Faithful readers will recall when I first blogged about these experiences, back in '84, just as we were leaving the community. Our yearly reunions are typically in Battleground, Washington, or more recently, in BC. But for the first time we had our community reunion down near The Land, in part so that we could hold a memorial service for my brother Seth, our brothers in Christ, John and Fred, and now Autumn. It was only my 2nd time returning to the land, to Tara.
It began with a bus ride to Steve and Julie's in Portland, where I had learned the pain of the kidney. Pain somewhat reminiscent of the discomfort of the bus ride down, with a young lesbian couple across the aisle who really needed to get their own room. Happier times were in greeting Paul and Steve at the bus terminal, and preparing for the next day's caravan to Rouge River, in Southern Oregon, and our campground.
We lived depending on God, through officework, the band Servant, donations from the movie Brother Sun Sister Moon, growing crops, procuring (dumpster diving), and most of all, the treeplanters, working for Weyerhaeuser. They broke their backs and worked unending days on the slopes, taking what they earned and giving it to the common purse. One of their few extravagances was to stop for the best cheap ice cream in the Northwest, at Rice Hill. Over the years this became a tradition for all of us in the community, as we drove past, and we honored that tradition again. The ice cream is still good, though no longer cheap. As I'd not had the opportunity for many years, I splurged on 4 scoops, peppermint and banana.
We stayed at the Rouge River Campground, which has far too many trailers right cheek by jowl. We were the only ones with tents that I could see. Good company, but not much to speak of in the campground itself, so I'll jump ahead to Saturday, when we went out to the Land. Other than to mention, that every other reunion I've been to, there have been tents available, and so I didn't think about getting one, and therefore had none the first night. I slept in a bed roll on a partial mat, with a canopy over me- much as did when sleeping in the desert of Zagora in Morocco among the Berbers two years ago.
A mile from our land was a cornerstore, the center of the booming town of Wilderville. It was on this road that I had to jog for PE, following Servant's lead singer, Bob, in the year of schooling we had on the land. Here also my dad and Paul saw a bear. Or a big black dog. Bear sounded cooler. And my mom comforted there a dying man after an intense motorcycle crash.When my brother, John, and Fred died in a head on car accident with a front-loaded kerosene camper, we buried my brother and John on the land, and had a memorial stone placed for Fred. In the span of twenty years, the marauding blackberries had taken over the site, and when me and my mom went there one day to clear it off, we couldn't find the gravestones, even after spending a good amount of time hacking at those weeds. I tried a number of times to get her to go out with me to clear up the blackberries more, but it took Paul and his family coming out over the last few years to truly make it presentable. They raised the stones, laid down gravel, and with the help of Paul Andrews, placed a bench and raised an arch commemorating the site.
We began the memorial with Steve sharing some of his thoughts, and then he opened it to others to share. One story in particular touched me.
Paul's wife, Priscilla Andrews, shared a story that I was involved in, but have no memory of. The day the policemen came to tell us of Seth's death, I was overcome with grief, and threw myself to the ground, pounding my fists. My mom came to comfort me physically, and my dad's words, I will never forget, for the kindness expressed towards a ten-year-old though my dad was in the midst of great grief, sharing in a way that I could understand: "Honey, you'll never see your brother again."
My best friend outside the community at the time was Stacy, and this part I don't remember. Priscilla shared how I called over to the Andrews, and asked Stacy to come over, saying my brother died. Stacy, only ten years old himself, understandably was shocked by this, and hung up the phone immediately, telling his mom that he thought Jed was crazy, for he had just said his brother died! After calling back, and confirming, Stacy did come over, and spent the day with us, consoling me and others. He insisted at that young age in staying there with us by himself, and not needing his parents with him. When his mom came to pick him up, he shared with her that he had received his calling to become a pastor- a calling which he continues to this day.
Many others shared. I felt a burden to lead in a song from Brother Sun Sister Moon, I wasn't sure why- "Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace", with music by Donovan. (And according to Wikipedia, the music is now available for the first time on iTunes.) The film was one that the community used as a ministry tool, drawing thousands to Christ, and the ideas of Francis became foundational for us. Our theology was never systematized into Queries or a Confession, but rather was expressed through music, in the songs of Servant, and Brother Sun. So all there new the tune. But I had forgotten the final stanza until we sang it, and I realized why I'd been lead to it.
"It is in dying that we are born,
That we are born,
to eternal life."
And so we planted a shrub, and placed a sculpted fairy, to remember also Autumn, who parted from us so recently, and too soon.
After the memorial service some stayed to contemplate, and others to wander around the land, which the current owners had graciously allowed. We had a creek running through the land, the end of Fish Hatchery Creek, before it poured itself out into the Applegate River, also running next to the land. Today, in the midst of Summer, it was dry, with a large tree in the middle of it.
In the four places I lived on the land (for even in one location, we always moved), one was by far the scariest, beyond the creek, on an adjoining property. There I had the front room, with tall glass windows, from floor to ceiling. Now remember, in Oregon, Sasquatch is real. He's not a myth. And that was about all I could think of at the age of 11, as I sat there in the midst of the primeval forest, surrounded by tall trees, and darkness. And then I heard a voice, saying, "It's okay, Jed, it's okay." It is the only time I've ever heard the audible voice of our Lord. And I was able to go to sleep.
It was good to see that the Applegate beach was still present, and I paused alone to watch a pitch black egret fly down the river, to land in the trees above me. Many a bold but selected-against crawdad was caught in that river, and roasted to feed a community of eighty.
It is odd, but over the years, I've learned recently, they have actually shrunk the scientific standard of an acre. It's the only explanation I can give for how small everything seemed. I remember to walk to the gravesite used to be very long walk, or to the houses at the back of the Land. Now it is less than what I typically walking downtown Seattle when shopping.
The finest house I ever lived in, without exception, was the A-Frame, pictured here with me along side it. As my dad was often gone at this time, it was usually just me, my mom, and my little brother Cody in the A-Frame. It too, had mysteriously shrunk, but the current owners had also gutted it and were in the process of a remodel. When we lived there, it was just the triangle, with my brother in a small hidey bed, and my room upstairs, in the loft.
There were two other A-Frames, but one was destroyed years ago by one of the Applegate floods. (The field pictured above is a flood plain, making it excellent for growing crops.) The other A-Frame is still standing, and for the first time all three former child residents had returned- Hannah, Rebekah, and Jeremiah- along with their three children.
The finest animal in the world is the pig. There really isn't an argument with this, as the year of my birth, and recent events in Seattle have proven. After crying to the end of Charlotte's Web, I was given the gift of a beautiful piglet on one birthday. There were too many pigs named Wilburta around at the time, so her name became Charlotte.
She ate a lot. We had long conversations, and I learned some basic pig, as I've shared before. Most importantly, she kept to her vows and commitments to our Lord, believing that Paul the Apostle offered the best advice. Throughout her long life, she refused all the attempts at mating, and remained a virgin gilt. You've got to respect that.
Between the pigpen and the main barn was a idyllic spot, filled with a plant like bamboo which grows wild in Southern Oregon, surrounded by blackberries. This plant was excellent for making trails in, constructing homes, and hiding precious objects. In a time when every crush is innocent and pure, I created this place with the girl I liked, until the younger kids one day discovered our hiding place, and irreverently and unintentionally came through and trampled all the paths.
It was good to see, as we left, there was an abandoned car sitting out front. Just like when we lived there, except there were usually twenty cars, and half of them not running. Our Lord said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter Heaven. And yet in the same breath he promised that no one who has not left lands, houses, mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters, will not receive 100-fold lands, houses, mothers, brothers, and sisters, and persecution, in this life, and in the life to come, Eternal Life. Truly, as we embraced Holy Sister Poverty, I found this to be true. For I had 10 homes, and 20 cars, and 80 dear Brothers and Sisters.
The evening and morning of the next day was a bit anti-climatic. An enchanting time of pizza at a new restaurant at the Wilderville store, and I got a tent the second night! However, as you can see, it stood only with much jury-rigging by Jeremiah Johnson. Yes, that's a pole in the back to hold it up, the wrong pole for that tent threaded through it, and a string going up to the tree above.
This is our Land. A place is meaningless. It has no inherent value, and God is no more present there than anywhere else. But as Lewis pointed out, we are spiritual amphibians, taking part in both the physical and spiritual realms. A place contains memories, and the ghosts that happily haunt our lives. This is what I found again, returning to Tara.