Twin Oaks commune is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. Hundreds of people have converged on the lush, low-lying land, which houses numerous buildings, shops, and fields. My husband Rich seems to know most of them. I, having never lived there, do not.
So, what is that like? It’s not like being a spouse at a high school or college reunion. These people lived in close quarters for years, know each other well, intimately. After a few tries, I figure out the analogy—it’s as if I’d married in, like the folks I know who married into Hopi or a sprawling Irish clan. I’m in and out at the same time—although more of an observer than a participant.
Could I have lived at Twin Oaks? The short answer is—no. My first husband Robert and I visited in 1984—visited Rich in fact. Robert and I cared primarily about two things at that time—he cared about Zen and I about poetry. Twin Oaks wasn’t focused on either, and we were interested but not tempted.
However, I can’t help but feel, even at my age, a certain competitive check it out urge. Are my clothes ok? Am I cute enough for my cohort? If I had lived there—would I have been high status, or reclusive, in or out?
My observation over the years (this is my fourth visit) is that Twin Oaks values work and the group above all. Pitching in, doing your share, and being up for helping might be the prime commodities. I’ve got some conflicts here. First off, I wasn’t raised to be domestic by my intellectually oriented mother. Feminism directs me out of the kitchen. And being a writer—well, it directs me out of the group.
So how did it work for those who joined, and stayed? Some folks lived—and still live—there for decades. Some spent a few years, then moved on. Many ended up staying locally in central Virginia, building different kinds of community. I would say people seem more affected by Twin Oaks than by the usual high school or college experience. But after asking a few people about this I have to conclude I can’t really sort it out—did the idealism that propelled members in simply continue out in the larger world? Or did Twin Oaks build that idealism?
In some cases—as with all communities—it may have shattered it. Falling in love—whether with one person or a group—brings the risk of heartbreak. Which brings us to what is now called polyamory, but which was just called multiple or open relationships back in the day. One of the reasons everyone seems to know each other is because the web of primary and secondary lovers is so complicated it would take a team of anthropologists to map. My ex-sweeties are mercifully scattered—I don’t know where many of them are. Three of Rich’s are sitting around eating brunch with us. Does this bother me? Not at all. I like them quite a bit, and it gives me insight into Rich. Would I feel the same if they were present tense sweeties? That is a question for another day.
And here is the thing—having lived with Rich for over twenty years, sometimes it feels as if I’ve picked up a lot of the culture of Twin Oaks from him. I don’t even notice it, but the one bit I’ll always remember is that when he moved in with me and Isabel, who was seven years old, he said that we’d divide up chores so no one had to do anything she or he didn’t like to do. At first I was dubious, but it worked. I actually like taking out the garbage, Rich likes getting a good deal on insurance, Isabel liked caring for the guinea pigs, and so on.
While work and the group will never be my highest goods, it doesn’t matter. I’ve seen these values do good, and benefited from them. I’m not a communard, but it hardly matters, because I do feel I married into the family.
Along Cow Dung Road, the red and gray striped hills look like pieces of peppermint candy. A telltale signature of the Morrison Formation, the strata were deposited at the end of the Jurassic when volcanoes, great rivers, marshes and dinosaurs reigned. Now an arid expanse, its sculpted hillsides and flats are peppered with brown boulders, the eroded remains of an overlaying layer of Dakota sandstone. I see no evidence of the Cedar Mountain Formation, which formed after the Dakota. Either the Cretaceous river and floodplain waters responsible for its deposition did not flow here, or it eroded away before the sandstone was deposited. Cedar Mountain’s absence represents a gap in the geologic record called an unconformity. Another hill of candy wets my appetite.
I love the word unconformity. In the same league as confluence, it is suggestive of the writing process. Write, erase, write, erase. Take a break, have a cup of tea. Floods and small streams carry away boulders, rocks, pebbles and sand grains. Erosive winds blow. A divergent path may appear and an unanticipated idea finds its way to paper. Results camouflaging their origins, the poet knows their genesis and evolution, and loves the process that may require months or years of effort before the poem that is meant to be completely deposits itself.
The journey along Cow Dung Road to the fossil quarry doesn’t want to finish itself just yet. Four miles from the unmarked highway turnoff (the sign for the road continually stolen!), I arrive at the entrance to the Mars Desert Research Station. Operated by the Mars Society, an organization dedicated to the exploration and habitation of Mars, this landscape was picked as a one of their research sites because of its resemblance Mars. Pictures beamed back by NASA’s Mars rovers look strangely familiar to southern Utah.
The station’s wooden name sign posts No Entry Please. Politeness may reign on Mars. Researchers blogging on the Society’s webpage report as if living on a Mars colony. I was told people might be walking about in spacesuits. None are around. And unfortunately I am a few days early to see rover researchers and engineers from around the world testing their latest designs. The gritty environment will jam exposed gear trains and fray wires, disabling most of the tested rovers quickly. The Hanksville scuttlebutt was Poland’s team was favored.
Past and future merging in the badlands of southern Utah, I drive on thinking about unconformities. A thorough bunch, geologists also identified other of types of unconformities, including nonconformities – junctures between overlaying sedimentary and underlying eroded metamorphic or igneous rock. Rules have changed from the chemistry of heat to that of precipitation, transformation occurring or in the opting. Good advice for stuck writers and stumped rover engineers alike.
I found this fascinating and original…
By Sonya Huber
The typical literary reading presents an obstacle course for many people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. From finding transportation and parking to staying up late to navigating stairs and chairs, every decision involves stress and difficulty. My recent essay collection, Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays From a Nervous System, deals with the twists and turns of living with chronic pain, and I knew that I needed to find ways to connect with people with chronic pain. I was surprised to find that an online reading was easy and fun, and I believe this is something other authors can easily do to extend their own audiences and make literary readings more accessible.
My first foray into online readings was through a Facebook Live Event. I hadn’t seen this done before so I kind of winged it, and in the end I think it turned…
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Contemporary life has it’s annoyances. I don’t like the superficiality of “how are you?” I found it particularly difficult when I was bereaved as a widow. Did the person really want to know? Should I lie? I still brush it off—charmingly I hope—with the answer “I have no idea!” Sometimes people laugh. Mostly they just ignore the unexpected.
At 8 am at the dentist’s office, I was asked “How is your day going so far?” So far? Well, I had coffee and psyched up to be injected, numbed, drilled, crowned, and charged a king’s ransom. My day was mediocre, headed for bad. Why ask?
“What can possibly have happened so far?” I said. I was unprepared for the answer, which in true New Mexican fashion looked at potential disaster with both resignation and humor. The speaker answered: “You could have been pulled over by the cops. Busted. You could have gone into labor. Someone else could have gone into labor…” I had to laugh. This sounded like some of the more plausible excuses I used to get in English 111 about why an essay was late.
So I enjoyed the exchange. Until the next time I got asked. At the airport. At 6:30 am. I’d had coffee, and psyched up for TSA, lines, turbulence, and strange landing gear noises.
This time, I didn’t say much of anything.
Next time, please don’t ask.
My mother said NO a lot. NO, you cannot go to Woodstock. No, you cannot stay out past midnight at the peace rally concert to see Jimi Hendrix collapse on the stage.
But she was also distracted, a working mother of four, married to my dad during his full blown mid-life crisis. So I escaped–into the dry fountain in Sheep’s Meadow, to the dark edge of the East Village. I was always just a little too young, though, born in 1954, to be a fully fledged hippie.
Still, when I found myself in the Counterculture in the Southwest exhibit at the New Mexico History Museum, tears came to my eyes.
Maybe it was because New Mexico and southern Colorado are so dear to me–and also places of ongoing utopian hopes. There are very few degrees of separation between me and many of the major places and players in the exhibit. Plus, if there is anything I love about the counterculture, it is the clothes.
Uncoincidentally, I’m headed to the 50th anniversary of Twin Oaks commune. Part of my life has become history. I never lived at Twin Oaks, but my husband Rich did for many years.
I was driven crazy during the 1960’s and 70’s by the fact that I always felt I was tagging along after the “older kids.” But in my own way I was influenced by the counterculture–how else end up at San Francisco Zen Center or even for that matter the westside of Santa Fe. My compost pile, my shoes, and my ability to say “groovy” without irony all show the influence of that which ran counter to the mainstream.
And for which I remain grateful.