weekly tour this morning and learned some general information about the ecovillage. I don’t have cell phone signal here & internet connection is harder to come by (the wifi router has to be turned on for each use and because of the electrical system, I can’t recharge my battery here), but I can tell that I’m not going to want to go out of my way to get it.

8/27 - Sunday
Debbie (intern with Red Moon herbs) said she’d been to East Wind & Dancing Rabbit (Sandhill). Her feeling was that because East Wind’s nut-butters business is so successful, they have had less of an emphasis on self-sufficiency and low-energy living (if we can just buy it, why do it ourselves?). She also thought Dancing Rabbit had too many ecological restrictions for rapid growth (as compared with Earthaven) - such as the ban on personal vehicle ownership.

8/30 - Wednesday
Human and the other Humans played at the White Owl (Earthaven’s coffee shop/hangout) tonight. It was fricking bad-ass! Funky guitar and hand drum with a female vocal accompaniment, and some violin. Very dancable, progressive lyrics - songs sung from a new paradigm. Several people got naked (including both guys in the band), and lots more got toppless (including the girl in the band) fucking sweet. My legs are tired from dancing.

8/31 - Thursday
Lyndon is such a trip. He has the most amazing energy. I’m glad I finally met him here. There’s a girl named Sarah interning with Imani farms. She has a quiet (collected, calm) energy that I find myself drawn to. I’ve met several people with interest and training in wilderness skills. Herbal medicine interest is rampant (especially with the Red Moon Herbs business here at Earthaven). I’ve been here less than a week here and already I don’t want to leave. At the last community, I was glad I had a schedule to move me along, but here I’m sad about it. These people are not just on the same page as me, they’re in the same book. I’ve slept next to an open window since I’ve been here & I’m really enjoying it. The breeze, the rain, the birds.

9/1 - Friday
There’s a permaculture class that came in today. Seventeen students. Wow! They’ll be here for the next 9 days. Patricia is the main teacher/organizer for the class. The permaculture class I took in Austin was actually taught by two of her students. I’m going to eat so well this week! (Normally we only have house meals at nights, but for the class we’ll get 3 meals a day!). The food orders came in today - measured in cases and pounds. It’s been raining for a few days now - side-effects of a hurricane I’m told. I wouldn’t mind at all except power is low, which means no computers or movies most of the day. I’ve been getting up early - 8-9ish - and think it has made me tired the past few days. I worked with Donna this morning - another Red Moon intern - weeding and clearing trails for LEAP credit. Everyone is required to do about 4 hours/week for Earthaven-specific projects. Accumulated hours can be withdrawn as LEAPs, Earthaven’s time currency, and traded with other Earthaven members.

9/2 - Saturday midday
At the council meeting on Sunday a guy named Farmer announced a meeting about “open-source mythology.” I won’t be here for the meeting so I met with him individually to chat about it. What we’re talking about is essentially designing culture. Looking at all of those memes that make up the answer to the question “why are we here?” and figuring out which ones work and which ones don’t. Rewriting the myths to tell a story that works for us in the long run. It was exciting to talk to someone thinking about the same things. It feels so good to be out here.

Don’t know where to write this - Patricia (one of the A’s in A&A) sent Mary (her sister, the other A) to pick up some cheese, and instead of good organic stuff, she just got the cheap brick stuff. Patricia called it “schwag cheese.”

9/3 - Sunday before dinner
I went over to Village Terraces (a co-housing building) to see Sarah and sure enough she was right there in the kitchen! We talked there for a bit about my open source mythology conversation with Farmer and she took notes. We seem able to connect on some higher level - hard to describe. She is at Earthaven as a second-choice - she really wants to be in Israel, studying Judaism, but because of the fighting, she’s hesitant to go. We took a walk down to the labrynth because she hadn’t seen it yet, then past to the sweat lodge. When we were starting our walk, a deer bounded across our path down the hill - my first sighting at EH. I considered it good medicine. I picked up the fallen “labrynth” sign next to the path and tried to fix it, cutting my finger in the process. It was just a little cut but it was bleeding; Sarah ripped a strip of cloth from her headband for me to use as a bandage. I thought it was sweet in a “this actually happens?” kind of way. Our walk was quiet and calm, observative, appreciative. We hung out by the creek. I repeated Chris Farmer’s note that the simple answer to our purpose is two words: give thanks. She told me she appreciated my company. She had to go cook dinner in the hut hamlet, so we walked back there together. I told her I’d like to do it again, and she said she would too.

9/4 - Monday night / early Tuesday morning (1am)
OMG! Tonight I did dances of universal peace with the permaculture class. It wasn’t as focused on spirit/connection as my experiences with Youth of Unity, but still a lot of fun. After Patricia ended the regularly scheduled activities and went to bed, the rest of us started drumming. A couple of the guys started doing some capoeria, and a couple of the girls did some contact improv. I drummed. After everyone was good and sweaty, we went down to the creek - manifesting along the way that the sauna would be hot, and - serendipity - it was! Marty was in there (he’s been cooking for the class all week) - we all took turns flipping between creek and sauna. In the sauna, there was a range from talking to improv. percussion to chanting and improv. singing. It was very much like my sweat lodge experience at DR (actually the May Day celebration at Sandhill). I probably went back and forth 4 times. It is so lovely to see young women naked in the moonlight.

I went on another long exploratory walk today - into “forest garden,” through a fire circle, and came out on a road in “Full Circle” - the neighboring communitiy. While I was on my walk, I ran into a pen with 2 sheep and a cow - must have been the ones Sarah’s taking care of - so I left her a little boquet on top of a bucket - three leaves, a mushroom, and one of those circular vine plants we saw on our walk. I hope she enjoys the surprise, and knows it was from me.

9/5 - Tuesday
Woke up feeling sick, hungover. I spent way too long in the sauna last night and am totally dehydrated. I took it easy all day long and slept a lot.

9/6 - Wednesday morning
Sun!!! OMG It’s so nice to finally wake up to sunlight! It’s been raining for the past several days with no more than an hour or two of sunlight per day. Waking up to blue skies and sunlight is such a refreshing change! I got up and did Qi-Gong with Arjuna again today. It’s different from the Nei-Kung that I did in Tai Chi class, but still a lovely enlivening practice. I hope I run into Sarah somewhere today. I’d like to see her again.

Bon Paul and Sharky’s Hostel - Asheville, NC

August 30th, 2006 by Benjamin

I drove through the Great Smoky mountains on the way from Knoxville to Asheville, and OMFG they are beautiful!!

Instead of staying 2 nights at the Knoxville hostel (which was a fine hostel), I decided to mosey down the road to Asheville, NC. The hostel descriptions sounded more interesting (i.e. interesting ammenities and cooler stuff nearby). I chose Bon Paul and Sharky’s hostel because it was $5 cheaper than the Arthaus hostel. Asheville is freaking cool!!! It’s got a very progressive vibe - there was a local brewpub and a food co-op within walking distance. There is a big emphasis on local food through the Appalacian Sustainable Agriculture Project. I had a really great time hanging out with the guests at the hostel.

I hung out with a German girl named Lena quite a bit. The highlight of the hostel stay was when we went to Pisgah National Forest on Friday with another hostel guest named Nazar (from Ukraine). The first destination in the park was Sliding Rock, which has been smoothed over the years into a natural water slide. I’d guess it was 40-50 feet from top to bottom and maybe a 30 degree angle. It empties directly into an 8-foot pool. The water, however, is freezing cold. We each went down a few times and then dried off on some rocks under the sun. (Video: the ascent, Lena, Nazar - MPG, each about 6 MB)

We stopped at Looking Glass falls and then took a short (hour and a half) hike on one of the shorter trails (3.2 mi). Afterwards, we were all starving, so we had some BBQ at a local place.

First impressions of Earthaven - this place is fricking huge! And OMG I had to drive on the windiest (lots of twists and turns) road ever to get here. Seriously. Like more windy than that crazy windy road in San Francisco. More to come!

East Wind

August 30th, 2006 by Benjamin

Disclaimer: I was only able to visit East Wind for five days, and therefore feel that my breadth of experience was even more limited than usual.

East Wind was my first foray into a true hippie commune. It is a completely income-sharing community. People put in equal hours and get (presumably) equal benefits. Vital stats: 1,000+ acres; 70-80 members; 30+ years old.

At other communities, people were more on their own financially. Lost Valley had a common community business, but each person had an individual job (or two) and got their own paycheck, paid for their own housing, etc. At Dancing Rabbit, people were on their own in terms of income-generation. (Side note: the Skyhouse sub-community at DR has a web design/hosting business). But again, everyone had their own fees to pay and their own bills.

At East Wind, however, everything is administered communally. People still have private rooms (with an optional door lock), with the possibility of owning personal items. But no one has individual bills (from the community). If you’re a member, you have an expected work quota (35 hours a week), and as a result, you get all the benefits of living in the community. The benefits were pretty nice:

  • gigantic networked music library, and XM radio (which I’m told has settled many disputes over what to play during work shifts)
  • impressive book library
  • TV/movie building (2 rooms) with DVD/VHS movie library (and 4 EW members have Netflix accounts)
  • industrial-size kitchen with several fridges, freezers, etc. always stocked with food
  • clean towels and clothes (the clothing area is like a small Goodwill store)
  • clean showers, stocked shampoos and soaps (with cubby areas for your own personal stuff)
  • 4-computer lab with internet access
  • seperate video game room with computers, XBox, Playstation
  • over a thousand acres of plush wooded land to explore and live in
  • swimming hole in Lick Creek
  • … and I’m sure many more …

And what do you have to do for all this? 35 hours a week. That number includes a weekly quota (usually 2-8 hours, depending on need) of time working for the community nut-butters business - roasting peanuts, then running them through the masher and finally jarring, labelling and putting them in cases. Of the three shifts I did, all were in the afternoon (jarring/packaging), and 3-4 hours each. Lots of things can be counted as labor hours - doing laundry, cooking, cleaning dishes, administrative tasks like answering phones and taking orders, working in the garden, building maintenance, etc. I got the impression that the biggest challenge is not in filling your labor quota, but in figuring out how to fill it with tasks that you like (love) doing.

East Wind is run by democracy. I feel this is in stark contrast to the consensus-based methods most other commmunities have adopted. (See “culture of consensus” from the Dancing Rabbit post). I’m told that regular meetings happen every week and turnout is usually fairly low. The agenda is set by “petitions” posted on a common board, to which supporters can sign their names. If a petition is supported, it can go to a vote. Full members have 1 vote, children and some provisional members have less (1/4 to 1/2 vote). Most people seemed to be fairly disinterested in most issues, only voicing concerns for things with which they had major contention.

The first meal I ate at East Wind consisted of fish, onion rings, cole slaw and cake. The second was chili and cornbread with salad (both regular and vegan options available for each). I’m not sure what the proportion of vegans/vegetarians/omnivores is at East Wind, but there didn’t seem to be a community-wide emphasis on “healthy living.” At the party friday night, I asked how many people do NOT smoke cigarettes and the consensus was that 8 people sitting in the circle (of 14 people) were non-smokers, but that those 8 people probably represented all of the non-smokers in the community.

As usual, there was plenty of guitar jamming and drums, a nice fire circle at the party, and hammocks everywhere (which they used to make and sell). There is a regular poker game (Texas hold-em) on the common house porch.

There are condoms everywhere. I found a basket of them outside the shower room, a basket in one of the bathrooms, and another one in the office. One member mentioned that at East Wind, it’s easier to have a kid than it is to have a dog. Requests for children are rarely (if ever) denied, while dogs are subject to a community-wide quota.

I saw a young deer, an armadillo and a shooting star (the second of my life), and I think I saw the Milky Way.

I saw a few signs of motion towards sustainability: composting toilets, water is from a well on the property, most buildings use fans instead of air conditioning, and they have a sizable garden (though I have no idea how much of their food comes from it). However, East Wind is still on-grid for power, and fossil fuel use was rampant - the community owns 11 vehicles and several tractors for farm uses. The nut-butters are produced with large electrical machines, and stored in a gigantic walk-in refrigerator. I got the feeling that most of their food was still purchased/imported. I didn’t notice any natural building or any particular emphasis on green design (passive solar or otherwise).
After I got to Earthaven, I talked with an intern who had visited East Wind for a few weeks, and to hear her describe it, East Wind is spoiled by their nut butter business. It is so successful that many people do not see a need to become more self-sufficient.

When hanging out by the creek, I asked when and how planning happens. Everyone laughed and Ryan (a 10-year member) asked, “planning? what’s that?” Granted, it may have been the wrong crowd to ask, but I still wonder how the big decisions are made about the community, future planning, and especially the nut-butter business. Ryan indicated that they used to have yearly meetings, but that they have become less frequent lately.
I’m curious as to who cleans the public spaces like the RB (common house + kitchen) and the showers. At DR and LV, they had weekly cleaning parties for the public areas. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone had adopted those areas and just did it for labor hours.

I wonder how productive the garden is and who tends it. It’s pretty big and seemed to be fairly productive, if a bit overgrown. At other communities, working in the garden was not a prized job.

I’d like to have spent more time exploring the land. I asked Ryan what his fix is and how he gets it. He responded that he doesn’t want for anything that he can’t get from a long walk on the land. Yohanen (the village “elder”) used to lead regular land-walks until very recently, and many people felt very familiar with most of the East Wind acreage.

If I am an activist, it felt like East Wind was full of passivists. Yohanen told me a couple times that those at East Wind are passive revolutionaries. Living a different lifestyle, but in a very un-obtrusive kind of way. I felt that it would be hard to get people together to do something outside the community, or even something within the community, if it was time-consuming and not entirely necessary. On the other hand, it was very laid back and seemed like a nice place to just relax and live a satisfying life day by day. When I’m all done with whatever it is I’m going to do in the world, I think I’d like to live at a place like East Wind.

I invite any East Wind members to contact me directly with corrections or comments.


August 24th, 2006 by Benjamin

While I was staying with April, we watched V for Vendetta. I made a mental connection between it and Fight Club. In each of these films, the show ends with the blowing-up of the establishment (parliament, credit card companies). The establishment is the enemy. It is totalitarian, controlling, oppressive, etc. And the good guys blow it up. Now to me, this is a new kind of story. Maybe hinting towards the “new kind of story” that Daniel Quinn talks about in Ishmael.

April made yummy vegan dumplings with a tomato sauce, I made my famous pinto beans (which seem to have a new recipe every time), we swam in the lake, and April was finally reunited with her cat.

On my way to my next destination, Natchez Trace State Park, I suddenly remembered that I have a friend in Memphis! I called up Mark Dinstuhl (one of the “four horsemen of data integration”) and he let me crash at his place. It’s a studio efficiency converted from a hotel room, but perfect for one person. We shared stories over good beer. What more can one ask for?

East Wind - First Impressions

August 21st, 2006 by Benjamin

I wrote this for a newsletter they were putting together at East Wind. I’ll write a more detailed summary about the mechanics of the community for another post.

I’ve been at East Wind for four days now, and I’m amazed that it exists at all.

When I first got in, Quinn (my greeter on the membership team) gave me the dime tour, pointing out the computer room, work areas, the men’s visitor hut (where I’m sleeping) and the RB (common house). He let me loose after about an hour. I bucked some hay (moved it from the field to the barn) with Dave, took a dip in the creek, and spent the rest of the evening hanging out next to the swimming hole. It seems like most of my time has been spent hanging out with people. Work gets done, but there are no schedules. There are quotas and sign-ups instead. Everyone seems to know how everything works. I didn’t need an orientation.

I could see myself settling into life here very easily. Everyone’s always got a clean bathroom, clean clothes, clean dishes and food in the fridge. Everyone puts in their fair share, but it’s not a job anymore, it’s part of life. East Wind seems like a place I’d like to retire. “Why not retire now?” I ask myself. Yoh (the village elder/idiot) loves talking about the “passive revolution” that East Wind is a part of. I’m just not ready to give into that yet. I’m not ready for that kind of bliss.

And this visit has been blissful. Two words: naked party. I have never before walked around bare-assed with a beer in my hand, and felt it was perfectly normal. It feels like an expression of humanity that gets repressed so often in mainstream society. The conversations have been great too. I feel like these are conversations among my friends. We talk about politics, religion, the nature of the universe - things important and inconsequential. It’s almost everything I want in life in one place.

There seems to be an undercurrent of interpersonal conflict, like the “constant low-level warfare” that tribal societies are known for. Catty notes on boards, gossip and rumors keep everyone on their toes. I’ve heard (but not yet experienced) that it can be much worse in other communities, where people are more passive-aggressive about their conflicts. I’m sure the social climate here serves some hidden purpose. It seems to be working so far, so who am I to knock it? Some people will always create drama, and some people avoid it.

How long does it take to get sick of the smell of roasted peanuts? I’ve only done three shifts but I still love it. There’s something about peeling dried Elmer’s glue off my hands that reminds me of kindergarten. Doing shifts in the “nuthouse” would not be difficult for me. I get to work with cool people, listen to great music, and I’m working from home! I wonder sometimes about sustainability at East Wind. It doesn’t seem to be a big priority now. But I get the feeling that when something needs to change, it will. There are a lot of creative people here - all problem solvers - and when the time comes, whatever needs to get done, will. East Wind seems to run itself.

I’ve had a great time at East Wind and would love to come back and visit again. And some day, when I feel like I’m ready to settle down, it might be a nice place to live.