In November, I met up with my boyfriend, Nigh, at Wolf House,* an anarchist commune in the mountains of Northern California. I went there to see what was up with commune life, and also so Nigh and I could repair our bruised and still rather tender relationship. This is a take on what happened.
The moment I walked into the Main House I felt my skin grow hot and my guts constrict. How was I not supposed to feel jealous when there was a drop-dead gorgeous punk sitting cross-legged in the kitchen playing Magic the Gathering, wearing nothing but a face tattoo of a bear claw, and an animal hide dangling down her back? In the days that followed, I’d learn that this girl wasn’t planning on putting on actual clothes any time soon—she was acclimating her body to the mountain air to prepare for the frigid dead of winter. Some days she’d accessorize her minimal costume with the dried-up faces of two skinned foxes worn like pasties, each face barely covering a nipple. How was I not supposed to feel insecure and angry when she would hover in full-frontal nakedness around the wood-burning stove as Nigh and I attempted to work on our very fragile relationship over morning coffee? Next to her, I felt like a terribly plain and lumpy square.
I am all for playing around with (lack of) clothing, and this girl did nothing wrong, so I did not feel angry at her. What I felt instead was a very hot sadness bubbling somewhere between my uterus and sternum. This sadness contained dread, a panickiness like my heart was slowly being squeegeed, jealousy, plus a nagging feeling of guilt for being jealous. After all, modern feminist women aren’t supposed to feel resentful towards other women, right? Moreover, hippies don’t harbor negative thoughts towards other souls…right? If only I were a little more chill, everything would be OK. But it was hard for me to chill when I knew that at any day I could be snowed in, stuck inside a house with my boyfriend and this naked babe for who knows how long. I suppose that I could’ve stripped down too, but man, it was cold, and I wore my hat and coat and scarf inside all the time. Even to bed.
The nudist left before the big snow hit, but then there were the yogis to deal with. There were other cabins at the Wolf, but because the Main House had hydroelectricity and a constantly fed fireplace—because it was the only warm and well-lit place—most of us spent all our time there. We called it “Town Square.” We learned to do our private work in public space. So this ridiculously cute contingent of small blonde dreadlocked girls would strip down to their long johns and flimsy cotton bras to do yoga. There wasn’t that much else to do, so it seemed like they were constantly contorting their half-naked bodies in the middle of the Square. They’d hold their hands in prayer, their bodies like arrows, before dipping into downward dog, their bums rising toward heaven, and then curve their bodies into cobra and flip onto their backs, thrusting their pelvises higher and higher… I could have joined them, but I didn’t. Instead I sat around and watched—and watched others watch, and watched Nigh to see if he was watching—like a moldy, grumpy, bubbly-guts-jealous creep.
You should see the the way Nigh cuddles Zebbie the goat or the way the pigs (who squeal and run from everyone) let Nigh touch them. The point is that Nigh is super-attuned to the vibrations of others, so he sensed my discomfort. (In retrospect, I don’t think I was too subtle at disguising my emotion.) And so Nigh acted like a Hassid forced to share sidewalk space with scantily clad hipsters in East Williamsburg: his eyes were constantly down.
Meanwhile, everyone else was cuddly. I should mention that there was a large crew of self-proclaimed witches wintering at the Wolf who lauded erotica and used sex-magic (spells involving sex and sex juices) to reclaim power over their bodies. (Their spokeswitch was Lola B’Moanin, a female-bodied person with an alpha-male personality who had done stints in the army and on fashion runways before she become a witch.) The hippies call one another “family” and lament the individual’s isolation in Babylon (what they call the outside world), which they combat with ample hugs and shoulder rubs. Also, there was an approximate 3:1 ratio of males to females at the Wolf, and as the days grew shorter and the snow piled up and the possibility of escape became more and more remote, the sexual frustration of the group grew increasingly apparent. At the men’s-group meeting, Nigh told me, it was agreed that things would be a whole lot better if there were more females. “It’s natural! It’s gross, but it is the natural balance of things,” said Crack, and Bluebottle admitted, “I’m soo-ooo lonely.” Even Sun—irritatingly blissed-out and enlightened Sun, who went on a spiritual journey in India and is always beaming a face full of light, reciting Hafez in his goofy rainbow-colored scarf knit with thick yarn—confessed, “You know, I seem happy, but I’m actually a pretty lonely guy. I’m lonely.” Frustration appeared in dry-erase pleas on the board hung above the dish rack: Klamath is giving out free massages for anyone on dish duty! Or: Cuddle Puddle tonight!!
Everyone was showering everyone else with Universal Love. Rated G, but still, the line between a friendly hug and a sexy touch was too ambiguous for my comfort; plus I didn’t like the idea of Nigh cuddling up on other girls. So we—the only young monogamous couple at the Wolf—kept our hands to ourselves. As someone who didn’t identify as a hippie or a witch but just as a confused human, I was already feeling pretty alienated from the kids at the Wolf, and the fact that Nigh and I weren’t part of the cuddliness only added to my feeling of isolation.
* Some hippies don’t like it when you take a photograph and they’re in it. They say it takes a piece of their soul, or something like that. So, out of respect for the commune and the communitarians, the names of the commune and its dwellers have been changed.