(*It has been a while since I’ve added to this story, for anyone interested in earlier parts they can be found in the archive on my blog at prayerfullife.blog)
I never understood why we moved from place to place or the reason for the timing of our moves. As part of my decision to surrender control over my life however, was the understanding that these decisions and the reasons for them weren’t my concern. In all honesty, not knowing, and the surprise this brought, added to the excitement and the sense of adventure, and this I enjoyed very much. It was very liberating to relinquish control over these prosaic and mundane concerns and to focus instead on my inner spiritual life and on meeting whatever the immediate challenge each day, and each moment, presented.
It was difficult to find a good place to set up our camp in and around Tucson itself; we tried a few places off quiet roads, on the borders of the dry riverbeds ubiquitous in the area, but in most cases it ended up we were camped on someone’s land and were asked to leave. So we took our caravan far up into the Saguaro National Park and found a quiet, secluded place some five to ten miles up a dirt road east of town. From this place M. and I traveled into town to find work at a local employment agency during the day and then returned up the mountain in the evening. We found work demolishing a local high school which was surprisingly enjoyable. Aside from the crude humor of most of our co-workers and the vulgar way which they talked to each other, the work itself was satisfying. At the end of a hard day of physical labor, the long winding drive up the mountain, with the sweet and musky smell from the creosote shrubs filling the air, was mesmerizing and invigorating at the same time.
We didn’t stay long in Tucson, not more than a few weeks, but we were there during the full moon and I will never forget the quality of light from that moon as we camped amidst the saguaro. Perhaps it was the complete and utter silence of the place, the lack of any other stimuli to compete for the attention of our senses, but in this one place, during this one time, the moonlight was like nothing I had ever experienced or have ever experienced again since. It cast a numinous aura around everything in our midst and transformed our faces so that we looked different in some way, and the light was palpable, as if it had weight and substance and it filled the spaces around us and joined us together. It was a strange light, though still moonlight, and it caused our surroundings to also appear strange, making me feel as if we had been transported to another world, though still on earth.
By late February 1994 we left the Saguaro National Park, made our way back to California, and up the coast to Santa Cruz. This was the first time as a community that we spent much time living in an urban environment and it required more effort and care to accomplish the basic tasks of life without causing too much strain on our neighbors. At night MD and K would drive off to sleep in the vehicles in various nearby neighborhoods after they dropped us men off in the park, near the old lighthouse, to find sleeping places under the trees or in the shrubs, whatever hidden and out of the way, or mostly hidden places that we could find. Prior to this nightly routine, many of us showered at the outdoor showers in the park which were mainly used by local surfers. There wasn’t a very easy way to do this surreptitiously because the showers were directly off the sidewalk, directly adjacent to the main road leading to the lighthouse and into the center of town. We took turns showering while others of us held up a large sheet as a makeshift shower curtain to offer a semblance of privacy.
It was a challenge to find privacy in this environment since the park was so heavily used by tourists and locals, and was flanked by houses, but typically we set up our sleeping bags after dark under the shelter of a large twisted cypress tree or in a grouping of gnarled old pines off the main trails and were left to ourselves for the most part. Every morning we awoke to the joyous sound of sea lions barking in the distance as the sun began to cast its red and golden light through the eucalyptus trees, and filtered down to us sleeping on the dry earth below. Though we were good about coming and going under the cover of darkness, within a few weeks the neighbors in the surrounding homes did begin to take notice of us, and we realized we were going to need an alternative living arrangement fairly soon as early morning police patrols began to disturb our rest.
By the spring, several of us had taken jobs so that we were able collectively to rent a nice large home in the mountains about 10 miles north of town. It was at this time that W joined us. She had been part of the community from the beginning, in spirit, but hadn’t been able to live or travel with us until this time. She and K had their own rooms in the house, along with MD, while the four of us men converted the large garage to simple living quarters. We found large carpet remnants and rolled these out over the concrete floor and purchased rolls of plastic which we stapled to the exposed rafters and to the rim joists around the perimeter of all the walls so as to help keep the warmth inside the garage. We then strung wire across the center of the garage, from side wall to side wall, midway along each of the side walls, bisecting the garage lengthwise, and hung white sheets from these in order to divide the space in half. From this wire we then strung additional wires spaced every 6 feet or so running from the middle wire to the garage doors. After hanging white sheets from these wires we had created a series of about 5 or 6 small bedrooms roughly 6′ x 12′ each. From the middle wire to the back wall we left this side of the garage open, and placed a small table and a couple chairs, so that this became our common area. There was a small room built into the back corner of the garage and J moved his things into here since he still had quite a lot of personal possessions and needed a place to put them.
Soon after moving here, we began canvassing the local colleges and universities along with natural food stores, as we had done in the previous locations we had lived, in order to let people know we were there and that MD was giving classes in spirituality. We used the living room in the main house for these classes and over the subsequent year or two there was a regular flow of people coming to meet individually or in groups to learn from him.
For those of us living with him and not just visiting, our training continued much as it had been up to this point, with lessons both spiritual and practical. As a child and youth I hadn’t learned many practical life skills so I enjoyed these types of lessons in addition to the spiritual ones; learning things such as how to fell trees, which we did in various areas on the large property, how to chop wood, which we did daily, to feed the fire which we used exclusively to heat the main house, and how to run a simple business which he had me begin at this time. He had found enormous piles of chipped wood mulch in a nearby lot and we began advertising this material in the local newspaper. To fulfill the order I would get up at about 3:30 in the morning and drive the Suburban and trailer to the lot and load the trailer with about 19 yards of material, tarp it off and deliver it to our customer. It was exhilarating to breathe in the strong camphor and menthol smells of the composting eucalyptus chips as I manually shoveled or picked the chips from the pile into our trailer. It seemed impossible to me that I could fill our trailer alone this way as quickly as I did, but somehow I managed to fill the entire 4’x8’x16′ trailer above the rim and tarp it off in little over two hours. I worked feverishly and loved it. Some days I was able to deliver and unload my first delivery by 8 or 9 in the morning, and return and load the trailer for a second delivery and have that also completed before lunch time.
In order to keep balance between our physical and our spiritual tasks MD instituted what we called “inner” and “outer” days. On “outer” days we did our work such as I just described, and on “inner” days we stayed at home and read scripture, or prayed, or went on daytrips together as a community. As much as I enjoyed the physical work, I preferred the “inner” days since that fit more with my natural proclivities and habits. If it were up to me I would have only done “inner” days, but thankfully it wasn’t up to me and instead, I was able to learn a great deal over the years about work, business, and how the world operates. These lessons enabled me to run my own business after I left the community and gave me life skills that have benefited me throughout my adult life.
(to be continued)