Category: cycles


lots of fire!

Tomorrow is my 30th birthday — it feels pretty big, much more than any other birthday since 20, I think.  21 was no big deal because I already drank alcohol, and not much of it, so nothing really changed.   There’s something about my sense of self that changes with these decade birthdays… a shift in my perspective on who I am in the world.

30 feels like turning outward, after spending my 20s learning about myself and testing out my ideas and ideals.  My 20s was about experiencing and experimenting, opening up to new possibilities and pushing perceived limits… and then noticing how I felt, how other people reacted, and how I felt about other people’s reactions.  Data collection, my 20’s.

And now I have a sense of a mandate to act on the information I’ve gathered.  I know myself fairly well — I know my tendencies, my emotional and mental “gravitations”.   I know the well-worn paths and the traps that lie therein.  It’s my job now to take responsibility for all that, and navigate gracefully around the traps.

I know how to open when I’m shut down, and I know how I justify not opening up.  I know that I have a tendency to be controlling, and I know the power and the danger of that habit.  I know the things I need to do to take care of myself, and I know I enjoy life more when I do them:

  • EAT WELL– avoid wheat and sugar, and don’t skip meals
  • DRINK A LOT OF WATER — I need a beautiful water bottle that I carry everywhere, otherwise I forget to drink
  • GO TO BED EARLY — I can’t let Facebook suck me in night after night… I need to give myself a bedtime
  • WRITE IN MY JOURNAL DAILY —  I need a daily routine where I write at the same time every day (right now it’s when Aurora naps)
  • WORK WITH TAROT CARDS REGULARLY — I need to give myself over to magical experience to get out of the illusion that I’m in control here
  • GET OUT OF THE HOUSE WITH AURORA — I need to plan things the day before so in the morning we get up and GO!
  • WALK IN THE WOODS — I need to have time surrounded by the creations of raw nature, rather than the creations of people
  • WORK WITH PLANTS — I need a garden, and I need to be making medicine from herbs
  • DANCE — I need to have a regular date with myself for dancing, otherwise I let it slide
  • CHALLENGE MYSELF — I get bored if things are easy… I need to be challenging myself emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually if I’m going to feel satisfied with my life, because I want to be growing.

And the purpose of all of this is shifting to be more outward now — not just the development of self-awareness from my 20s, but now shifting outward to being of service, making my life a contribution to the communities I’m a part of.  This family, my circles of friends, this city, this world… humanity.   I feel like I’ve been scrambling since Aurora was born (15 months ago!) to reconfigure my modes of service.  It’s hard to be an “activist’ as I wash diapers and dishes at home.  As it’s all played out, though, I find myself focusing on theater and ritual as my contributions.  Jeffrey has supported me in performing in 2 shows in the last 6 months, staying with Aurora during rehearsals and performances.  The stage has always called me… from my first role as Goldilocks in kindergarten, right up to tonight’s opening night for Godspell.   Yes, this is a clear path for me.  Sometimes it seems like it’s so obvious that I forget I’m an actress, when I’m in angst about not having a focus, not having a “profession”.  I do, it just doesn’t pay.

Then the other path, more recently acknowledged, is that of holding space for ritual.  Being by my Grandma’s side during the last days of her life inspired me to pursue work as a chaplain, after I was already in training to become a doula.  Holding sacred space for birth and death (and marriage, and divorce, and other life transitions) is another clear path that stays lit when I’m confused about everything else.

I think writing all this out here helps me claim it, helps me say “YES — this is who I am right now, on the eve of my 30th birthday”.  Of course I have no idea what comes next, what I’ll learn in this next decade.  But, controlling as I am, I know I thrive when I have a clear and tangible plan for where I’m headed… even if it turns out to completely change.  I’ve learned that much about myself… so I move forward with that information, doing the best I can.

I started working on my first few doula training assignments after Rora went to sleep last night (and after I woke up 2 hours later, after falling asleep nursing her).

One of the first assignments was to write about an experience of someone dying, and look for similarities with the process of birth.  After writing until 2am, I realized that it’s Halloween today!  What a treat, to be exploring death on the day we honor the spirits that have crossed over!

Here’s what I wrote:

I was able to be with my maternal Grandma in the last two days of her life, through her death, and afterwards with my family as we processed the experience.  Being with her as she transitioned out of her body brought me to a deeper awareness of that sacred time between the spirit world and the physical world – and in fact, taught me tangibly that there isn’t such a clear distinction!

She was in a bed provided by hospice, set up in the living room of my aunt’s house.  We tried to make that space quiet and focused, but too often we became chatty and irreverent – and she clearly let us know that it was “TOO MUCH!”.  She didn’t like people casually talking or moving too quickly.  She wanted things done to her slowly, ever slower.  She wanted water, right up to her last hours, after she had refused food and medicine for days.  She wanted sunshine, and fresh air in the room.  Over the last two days, she wanted less and less restricting her body – first the pillows around her had to be a certain way, then no blankets covering her legs, then her shirt needed to be unbuttoned, then it came off altogether.  The oxygen tube around her neck was a constant irritation, and we finally removed it so she could be more comfortable.  She was adamant that she didn’t want anything to prolong her death – “Why is it taking so LONG?”

She often seemed frustrated when we didn’t understand what she was talking about, when she spoke out in the midst of a trance/sleep state.  She was experiencing something that none of the rest of us were experiencing, and we could often only guess at what she meant.  When we “got it”, she was clearly relieved and grateful.  She liked to be sung to, and gently touched.  She didn’t want to be alone.  She wanted to make sure she wasn’t being a burden to any of us, and at the same time, she clearly asked for what she wanted and needed.  “I might never taste carrot juice again if I don’t get some now!” Her social inhibitions mostly evaporated, making clear requests without politeness.  “I’m being myself for the first time.”

The day she died, the energetic shift in the hours beforehand was tangible to all of us on some level, though I don’t know how consciously.  We didn’t know she was going to die that day, but we all made significant changes that, looking back, indicated some awareness that everything was changing.  We spoke more softly, moved cellphones out of the room, and cleared the bedside clutter that had accumulated, replacing it with a few photographs and flowers.  We hung a blue curtain in the window, to soften the light.  Two of my aunts spent the day finding peace with each other, and were honoring each other over my grandma’s body when she took her last breath.

In the moments immediately after her heart stopped beating, we gathered in the room and celebrated her transition.  One aunt yelled “Hallelujah!” in a loving mimic of my faith-filled grandma.  I felt her spirit throughout the room, filling the space in a slow expansion.  I felt her on my body, in my body, and growing to encompass and permeate the whole house, then the city and the mountains and the globe and the stars and eventually the Whole Universe.  As I felt her spirit, I felt a taste of that Wholeness, an awareness that the only difference between the physical world and the spirit world is a perceived experience of the limitations of space and time.

I see clear parallels between death and birth after being with Grandma through her journey: the absolute need for sacred space, the slowing of time, the need for us to let her do and be and say whatever she needed and wanted to.  We were there to serve her, to honor her, and to witness her journey.  We responded to her requests and tried to intuit what she might want, but never forced her to do something that we thought she should do.  I guess the big difference between birth and death is that once you know someone is dying, there’s no need to fear death, or work to prevent it.  With birth, there remains the possibility (and thus the fear?) that the mother or baby could die, so we walk the balance between pursuing life and accepting death… while with someone ready to die, it’s just about surrender.

But then again, maybe birth is a different kind of surrender — surrendering to life.

I left Twin Oaks this morning with the communal trip into town.  I’m using the library as my decompression zone for a few hours, before I spend a week with my partner who lives here near Charlottesville.

I want to write about leaving, and right now it’s too raw.  Sorry, readers.  I want to write from my rawest self here, and at this moment my rawest self doesn’t have the words for what I’m feeling.  I spent the last few days at Twin Oaks feeling like a ghost, physically there but not engaged in what everyone else was experiencing, distinctly seperate.  And now… I’m gone.

I took the artwork down from my walls last night.  I’ve been packing in small bursts since last week, books first, since there’s little to cull and they’re easy to stack in boxes and the quickly-bare shelves affirm my intention to leave.  Then art supplies, choosing what to pack away, what to bring on my travels, and what to let go to the universe.  I’m a hoarder, especially when it comes to art supplies.  If I think I might want to use something later (tissue paper, ribbons, a random tube of paint), I put it in the “art tower,” a set of shelves I devoted purely to supplies for creative expression.  Twin Oaks helps me feed this slight obsession — we have a “grabs” table up at the main dining hall, and there’s often weird photographs, scraps of fabric,  and earrings-that-could-be-turned-into-something-else.  I try to be selective…

As for packing, the artwork coming down from the walls was significant for me.  Up until now, my room has still felt like “home” despite the boxes all over the floor and the empty shelves.  I noticed myself feeling antsy and anxious while I was packing up my “body supplies” (medicine and makeup that I’ve scarcely used in the last 3.5 years).  I realized that I didn’t feel like I was REALLY packing to leave… more like I was packing for a trip that I’d be returning from at some point.  But that’s NOT what I’m doing, and the emotional discord with reality was distressing to me.  I decided that I needed to have a more tangible space of transition for these last four days (FOUR DAYS!).  So I spent the late evening talking with a friend who sat on my bed while I meticulously pulled out thumbtacks and took down posters and paintings and photos and the smearing genius of my 3 year-old friend Willow.

Behind a few of the posters, I found love notes taped to the wall, some from over a month ago, some from as recent as New Year’s Eve.  Paxus strikes again — the master of love letter delivery.  He and I are in a major transition in our relationship as I leave the commune and align my life more closely with another partner.  We’ve struggled and fought the change, and now we’re moving into a place of accepting each others’ lives for what they are.  He has a new lover here who I’m in awe of, who I’ve respected from afar for years.  Seeing them together and seeing him growing in new ways is a joy and a relief for me, most of the time.  Some moments of grieving what we’ve lost and feeling envy when I see it in them… for the most part, I’m happy that we’re both in powerful relationships and continue to feel the power of who we are together.  The whole “monogamy/polyamory” question has been coming up a lot — Free and I experimented with a “sexually exclusive” relationship for awhile and discovered that it felt too restrictive and didn’t credit the trust we have for each other.  We ended up agreeing that we both feel we want to be “sexually focused” with each other right now, and carrying that as an intention (rather than a rule) feels more in line with how we want to engage with each other and with other people.  I’m not interested in pursuing sexual energy with other people, but if it’s there I’m not going to feel guilty or ignore it.

so many changes…

I helped kill a cow this morning… a steer, actually.  We keep all the females around until they’re done producing milk.  All the males that are born go to the “beefie” herd and are slaughtered at about 3 years old.  I moved here almost three and a half years ago, and joined the milking crew almost immediately.  I probably saw this one as a calf, and maybe even helped with his birth. Today I was a part of his death.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an animal die before.  I don’t think I’ve ever really seen Death happen.  I’ve seen plenty of dead creatures — just last week my partner Free found a recently-hit deer on the side of the road, and he hauled it home in the back of his truck and we spent half of our date skinning and gutting it.  We stayed up until 2 in the morning while he butchered the meat.  I mostly watched.  I was fascinated by the process, and even more than that, by the concept of something living as an independent being becoming an inanimate hunk of matter.  When I returned to Twin Oaks the next day, I asked Woody to let me know the next time he was going to kill a cow.

I almost didn’t go  this morning.  I woke up early and laid in bed for awhile, trying to imagine what it would be like to see a cow die… such a huge creature, an animal that I’ve worked with so intimately as a milker, an animal that I grew so fond of that I eventually gave up milking and stopped eating dairy products.  After about a year, I returned to eating cheese and butter, though I didn’t start milking again until just a few months ago when the dairy crew was sparse and needed some help getting shifts covered.  And then this morning, I had the opportunity to observe and participate in the other end of our dairy program.

I was running late because of my hesitation, and I had to jog to catch up with the crew of eight other people who were already on their way from the barn to get the steer from the “beefie” pasture.  When we arrived, Woody went through the gate with a bucket of grain to choose which one would be killed.  The steers were curious at first, but each one backed away quickly when Woody approached.  It seemed, though I don’t know if it’s true, that they recognized Woody as the one who took cows away and never brought them back.  He finally separated one large steer, and coaxed it through the gate.  Once through, it started running and bucking in the open field, then calmed down and walked slowly as the group loosely surrounded it.  Another helper held the bucket of grain to his mouth when he paused, teasing him forward.  As he walked away from his herd, I had a distinct awareness of his separation from the others as a predecessor to his death.  He was quite alone.

He came easily most of the way, then stopped suddenly when we got close to the barn.  Woody said it might have been the sound of the tractor turning the compost — I think it was the steer sensing what he was moving towards.  Perhaps it was the energy of the barn where so many others had been killed, perhaps it was the intention growing in each of us, or just Woody, as we guided him closer.  Regardless, he was spooked, and we had a wild few minutes trying to corral him and keep him from running down the road.  We finally got him going back towards the barn, and he actually ran directly to the corner where Woody has killed all the cows — 5 so far this year, including this one.

Once he was in the corner, he was able to smell the blood from the previous kills.  We had gathered around fairly tightly so he couldn’t bolt, and he let out a load of shit and then started turning and pacing and snorting and kicking.  Woody picked up the shotgun and loaded a bullet.  The more experienced helpers covered their ears — I was transfixed by the steer, watching and feeling his fear.

The shot surprised me; Woody got him right under the ear and he immediately dropped.  Suddenly this lively and active creature was collapsed on its side, unmoving, in a heap in the dirt.  Woody grabbed a knife and immediately started severing the head from the body to cut the spinal cord and let the arteries empty.  Once done, he tossed the head to the side for Elona, one of his more experienced helpers, to cut out the tongue.  Once the head was off, the body still moved, muscles responding even without the central command of the brain.  We waited before doing anything else while the legs kicked aggressively and blood continued to drain from the neck.  Woody turned on classical music in the barn and smoked a hand-rolled cigarette.  I watched intently, tears streaming down my face from the intensity.  Watching life suddenly evaporate, seeing the transition from alive to dead… the union of body and spirit separates, body unites with earth and spirit unites with Spirit.

The rest seems mundane after that initial moment.  The rest, I could handle easily.  Woody cut around the anus and loosened up the bowel muscles as well as he could, then tied off the end with a rope to keep it tidy.  Elona worked on the other end, cutting away the trachea and the gullet from the neck.  She tied a rope on her end, and then started opening the abdomen, careful not to puncture the stomach, so we could pull out all the guts and internal organs at once.

Once gutted (the heart, liver, and fat judiciously removed and placed in cold water for storage), Woody cut off the two hind hooves just below the ankles and strung chains between the two bones on each leg.  The chains were hooked to a piece of equipment that I’m sure has a name, a broad piece of wood hooked onto a chain that went through a pulley at the top of the barn.  One of the helpers worked the pulley to slowly drag the carcass into the barn and raise it off the floor so we could begin skinning it.  Yes, “we”, and not the “royal we”.  Woody called me in the barn, and someone handed me a knife.  Up until this point I had been mostly an observer, helping at times with pulling on a rope or moving a cinderblock to help lever the body into a better position.  At this point I felt ready to engage more in the process — we were far enough away from the time that the thing in front of me had been a living creature.  It wasn’t really moving anymore, except when my knife sliced into a muscle and it involuntarily twitched… which was actually quite fun to watch.

Woody showed me how to pull away the hide with one hand and gracefully cut it away from the fat and muscle beneath.  I liked the work, and I enthusiastically dove in.  Others had already gone by then, and I was glad to help at last; I had been frustrated that I felt so reluctant and useless before when there had been so many people and I was caught up in the intensity of Death.

It seemed like it took us about 45 minutes to skin the whole thing, pausing at intervals to hoist the body higher so we could work at eye-level.  Finally, Woody cut off the two front hooves and put aside the hide for a friend in town to tan it.  He hung the limp tail next to four others on a nearby beam, his way of tallying for the year.

I thanked Woody and walked up the gravel road back to the courtyard, and my room.  I washed my hands, noting that the soap was made of beef tallow, and then went up to lunch and ate a cheese sandwich.

Things are rolling along quickly now… I’m gaining momentum on this new journey away from Twin Oaks.  My application to grad school is due tomorrow, and I completed it today.  Most of it is done online, and at 2pm this afternoon I clicked the button to send it in.  I mailed my letters of recommendation and my transcript off on Saturday, New Year’s Eve, and now I don’t quite know what to do with my spare time.  I had been filling it with studying for the GRE, then working on my personal statement for the application.  Now… what?  Start packing, I suppose.  There’s always hammocks still to be made, as well.

My family and I are playing an online Scrabble game (see my dad’s comment below), and it’s quite fun!  I get an email whenever someone makes a play, and a special email reminder when it’s my turn.  I’m in the lead, with my brother a close second.  Our parents are eating our dust! (HA!)  For the last many years, Scrabble has been a staple of our family time together at holidays.  I didn’t go home for Christmas this year, and so I got the play-by-play of this year’s game  from my brother.on the phone.  We then mused about the possibilities of playing a long distance game, with our own boards and tiles and emailing each other our respective plays.  In the imagining of it, we realized it would be pretty easy to do online with a simple program, and he set out to find one or create one.  He found a great site with a Scrabble setup, and we’re playing here.  As of now, I’m in the lead!

The New Year’s party here on Saturday was fantastic.  It’s usually the biggest party of the year at Twin Oaks; lots of folks from off the farm come to party with us.  Ex-members, friends of members, friends of friends of friends of members… some folks here don’t like having all of the strangers around, but I enjoy sharing the magic of this place with people who’ve never experienced anything like this before.  We have the party at one of our larger residence buildings (Tupelo, for those who know), which has a giant living room that’s cleared of all its furniture to become the dance floor.  One wall of the living room has a ladder leading up to a loft  at least 12 feet above all the action, and that’s known as the “cuddle loft” during the New Year’s party, complete with comfy mattresses and soft lighting.  Other rooms throughout the building are designated for different activities, including a quiet room for babies and kids to crash and a “Temple of Oracles,” where all sorts of divination tools like tarot and runes are available for consultation.  I happened to be hanging out in the Temple when a guy walked in and asked if anyone there could give him a tarot reading.  No one else volunteered, and so I smiled and offered myself to him.  I usually only do tarot for myself and my close friends; I think this is the first time I’d ever done it with someone I didn’t know.  It turned out to be a powerful spread of cards, and I was pleased with the way I interpreted them with him.  Afterwards, he asked me how long I’d lived at Twin Oaks.  I told him I’d been here about 3 1/2 years, and that I’d be leaving soon to go to grad school.  “Wait a minute,” he said.  “Do you have a blog?”  I was delighted!  He said he had read my posts a few times… ah, serendipity.

One rather frustrating part of the party was that the next day we discovered that several guests’ cars had been broken into overnight.  We operate on relatively high levels of trust around here, and we never lock our car doors.  Guests usually don’t either, and a couple credit cards, cell phones, and about $100 in cash was taken.   Presumably, the person/s who robbed the cars was a guest who came to the party — one of the missing wallets was found later on in the cuddle loft with the money and credit card gone.  So what should we do?  Do we change our culture out of fear, by locking our car doors when we have a party, or do we try even harder (somehow) to cultivate a culture of trust and honesty within our broader network of connections (all those friends of friends of friends…)?

I’m spending the holidays here on the commune, enjoying the quiet warmth of the stillness.  Lots of folks are gone to see family, so those of us who are left get to enjoy each other a little bit more.  Tonight we had a small party with cider and singing and games, and I enojyed the closeness of the slightly random group of people who don’t usually hang out together.  There’s so few people here right now, and that means there’s not the usual bevy of events happening in the evening.  When there’s only one, and there’s not many people to hang out with individually, folks tend to cluster, seeking the emotional warmth of connection and company.  It was lovely, and just festive enough.

Tomorrow afternoon I’m helping to cook dinner.  The folks who are left on the farm end up doing a bunch of work they don’t usually do because the folks who usually do those jobs are away.  I’m doing two dinner shifts this week, and two dishwashing stints (I rarely cook for the group, and I usually wash dishes about twice a month).  I like this different way of being here… doing what clearly needs to be done, being less “social” and “political” and more emotionally intimate.  I wonder if I’d like it like this all the time?

A college student doing an independent study wrote to me a few days ago, asking a bunch of questions about life on the commune.  We get stuff like this all the time, and sometimes it’s a pain in the ass to answer the same questions over and over again.  We’ve finally compiled a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) document and posted it on our website, so we can just direct people to look at that.  This student, though, asked some questions that aren’t included in the FAQ, and I took some time this morning to write back to her.  I thought all you Over the Edge fans might enjoy reading my answers…

I was wondering if you would discuss some possible pros and cons of living in a community? 
a quick list off the top of my head:

PROS
– deep relationships with the people I interact with on a daily basis (instead of passing anonymous people on the street or having vague superficial interactions with cashiers and other people whose work I depend on)  In community, I know all of the people whose work supports my life — and beyond simply KNOWING them, my work suppports their lives, too!  Our interdependency is vividly tangible.
– collective decision-making:  I have direct access to the decisions that affect my life instead of the decisions being made by politicians who have never met me and aren’t aware of the impact their decisions will have on my life.
– homegrown food, without pesticides or the exploitation of workers
– homegrown culture, without the commodification of women’s bodies and the glorification of consumerism
– parties where I know everyone
– not my job to worry about bills (someone else has decided they’ll do that work)
– access to valuable shared resources (woodshop, sauna, industrial kitchen, massage tables, pond, playgrounds…)

CONS
– collective decision making: I have to share decisions about what to spend money on, how many pets we’re going to have, car use, nudity norms, etc.  I don’t get to decide for myself, I have to negotiate with 100 people who don’t all have the same values as me.
– no weekends, there’s always more work to be done, and even if I choose to take a day or two off, all of the work that needs to be done stews in the back of my mind
– no escape from people you don’t get along with.  In a group of 100 people who all know each other and have lived together for years, there’s inevitably some folks who don’t like each other.  You’re in community meetings together, you get scheduled for work with them, you have to ask them a question about something they’re in charge of, you live in the same building as them…

a lot of these might be specific to Twin Oaks, and not so applicable to other communities (especially ones of different sizes)

What is the difference between a cooperative and a community? 
ahh, terminology…  I’m just making this up off the top of my head: I think of a cooperative specifically in terms of decision-making (there are food co-ops and worker-owned cooperative businesses).  A cooperative is a group where everyone involved works together to make decisions.   A community is a more general sharing, maybe more holistic (though not necessarily).   A community might share any or all of: land, values, common interests, projects.  The term “community” is a lot more vague.  We live in a “global community” because we share this earth.  There’s a “dance community” in New England who get together once a year for a dance conference.  I think it’s possible for a community to not be a cooperative, but I think any cooperative falls under the broad label of community.

Do you feel like you lose any personal freedom living at twin oaks?  If so, what?
Sure, it’s a sacrifice of one level of freedom in order to gain another level.  I don’t cook my own meals, so I don’t decide what I’m going to have for dinner.  I have to be quiet in my residence after 10pm.  I don’t have my own car, so it’s hard for me to audition for a play in town because I can’t be sure I’ll always have car to drive in for rehearsals.  The space I have as my own personal, private room is relatively tiny.

  Why twin oaks? 
When I was looking for communities to visit, I knew I wanted to experience a place that had been around for awhile and was relatively stable.  I wanted to experience a different way of life that was actually sustainable, not a pipe dream that was going to fail in a few years. When I came here for my 3 week visit, I met people who I felt a strong connection with and I enjoyed the work in the garden.

Are you happy there? What defines happiness?  What is happiness and is it different for everyone?
I could pontificate for days about the nature of happiness.  I’m not going to go there this morning, though I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on it.  The basic answer about my happiness here is that I feel fulfilled in some very basic ways.  I engage in emotionally healthy interactions most of the time.  My body is healthy and strong because of the work I do and the food I get to eat here.  I have a high level of freedom to express myself creatively without judgement from others.  When these needs are fulfilled, I’m happy.  And there are other ways that I’m not fulfilled here, and I’m planning to leave in January to pursue other things.  I want to have access to more of the world on a regular basis.  I want to travel.  I want to study sociology and teach college classes.  These are things I can’t do here.  I would have some unhappiness (though I wouldn’t necessarily be unhappy) if I stayed, because I would have unfulfilled dreams and desires that I wasn’t working towards.

What is religion and how does it manifest at twin oaks?
I’d say that religion is a set of beliefs about the nature of reality.  Religion is up to the individual at Twin Oaks, and I often wish that we had a more cohesive collective understanding about the nature of reality!  Religion and spirituality don’t play into our discussions about decisions very often, and I wish it did more so that we’d have a clearer sense of purpose and intention.

——–

Well, that’s been my morning today — thinking and writing about life at Twin Oaks while I look out the window at the clothes on the line blowing in the wind and the leaves on the trees chaning colors before my eyes.  Virginia has embraced autumn just in the course of a few weeks, and suddenly it really feels like fall!  With the time change last weekend, it’s now dark before dinnertime and we’re no longer eating at the picnic tables outside.  Change change change… everything changes, it’s the nature of this life.

Full Circle

Full circle — I’m back with the cows.

For those of you who have been reading from the beginning, you’ll remember my early days as a cow-milker.  I stopped almost 2 years ago after a much-loved Jersey died of mastitis and I began questioning the ethics of domesticated animals.  I was exploring my own capacity for wildness, and I started to despise myself for helping train the wildness out of these creatures I had grown to love.  I stopped eating dairy and eggs… I was a vegan for nearly a year and then slowly started slipping into my old eating habits.  It was just too hard to find food that met my diet when I traveled by Greyhound, and  when certain people cooked on the commune (there are “vegan options” at every meal, and sometimes — albeit rarely —  that’s just a tray of green beans).

And now I’m back in the barn.  A large portion of the dairy crew has been off the farm on vacation for the past week, and the dairy manager asked me if I’d mind coming down and helping out to ease the labor on the remaining crew.  I’d been thinking about going back to milking for awhile, and I was glad for the opportunity to check things out again.  I’ve been doing the afternoon chores, giving bottles to the calves and grain to the teenagers and filling all the water tanks in the different pastures.  My body remembers the barn and the cows.  I easily swing my legs through the fence and slip my body as always between the poles into the calfyard without thinking.  I navigate the rowdy teens, charging confidently to the grain trough with the bucket held high, warding off hungry heiffers and rambunctious young males.   I’ve also been helping out the morning milkers, herding the cows and doing small tasks around the barn.  I easily remember the heft of the full milk cans, stooping and lifting from my legs to gracefully heave them into the cooler.   When I’m herding, I again slip into the energetic space of aligning myself with the cows’ intentions, and using compassion and suggestion to get them to understand mine.

I love being with these animals again.  I remember how much they have to teach me.

I feel neglectful for not having transcribed my thoughts of leaving here on the blog. It’s been a busy time for me, both actually and mentally. The thoughts haven’t held still enough to write them down… oh, that’s not a fair portrayal, not fair to the thoughts themselves. They were there, and I was uncomfortable with them. Leave the commune? Parts of me are ready for it, parts of me aren’t. I’ve been here for three years; I’m ready for a new perspective. The passive aggressive communication culture drives me crazy, and I see myself acquiring those traits the longer I live here.

And at the same time, I’ve grown roots here. I have deep friendships and lovers and partners — I’ve found family here. I love living rurally. I love being so directly involved in the basics of sustaining my life and the lives of others. I love harvesting zucchini. I love swimming naked in the pond and being shirtless without being ogled. I love walking and biking on tree-lined paths.

And at the same time, I want to have more direct experience of the larger world. I want to understand what’s happening beyond these 450 acres, I want to experience it and be directly invested in creating a healthier world. I’ve gotten too caught up in the petty bullshit issues of Twin Oaks. I’m frustrated with spending my time and energy figuring out how to accomodate individual neuroses, as the culture of Twin Oaks prescribes.

I’ve been playing with the idea of leaving for awhile now. About a month ago, I accepted that within the next year I’d likely take a Personal Affairs Leave (PAL), which means that I drop membership for up to a year and get my same room when I come back. Over the last few weeks, my exploration became more earnest, seeking possibilities of what I could do for a year. Travel? Get a funky activist job? All the while, my relationships here were a strong reason not to leave. And I still felt the pull towards other things. I felt like I was split in two or more pieces, feeling desires and needs pulling against each other in opposite directions.

Then one morning last week I was laying in bed with my partner Free in his house near Charlottesville, and we were talking about possibilities and fears about the future. In exploring different “what ifs”, an idea bubbled up and crystalized, fitting into an open space in my heart that connected the divergent desires. Go to grad school, get my PhD, become a professor. Go to UVA, right there in Charlottesville. Live at the collective house that has strong ties to the communities movement. Maintain my connections with friends and lovers at Twin Oaks, be closer to Free, feed my hunger for academic exploration, stay involved in collaborative living. I’ve held the idea in my heart and mind for the last few days, and it still fits beautifully, though of course there’s also sadness with the idea of leaving this home. That’s a part of it, too.

And for now, I’m still here. What a time to be here! A good friend is giving birth tonight – the first baby born here in almost three years. Mala’s water broke last night, and her sweetie Ezra grabbed me on his way up to see her. I hung out with her for a few hours, helping get final preparations together. The news spread fast, and lots of folks showed up to check in and share in the excitement. The commune is twittering with anticipation. The local midwife will show up later today, and we’ll all gather for a “birthing party” downstairs while she’s in her birthing room upstairs (usually a small living room where we have meetings and give massages). Last night she showed me how she had set up the room, and I was thrilled to discover that she had chosen to hang one of my paintings from a recent art show. I had hung a bunch of my art in the dining hall and invited folks to take whatever they wanted. I’m tickled and honored that I get to have a small presence in her birth (she’s specified certain people that she wants in the room when she’s heavy into labor, while everyone else parties downstairs).

So at the same time as I’m starting to disengage, I still feel the power of my life here, and it feels amazing. I do love living here, and it’s time for me to move on.