The visitors — family of 12 brothers — commune relationships
Unfortunately the bad part of intentional communities started to rear its ugly head: drama. The tension came from several directions. From one side was a quest for power over the Wild Roots property: Cee wanted to own it, W. seemed to want to own it, I wanted to own it, and while no one talked about it explicitly, everyone knew that Tod was going to be leaving the property soon. From another side, nearly everyone had drama with D., and her tumultuous relationship with Tod was taxing for the whole commune. After a few months of being there, it reached a point where group discussions at community meals were necessary, and they weren’t fun, reminding me of family conversations my dysfunctional family had when I was younger.
The stress lessened a little when visitors arrived, which happened every few weeks. Most were regulars, not much different from the people I’ve already described, but the odd ones came from all over. One man traveled all the way from Japan, and spent most of his days working on an organic rice farm. I had a few conversations with him about Ishmael, a book by Daniel Quinn that convinced him — and a lot of others in the movement — that civilization was ultimately a mistake. For a while also a Christian family came to visit. They were quite nice, and the father, noticing my stress, spent a good deal of time with me. The two children were also hilarious. A brother and sister, they would have all sorts of funny conflicts, and livened up the commune with youthful energy, sorely lacking when Mace was away.
The best visitors, however, and also the longest to stay on the commune, were a couple from the Netherlands named Sara and Nibe. Their dedication put us regulars to shame. They spent their whole first week, for example, building the most impressive debris hut the commune had seen, which they called “The Flying Dutchman,” since it was stationed high on the mountain. And while everyone else had given up on killing the rats, Nibe found almost boundless energy to build primitive traps for them, even after constant failure. Other than Sparrow, they did more than anyone else to keep the mood of the commune jolly. For instance, to make a piece of leather you have to soak it in egg-whites or animal brains and then spend time in the sun stretching the hide out to break apart the fibers that make it tough. I distinctly remember Sara and Nibe jointly beating the hell out of a deer hide, the first piece of leather for both of them. It’s hard to describe how hilariously aggressive they were about it, but I’ll never forget the image.
Eventually I learned that Cee and Gecko’s whole family was pretty intertwined with the commune. They came from a family of twelve brothers. Earlier in their lives they were raised in a brand of fundamental Christianity, but after a personal tragedy their parents turned to the environmental community. The mother became a Doula and is pretty deep in the natural birth movement. Many of the brothers, often to escape a troubled childhood, turned to physical labor on the land.
Three more of the brothers lived on the commune at one point. One of them, Sinn, skinny and with blond curly hair, immediately caught my attention. Everyone in the commune seemed to notice. Eventually, during one of our dinners at the fire, Tod brought whiskey out and offered me a bottle, eyeing Sinn — it helped. We went on to hang out a bit in Asheville, mostly playing pool at the bars. Our times were a relief. Going to the city helped make tension at the commune bearable, and having someone to be closer friends with helped cure some of the loneliness. It also made city treats more enjoyable, and more inclined to be “full dose”: one night Sinn and I did lines of cocaine and played Call of Duty while banging our heads to Skrillex’ “Kill Everybody.” You can’t do that sort of thing at Wild Roots.
Another of the three brothers, Montana, once lived at Wild Roots long-term but left to work in Asheville. It was implied that he, like several others, left because of the drama involved in communal living. I connected with him pretty quickly. He was quieter and more pensive. He also spent years travelling in a similar, but cooler, way as me: biking across the U.S. By the time I’d met him, though, he was trying to move beyond the traveler lifestyle, so had similar anxieties, aspirations, thoughts. What would settling down be like? Economically sustaining yourself without constant scavenging? Engaging with people in more sedentary conditions? People who haven’t traveled don’t seem to understand, but small aspects of social interaction are pretty difficult for someone who hasn’t seriously engaged with mainstream house-job-party culture, or even just been away from it for a while.
The last brother I actually met was much younger than the others, and much more metropolitan, something the rest of the family had an odd distaste for. While at Wild Roots he didn’t really want to engage with the tools or the land, and ended up just eating snacks, sitting around, and talking a lot. Still, he was hilarious, trolling the others at every opportunity, constantly speaking in a bad Russian accent. One night he came up to me, cast his lantern light on the inside of his coat and said, “Do you smoke weed?” He went on to explain that he had taken it from Cee, that I shouldn’t say anything. We smoked, listened to the birds a little, examined the ants on the ground, and when the spliff was done he jumped up to shout “Now let’s do shit while high.”
Along with my relationship with Sinn, the commune began to acquire the aura of a woodsy romantic drama. Gecko and Sparrow became an item, something Sparrow and I gossiped about often. Cee’s old girlfriend appeared frequently at the commune and gossiped with D. about relationship stories. Brendan developed a hilarious relationship with one of the visitors. She was already an odd character: she owned llamas and could often be seen at the commune with sheared llama fur and a spinning wheel. She also Instagrammed pictures of the land constantly. But the kicker was she was already in a relationship, with a much older man, and for most of the time she and Brendan were involved, he didn’t know. None of this lined up very well with Brendan’s personality, who didn’t seem to be the kind to be in a relationship in the first place, so it became a (loving) running joke between all of us.
[ TO BE CONTINUED… ]