Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Short Happy Life of Bobby McGee

Last week, I wrote of buying four hens and a rooster at a local Mennonite store and bringing them back here to the Ecovillage Training Center to inhabit the cob henhouse that has stood vacent since my arrival here in late February. Chickens generally don't like a change of scene and require an adjustment period before settling in and going about their regular barnyard business. Not this group. They hit the ground happy and instantly started acting as if they felt at home. The rooster in particular seemed quite pleased with his change in circumstances.  I closed that blog post with, “I'm typing these words on my ancient laptop computer at the kitchen table, and every couple of minutes as I've typed the rooster has crowed, voicing his approval and enthusiasm for his new situation. I concur.”

That rooster, named Booby McGee by one of the apprentices, died that very day. He spent one night and two glorious days at the ETC after spending a month in a small wire cage by the side of the road and before meeting a violent death. We found a scattering of feathers about a hundred yards from the henhouse near the edge of the woods. The modus operandi of snatching the prey and carrying it swiftly away to make the kill indicates a fox, according to Albert Bates. In all likelihood, death descended upon Bobby McGee around dusk but before the chickens put themselves to bed (or roost) in the henhouse.

Bobby McGee was a different breed from the four hens he came with. He was the same size as the hens themselves, and he had tufts of feathers on his feet. I took many pictures of those hens that first day, but Bobby shows up only as tail feathers or as a red blur in amongst the hens. Cliff, the ETC gardener brought us a replacement. The new rooster has lived on site before, and while these hens are new to him, the gig is one that he performs with authority and aplomb. His name is Gordon Lightfoot, and he is about one and half times the size of the hens. According to Cliff, Gordon is an Americana. He looks a lot like the Aracana rooster I used to own and whose crow you can still hear at the end of each episode of the C-Realm Podcast. He has long silver feathers that stream down his neck and back, and he has formidable spurs on his ankles. Gordon the rooster is no joke.

Click photo to enlarge

During Gordon's first night in the henhouse a raccoon pried open the henhouse door and got inside. The sounds of chicken panic woke Merry, the innkeeper, who lives on a school bus quite close to the henhouse. She got there in time to prevent any casualties and send the raccoon packing, but not before he had taken a chunk out of the thigh of one of the hens. That hen stayed close to the henhouse for the next couple of days, but now she follows Gordon and her sister wives around the ETC site. She can't keep up and must take frequent rests, but then she will get up and hobble in the direction of Gordon's continuous crowing to rendezvous with the group.

What lessons come from these experiences? The obvious and practical lesson is 1) to count the chickens in the hen house before securing it for the night, and 2) to remember that EVERYBODY loves the taste of chicken.

The fate of Bobby, who spent long weeks in unpleasant confinement, was placed into chicken paradise and shortly thereafter died a violent death raises (but does not beg) the question of whether it is better to live safely in drab confinement or to live dangerously in a paradise that answers to your every natural inclination, including the inclination to beware of predators.

I may dwell on that question in future posts, but for now I'd like to return to the question of the Changeover; the process by which the Farm re-organized and transformed itself from an idealistic religious movement under the charismatic leadership of a spiritual teacher into an economically viable community which accommodates the sink-or-swim moral assumptions of modern capitalism.

A lot of the people who come through here have visited other intentional communities, some of which operate as collectives. The one that comes up most often in conversational contrast to the Farm's Changeover is Twin Oaks, an intentional community in Virginia founded in 1967. Twin Oaks started out as, and remains, an economic collective. The example of Twin Oaks leads some folks to question the official Farm narrative of the Changeover which casts it as an unavoidable realignment needed to keep the community viable in the larger context of a money economy. In a previous post, I shared a portion of a conversation with Frank Michael in which Frank provided an alternative take on that official narrative, and I'll close out this entry with a transcript of part of a conversation that I recorded with Albert Bates and Joe of the Occult Sentinel Podcast. I used a different portion of this same conversation in episode 201 of the C-Realm Podcast. The transcript starts in mid-sentence because that's when I turned on the recorder.

Albert: ...fourth generation family here on the Farm. My mother died in 2003. She had been living here for 15 years. I'm now 63 years old. My son has 80 acres just outside the Farm where he's doing an edible landscaping nursery, and my granddaughter is just turning three. So, that's like four generations of family right here, and there are several families on the Farm that are that way.  
So, you know, you can't, on the budget that we're talking about, turn every house into this kind of utopian landscape, but you can start, and you can get the ideas passed down through our alternative school to the next generation, and they can pick up and run with it for themselves. 
Joe: So the goal, probably, if you had too much funding, would be to just become totally off-grid, self-sufficient solar...
Albert: I don't think there's any such thing as too much funding for a project of this type. If we had too much funding we would probably spend a lot more time on activism. And we're kind of Buddhist in the sense that we're not feathering our own nest. We're looking at the big picture. Insofar as we can make ourselves more harmless than we are right now, that would be great. 
The other thing is to try to create a scene where people can come through and have the hospitality and a sense of what it is we're trying to do, so maybe it spreads that way too. 
Back in 1980, or there'bouts, eighty, eighty four, somewhere in that region, The World Bank gave a grant to [the village of] Gaviotis in Columbia of $8 million, and he [Paolo Lugari] was able to use that to create this meme  of sustainable living and sustainable production in a very rough and rural area, in the middle of a civil war, out in the middle of nowhere, [with] very poor soils, [and a] wicked hydrological cycle, and he created a forest system and an industry for making pine tar where eventually it was able to pay for itself and generate its own income, but in the interim, it began as this grant that enabled him to build community facilities: this kitchen, housing for his scientists, a shop for making windmills, [and] different kinds of things like that. 
Well, if the Farm had gotten an $8 million grant in 1984, this would be a much different place today, because in 1984 we were just starting a solar car manufacturing company. We had ambitions to have a sailing fleet that would go through the Caribbean on a fair trade circuit. We had two thousand acres, and about a third of that was under cultivation, and, you know, it was a beautiful vision, and what happened instead, because we didn't have that external input was that we came up against bank loans, the Regan recession in building trades—the things we made our money from—and we ended up going into a different system. We de-collectivized. We had to say, “You know, okay, well, no longer can we just have an economy of love; a gift economy, where somebody does this job and they can go to the store and get everything for free.” Instead we had to exchange pictures of dead presidents between people, and that was the economy, and if you wanted to send your kid to the Farm school, you had to come up with the tuition. 
Well, that changed the way everybody started doing things, and a lot of people actually left at that point. Some left because we didn't change fast enough, and some left because they thought we were selling out the Revolution, and the Farm population went from over a thousand to down  250 or so, and leveled off at that point, and it's been like that for 15 or 20 years now. 
Those that stayed, curiously enough, were a lot of the people that had been in the original caravan that arrived here. So rather than selling out the Revolution, they were sort of like the people who stayed and washed the dishes after the party, and paid off a million dollars in debt to the banks, [and thus] bought the land a second time, and have been risk-averse ever since, and [they have grown] conservative in progressing the thing very slowly, in stages, so as not to become vulnerable again. 
In future posts I will return to the question of creating community within the confines of a capitalist society that would rather see ersatz community sold as a commodity than real community arise spontaneously and organically as people work collaboratively to fulfill their own needs.

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