Home from Iowa on Friday morning. 2am. We left Iowa at 7am. 19 hours in the rental car, and it wasn’t really that bad. Two of us from Twin Oaks drove out there, and on the way home we were carpooling with two men who were coming to visit the community. One is from England and the other lives in Australia. Both have studied and wrote about communities for most of their adult lives. They kept us well entertained through the cornfields of the midwest and the mountains of West Virginia. Chris, the Englander (author of Diggers and Dreamers, a guide to communal living in Britain), told us stories of strange annual festivals in England. The winner was the cheese rolling contest, where villagers have been rolling rounds of cheese down a mountain with a 70% grade, then chasing after them — scrambling furiously down the practically vertical slope — to see who can catch the cheese first… a 200 year-old tradition.

When we finally arrived back home, we drove the car up to the residences to unload. We had shut all the doors and were walking away from the car when suddenly the headlights flashed and we heard the simultaneous “click” of the four doors automatically locking. ??!??! What is this? Of course, I had left the keys on the front seat of the car so I wouldn’t loose them while shuffling around luggage. I went back and tried all the doors, and they were in fact locked. I get that most people live in places where leaving keys in the car isn’t the smartest thing in the world, and I appreciate the difference between those places and the place where I live. And yet, appreciating those differences did nothing for me at 2am when the keys were trapped in the front seat of an overly self-protective Chevy that contained all of my baggage in the trunk. Thank goodness for the wonders of Gene at AAA, who jimmied the lock this morning in mere minutes.

The conference was a great 3 days of academia, bringing me back to the question of wondering if grad school is a part of my future. The lectures by brilliant and semi-brilliant professors reinvigorated my academic mind at some points, and confirmed my frustration with meaningless pontification at others. It was amazing to meet Israeli kibbutz members who have been living in community for over 50 years, and hear them describe the changes that are taking place in the kibbutz movemtent. They’re becoming more and more privatized, more and more focused on individual resources… I worry about Twin Oaks heading in that direction.

It was also amazing to be onsite at a historic commune, the Amana Colonies (near Cedar Rapids). The community was established as a German religious community in 1855, and over 1,000 people lived communally until 1932, when they decided to privatize everything. Now it’s a small tourist trap, with souveniers and Beanie Babies in every “authentic” Amana Colony store. Still, it was fascinating to learn the history and see the seven small towns they had created, which are now quaint semi-suburbs. Maybe I’m being too harsh, it’s just that after seeing the life cycles of both Amana and the kibbutzim, I worry about the trajectory of Twin Oaks… the other Twin Oaker and I joked all week about “Ye Olde Hammock Shoppe” and the “Dairy Barn Theater”, with miniature hammocks and imitation genuine Twin Oaks tofu sold in the gift shop. Yikes.