In the late summer of 1993 I was sent off on a mission of sorts, to canvas the Bay Area with our brochures and new posters, announcing our community and the teachings of MD. With the car loaded with hundreds of these, I embarked on a two or three week excursion to flood the natural food stores, cafes, bookstores, colleges and universities from Sonoma County in the north to Santa Cruz in the south, San Francisco and the east bay. I enjoyed the solitude and the purpose. And it was of particular interest to me to notice how different everything seemed now, as I traveled familiar roads, and yet they were no longer the same to me. I had changed so much in just a few short months. As I visited familiar bookstores and cafes I was struck by the sense that I was no longer living in the same world as I had before. It was the first time I understood, in a real and tangible way, the idea of being in the world, but not of the world. These places, and what they offered, were no longer for me, and I didn’t miss them at all, in fact, I felt liberated and transcendent. I might walk by a theater and place a poster on the notice board out front, and have no interest in what was playing inside. Or visiting a café, to drop off some brochures, I wouldn’t consider buying anything, since I had my oranges and bananas in the car, and that was all I needed. I was satisfied and content, and amused by my surprising transformation.
Upon returning to our campsite a few weeks later I found it transformed as well. I had left in late summer, while the days were still sun-filled and warm and the evenings were temperate, but when I returned it was noticeably early fall; the days had that touch of briskness to them, and the air had that earthy smell that announces the changing of the seasons. And the nights were beginning to be cold. I arrived in the afternoon and found K. and J. in the kitchen preparing for the evening meal. They welcomed me with great warmth, and then they began to tell me about the newest member, who had joined our community while I was gone. They had met L. at Panther Meadow and after spending some time with MD he instantly joined. I was amazed how quickly L. had joined us and become a revered member of our community. He was described in glowing terms and with great zeal by the both of them. I looked forward to meeting him.
We remained at our location west of Mt Shasta for several more weeks and in this time we purchased two vehicles and a trailer. Through a friend L. and M. were able to attend a car dealer auction and purchase for a very good price both a Chevy Suburban and a Ford Taurus, both fairly new and in good condition. Well, at least the Suburban was in good condition, while the Taurus only looked good. MD. had advised them not to purchase the Taurus, but as often occurred M. felt he knew better and did it anyway. The Taurus nearly made it off the car lot before the transmission fell out, but not quite. There are no refunds at a dealer’s auction; though it was just purchased and had barely driven a hundred feet before breaking down, it was our problem. We were able to get a new transmission and get the Taurus running again and after this it worked well for us for a long time. The trailer was of a heavy steel frame construction with an eight foot by 16 foot solid wood bed. In order to make it more useful, we built a wood box around the perimeter of the frame, four feet high, made of 2×4 framing with 3/4″ plywood sheathing and multiple coats of spar varnish. The back of the wood box was attached to the side panels at its two ends, using rope connections at the corners, so that the back panel could be untied and removed for easy loading. This trailer became an essential part of our lives as we used it for many things: to more our camp, to move materials for our landscaping business, and for our moving company business. But before it became an integral part of our lives it was disputed property and the object of a rift between L. and our community.
Almost as mysteriously as L. had arrived, he suddenly left. I had hardly gotten to know him when I heard that he was gone and he had taken the trailer with him. I believe we had purchased the trailer with money that L. had given to the community, although I don’t know this as a fact, but I assume this, since it explains why he felt justified, at least in his mind, to take the trailer with him when he left. I was treasurer and paid bills so it seems I should know what happened, however I only took care of routine bills, and wasn’t always involved with the cash immediately when it arrived, particularly as gifts or donations. The purchase of the vehicles and the trailer I hadn’t been involved with, but I deduced that L. still felt ownership of the money he had given to the community since he had given it so recently and hadn’t been with us for very long. On the other hand, all of us had taken vows of poverty, L. included, and none of us had individual or sole ownership of anything. In my mind whatever he may have given us, was given freely and had become communal property so it wasn’t right for him to take the trailer with him. In any case, what I thought didn’t matter as I wasn’t directly involved in any of it and was only tangentially involved until the afternoon that someone discovered where L. had hidden the trailer for safe keeping, at a home in town. We had the registration and title to the trailer so legally it was ours to take, so we did. We brought the Suburban and hooked the trailer up and drove it away while L. was elsewhere in town.
In order to keep the trailer safe we drove it far up the south side of Mt Shasta to hide it where it wouldn’t be found. There is an elaborate network of dirt roads reaching up the mountain, probably old lumber roads, and these trails extend far, far up the mountain’s side. We drove several miles up one of these little roads and then cut off onto a side road and drove down to the end, where it abruptly stopped in a surround of tall grasses and small bent trees. We unhooked the trailer and decided that I would stay with it for the night, until they would come back for me at some point later.
It was a chilly night towards the end of November. We had had one or two light dustings of snow already, earlier in the month. I sat on the trailer bed in the solitude of the mountain and looked out towards the mountain tops to the south. Over the darkened ridge rose the large silvery-white disc of the full moon and behind that glowed the sky in vibrant pink and lavender hues. A slight wind blew up the mountain from down below and I breathed it in deeply. It was a stunning and magical night in every way; I reflected on my surroundings and this unexpected adventure I was suddenly a part of, and I wondered what was coming next. Most immediately I wondered when my friends would return for me, would it be a few hours, or in the morning, or would it be days? Then after that, where would we be moving next? Winter was coming very soon and I expected we wouldn’t stay here very much longer.
(to be continued)