Live Through This

The Simple Life

What it’s like to live on a commune.

CODA.

The son of the white chief* says his father sends us greetings of friendship and goodwill. This is kind, for we know he has little need of our friendship in return, because his people are many. They are like the grass that covers the vast prairies, while my people are few, and resemble the scattering trees of a wind-swept plain.

The great, and I presume also good, white chief sends us word that he wants to buy our lands but is willing to allow us to reserve enough to live on comfortably. This indeed appears generous, for the red man no longer has rights that he need respect, and the offer may be wise, also, for we are no longer in need of a great country. There was a time when our people covered the whole land as the waves of a wind-ruffled sea cover its shell-paved floor. But that time has long since passed away with the greatness of tribes almost forgotten….

Our great father, for I presume he is now our father as well as yours…sends us word by his son, who, no doubt, is a great chief among his people, that if we do as he desires, he will protect us. His brave armies will be to us a bristling wall of strength, and his great ships of war will fill our harbors so that our ancient enemies far to the northward, the Simsiams and Hydas, will no longer frighten our women and old men. Then he will be our father and we will be his children. But can this ever be? Your god loves your people and hates mine; he folds his strong arms lovingly around the white man and leads him as a father leads his infant son, but he has forsaken his red children; he makes your people wax strong every day, and soon they will fill the land; while our people are ebbing away like a fast-receding tide that will never flow again. The white man’s god cannot love his red children, or he would protect them. How then can we become brothers? How can your father become our father and bring us prosperity and awaken in us dreams of returning greatness?…

The ashes of our ancestors are sacred, and their final resting place is hallowed ground…. Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its winding rivers, its great mountains, and its sequestered vales, and they ever yearn in tenderest affections over the lonely-hearted living and often return to visit and comfort them…. Every part of this country is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hallowed by some fond memory or some sad experience of my tribe. Even the rocks that seem to lie dumb as they swelter in the sun along the silent seashore in solemn grandeur thrill with memories of past events connected with the fate of my people, and the very dust under your feet responds more lovingly to our footsteps than to yours, because it is the ashes of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch, for the soil is rich with the life of our kindred….

When the last red man shall have perished from the earth and his memory among white men shall have become a myth, these shores shall swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children’s children shall think themselves alone in the field, the shop, upon the highway or in the silence of the woods, they will not be alone…. At night when the streets of your cities and villages shall be silent, and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled and still love this beautiful land.

—From a speech delivered in 1854 by Chief Seeathl (Seattle), leader of the Suquamish and the Duwamish Indians in the Pacific Northwest, at a reception for the region’s new Commissioner of Indian Affairs, as reported by Dr. Henry Smith, who was there taking notes.

* “The white chief” = the U.S. president—at the time, Franklin Pierce.

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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.