And then the conversation turned to scabies, which is when little bugs burrow down and lay nests and build homes UNDERNEATH your skin and they itch like mad but when you scratch them they move, they spread and lay more eggs and more nests, nesting underneath your skin. Leap imitated having scabies, being all itchy and shit, jumping around on the log bench. Leap got ’em because she slept with a punk who had ’em. “Leap’s had ’em like four times,” Nomad says, and then Marshall, who’s sprawled out over the armchair, says that he had ’em when he was in jail. “Scabies…like, all that shit. That shit sucks, man,” and he makes a mean-dog face and pretends to scratch like a gorilla. And I think the most precise way to describe him would be to say that he was a dog in a recent past life, which might also explain why these guys call themselves Wolves. They’re like animal-men in the wild, where creatures get lost in the timber, are forgotten, and evolve into strange and wild things—weird growths, evolutions, the fight for survival leading to antisocial characteristics bred by instinct and freedom…
Rachel: “Hey, Marshall, did I show you the heart potato that I found today? Look at it, it’s a heart.”
“The end of the world is coming in December, so there’ll be a lot of people coming up here. They’ve already made a movie about it, hahaha, so you’d better be prepared.” A meeting has been called with the Greater Family. The Greater Family lives over that ridge, and consist of some hippies that used to live at the Wolf. “I’m serious,” Pete continues. “A lot of people think the end is coming, ma-an. And a lot of those people will be coming here to see it happen. Get ready to can some food. Get ready to feed those passers-by…”
We go around the fire-pit and do check-ins. Barnaby says, “I want to get better at my primitive skills. This is a wilderness commune, and I think it’s important that we teach everybody primitive skills.” Marshall says, “My knee’s not killing me and I am up and ready to do stuff,” with a real hard emphasis on do stuff. Another girl is there, a girl I’ve never seen before and I don’t know her name but apparently she hides out in her cabin and cries, cries.
Anake sits cross-legged and all in black with little round glasses; she looks disturbed by Marshall’s words and the crying girl. “All work is valuable,” she says. “That person alone in the cabin might be writing the great story of this place. You don’t want to make them feel as if they’re not valuable. All work is valuable.”
Leap rubs the petals of a dandelion between her fingers, and her gravelly voice, offset by her funny hippie-dippy garb and bare feet, makes her words sound weightier: “I want to live a simple life,” she says. “I want to do what is possible to make a simple life possible.”
IV. THE SIMPLE LIFE.
Leap’s words keep coming to mind when I think about Wolf House now. What did she mean by a simple life? Why did she make it seem like it’s difficult to live simply—and why did she feel the need to go all the way up to the Wolf to do so?
Simple might mean natural: having the space and time to sit on a knoll, watching insects meander and gazing at the big sky above. Maybe simple means being able to ask for less. Making the effort to make (and fully appreciate) the bare necessities required for life (food, shelter, clothes), rather than bee-lining straight to those “higher” things (consumerism, erudition). A simple life: a life where one fully understands that bread does not come from the store, and milk does not come from a carton. Grinding the wheat berries, waiting for the loaves to rise; feeling the warm milk spurt from the teat as the cow chews her cud in a cozy barn. A life where your work does not turn into a commodity, but feeds you.
Clocks and mirrors were in short supply at Wolf House. When you never care what time it is you can be more aware of the present. And when you rarely see reflections of yourself, you stop caring what you look like. You start noticing more, blending into the forest. So hippies dream different dreams than those who dream in Babylon.* It’s a humble dream, this simple life.
Humility is a hard sell. These past couple of months I’ve been working at a goat farm in New Mexico. It’s chock-full of squares. Nigh has returned to Wolf House, and I’m discovering that the simple life is a drag without some nature-loving hippies. Lately, every time I water the squash garden, I sob. I sob because I am too worn out to find the starry night miraculous; I sob because milking goats is so rote that I find myself treating the animals like machines. I find myself yearning again for the American Dream of “success,” even if I don’t know what that means. I crave a supermarket.
Meanwhile, Nigh’s signing his emails “Let’s fuck our futures and be buddhas together,” and I’m stuck trawling Facebook, looking at photos of cutting-edge Manhattanites and posting “fuuck hippies” on my Wall.
But “fuuck hippies” got too many Likes and led to too many witticisms about hippies and sex.
Nigh’s response: “fuck egos and clocks and money, i say. fuck concrete and clean clothes.”
Then Jo Ann, my old hippie friend, weighed in and set us back on our feet: “Sun Bear said, ‘Don’t tell me your philosophy unless it grows more corn.’” ♦
* Babylon: hippie slang for Western consumer society. (Also, an ancient Biblical city.)
Anna McConnell is still working on the goat farm. She is making plans to return to “the Wolf.” You can read more about her and Nigh’s travels here.