I informed him that his tag was stupid. He informed me that most people are dupes, and that this whole money-jobs-society-thing was a joke. That once you start living for freedom and you realize that love is real and money is not—not if you don’t want it to be—the world becomes your holy playground. He plucked a passage from The Book of the Secrets, by the spiritual leader Osho:
When one surrenders, one becomes like a valley. One becomes depth, not height. Then the whole existence begins to pour into him from everywhere…. The whole existence begins to pour!
Now I felt the muscles of my carefully maintained face clench; I felt my book learning resist his carefree ethic. Every part of me resisted his message, save for that gnawing ache that was sick of the world I knew.
We spooned, and he regaled me with stories about sleeping in the hollows of redwoods, about traveling kids who have nothing, but who band together, forming new families, taking care of one another and sharing what they’ve got. He told me about a commune called Wolf House, hidden in the desolate mountains of Northern California.
Wolf House has been around since the 1960s; it’s anarchist, and operates on the assumption that people are good and can manage themselves. There are no work schedules and no rules, and anyone can show up at any time. The Wolves only ask that you try to give at least as much as you take. So travelers pass through—some stay days, some years—scavenging, living off the land and pulling power from the wheel that spins in the stream. Its slogan is “Free land for free people.” In the garden a sign reads “GROW FOOD OR DIE.”
So, I told my boss that I had to jet because I felt my soul turning to sludge, and I could no longer force a smile. I sublet my room, and I set off with Nigh.
III. THE HEART POTATO.
I kept a journal during my time on the commune, written evidence that I use to remind me what it was really like, so I can neither romanticize it nor write it off as a dream, even now. These are bits and scraps, pieces of memories I wanted to keep.
The silence of Nigh whhppppp whhhhhhypppppinng sucking in twice, hitting the pipe. We thread our ascent up the perilous mountain: the road to the Wolf. My ears pop.
“I’ll meet you by the meadow to dig beds for some motherfuckin’ corn, man, and once we get that rototiller out we’ll be eaten’ all SORTS of corn corn chowder canned corn corn bread corn pudding yo I want to break out the barbecue this summer we gotta get our work done so we can be really sustainable I want us to be sustainable yo we were supposed to have bees last summer and wouldn’t it be great if we could make our own honey, but if we all threw down we could do so MUCH with this farm. We could make honey. We could have bees, man.” —Barnaby, who has wise eyes and a serious voice, a thick beard like from another ancient time piled on top his child-sized body, and two silvery hoops hooped around his nipples…
There is a turquoise American Spirit canister nailed to the white wall by the kitchen door. I had put that canister with that random assortment of things that I knew not what to do with. And I had forgotten it, but then earlier today El shuffled around peering into the ashtrays that are scattered around the porch and he said (jovially but, you know, a bit irritated): “Y’all kids been smoking ’em down to the very ends, not saving much for a trash shuffler like me.” And Nigh, always the giver, said, “You can roll some from mine,” to which El replied, “Nah, no thanks. I’m a trash collector, anyhow. But I’ll put these”—and he lays out his palm, showing us the many butts he has scrounged with a big I-gotcha grin—“here, right here. Always leave ’em here,” and he points to the canister nailed to the wall.
El. At first I brushed him off as one of those garrulous old men that communes attract, but his face is beginning to haunt me in one of those higher-being ways, those higher beings that eat your soul with their eyes. He is old and soily and milks the goats at seven and starts the fire and makes oats every morning for everyone. “El’s living out his dream here,” we heard Rachel hiss to Marshall one morning as they spoke in their shouts-lowered-to-whispers. “His dream.” And then we heard Marshall follow Rachel around the kitchen as she made breakfast for everyone with their baby, Chakra, strapped to her back, and when the shout-whispers ceased we tiptoed downstairs and found that Rachel had once again whipped up something out of nothing, making gravy with cilantro from the garden plus flour, and it was goo-oood, gravy on bread fresh outta the oven. Rachel does this all with her seven-month-old swaddled tight to her back with one long strip of white cotton, and she bends over at the hip and lets the baby dangle down her back and fidgets with the cloth till it is centered again and she swings the cloth ends over and around each shoulder and into an elegant knot, and she blows the conch shell, announcing breakfast.
“Yeah dude, sounds like we don’t have as many food stamps as we thought.”
“I have some vodka I don’t want to fuck with. You can fuck with it.”
This morning as we snuggled in our makeshift home, a pile of quilts on top of some wood planks, Nigh said, “I dreamed about us homesteading. Every night I dream about us homesteading.” We’ve met a lot of kids here who dream of homesteading: living off the land and off the grid, leading a self-sufficient, sustainable lifestyle. “I’m still anxious about what Rachel said,” I replied. Because last night she said she’d read a really great book that was floating around and someone said, “Well, what was it about?” and Rachel looked blankly at them and paused. “Well,” she said, “I should start by saying, you’re asking someone who has a hard time remembering things,” and she paused again as she looked up at the expectant faces and they waited, so she continued: “And also I should say that when I read, I don’t read things front to back, I skip around.” And still the faces looked up at her from the shadowy porch, the big moon, and then she said that the book was something about gardening with the moon, and planting your beds in spiraling patterns to align with the moon, somehow. And later she turned to Marshall, saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice not to have to worry, not to have to bust your ass when you’re older just for some cucumber? Just to be able to eat?” and Marshall looked at her defensively and like she was a complete idiot and said, “Yeah, that’s what we’re DOING, that’s what you DO, you work hard when you’re young and strong so you can enjoy it when you’re older. That’s what my grandfather did—he built his house when he was young so he could sit in it when he was old.” And Rachel looked at him imploringly and said, “But…that’s not what we’re doing.”