Live Through This

The Simple Life

What it’s like to live on a commune.

And then the conversation turned to scabies, which is when little bugs burrow down and lay nests and build homes UNDERNEATH your skin and they itch like mad but when you scratch them they move, they spread and lay more eggs and more nests, nesting underneath your skin. Leap imitated having scabies, being all itchy and shit, jumping around on the log bench. Leap got ’em because she slept with a punk who had ’em. “Leap’s had ’em like four times,” Nomad says, and then Marshall, who’s sprawled out over the armchair, says that he had ’em when he was in jail. “Scabies…like, all that shit. That shit sucks, man,” and he makes a mean-dog face and pretends to scratch like a gorilla. And I think the most precise way to describe him would be to say that he was a dog in a recent past life, which might also explain why these guys call themselves Wolves. They’re like animal-men in the wild, where creatures get lost in the timber, are forgotten, and evolve into strange and wild things—weird growths, evolutions, the fight for survival leading to antisocial characteristics bred by instinct and freedom…

***

Rachel: “Hey, Marshall, did I show you the heart potato that I found today? Look at it, it’s a heart.”

***

“The end of the world is coming in December, so there’ll be a lot of people coming up here. They’ve already made a movie about it, hahaha, so you’d better be prepared.” A meeting has been called with the Greater Family. The Greater Family lives over that ridge, and consist of some hippies that used to live at the Wolf. “I’m serious,” Pete continues. “A lot of people think the end is coming, ma-an. And a lot of those people will be coming here to see it happen. Get ready to can some food. Get ready to feed those passers-by…”

We go around the fire-pit and do check-ins. Barnaby says, “I want to get better at my primitive skills. This is a wilderness commune, and I think it’s important that we teach everybody primitive skills.” Marshall says, “My knee’s not killing me and I am up and ready to do stuff,” with a real hard emphasis on do stuff. Another girl is there, a girl I’ve never seen before and I don’t know her name but apparently she hides out in her cabin and cries, cries.

Anake sits cross-legged and all in black with little round glasses; she looks disturbed by Marshall’s words and the crying girl. “All work is valuable,” she says. “That person alone in the cabin might be writing the great story of this place. You don’t want to make them feel as if they’re not valuable. All work is valuable.”

Leap rubs the petals of a dandelion between her fingers, and her gravelly voice, offset by her funny hippie-dippy garb and bare feet, makes her words sound weightier: “I want to live a simple life,” she says. “I want to do what is possible to make a simple life possible.”

IV. THE SIMPLE LIFE.

Leap’s words keep coming to mind when I think about Wolf House now. What did she mean by a simple life? Why did she make it seem like it’s difficult to live simply—and why did she feel the need to go all the way up to the Wolf to do so?

Simple might mean natural: having the space and time to sit on a knoll, watching insects meander and gazing at the big sky above. Maybe simple means being able to ask for less. Making the effort to make (and fully appreciate) the bare necessities required for life (food, shelter, clothes), rather than bee-lining straight to those “higher” things (consumerism, erudition). A simple life: a life where one fully understands that bread does not come from the store, and milk does not come from a carton. Grinding the wheat berries, waiting for the loaves to rise; feeling the warm milk spurt from the teat as the cow chews her cud in a cozy barn. A life where your work does not turn into a commodity, but feeds you.

Clocks and mirrors were in short supply at Wolf House. When you never care what time it is you can be more aware of the present. And when you rarely see reflections of yourself, you stop caring what you look like. You start noticing more, blending into the forest. So hippies dream different dreams than those who dream in Babylon.* It’s a humble dream, this simple life.

****

Humility is a hard sell. These past couple of months I’ve been working at a goat farm in New Mexico. It’s chock-full of squares. Nigh has returned to Wolf House, and I’m discovering that the simple life is a drag without some nature-loving hippies. Lately, every time I water the squash garden, I sob. I sob because I am too worn out to find the starry night miraculous; I sob because milking goats is so rote that I find myself treating the animals like machines. I find myself yearning again for the American Dream of “success,” even if I don’t know what that means. I crave a supermarket.

Meanwhile, Nigh’s signing his emails “Let’s fuck our futures and be buddhas together,” and I’m stuck trawling Facebook, looking at photos of cutting-edge Manhattanites and posting “fuuck hippies” on my Wall.

But “fuuck hippies” got too many Likes and led to too many witticisms about hippies and sex.

Nigh’s response: “fuck egos and clocks and money, i say. fuck concrete and clean clothes.”

Then Jo Ann, my old hippie friend, weighed in and set us back on our feet: “Sun Bear said, ‘Don’t tell me your philosophy unless it grows more corn.’” ♦

* Babylon: hippie slang for Western consumer society. (Also, an ancient Biblical city.)

Anna McConnell is still working on the goat farm. She is making plans to return to “the Wolf.” You can read more about her and Nigh’s travels here.

If you’re interested in communal living, or “intentional communities,” check out IC.org. If you’re interested in volunteering on a farm, go to WWOOF.org.

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33 Comments

  • Flower November 21st, 2012 3:29 PM

    I’ve always had a vague idea that I want to live in a commune one day because I hate the whole idea of 9 to 5 and schedule and stuff is scarier than not having much structure. This is brilliantly written <3

    http://www.bobblyrainbowsocks.blogspot.com

  • Hannah November 21st, 2012 3:34 PM

    The link at the bottom of page is wrong, I think it’s supposed to be wwoof.org

  • caro nation November 21st, 2012 3:35 PM

    Oh how I love this.

  • Hannah November 21st, 2012 3:38 PM

    I loved this article. It makes me want to reevaluate my whole life and what I’m working towards in my future. It’s intriguing and awesome.

  • ometembe November 21st, 2012 3:50 PM

    I enjoyed the way this piece was written and appreciate it’s point of view. I really like how it made me reflect on how the idea of “a simple life” is radically different depending on your personal history.
    For me, it has a lot to do with family. My parents grew up in a developing nation, with one-bedroom apartments for their whole family, in a country that has widespread poverty. They worked hard to be able to immigrate, work, and have a life that yes, is riddled with commodities and suburbs and cars, but is an enormous comfort for their parents and relatives in their home country, to know how well they are doing and how different of a life their children (me!) can have.

    I feel like to forsake what my parents worked so hard to give me would be insulting, or to take it for granted to an incredible degree. But I think I just don’t have the privilege of being able to do that – I kind of have this guilt as a first-generation child to get a job and be really successful so my parents know it wasn’t all in vain. I try to remember that living “simply” in much of the world is just plain living.

    • jenaimarley November 21st, 2012 4:53 PM

      This is really interesting point!
      I really get what you mean about privilege and guilt. I think for a lot of hippies, they truly want to escape our consumerist/capitalist culture and their often white and/or well-off background (for which they feel guilt and spite) but they have the privelege to fall back upon it if need be.

    • wd37 November 22nd, 2012 2:27 AM

      “I try to remember that living “simply” in much of the world is just plain living.”

      this is so true.

    • a-anti-anticapitalista November 22nd, 2012 9:47 AM

      I am also an immigrant and my parents also struggled before coming here and while being here, but the way I see it is that most immigrants (all except the wealthy ones pretty much) come to this country BECAUSE of things this country or the system it protects so strongly have done -even the ones coming because of political asylum, like my parents. We lose our lives and we struggle, and people who are born here struggle too, all because of that, and yet we are encouraged to be blind to this and to work hard to become the same as those who once oppressed us. My parents may not approve of it, but my conscience is not clean if I do not work to abolish the system that has ruined our lives and made us struggle so hard.

  • anoziram November 21st, 2012 3:52 PM

    This was really impressive. I’ve been really curious about living on communes ever since I knew what they were (and had my parents thinking I was a legit hippie for quite a while too), and the idea fascinates me.
    Thanks so much for writing this in such an interesting way, Anna.
    Rookie, thank YOU for being so splendid.

  • Mary the freak November 21st, 2012 4:05 PM

    The collage at the top. I am dying.
    Anyways, I have always planned and wanted to live in a commune. I am really exited..
    amazing and helpful article! :))

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

    Ps: so exited for this gangnam style article…!

  • ♡ reba ♡ November 21st, 2012 4:30 PM

    this was just really well written, lovely and thought provoking, i loved it :-) :-) xxxx

  • ROAD KAT November 21st, 2012 4:32 PM

    This was written in a brilliant way. I’m a drifter / wanderer / traveller of sorts and seeing this kind of stuff on Rookie makes me so incredibly happy. Thank you for being so lovely!

    http://roadkat.blogspot.com/

  • Tangerine November 21st, 2012 4:36 PM

    Love this article. It’s so beautiful. And only serves to confirm what I already know- I could never enjoy living on a commune. (Showers! Time to read books! Thai food! All better than living “simply”) Growing my own food is fun, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t have to grow ALL of it.
    The speech at the end, by the way, made me cry at my desk.

  • jenaimarley November 21st, 2012 4:47 PM

    This is really rad.
    My mom grew up in VW vans in Woodstock and Morocco and my family has been on the edge of hippie-ism and communes ever since. So I acknowledge and am very thankful for the raw and honest but respectful portrayal of these things.
    Thank you!
    Also I want to do WWOOF!!!!

  • a-anti-anticapitalista November 21st, 2012 5:54 PM

    This is great and all, and a lot of people enjoy the squatter and/or hippiecommune lifestyle, and good for them if they go into it… BUT I think that everyone already has this idea that the only alternative to capitalist/state living is having a “bathing-optional” life away from technology or with a bunch of people packed into one squat house or living in a field and sleeping in hammocks, and while that lifestyle is just as good as any other, it’s not for everyone. I don’t think it does any good for humanity to make them think that there are so few alternatives to capitalism and that it’s either this or that, that you are either a consumer or a revolutionary, when it is not true. There are ways to live the way we live right now while leading truly free lives, and there are examples to draw from like anarchist spain or the worker-owned factories in argentina. It’s okey to want to live free right here and now, but if you want everyone to be free the best way is to work to show people that another world, with a million different options as far as their imagination can take them, is possible within this one, that they can have a freer and more meaningful version of the lifestyle they lead now, that everything we have now can be kept without capitalism/the state and that there is no limit.

  • angelsandlace November 21st, 2012 6:14 PM

    Wowowowowowow. This article is so good. So many people think of communes and hippies and everything associated with those words without really knowing what it’s like, so it’s really interesting to be able to read about it from someone who’s actually lived on a commune’s point of view. Wowza. I am blown away by this writing!

  • Ben November 21st, 2012 9:02 PM

    I often think about all the things society views as normal and expects everyone to do like brushing your teeth every morning and showering daily and shaving and having jobs where we earn money we can trade for other stuff we want and how this is not how it always was and this is not the only way. I’m really inspired by this and someday would like to live in nature/a commune and enjoy nature and not having too many restrictions but i do see myself going back to living more “normal” after a while, but also keeping with me the lessons i learn and still appreciating nature more and not caring what society thinks. I think it would definatly be a cool life changing experience tho.

    • a-anti-anticapitalista November 22nd, 2012 9:42 AM

      There is a way to live a “normal” life without having a 9 to 5 job and being enslaved to money and bosses and the state. It’s just that we have to work for that to happen.

  • LB November 21st, 2012 9:47 PM

    Great, awesome article. I really am interested in intentional communities. If others are interested a great book is “Children of the Counterculture” by John Rothchild and Susan Wolf. It was published in 1974 and describes in first person trips to communes all across America.

  • TinaRibena November 21st, 2012 11:02 PM

    Thank you yet again for a moving and beautiful article! This really resonated with me, as recently I’ve been feeling a lot like I don’t belong with this modern suburban lifestyle. I’d love to go to a place like Wolf, a place where people can be at one with the earth again! So thank you, Anna, you wrote my dreams :) xx

  • wd37 November 22nd, 2012 2:26 AM

    this is the best thing ever thanks

  • LilySew November 22nd, 2012 4:29 AM

    This article is so interesting, i feel like it offers a very real insight into this lifestyle. To be honest, I probably could’ve hardly told you what a commune was before reading this article. Thankyou :D

    http://sewoverdressed.blogspot.com.au/

  • Julia November 22nd, 2012 6:09 AM

    best EVER.

  • sweetvalleyhi November 22nd, 2012 6:38 AM

    nostalgic/dreamy/honest – amazing

  • Emma November 22nd, 2012 10:34 AM

    This is beautiful ♥

  • RockHatesMiriam November 22nd, 2012 11:37 AM

    LOVE this! <3
    I've always wanted to live in a commune and this was sooo beautifully :)

    http://www.pompandceremony.blogspot.com

  • 63me63 November 22nd, 2012 1:16 PM

    this is so reminiscent of the electric kool-aid acid test. similar styles of writing. people should read that book if they found this interesting

  • Elizabete November 23rd, 2012 10:51 AM

    This article really resonated with me! Lately i have been thinking about consumerism culture, capitalism, veganism, meaning of life ( cliche i know ) and such things quite a lot and kept thinking after reading this too.

    That was interesting to see an insiders point of view. It made me wonder if i would like to live like this too and came to conclusion that it wouldn’t be exactly what i’m looking for. I kind of feel like there wouldn’t be enough personal development for me ( no offense, might be perfect for others) and wouldn’t change much in the whole consumerist society, on the other hand though, everyone can make a difference :)

    http://melodyfairitale.wordpress.com/

  • Melissa @ WildFlowerChild November 23rd, 2012 4:56 PM

    My boyfriend and I plan on moving to a commune within the next few years. It’s been a dream of mine since I was younger.

    <3 Melissa
    http://wildflwrchild.blogspot.com

  • izbee November 28th, 2012 10:22 PM

    Do you guys know about any organic farming opportunities for under-18ers? I’d love to do some work on a farm this summer but all of the WWOOF programs are for people over 18. Thanks!

  • Cutesycreator aka Monica January 24th, 2013 1:55 PM

    This is beautiful. Wow. Just… wow.

  • Lyla Maloney March 21st, 2013 11:03 AM

    This article was interesting and beautifully written, but as a Navajo, I wonder about the inclusion of the speech at the end. It’s context seems to be appropriated for the crisis of this article.