Tuesday, October 24, 2006

gridless in humboldt county

we spent this past weekend in the wiles of northern california, in an environment i'd only read about in books. growing up in the midwest, i knew about the hippies on the west coast, the communes they created and fostered, and their determination to live without luxuries the cityfolk took for granted. i dreamed of families creating a community where life-sustaining chores were shared, where hard, life-affirming work was performed, and children were raised by a village of caring people.

imagine that scenario without the kids. that was pretty much it.

the farm we called home this past weekend had all the fixins my active imagination had created: a barn, a garden, sweeping vistas, ample space for creativity and solace. there were about 20 of us--mostly film makers--and each of us took advantage of our surroundings, occupying a space to enliven and reflect upon what nature had in store.

all of the everyday moments that characterize a day in the city were turned upside down: no electricity, flush toilets, recorded music, computers, or television. instead, we were in the enviable position of charting our course through our own creativity, tapping through the crust of our often over-tasked mind.

a few urban luxuries remained: a propane camping stove, various rei-inspired gadgets and gear, and one person exhumed an i-pod stereo from his car (although we could've survived without it). cooking was centered around rudimentary solar-powered ovens--a box, some reflective foil-based panels--and voila! roasted potatoes fresh from the garden. a composting toilet that produced humanure for the garden was a particularly impressive symbol of ingenuity. cold winters in humboldt caught my imagination: snow-bound inhabitants dependent on cross-country skis to reach the nearest town 20 miles away.

possibly the most magical moment of our trip was when i wandered over to the main house of the property. the house was built in the 60's and is nestled in a grove of redwoods, complete with a stream tumbling over boulders that forms a moat! there were several bridges to reach the house, and i made sure to walk over each enchanting walkway. the house and environs were dreamy.

one night the people who built the house stopped by the farm with their grown son. the son told stories of his upbringing, and how, at 13, he was allowed to live in one of the outbuildings (the octagon) by himself. of course, it wasn't all fun and games, as important life-sustaining chores had to be performed before and after school, but man--it was hard to imagine growing up in the country, far away from school buddies, and far-removed from their realities of television and electricity.

the farm is now run by our friends, a professor and a professional mountain man. their current plans include offering residencies and internships; their future plans may include undergraduate classes. imagine what a city kid could learn!

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