The Communal Life
I'm living deep in the wilderness on a large piece of land with a big house, pond, river, fields, animals and my fellows. What was once the family property of my college roommate, August, has evolved over the years into a communal living place instead. Oh, August and his family still live there, but so do the rest of us -- some eight or ten (it varies through the seasons) young folks, twentysomethings, living the utopian dream. We're a playful family, constantly laughing, joking, dancing and singing. It's a fulfilling life I'm living with them. It is a home.

The Winter is approaching and we decide to migrate South for the season to our other land in Mendocino County of Northern California. I pack up my things to go and we close down the house.

A couple of months later, we return, bearing new supplies for the constant improvement and repair of our little home in the mountains. Just because we are 'back-to-the-land' types, doesn't mean we're technophobes; we have broadband internet access and a wireless hotspot that covers the whole property. So you can imagine my disappointment when I can't find my Powerbook which I was sure I'd left in my room. I search everywhere, high and low, looking for that thing. It begins to drive me a little crazy and my friends begin to chide me for my histrionics. I confess that it's not the material object that worrying me, it's the irreplaceable data that resides on the hard drive that is turning my insides into knots. I seem to remember being a little paranoid about it when packing and that I had perhaps hidden it somewhere 'safe', that being, of course, some place unlikely and therefore impossible for me to remember. I resign myself to searching every nook and cranny of the land until I find it. Eventually, I do.

Once again, we find ourselves heading South to California, and this time the dream comes with. There's new work to be done on the Mendo property so we all take a summer vacation down there. We pull in to the local town -- Willits, Hopland, Cloverdale, or rather some mixture of the three. From the look of things, I reckon it's about 1985. Old Fifties greasy spoon diners, post office, city hall, taverns and general stores greet us as we roll in with our station wagon after a 45 minutes drive from the land. We start off at the hardware store and pick up all we need for the latest project, plus dumpster diving some extra material from around back.

Feeling hungry, we trudge over to the local diner and order up some food. By co-incidence, the president of the United States is making a visit to our little town today and we find him and his VP munching away on burgers in the outdoor seating area. Being patriots ourselves, we sit down next to the old boys and shake their hands. It's Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Amy explains to me that it's actually 1998. I was a bit off, but I figure it's still a good year to be alive. Bill and Al are friendly and curious about how we make our living on the land. For our own amusement, we spin some tall tails of Winter frostbite, jealous lovers, fighting over toilet paper, and other myths of commune living. There's nothing we like better than playing jokes on authority figures, the more authoritative, the better. The two politicians brainstorm up some easy tax breaks we could take for claiming cottage industries and whatnot. Offering our effusive thanks, we finish up eating and walk away, knowing full-well we take every tax-break the law allows (and some it doesn't).

After a brief visit to the local war memorial, we head down to the riverside and play in the water and the beach. A spontaneous song starts up as we echo nonsense words back and forth in evolving rounds. I'm an aspiring film maker and decide to take some footage of our crazy hippie chorus, singing, swimming and chanting the river shallows. I fly up a hundred feet above them and swoop down with my camera open, then train it on the spiralling whorls twisting in the foam and froth of the river. It's beautiful.

The sun begins to sink low in the sky and it's time to return to our house. We pile back into the station wagon and head home, Danica at the wheel. Once there, we unload the back with our hard-earned booty and lay it in the workshed. Dinner will be served soon, so we wash up and gather in the living room. My friend, Adam, is visiting us from San Francisco. I ask after his business -- last time I saw him, he was starting up an upscale fish market in the Mission. He tells me that business has been blowing up and that he's opening two new locations in the city. From my own experience managing multiple cottage industries at different locations, I advise him to keep things distributed -- local management and product lines customized for the neighborhood, rather than central control and uniform offerings. Adam agrees and tells me that it's the way he'll do it.

August's mom, Leslie, gives the dinner call and we all gather around the big oak table in the dining room. In a circle of familial love, looking around at all the glowing, laughing eyes, the bright and easy smiles, I feel that I have the best seat in the universe. We all join hands and I thank the cosmos for gifting us with this family, this food, and this beautiful world. A little squeeze on the hands before letting go. We eat.

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