Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Subject C and I sat in the shade of an old mimosa in his backyard. b. 1942 -- NYC

I grew up in the burst of post-war prosperity. My father was a junior high school music teacher and my mother was a pretty typical middle class housewife. I was marginally successful in school and with no goals of my own went to small Lutheran college in Pennsylvania. When I graduated I had no more idea of what I wanted to do with my life than I had when I was in high school. I’d say that “the sixties” didn’t begin for me until I was living and working in NY City and then really not until the Beatles invasion hit. It was the civil rights struggle that first grabbed my attention although at that time I knew nothing about protest and precious little about inequality in America (my boyhood hero was Jackie Robinson and his story was compelling but I remained ignorant of the pervasiveness of racism in America and ignorant of the Jim Crow south).

Public protest of any kind was a foreign idea to me. I knew nothing of labor’s history or the history of suffrage marches. It seems that “history” in school never made it to the 20th century. Of course there were no protests of any sort at my college. But after college the civil rights movement was getting cranked up, and that got my attention. In 1964, my new wife and I traveled to Morocco and, in a youth hostel in Tangiers, I had to defend the blazing ghettos of Detroit to a group of black Africans. I think civil rights was the beginning of my Sixties consciousness. I found myself cheering for the people who were burning down the ghettos, sharing their anger.

The last 5 years of the decade finally gave shape to my life. The civil rights struggle was on television and in the streets around me, the war in Vietnam compelled me seek a draft deferment by teaching school in the ghettos of NY, and all around me young people were acting up, growing their hair long, taking drugs, dropping out of the 1950s middle class.

You know, I’m a child of the 50s, and I got all that Eisenhower stuff -- diving under my desk for air raid drills, wearing dog tags -- WWII movies -- very much a part of my growing up -- cowboy movies, people acting from principle, regardless of the consequences. My aggressive nature and something else in me resonated with that notion of acting out of principle.

In 1966, I became a school-teacher in NYC - started off teaching special classes of emotionally disturbed grade-schoolers for two years, then 4th grade for three years, then again emotionally disturbed. But teaching in NY’s poor and colored neighborhoods was my way out of Vietnam. They said that with a bachelor’s degree and a minimum number of education credits, I could receive an emergency license to teach in those schools. I never understood why such a deferment was proper. It was tough work in tough neighborhoods but comparison with the experience of combat is pretty lame.

Being in those neighborhoods, dealing with those kids and getting a first hand look at poverty and social adversity heightened my appreciation of the civil rights movement. In 1968 there was a teachers’ strike in New York born of black-white conflict. The board granted the community in the Bedford-Styuvesant section of Brooklyn control of their schools. They immediately fired seventeen white teachers saying they were racist, were underqualified or underperforming. The union struck and I crossed the all-white picket lines together with one other white teacher and all the black and Puerto Rican teachers.
I was, up to then, a United Federation of Teachers union delegate for my school. The split in the teachers in my school by race was symptomatic, I believe, of the atmosphere of fear that drove white teachers to betray their principles.

When I was a student protests were unheard of and I found the 60’s campus protests kind of self indulgent, immature behavior. But in the 60s I drove to Washington DC to march in support of civil rights and later against the war. Me, a white man, talked to my 4th graders about black pride and about racism – as best I understood it at the time. I supported the Black Panthers and opposed the war.

Although the whole hippie phenomenon was happening all around me I stayed separated from it. It was too wild, too druggy, too irresponsible. I didn’t smoke marijuana until 1968. I was unprepared for the experience but ready to embrace the new perceptions I had from the drug. It put me on the path out of the mainstream.

F and I had gone to San Francisco for the summer of love. We had seen people our age – well, mostly younger than we were – living outside of the culture in which we’d grown up and outside the law as well. We did psychedelics for the first time - we stayed with my sister in San Francisco, were given some mescaline, and went to Yosemite to take it. As with my experience with pot this trip was seminal – again it changed my view of the world completely. Not like it made me crazy, or anything -- it gave me the knowledge that there are other ways of looking at things, that my sureness about reality was not very firmly grounded. It informed me that change was possible, that I didn’t have to do what I was “supposed to,” that I could change myself and that I could find other ways of living. This was the overall effect of drugs. I didn’t do psychedelics very many times in my life -- maybe six times. I smoked marijuana when I could get it, which wasn’t very often back then. But I think that drugs were responsible for, if not raising my consciousness, making it acceptable to think new thoughts, to admit to other realities. It made me open to reading about yogis, and reading Ram Dass and Carlos Casteneda, and rejecting my very rigid scientific background.

In 1970 F and I discovered Mother Earth News, and here were these descriptions of people living out in the country, growing food, taking care of themselves, and it was a world removed from my urban world. NY was increasingly becoming a place where I couldn’t live peacefully. I was a paranoid and aggressive person throughout the 60s -- I was angry and it was getting me in trouble and the city was becoming more dangerous. My hair was getting longer and hair covered more of my face. I didn’t know where I was going but the winds of change were pushing me.

I have a recollection of sitting in Brooklyn in ‘69 or ‘70, writing page after page, trying to conceptualize how people could live together, how you could restructure relationships among people as a commune, as a community. This was not based on any experience, it was not even based on reading about other communities. I was dreaming about what might be, but I don’t think I would have been dreaming if the 60s hadn’t happened; I would have continued being an unhappy straight guy. I was still working with a 50s’ head.

F and I went to a few meetings with neighborhood people -- by this time, Brooklyn -- of other ‘’hippies” -- people who were saying that life here in the city, in the mainstream, was crazy, that there was a better way –with Mother Earth News and United Farm rural land catalogs we started dreaming about leaving.

Our first attempt to leave got us as far as upstate NY – only a few hundred miles from the city. We were miserable there, without friends or compatriots. I taught school again and with my beard and long hair and uppity views about teachers’ rights I was pretty unpopular at work. Our first daughter was born.

Our attempt to escape from our NY City life was a failure. The next year we came back close by the city and rented a house in northern New Jersey. We were even more miserable there, both with our circumstances and with our personal relationship. I hustled a piece of a living as a cabinet maker and general carpenter. We came perilously close to breaking up and would have if we could have afforded two rents. We went on welfare. I worked as a stockboy in a department store and walked out after two weeks. We had committed to two years in the house we were renting and counted the days until we’d be free to leave north Jersey and find a new life.

Finally in 1973 we headed out once more. We stopped in southern Ohio and stayed with a friend on his farm, the first experience I’d ever had actually living in the country. We came to Arkansas because we had made some contacts with a guy in Pettigrew -- his letters to Mother Earth News brought quite a few people here. From our first drive through these mountains and the first hippies we met we knew we’d come to the right place.

Our first home here was a little shack up on Wharton Creek near Huntsville that we rented for $25 a month. Located in a deep valley on a horrible road this primitive old homestead was paradise to us. That first year we met M and his wife – they had moved here from California the year before. They had bought lots of land, and said why don’t you come build a place on our land. And we did. We moved to their farm, cleared a space in the trees and put all our youthful vigor into building a house, establishing gardens, and hustling a very small living doing carpentry and farm work.

F, who had a BFA and considerable experience as a calligrapher, started painting signs. We became ‘the’ county sign painters for 7 or 8 years. Even with that we earned barely $2500 a year. We got food stamps on and off, until we found the process too demeaning to continue. We had a second child in 1976 and a third one in ’79. By then we had started a crafts business using F’s calligraphy and combining it with pressed flower collage and making framed pictures which we sold at crafts shows. By the early 1980s it was providing a small, welfare-free income.

We derived great pleasure from our surroundings - sitting outside and looking at a bug on the ground, watching flowers bloom and trees change color and grow, interacting with wildlife and farm animals, growing our own food – and from the wonderful community of friends, all of them in-migrants like us.

We never had running water for the eleven and a half years we lived at M’s - well, we did have a line running from a muddy pond half of the year - in cold weather, the line would burst, because it was just half-inch black plastic on the top of the ground. For years, we hauled all our water from the creek behind the house, a hundred yards downhill, in buckets. We did and our children did. The summer [drought] of 1980 ruined the spring at the creek; it never recovered. The drought killed huge oak trees in our yard -- it was awful.

We didn’t have electricity for the first six years at M’s, just kerosene lamps. Bathing was in a wash tub in the middle of the cabin -- we would ladle water over each other. In warm weather, we had a shower of sorts - water coming from the pond to a hose hanging in a tree.

By the time we left in 1985, F was really dissatisfied. It had become oppressive to live as primitively as we were. Our oldest daughter was 13 and she was ready for something else. After a 3-year attempt to find a new life in Lawrence, KS we ended up back here in Arkansas at this house on the edge of town.

The whole hippie thing of the 60s was truly a rebellion, a cultural rebellion. For me it was a real act of defiance to refuse to wear a tie, to let my hair grow, to have a beard. You have to remember where I came from, culturally, and what expectations others had for me that I pitched overboard. I feel like I grabbed the 60s by the tail, and it kind of whipped me into the 70s and 80s. I really was too old to feel the rebellion from the innocent inside as all the young hippies but the spirit of it had a firm grip on me.

None of my college classmates that I’ve had any contact with followed the course I did. They all went on to become doctors, lawyers, ministers, college teachers, professionals of one sort or another. I never found anybody who freaked out, which is all I can call what I did, relative to my generation. But in no way do I regret my choices. I found my way to a freedom I didn’t have when the decade began. I found I could dream of another way of living, that I could act in ways that suited my feelings and philosophy and not be tied to what others thought I should or shouldn’t do or think or believe. I think I’ve become a more compassionate person and certainly more conscious of how people live together in the real world. And these are the basic values.

I have a job now, a business, and we can afford rent on this house. When we were doing craft shows we needed some kind of tent to keep us dry, and a fellow craft exhibitor and I designed and built one. When we took it to a show other exhibitors wanted to know where we bought it and so I started to make them – in the shade of an oak tree using hand tools - with the help of C sewed the tops on an industrial treadle machine in her tepee. Now we have drill presses and power band saws and C has electricity and commercial sewing equipment.

It is said that the ‘60s were about self indulgent youth, about sex and drugs and parties and rebelling as children rebel. It is said that all that noise and fuss had no merit and can’t be looked at for its long term effect. My feeling is that the experience of the ‘60s (and ‘70s) changed not only America but the world. First of all, the rebellion didn’t just happen here. It happened in Prague, in Paris. There were lots of places where the youth were saying the whole mind set of their parents, of the ‘50s, was crazy and hypocritical. It was the ‘60s that brought anti-war protest to the mainstream. In the ‘50s, there was no such consciousness. War was glorious, heroic. The ‘60s exposed the underbelly of the principled America we’d been taught about in the ‘40s and ‘50s. It was shocking to see television pictures of dogs attacking black people in the south. Up to then I knew nothing of Jim Crow. The ‘60s gave the lie to everything I had been taught, all the values I had been brought up with. My search was to find some ground to stand on because what I had been given as a child was pulled out from under me by the ‘60s. I couldn’t rely on any of it. I had to rely on what I thought, what I felt.

Then there was the practical thing of working with those new ideas. I don’t know of any communes that have succeeded but our communities here in the Ozarks have survived. I have learned that change itself is necessary and inevitable. I have learned not to be complacent, not to become too established, because everything will change. And that’s not a consciousness I grew up with. I grew up with the idea of immutability, that there are principles, things that are absolutely true -- and the ‘60s said there was no truth, that you have to find your own truth. The hippie idea was that each of us has to find his own truth.

All those people who took on the values of the ‘60s came from the ‘50s -- and much as they wanted to change, there was an awful lot ingrained. And we repeated some of the mistakes we rebelled against and failed at our attempts to create a different way of life - open marriages, communes, exotic religions. But understand that we had no basis for these experiments. We didn’t know, for instance, how to live together, and it was proved out time and time again in the many failed communes. They would break up because people had no experience in the principles of communism or the practice of it. When they tried to live out their ideals they constantly ran into themselves, or their former selves.

So much changed when I came here to Arkansas. We really were divorced from the mainstream, and this setting made it possible to be. I didn’t have a radio, no tv, I didn’t read newspapers. In 1974 we founded Headwaters School. We were establishing our own world, and we stumbled numerous times, but I think it’s testament to our determination that many of the people who came here in the 1970s are still here. We still talk about community values. We talk about who we are as a group and how we function together. It’s an ongoing topic of conversation within the community of people who came here -- old hippies.

It’s taken me a long time to learn how to be a good teacher, how to lead learners to learn. I taught two of my daughters for three years, here at home. Thinking about it, I became a better teacher. I think I’m a good teacher at this point, but I’m not doing it professionally. I’ve been warned by several principals I met while taking an upper graduate level course here at the University that I’d never make it, that the system would chew me up. The system these days requires that you to do it their way precisely, that at 10:15 am you’re teaching science, and following the prescribed curriculum. And those folks are undoubtedly right. The only way I -- and I still fantasize about going back to teaching because I think I am good at this point -- the only way I could do it at this point is to go into a really bad school where I won’t be bothered, where they’re not going to make me walk any lines, and I know I could connect with the kids. My solution to the educational crisis we have now is to fire the entire administrative staff, put more teachers into classrooms, and have no more than ten kids per class. You don’t need expensive books, you don’t need elaborate equipment, you don’t need athletic stuff. One teacher, seven to ten kids and a small budget, and then go -- my guess is that 90% of teachers would become successful, because they wouldn’t be dealing with an impossible situation. Most teachers didn’t become teachers because they didn’t have anything else to do with their lives. They had – and have - ideals, but they’ve never been put in a situation where they could put them into practice. I still might find myself back there one day. I think there is a possibility. I’m not sure I could function with the system the way it is now. I want to give back and I think I have the skills to do it but I don’t know if it will ever happen for me. My sister went back; she’s teaching in Harlem, one of two white teachers in a totally black school. She’s a really good teacher and puts a lot of energy and time into it. She’s in a state of perpetual exhaustion compounded by the frustration of large classes in a difficult environment.

I think that in my interaction with the local community here just being whoever I am has always had an influence. I just finished working with some local guys on a job and we talked about stuff, about owning your own land and immigrants coming in, current events. I don’t try to push my point of view -- when possible, I just state it and let it sit there. Think about it if you feel like it. I don’t proselytize. I think that the consciousness and ideas of the ‘60s have permeated the general culture in ways. For instance the idea of brotherhood and sisterhood is straight out of the hippies and ‘60s, and the black power movement – that idea of our interconnectedness and responsibility for each other has spread to a large portion of society. If it is nurtured, it could be brought out. The whole environmental movement -- so many people have accepted these principles and ideals that they are now mainstream.

So many ideas that are now mainstream were dismissed as hippie dreaming. The sense of social justice that came out of the civil rights movement, the first time many of us had to think about social justice, happened to us in the ‘60s. Life-directing experiences like meditating, being conscious of what we eat, doing yoga, greeting each other with hugs – all have insinuated themselves in the mainstream.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

# 21

Subject L. and I met at her rural home, surrounded by plants and the steady rasp of cicadas in the nearby woods.

Folk music and a good friend who liked to play folk music were my first awareness of Sixties culture. I went to an all girls’ Catholic high school -- in retrospect, I think I had a pretty wide range of experiences there. I went all the way through Catholic college, and it was not a conservative or repressive environment, at least at the time I was there. My most respected professor -- of philosophy -- ended up leaving the priesthood and getting married. There was a lot of choice. The basic thing was, what you got out of it depended on your experiences. That background, for me, was that it was alright to ask all kinds of questions, and nothing was taboo -- There was a lot of conversation and questioning, different backgrounds and lifestyles.

In high school, I was interested in social causes, like civil rights and integration. When I was a junior or senior I did work through some classes, went down into the inner city in the mid to late 60s to work in the housing projects. As a sideline I did some work with the school for the deaf -- we learned sign language. But once I got to college (in 1968), I became more aware of the Vietnam War and that whole thing. My focus shifted from civil rights into the whole Vietnam era. My taste in music changed too, from folk to rock and roll. Another element that ran all the way through my life, and was especially strong in the late 60s and early 70s, was this back to the land hippie peace flower child thing. I grew up in suburbia but had grandparents who lived in the country, which caused my mother untold grief because I wanted to be a country girl. As a child, I’d go to my grandmother’s and cry when I had to leave. I also loved small towns. I didn’t see anything good in suburbia, although now I do see the convenience.

I was a sociology major in college, and I was going to save the world. I had one very good professor -- the department was split between two people: the head of the department was a sociologist, and he was very interested in people getting a good background in all the readings and the theories, and then the other fellow was very practical, social work oriented. I don’t think I appreciated the sociologist enough, but I was really impressed with the social work guy, so in college I ended up with a sociology/psychology degree. We had classes where we were working and it brought to the forefront the actual reality of working in that field and how bureaucratic it was, how difficult it was to actually get things done. I enjoyed the hands-on social work more than the theory.

When I did graduate in ‘72, there was a hiring freeze and there was no way to get a job. By the time I got a job offer, it was two weeks before I had my daughter, so I didn’t take it. When my little girl was young, up until 8 or 10 yrs ago, I worked as a volunteer in some sort of area related to social work things, women’s centers, adult day care centers.

During college, I became a vegetarian, and I was sympathetic to a variety of issues, but there weren’t any major protests in the small town where the college was. I had an early and very strong interest in environmental issues, which didn’t go away, and I was interested in Buckey Fuller’s work. I managed to get them to bring him to the school as a visiting scholar, then I was excluded from the formal dinner -- school politics. He was pushing the geodesic dome, and it was related to environmental issues in that there was a lot of passive solar and low use of natural resources -- very efficient. He also had an automobile that he had made that was extremely efficient -- the dymaxion car. I tried to find out if there were schools that worked on that -- you could get into a specific program, but there weren’t many schools offering just plain environmental programs at that time. I started getting involved in World Watch -- back in ‘71. Their state of the world report was really dire, but some things have been done that they said needed to be done. But from the perspective at that point in time, we figured that we’d be long gone by now and the earth would be a crisp cinder. I also had a lot of awareness of the nuclear arms race. I was more involved with social and environmental issues, but I wasn’t involved in protesting the draft or the Vietnam War, even tho I had friends who went off into the war and friend who went to Canada.

Getting back to the land was extremely appealing to me, going back to when I was a child, maybe more so than a lot of people. I had fancied living in a commune but never did. I lived with groups of people, but not on an official commune. When I left college, I got pregnant. That changed my life. I was a single mom, and pretty much deserted by everybody for awhile there. My family was there but not there. I’m the oldest of five children, and there was the recommendation from a particular parish priest that my family shouldn’t allow my younger brothers and sisters too much exposure to my evil influence. My family was actually more supportive than most of my friends, because my friends felt that there was no excuse for me not to get an abortion. My plan had been to travel the world, the whole thing, go back to the land, somehow do all these things, which now as an older person I realize weren’t going to work well together. Maybe I could do them consecutively, but I couldn’t do them all at once. I was sidetracked -- which disappointed everybody but me. I was pretty happy about it (being pregnant). It was an accident, but once I found myself pregnant I had no doubt about what I was going to do.

I was on welfare, AFDC until F. was two. I had good friends, and lived in a community in the country, and that’s where I met C. He and I moved in together. He was graduate student and had no income. After we met, I began moving into what I do now, which is archaeology and anthropology. I had been interested, but my college did not have an anthropology department. I guess from the point where I was interested in sociology as a social science, I was almost more interested in anthropology, in its cultural aspects, where you’re going out learning about cultures you can interact with. When I met C. I became more interested, even tho I was in the middle of working at the women’s shelter. I just took F with me. I spent probably fifty percent of my time doing volunteer work when she was little, basically working with poor people. In women’s issues, it was primarily the women’s shelter. I did that in Illinois, then again in Tennessee when C got a job, and I worked as a field cook. That was pretty interesting, I cooked for 16 people. Then we moved to Alabama and I found places to work. I did start working part time in archaeology, but also continued doing volunteer social work.

C came to Arkansas in conjunction with his profession, and by that time F was in first grade, and I started doing archaeology, and volunteered at the battered women’s shelter. After three years, the government contracts changed, and our jobs abruptly ended, and that was right after our second child was born, so we decided to start our own business. We bid on government jobs. C is the archaeologist, and I do the business aspect. I enjoy the field work and have done some of it, but I do the money and personnel management, editing and quality control, and we’ve been in business for 15 years. The last two years have been difficult for the whole profession. All the cutbacks, all kinds of upheaval, again trying to change the procuring process, and the death knell for the small company in this field.

We grow a big garden. For years, we’ve done organic gardening, pretty successfully. I enjoy gardening a lot. I did a lot of canning, but now I do more freezing. I do more specialties, like pickled okra. In Alabama, I was very organic, only not the point where I was making my own flour or anything. Eating good, home grown organic food was very important to me. I had neighbors who thought I was an abusive parent because I did things they didn’t consider good parenting. I did not give my children sugar, which was their term for love, their way of demonstrating love, and I also didn’t believe in hitting children. I worked temporarily as a substitute teacher, and I did a good job, but they didn’t want me back because I wouldn’t hit the kids. The teachers all carried a paddle, kind of like a ping pong paddle, right on their belt, and I didn’t believe in that.

I’ve run into downright bigotry here in Northwest Arkansas. People can be bigots in all different directions, and I’ve run into my share. I think that’s where the anthropology part comes in handy, gives an uninvolved perspective. Observing people who fancy themselves big liberals and yet they’re not truly liberal, because if you don’t go with exactly what they think is good, then your ‘aura’ is wrong, you’re not cosmically cool enough. Maybe I’m not as liberal, maybe I’m not as cool as they are, I’ve never really gone with that. I consider myself conservative in some areas, especially in terms of the environment.

I used lots of drugs. I used nicotine and alcohol in high school. I started smoking cigarettes when I was 13, and quit when I was 22, when I got pregnant. I drank heavily in college, for the first year or so, but then I considered myself superior to the riffraff who used alcohol because I had better drugs. I enjoyed pot much more, but I didn’t get to pooh-poohing alcohol until I got to the hallucinogenic drugs, which I did do the last two years of my college career. That was combined with the back to the land thing, and I did it for the spiritual part of it too. I do think that hallucinogenic drugs do expand your consciousness. I do believe that. Yet, I would be petrified to see my high school age child get anywhere near it -- I lost a couple of friends to drugs. I formed strong opinions about drugs then. I’m very against speed. My experience was that speed turned people into monsters. My basic opinion now is that I wish they’d (the government) stop wasting all their (our) damn money fighting marijuana and I think we’d have a lot of support from a lot of people. My personal feeling is that it (drugs) should all be legal. That would be the best way to go at it, the most effective way. Then maybe we could deal with the people who have the real problems. I had friends who were heroin addicts, I thought they were crazy but I still liked them. I had friends who fell into speed and they were no longer my friends. And those are the people who we lost, people who went out of second story windows. I never knew anybody using heroin who was that crazy.

I no longer imbibe, because I found in my late 20s that what marijuana did for me was put me to sleep, and I didn’t need to go to sleep. I had a thyroid problem, and I think that was one of the reasons I was so reactive. I finally did have to have one gland taken out. Both C and I have communicated our attitudes on drugs to our children, because I think we need something honest, and I think this baloney that they’re teaching in the school systems is harmful, because these kids are too smart, and they all of a sudden realize that marijuana is not this evil substance -- like T-- already will spout off that it’s only a gateway drug if you have to keep going to people pushing other garbage. To me, tobacco is the worst drug we’ve got out there right now, not counting speed and so forth -- it’s so readily available, so addictive. C’s been trying to stop smoking since I’ve met him, he’s been smoking since he went to Vietnam. T says she went to some sort of music thing, and she said 80% of the kids in there were smoking cigarettes -- kids under 18, 20. My brother has been a strong member of NORML for years, and I’ve sent him money, but we don’t give directly because of work restrictions. At least as archaeologists we don’t have to be very straight to keep a job. I think that’s why I’ve developed some of my attitudes.

These two sides of the spectrum, liberals (progressives) and conservatives (traditionalists), the terms are used to stereotype people. I think one of the main earmarks of a truly liberal person is tolerance. I keep trying to teach my children that. The main place we give money is to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has a teaching tolerance program, which is fantastic. I think it’s a thread that’s gone all the way through my life, trying to fight intolerance. You can find intolerance everywhere, in right wing ultraconservatives and in the yuppie liberal political agenda -- I may agree with more of the liberal political stances, but I don’t agree with the social attitudes that close out others. We can learn something from everyone. I attribute my desire for tolerance partly to some of the drugs I took in college, because the experiences showed the kinship of people, that we’re more alike than different.

I’m optimistic about the future. I think you’re born that way (optimistic). To me, if the glass is half full/ half empty, why not think of it as half full? What’s the point in the thinking it’s half empty? I think that human beings can do it. Looked at historically, things are getting better -- maybe not as fast as I’d like. I think we have ourselves up against the wall environmentally, but I think the human being per se is trudging along slowly in a positive direction. Look how long we’ve been around -- we’ve made immense leaps and bounds, just in the last century or two, the centuries we’ve got recorded information. But then, based on my experience in anthropology and archaeology, in some ways it appears we haven’t changed at all. In other ways, both physical and the whole spiritual/moral aspect, I’ve seen just in my short lifetime some change for the better.

I like my kids, and I think they offer promise for the next generation. I think there’s a dual reason for our children’s adherence to our values. In my experience, in some ways it was more difficult to discuss and explain, rather than to just whack a kid for some misbehavior. But these kids grew up asking questions, thinking about things. Also, I think the information age has had a great impact. I’m reading a book called On Photography by Susan Sontag, really interesting, and it makes you realize that a lot of these changes (relating to the information age) started with photography because all of a sudden images were available everywhere. We all talk about the influence of television, video, how the world has gotten so much smaller. But I think some things have gotten better, and even tho on a personal level maybe people are not that much more improved than they were a hundred years ago, there’s a perception that we are. Look at the emphasis on all this human rights stuff -- . And when people are actually interviewed about these things (such as human rights, the environment) they say these issues are important to them. I think the culture is changing. You don’t have to go too far out to see differences, and I think it’s spreading -- the integrity of the human being is becoming important -- our definition of who deserves respect and integrity has become a lot wider.

One of my pet peeves right now is this whole thing that’s going on with homosexuals -- how can people be such bigots, it drives me crazy. I have two siblings who are homosexuals, and this is not a life that they choose -- it’s who they are. Assuming we accept people are born as homosexuals, for people to say that they are just born evil or choose to be evil, that’s beyond my comprehension. This sexuality is a divergence, different because most animals are born to reproduce, and obviously homosexuals do not have that drive to reproduce. It’s an issue that really gets my goat. Take Trent Lot’s stance on the guy they’re trying to make an ambassador to the Netherlands—a gay man, extremely capable—Lot is holding back the vote because Lot says he’s (the prospective ambassador) a sinner and being gay is a decision and we don’t want such an evil person representing the U. S. Lot stated that homosexuality was a moral choice and they can go get it fixed if they want to, that people choose to be homosexual, just like someone would choose to dye their hair —then the first lovely person to support Lot was our representative here from NWA, who said the prospective ambassador had some kind of gay agenda. We’ve tried to figure out what this gay agenda might be --

Anyway, it goes back to my thing about intolerance. I’ve tried to teach my children to be tolerant and have a sense of humor. I think if you go from there --

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

# 54

Met with subject near his Fayetteville home. Born 1949, Michigan

My sister bulldozed the way for me into the 60’s. She is six years older than I. After transferring from Oberlin, a well respected liberal arts college in Ohio., my sister was attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI., U of M. She got somewhat involved with the civil rights movement while there. My parents, specifically my father, really didn’t like that. Their most discussed fear was the possibility of her getting arrested and what their friends and neighbors would think if they found out about it. My father wanted her to transfer again to a different school. She agreed and decided upon the University of California, Berkeley campus and would pursue an advanced degree in marine biology. At that point in time, Berkeley didn’t have the student activist reputation it was about to develop as the Free Speech Movement (FSM) got going soon after my sister transferred there. She became very involved with the FSM and was arrested several times.

She and I stayed in touch, as best we could. There was a point at which she was banned from coming home or having any communication with any of us -- mostly my father’s doing. She was very intelligent, had worked several summers at Ford Motor Co. where my father had worked for 20+ years and she had received a Ford scholarship to college. Consequently, a lot of my father’s co-workers knew my sister. Through a series of events it had become general knowledge that his daughter had “gone off the deep end”. Much of the details were also general knowledge, i.e. getting arrested, involvement with the FSM, and dating a black man.

One of my last conversations with my father before he had a heart attack and died, we got into a pretty big argument after he admitted to me that he had recently voted for George Wallace for President.

I didn’t see my sister for several years while she lived in California and we were not supposed to be in any communication. She wrote me birthday cards and sent other communication to me via a friend. It is unfortunate that this huge schism in our family was not resolved until after his death.. He died very suddenly of a heart attack in 1968.

As I graduated from high school, I was planning to go into the Air Force. My girlfriend and I were going to get engaged as soon as we were a couple of years into school. I had chosen entering the Air Force because I wanted to learn to fly. It hadn’t occurred to me, when you’re up in those planes, what you drop on the people on the ground. I went to the U of M. too. As I got there, some lights started going on pretty quickly. I had started having conversations with, first, my dad, that quickly got very conflicted and then he died. My mother tried to pick up his torch, but she didn’t feel the same as he did.

When I graduated from high school in 1967, there were two kids in high school that had ever smoked marijuana. Where I was in suburban Detroit, it wasn’t happening yet. That summer the black communities in Detroit and all over the US burst into flames. John Sinclair and the White Panther Party were just moving from their commune in downtown Detroit to Ann Arbor. The Black Panthers and the Black Muslims were just beginning to organize in Detroit and I knew nothing about either of them at that time. My sister told me I should look into a CO [conscientious objector] status -- don’t just register. I remember talking to my high school counselor, and he said, “Oh, CO’s are just for Quakers and other ‘unusual’ religious people -- that’s not for you, you can’t do that -- just get your 2-S deferment”. A 2-S was a deferment to go to school -- and initially, that’s what I did. Then as I got to know people who were involved with setting up a draft counseling center I got interested in helping. They needed people to act as counselors and I went to a training program offered by the American Friends, Quakers. That’s the point when things started to add up very differently for me.

At the same time, I had a lot of good profs and people I got to know personally at the University who were showing me things I’d never seen before. New ideas. Pretty quickly it seemed pretty clear to me that “we”, the US, were making some major mistakes and that we shouldn’t be doing what we were doing. Soon before his death my father had shown me plans of the assembly plant that FoMoCo had planned to put in what was then Saigon. He made it very clear.

He said, “The reason we’re over there is so Ford Motor Company and other people can go over there and exploit cheap labor.”

He didn’t think that was ok -- it was complicated. He wasn’t just this totally crazy right-wing racist. He grew up in a small town in the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan, as did my mother. He had no exposure to blacks, some exposure to Native Americans, who were mostly people who had real serious drinking problems in the UP. He came down to Detroit, this wide-eyed kid, and the guys -- the blacks and the other people that were around Ford’s headquarter’s in Dearborn, MI, Rouge plant, were a rough bunch, common laborers making good money. It was a real rough and tumble environment. He didn’t come into contact with blacks who made the best citizen role model. He got an impression -- and it was hard -- as I got older I started to see. He had just wanted the best for his daughter and saw his daughter doing things that could possibly create problems for her in the future. He didn’t know how to express that very well. He and I actually had had a very good relationship. And most of the time, my sister and he did too. All through school while she lived at home she had toed the line, had been a good little daughter, pulling straight A’s, was popular at school. Earlier I had always heard, ”Why can’t you be more like your sister?” And then all of sudden, “OK, if you want to work on drag race cars and hang out with these motor-head kids -- just don’t get involved with politics or racial issues and civil rights.” So she really broke the ice for me.

I was working at Ford Motor Company during the summers. I was still drag racing. I’d never identified with hippies. Summer of ‘68, after the Summer of Love, my sister was at Golden Gate park -- I didn’t have a clue. I was a motorhead.

But next year as the Vietnam War was raging on, I did get involved with draft counseling as I mentioned earlier. Because I was living in Ann Arbor near Detroit and Canada just across the Detroit River, I soon found myself helping to get AWOL’s out of the country. Helping young fellows my age leave military service and move to Toronto. There was a huge community of people who were deserting the armed forces. I made several runs over there with people. People stayed with me who were AWOL, people who had joined or had been drafted. I heard several young guys say, “Oh my god, what am I doing in this army uniform.” Large numbers of these guys wanted out regardless of the difficulties it would mean for them in the future. We were draft counseling mostly in Detroit and Ann Arbor with AWOLs. The volunteers were committed people working loosely within the American Friend’s service -- networking all over the United States -- a big operation getting people out of the country. We shuttled hundreds into Canada, people, friends, wives.

As I got more involved, I began to change and became more involved with other political activities as well. Students for a Democratic Society, SDS, got started on the U of M campus and I got involved. During this whole period, I was still in school. I transferred into the veterinarian program at Michigan State University, MSU.

I ran into some big problems there -- we were demonstrating to abolish ROTC, working with a small group. We had regular weekly demonstrations at the ROTC building -- maybe a dozen or two people at most -- it was a much less active campus than Ann Arbor. We’d go on radio and do talk shows about why the military should not be allowed to recruit on campus. Then Nixon invaded Cambodia. There was going to be a huge increase in the draft. Then some of these disinterested students on campus got more concerned since now it might be THEIR asses out their in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

By then I had come to the conclusion that I should not continue taking a 2-S deferment and was 1-A. I was really just waiting for my draft notice when I would be leaving school and immigrating to Canada myself

My girlfriend’s mother forbad her from getting on my motorcycle -- I was just a troublemaker -- I was going to wind up in jail or in Canada or both -- a lot of things were changing very quickly.

Then we had another one of our weekly demonstrations at the ROTC building and 1800 people showed up. Two of us had bullhorns as usual -- we hadn’t anticipated so many people -- we saw a parked car, people taking something out of their trunk -- walking toward us – a bullhorn with a BIG amp. Another one of these guys had a box full of stuff -- their bullhorn was massive and they were much louder than we were.

The guy with the bullhorn told us to “Shut up!” They said, “We’ve come from Detroit, we’re from the Hole in the Wall Gang -- it’s time for you to have an option -- instead of being involved with these rinky-dink demonstrations, it’s time to ‘seize the time’ and change the basic operating rules of how demonstrations are going on. Those of you who want to participate in ending the ROTC program, we’re prepared to do that right now.” They then uncovered this box with dozens of Coke bottles filled with gasoline and rags hanging out the tops.

We tried to speak but they were much louder and ignored us. They had obviously decided what to do. This was one of the first “actions” of the Weather Underground -- the ROTC building was badly burned but not destroyed.

The next morning I got called into the dean’s office and he said, “Young man, you’d better transfer from this school, right now. And -- pick a new career, because I’m going to see to it that you never get into another vet school here or in Canada or Europe.”

I did not see it coming but my career plans had been interrupted that afternoon during that demonstration. My life had been permanently altered in a matter of minutes. It was a very radicalizing experience. I tried to explain, “Wait a minute…”

Ignoring me, he went on, “Well, you called the demonstration and you couldn’t control it -- you’re responsible as I see it.” We got called into the police department, the FBI -- the whole thing. His message had been pretty clear so at the end of that semester I transferred, ending back at U of M finally.

I saw people I’d been working with politically burn out. When I finished school, some friends and I started a garage in downtown Detroit to help people learn how to work on cars. I had also helped start the Ann Arbor food coop when I made some major dietary changes and decided to become vegan. What started making sense to me was setting up alternatives to the mainstream. I got involved with the cooperative community and doing things in groups. I lived in a communal situation in Detroit. We taught classes in auto repair. I did engine rebuilding. I was making good money, actually. And I was having a really good time. I grew up a lot in three years from being a sheltered college kid to living in inner city Detroit learning to work with a lot of different kinds of people, different races, gaining respect for people who were able to survive in that kind of environment.

My politics matured. I saw it wasn’t as simple as the black and white issues I might have looked at in college. My mother’s mother had lived with us part of the time and she had introduced me to cooking and baking. As a little kid, I loved it. I had a great time making pizza, making cinnamon rolls -- she had lived in the upper peninsula and worked as the scratch baker and cook in a lumber camp for about forty lumberjacks, cooking all the meals. She taught me a lot. So while I was working at the garage, some friends said they wanted to start a collective bakery. I got into whole grain baking, trained with some people in Lansing I’d had known -- when I left I decided I didn’t want to keep working on cars -- it was like, god, what a backward way to move around -- we had switched over to just working on Volkswagens -- I had completely forsaken my Ford heritage.

I thought it was very likely there would be a severe economic shakeup -- which hasn’t happened yet -- and I also wanted a warmer environment. I was really tired of working on cars with slush dropping on me, my hands cold. This lady I was with was a finish carpenter, and I was a mechanic wanting to get into baking, and we traveled around the country looking at different places, and it came down to flipping a coin between Ashland, Oregon and Fayetteville, Arkansas. That was in ‘74.

I had a friend from Detroit who was teaching chemistry at Kingston High School. He’d been in the Peace Corps and had bought land near Ozark. We came to visit and met some of the people he knew, one old woman who made rugs and I hit it off with all the people. They were friendly, straight forward -- I never liked being in the -- what would you call it -- I’d go to Boulder and be like, oh god -- too much affectation -- and Berkeley was much the same. I felt more comfortable in the backwoods areas like the Ozarks than I did in these chic cities. I continue to feel comfortable with country people. I go down around the Gulf to play around -- this same friend now lives on a sailboat near Biloxi. I run down there with a catamaran I have and going into towns in Alabama or Mississippi I have a good time. And I realize that my being a white boy gives me a lot of privilege that if I were black or a woman could make my experiences very different here in the South -- but there is nothing gained by my beating myself up about that either.

I seem to hit it off fine with people that others would go, oh god, you know -- weren’t you worried they’d hit you with a monkey wrench or something? It was working in Detroit that I learned to be comfortable with the working class. A lot of it comes from what I’ve done because even though I’ve been to school, I’ve ended up working with my hands and doing work that’s blue collar. I’ve done welding, worked as a journeyman electrician -- I’m glad I went to college -- if I hadn’t gone -- I went back to my high school reunion a couple of years ago, and it was scary. Some of these people were like -- same mentality as high school -- most of them very unhappy -- I’m glad I got out of there.

I wanted to buy property. I got involved with several others in a farm near Cane Hill, AR. We built a home out there -- but the property never was properly deeded and while it was supposedly collectively owned, it actually stayed deeded to this one couple, who ended up having marital trouble and the whole thing blew up in my face. I ended up losing my house and getting only a fraction of what I had invested. It was my own stupidity, to build a beautiful three story solar home without assuring my ownership before hand.

I had started my business then, baking regularly. Initially, a lot of my time was spent learning more about gardening and making my business succeed. It was set up as a worker owned business -- it was pretty helter-skelter for several years. The garage and bakery stuff in Detroit had been set up that way -- the only other business that was run that way around here then was the Ozark Food Coop and soon after the Ozark Coop Warehouse.

By the early 80s I had a partner with whom I had been living for several years and we had begun a family. We both were working with people who didn’t want to see the bypass cut through beautiful farmland near Springdale. And I got to know a woman who was working around Gore, OK, named Jesse Deer in Water -- I really respected her and what she was doing, working with the Cherokee against the nuclear processing facility there. And I got to know Carrie Dickerson, who was instrumental in the fight against the proposed nuclear power plant at Claremore, Okla. She raised thousands of dollars and was inspirational to me. Then Ben Spock appeared on the scene wanting to help in anyway he could. Both Ben and his wife, Mary, got really involved. We saw that we could raise money making jams that helped pay for legal intervention to stop the Black Fox Nuclear plant..

From that, my interests went to looking at nuclear power and nuclear weapons. We did a bunch of surveying around Gore, and it was scary, the number of cancers and other things that were obviously a result of that plant’s existence. Then we started looking at the plant at Russellville -- and some other people -- we started making trips to the public documents room at the Russellville, researching the plant -- then Three Mile Island happened, and we started really pushing to get the plant closed. We continued to go down to research operating history which we then publicized.

My partner was very supportive. By then we had two children. Both of us were burning our candles at both ends. Very busy.

I knew a little about what the United States was doing in Central America but. I’d never been involved with public political actions concerning it. OxFam contacted me –my partner and I had been steady contributors -- I don’t know why they did this but they contacted me and asked if I would be interested in going to Nicaragua with a Tools for Peace program they were doing throughout Nicaragua to appraise how they should spend $300,000 that they had earmarked. They asked me to look at irrigation equipment, tractors, farm buildings, etc. As I considered this OxFam offer, Duncan Murphy came on the scene with people who had been involved with exposing the US intervention there. Before I actually spent nearly two months in Nicaragua and saw the horrible effects of US intervention there, I got swept into that work.

I went to Nicaragua for six weeks. I saw schools bombed, hospitals bombed by terrorists the US supported, with bombs we had supplied. I kept asking myself, “What is going on here?” I looked at it more, studied it, got engrossed in it, came to see we were making a terrible mistake there. I was involved in that for four years.

There were some reporters at the Gazette who alerted me that they would pay for an FOI if they could use part of it for articles. People had said we were being watched by the FBI. I didn’t know what might have been in my file but was curious enough to agree to their offer. I got this large stack of primarily blocked out pages back. More pages than I had assumed would be there but no real surprise. It was clear that my phone had been tapped, I’d been followed, and my public Nicaragua presentations in various cities had been recorded by what was undoubtedly very expensive taxpayer financed, undercover federal employees. This was while Reagan wanted especially to silence people who were involved with a major anti-US intervention public political organization, Citizens In Support of the People of El Salvador (CISPES). I wasn’t really surprised the federal investigation had greatly expanded the group of dissidents they had under illegal surveillance. Pretty much standard operating procedure for our intelligence community in the US. The stuff I was doing, exposing US support and arming terrorists and brutal military regimes throughout south and central America -- they didn’t want us to do. I had been aware that I was possibly, no, likely, being watched.

Earlier I had not felt like I quite fit in with the “counterculture”. I had considered myself working class. Going to Ann Arbor, being in the college environment did something to me. My first year of school I was in a dorm, and my roommate was this party-going fraternity pledge. He just on my own as far as I was concerned. I didn’t want that. All they were interested in doing was getting drunk and seeing how many girls they could lay. I met this guy from England who lived in the dorm. One night he said, “ Here listen to these guys with these earphones.”-- it was the first time I ever heard a group called The Cream. I went, wow -- they’re really good. He goes over to his dorm room door, rolls up a towel and shoves it under the door and says, “If you’ll smoke a little of this and then listen, you’ll REALLY like them.”

I knew what it was, and I was a little frightened maybe. He said, “It’ll be fine…just try it once.” And he was right, I really did like the Crème afterwards. Then he brought out this album with a picture of a dirigible blowing up -- the Hindenburg -- Led Zeppelin’s first album, before they had released it in the US-- I listened to it and thought this is REALLY good.

So several Friday nights after that while most of our dormmates were partying, getting drunk and throwing up 3.2 Budweiser beer, we’d have a towel under his door, listening to music that friends of his were sending from England. Definitely opened my eyes to some new ideas -- That is how I got to know people involved with draft counseling because they came over to visit him. One of their dads had been to Togo, Africa with the World Health Organization and brought back some green contraband. Seems the doctor father had given some of it to his son -- so we tried it too. I remember not being able to find my dorm room down the hall. This was just prior to the citywide legalization of the public recreational use of marijuana in Ann Arbor and the John Lennon and Yoko Ono concert there to raise money to win the release of John Sinclair from prison for giving a narcotics officer a free marijuana cigarette at the White Panther commune.

I could see things getting a whole lot better or things could go to hell in a handbasket. I want to continue to work in a positive vein. I’m going to be going to Cuba. Their major trading partner is no longer exists since the fall of the Soviet Union and there’s been terrible poverty and malnutrition under the decades long US embargo. I’ve always been interested in this little country so close to the US, thumbing its nose at the US for the last thirty years. And as I’ve learned from others about what we’ve done to some of our neighbors in Central America, I feel almost as if I have something of a personal responsibility to undo some of the damage. I stumbled onto several thousands of dollars worth of food processing equipment for soy foods -- and the Cuban agriculture department is working with OxFam and others -- so I’ve been getting this equipment moved down from Missouri, cleaning it up, getting it ready to go, shipping it to Cuba -- I hope to go down and help assemble it and set up a good sized soy operation in rural Cuba. They’re trying to pull as much land as they can out of sugar production and grow more soybeans. There’s a lot of mental retardation among the young kids in Cuba because of lack of protein. They’re pushing hard to educate people about soy beans.

We are also involved with monitoring Nuclear One at Russellville. We’ve involved the Arkansas Public Policy Panel in getting a few VISTA volunteers to watchdog at the plant. They’re now storing high level waste on a parking lot -- and they’re still operating these old Babcock-Wilcox reactors like the ones that failed at Three Mile Island.

I’m more drawn to do things on an international scale than I am local politics, although I realize local stuff is also really important. My personal interest seem to point me more toward international projects.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Subject talked while chopping vegetables and cooking in the small kitchen area of her urban cabin. Born 1953, Texas

I was young--in junior high and high school--during the Sixties. You’re not too conscious at that age. But I remember sitting on my parents’ bed, watching the evening news with my father. There was always an update about the Vietnam War--bloody, terrifying scenes-- and sometimes that segued into protests against the war. I didn’t have an older brother or friends who were dealing with the draft, so the war wasn’t personal to me. I remember a very low level of dissent among a small minority of people -- wearing black armbands to protest the war -- in my high school in Corpus Christi, Texas. I wasn’t part of that.

I didn’t try marijuana until my sophomore year in college so I may have been a little behind the times. I went to college at a small women’s school in Missouri and remained fairly distant from the new cultural Zeitgeist, as it swung into the 70’s. I think it takes awhile for a movement to take form--I would say the Sixties as a movement was fairly amorphous, even to itself, until the Seventies. I think the intellectual convergence started happening in the Seventies, and continues today.
When I transferred to the University of Texas in 1973, I attended one or two demonstrations before the whole protest movement shut down. They were large-scale events, maybe about Watergate, or the war. I’m not sure. I was interested in attending and observing, just as I was interested in the streakings that were taking place at the same time. People would gather spontaneously at one of the fountains at the UT campus, usually in the evening, and then, strip down and run naked through the crowd. It was fun. I didn’t personally streak. Like most, I was a voyeur.

My parents persuaded me to get a degree in business, so here I was again in a fairly conservative environment. I was the radical in that group, which indicates that a personal ideology was beginning to take shape. The first energy crisis took place in 1973, during my undergrad years. It shocked a lot of people into an awareness of limitations. Later, as a graduate student at UT in Austin, I studied community and regional planning. One day I woke up and read the paper. There was a story about a small town in the Rio Grande Valley, Crystal City. The city had a municipal power plant that supplied all the electrical energy for the town. Problem was, Crystal City couldn’t afford oil for its turbines. People were going without electricity, so they were extremely vulnerable. It really disturbed me that these low-income people were suffering. That was a Seventies kind of social consciousness, building from Sixties. As a general rule, we were much more activist back then. When something was screwed up, people tried to take action. So I went to a place on campus called the Center for Energy Studies and talked to the associate director. I said, “Somebody needs to study solar options for Crystal City and other towns like it.” She loved that idea and got a grant. In putting together the team to work on the project, she hired me. That’s how I got into energy and environmental issues.

When you’re into alternative energy, it’s solar energy, it’s the whole appropriate technology movement, and then you’re into organic gardening, and you’re starting to look at alternatives to conventional society in many arenas, including alternative forms of living, more ecological ways of living, and ways to be self-sufficient in case the doomsday scenario--smacking into the limits to growth and subsequent collapse--does occur.

Unlike the Vietnam War, my concerns in this arena were not hypothetical or detached but personal. This may have a seed of the Sixties sprouting forth. To me, the Sixties were about being a part of something larger than ourselves, concern for a greater and more idealized society than our own. Some of that concern took the form of reaction against pre-existing norms, and some of it took the form of going in completely new, creative directions. When I and others remember the Sixties with fondness, it’s because of a feeling that we were part--even if only in a very small way--of something greater than ourselves. We don’t have many opportunities to experience that in our lives. Sometimes we’re part of a team experience that’s really remarkable, and we remember those team experiences, but on a broader more collective level, it may happen only once in a generation. I feel lucky to have been on the fringes during the Sixties and smack in the middle of it during the Seventies.

The environmental issue has been a significant thread in my life ever since. It’s a concern that manifests in the way I live my life and my work--some of which has been directly involved in ecological matters and some of which has been totally unrelated, but to which I have brought an ecological ethic. If I were to take my life and try to unweave it, environmentalism would be a major strand of color in the tapestry.

For example, one of the ways it manifests is living simply. I’m trying to live a life where I’m not working all the time in order to have material goods. My priority is having time for contemplation and leisure, and purposes other than the accumulation of goods. So I live in a small cottage, about 900 square feet, a building I bought for a song in 1990. It was a shack. Slowly, over the years, I tore it apart and renovated it from the top down and the bottom up. Now, it’s a sweet little place. It’s not fancy in any way, but people walk in and have a sense of comfort and appreciate the aesthetic. It’s right in the middle of town, but I have a quarter acre with a large garden. There’s a wood stove, so I’m fairly well set up if Y2K happens. There’s a concrete pond in the back yard for water storage and an old well too.

Right now, the main force of my energy is directed at writing. I write environmental/ecological pieces for magazines. I’ve also spent a couple of years working on an essay that reframes the environmental crisis from a pro-humanity framework. I think the underside of the environmental crisis is that it has bred in many of us activists and foot soldiers in the movement a lack of faith in humanity, a sort of disdain for humanity because the language in the environmental movement has been cast in terms of a second great fall from grace or as another manifestation of original sin. We believe humans are the cause of the problem and don’t have what it takes to solve it.

But going back to the Seventies…As the decade progressed, I found myself getting involved in other issues too. Feminist and lesbian politics, collective and cooperative households, organic gardening. I loved living in collective households, and they worked pretty well. Certainly as well as any romantic relationship works, in terms of expansions and contractions, the good times and the not-so-good ones. Since the early 90s, I’ve been active in the co-housing movement, trying to launch two different groups in the Fayetteville area.

Co-housing takes the cooperative/collective/commune model and brings it into our times. You own your own home, which you can buy or sell at your pleasure. So you’ve got autonomy and privacy and flexibility. But you also have community because cohousing is a group of people who are designing, planning, and building an intentional community from the group up and later managing it themselves. It’s really a neighborhood. Physically, it looks like a planned unit development or PUD and it’s usually designed from a very ecological standpoint. The scale varies quite a bit. Cohousing runs from eight units to hundreds of units--an eco-village. In addition to owning a house, you have an undivided interest in community property--the common house and other community features. Generally, the common house has a large kitchen and is a place where people can gather for meals. It may also have child care facilities, maybe a workout room, a laundry, so you don’t have to have a laundry in every individual house. And sometimes they have guest rooms, so you don’t have to build your own home as large. The idea is to also share meals several times a week so you don’t have to cook every evening. Beyond the common house, they may be other community assets--a workshop, community gardens, a softball field-- anything you want to have, even a swimming pool.

The idea came from Denmark in the 70s, when low-income families were trying to figure out how they were going to get home after work, put dinner on the table, and take care of the kids too. They invented co-housing, and it’s been very successful in Denmark. There it’s practiced in a high-density apartment format. People who come to co-housing tend to be social innovators who live and work at the margins, or beyond the margins, of society. They are also more educated and more politically active than the average person.

In terms of spirituality, I’ve been exposed to pantheism, transcendental meditation, goddess-based religions--ideas and practices that burgeoned in the Sixties. These and especially experiences with Nature led me to a universalist view, as opposed to a limited or Christ-centric view of spirituality. Nature is a very important part of my spirituality. Sometimes its a way of getting out of the mind, feeling more connected to the web of existence. Sometimes it’s a joyous aesthetic experience. When I lived in Alaska for 14 months, I had profound spiritual experiences of encountering spirit within the old growth forests. Right now, I’m a member of the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers because their universalist theology matches mine. The theology is pretty straightforward. It’s basically about living our values. For Quakers, these values or testimonies are equality, simplicity, integrity, and peace. What could be more Sixties than that?

Sunday, September 23, 2007


R sat in the living room of her home in Fayetteville, looking out through large windows to a deck that hangs over a steep, wooded hillside. Born 1949 Ohio.

The summer after I graduated from high school, we moved to the Bay area in California, and I started at a convent school in January. While I was at that school, the first Vietnam moratorium was held. That and some flyers that were put up about women’s needs and nobody paying attention to them, and the women’s movement – on the fringes, I noticed it. I was finally away from my parents, away from Cleveland, and in a place where I could think for myself without anyone around to measure it against, and that’s when it finally hit me. What was really strange, was that I’d been going to work – my dad drove me to work every day in Oakland, Berkeley – that was when the People’s Park stuff was happening, we drove right by it. I just thought there was a bunch of junk going on there. I had no concept of what was happening, probably because I was in the presence of my dad and had I said anything, he would have said, oh, just a bunch of troublemakers.

I was heady with the idea that we had all this power and we could think about all these things and change the way our lives were going to go. It wasn’t predetermined according to, in my case, what the nuns, the church, the parents thought I should do. I thought I should do it too. But I thought I should do it within the scope of realizing there was a wide world of possibilities out there and that politics was open, a wide open field. As it turned out, in the ‘70s I was very political. I ran for quorum court, stood up for women’s rights at my job, and got myself fired a few years later. But in the meantime, I got equal pay and compensation for all the women. I got really political in the 70s and it was something I didn’t realize was available to me when I was in high school. I only had two years of college before I went into VISTA. I left college to go into VISTA.

My parents weren’t happy with all these new ideas that were coming out of my head. The protests were very minor, just gathering on the steps in front of the cafeteria. This was a girls’ college of 300, so it was really small. I didn’t have a car, so I didn’t have mobility. We were protesting the Vietnam War. I remember them saying that the war was economic, being waged for economic reasons. I wasn’t really fully aware of what the Vietnam War was while we were still in the ‘60s and while I was still in college. It wasn't really until I got married – I met somebody in VISTA and got married and that’s how I got to Arkansas – his parents talked politics all the time. And he and his brother had both just come back from Vietnam. That’s when I began to realize that I was very much opposed to it – and Senator Fulbright was here at the time, and opposed to it.

Joining VISTA was a result of my new feelings in college and wanting to serve, wanting to do something, make a difference. I had thought about Peace Corps, but my parents said, whoa, why not take care of the people at home first? And I thought about going into the convent, but they told me I would have to wait until I graduated, and they told me I was not ready to be a nun. I had already been accepted into the convent in Cleveland Ohio, and was supposed to go immediately upon high school graduation. But when I went to college and spent two years there, they made me go through all these psychological tests, and they said, you’re too close to your family, and you’re too rigid, and you don’t have a real comfortable relationship with God – well, of course not. So as a result, I couldn’t go to the convent, which is where I thought I was going, and I started looking around because I didn’t want to stay at that school, because it was really expensive. So I decided to take a break from college and come back later on, and go into VISTA and the parents said that was better. They ended up hating VISTA too.

I trained in Oregon and worked in Santa Monica. I worked in a Chicano area. I was supposed to work with preschoolers. VISTA allows you to pick your slot. In fact, we were at one of the new classes where there weren’t enough slots for all the trainees, so we went on strike up in Eugene Oregon while in VISTA training, and refused to leave for our slots until they made the promise that everybody who wanted to have a slot would have one. So I went to Santa Monica and was working with the preschoolers and the community agency I was working with down there decided they would hire somebody to work with the preschoolers – and mind you, I’m 20 years old – and that I could work with Chicano teenagers.

I didn’t know the word ‘fuck’ at that point. I mean, I’d never heard it. But I was beginning to hear it. I still didn’t drive. I was going to have to get my license. And they were going to have me work with Chicano teenagers. I had absolutely no ability and no confidence, and I said, this is crazy, and about that time, V. who had been one of the last people up in Oregon, said this is ridiculous, we’re asking people what kind of housing they want and we’re not able to give them what they’re asking for, so why are we asking them. So he got out, and came down to where I was. I stayed a couple more months, then talked to the director and said, I can’t do this. And they said, how about running the newspaper, and I said, I’m out of here. So V and I got married and came back to Arkansas.

Then I had about three years of being apolitical in Arkansas. We were living in the country with his parents. It was brand new. It was like I traded the cocoon of my parents for another cocoon. Except they talked about different things and they had different viewpoints. They were more Democrat, whereas my parents were more Republican. And then the time came when I realized V wasn’t ever going to want to leave there, and I might, and I left.

As far as drugs go, I couldn’t smoke. I understand Clinton completely. In high school and college, I tried to smoke cigarettes, and the way I would smoke a cigarette was just taking the smoke into my mouth. That was it. And I didn’t enjoy it. And I wanted to try marijuana, because V and his brother were very much into it, and they got their dad into it, and their mother had glaucoma. I don’t know if they ever gave her brownies or not. Anyway, I just couldn’t get it into my lungs and whenever I did, it just didn’t seem to help. V and I were working at the Yellow Brick Road, doing drug counseling for people who were doing heavier stuff.

V and his brother were upset that I couldn’t get high. They made brownies and that didn’t do anything for me. The only time I’ve ever done a drug was a few years later, when I went to Iowa and this guy told me for the second time that he was going to dump me, and here I am, stranded in Iowa, and I had to wait a couple of days to get out of there, and I did some speed. Just one tab, and I was amazed how it made me ignore all the pain I was feeling. So I never really got into drug stuff. My son’s making up for it, I think, with marijuana only, I hope.

K and I have talked about how to deal with this with the kids, and it’s like, that’s a real hard question. It doesn’t really matter how you feel about it, because then you’ve still got the police officers out there, so then my disgust with police officers comes through, and becomes a stereotype, especially now that I’m working at the newspaper. Every chance they get to bust somebody – I mean, they’re looking in cards illegally. And they’re doing it and it just irks the hell out of me, and then I tell [my son] that he has to pay attention to the police because the bottom line is that they can throw him in jail.

By the time I left V, I was reporting on politics. I was looking at a career in journalism. I had been studying that in college. I never went back to school, because after we moved here, I just kind of ... I took a proofreading job at the Times when one of the reporters never showed up for an interview – just walked off the job one day – then I lobbied my way into the job. I knew I could do it, I’d been reading other people’s stories for the last year. So I really knew I could do it. I covered Springdale, which was very conservative. Black people weren’t allowed into the town. The police beat up people. And I saw the police beating up people, just when they were irritated with them. So the justice thing – and of course in ‘74 Nixon resigned and I was at the newspaper when that came in, and we were very excited about that.

The environmental movement – that’s when I really started to push. I talked them into letting me have an environmental page and I covered all the environmental issues for the newspaper. I was against the highway, which is about to open. Against the airport, which is open now. All these things – but then, it is 30 years later so maybe it’s time for them now. And they did change some of the routing and do some things differently than they might have if we hadn’t been in there protesting.

Then Arkansas made this big change in county government that was going to take effect in January of ‘77 – so our newspaper had an editor who sat on the civil service commission and somebody else there was on the planning commission. I had run for the planning commission and no one had said anything. I was covering Springdale so I decided there would be nothing wrong with me running for justice of the peace for my district in Washington County, because the three years I had done Springdale stuff, it hadn’t involved any county stuff. But I had also brought the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suit in against them during that three years. They watched me campaign and never said a word until I won the primary with 74% of the vote against three other candidates. They thought I had no shot at it – there were these three men. And I won it! Then I had this Republican opponent for the general election – and they let it get down to October and then they said, you know if you win this, you’ll be fired. And I said, what?! Can’t you put me on another job, like, a copy editor or something? And, no ... Then I realized they saw this as a way to get rid of me.

I started stringing for the Gazette, and I was on the quorum court, which took a tremendous amount of time, especially that first couple of years when they were putting everything into operation. And I was one of the really active ones that didn’t have a full time job, and I was married to N then, who was the assistant city manager. He actually helped a little in my campaign before I married him. We were living together by the time I started serving and then we got married in 1977. So I had so much politics in my life. I was still writing stories for the Gazette.

A lot of the rural quorum court members didn’t think it was right for the county to spend money on social service agencies, like the Economic Opportunity Agency, Abilities Unlimited, SCAN, the Battered Women’s Shelter. Those were things I fought long and hard for and chaired committees on it, and thought it was really important that we continue to use some county funds toward them. In the past, _ had been the county judge’s right hand man and had been good to these groups, so they were used to getting it. Now there was a quorum court of thirteen who they were going to have to deal with , and it was bad for awhile. But we were able to do it.

I’ve continued to do a lot of environmental writing. I was working for the Grapevine for awhile too – generally, just focusing on making government right. Making people responsible for their actions. I ended up on __’s case because he was taking money for travel, double dipping. He was getting double reimbursement, paying for it on a county credit card, and then turned in receipts for money. Eventually he resigned.

That was in the ‘70s and the Times came down pretty hard on me for doing that. It didn’t seem like they were treating me fairly – even people who campaigned for me – saying it was politics. I remember being so irritated, that they would say it was politics when it was just me doing the right thing. Of course, then things in my head were a lot more black and white than they are now. That’s what you go through. There comes a point in your early 20s when things are black and white and the grays don’t come until the 30s.

I feel like I did a lot of things but the question is, did we make a difference? I say yes, we made a difference, but it’s like you have to keep making a difference, or you have to have new people coming in making a difference. One of the reasons I finally quit writing for the newspapers was that it felt so public, and K and I were having such a hard time getting out of the public eye. I realized I’d been writing on wastewater treatment for nearly ten years. I’d been writing on solid waste problems for ten years. I’d been writing on all these issues for ten years. Ten years later, twenty five years later – the quorum court is still arguing about social service agencies, a piddling amount, and they spend all this energy wondering how they can divide it up so that everybody gets as little as possible, and it just made me upset. It made me feel like, what a waste, to still be doing all this stuff all these years later.

So – you make a difference, and I guess in the scheme of things you can see how things move forward, but it’s just so slow. And I think it’s so slow because of something Carolyn Myss said – she was talking about how the seven chakras in the body have counterpoints in Christianity – the seven sacraments – and in the Judaic tradition with the tree of knowledge, which actually has ten points, but only seven levels – and she was talking about the lowest chakra, the tribal chakra – she says we all start out at the tribal chakra, and the tribe tries very hard to keep everybody at the same place. It can move forward but it is glacially slow movement to get the tribe to see things in a little more enlightened manner. And that just really clicked for me. So she says if you can get out of that tribal chakra and get it up to your heart and throat and head chakra, to where you’re consciously not plugging in and not thinking you have to do everything the way everybody else is doing things, you can move more quickly. And the more people who are doing that, maybe we can get everyone out of the tribal chakra eventually.

That’s the hundredth monkey theory, that you reach a point where you have enough people behaving in a certain way that everybody sort of falls over and starts behaving that way. When I finally understood that, which really was in just the last couple of years, I began to realize that it’s OK that the world is the way it is, but I don’t have to be that slow. And if it takes forever, it takes forever. Everything is happening in the way it needs to, and my way is not necessarily the best way for the world, which is really hard for me to be OK with. I see things and I think that’s how it ought to be, by golly, and I have to catch myself a lot. So staying away from news really helped me a lot, letting go a lot of it. Now I’m back reading the news every night in my new job, and it’s like all night long, I have to remind myself to breathe, say this is all ok, this was all going on when I wasn’t paying attention to it, and all I can do is make sure that I’m as enlightened as I can be and as loving as I can be and that I try to have good contact with whoever is in my life and help raise them up into the light, so to speak. That’s all I can do about Israel, and Kosovo, AIDS in Africa, and all these things.

I used to laugh when I read about a hunger movement, where they didn’t do anything but think about it differently. They didn’t go out and raise money, and they didn’t do a gleaning from the fields, or anything like that. It was just an organization that did nothing more than agree to think about it. I used to think that was a real joke, but now I think there’s even more power in thought than there is in deeds, but I don’t think you can have that power in your thoughts without acting out some of it. I don’t think you can just think about it. I think when you have a chance to give somebody who’s on the street money for food, you do it. But it’s more important to hold it in thought the way you believe it needs to be. So instead of protesting, running to every rally, I go inside and say, what do I need to do in terms of this, and then I can act on it. If it’s just praying about it, or letting it go, realizing I’ve done everything I can do and letting it go, that’s now OK.

I went through a period where I couldn’t find anything spiritual and I kind of developed some thoughts on my own, like – there can’t possibly be a hell because I could never send anybody to hell, so how could God? Things like that. When I saw that the Catholic church – I went to see the priest here and he said you need to involve your husband, he’s the head of your household, the head of your spiritual family – that was the end for me. I thought, there’s no place for women in the church. I’m sorry, I don’t think nuns and all that – it’s so chauvinistic. I know women do a lot more, but it still seems chauvinistic – I didn’t have any use for that. I really thought that everybody had divinity within them. Then – somebody told me about Unity – I went a couple of times and liked what they said, that God was inside, and you followed your inner God, and that everything is as it needs to be. All these things rang true with what I had come to believe.

But it wasn’t until 1992 that I became involved [in Unity]. I did the newsletter and I was on the board for five years. I just got off the board when I got this night job. Reaching a palce where I could be spiritual in a way that fit me – because obviously I felt that way in the ‘60s if I was thinking about becoming a nun – reaching that place has been really joyous. I went through a period where there wasn’t very much joy in my life, and I still go through those periods. But there’s a lot of joy in my life right now, but it has to come from the inside and go out. It’s just a matter of how you think about it, because nothing has changed. You know, nothing on the outside has really changed for me in the last few years. Time is one of my issues – I never seem to have enough time.

I started doing a monthly column in the church newsletter, about how I could take everyday events in my life and show how I could see these in terms of lessons. I would start with a problem and come through. I started doing that, which made me realize that the writing I’d turned my back on was an important talent that I had. It was a way I could express God, or divine ideas, or whatever, and that I should be doing that. But then here I was needing to make money, so there was not a lot of time for it. But I did do that and this year I decided to try to write a little more, and it’s almost like the tribal chakra. I did get a little more output and I did get accepted in a couple of places, all spiritual stuff, and I decided what I would like to do now, if I could find the time to do it. I have a column idea and I’m working on three or four columns that I want to do, called ‘working ethics’ which would run in the business section, which would talk about spiritual principles in the work place, in nondenominational terms. So that’s where I see me headed, and I keep asking God to show me how I’m supposed to get there a little more quickly.

I wish I’d known in the ‘70s that I had so much time. I felt desperate then, doing the writing, doing the wifing, on the quorum court. My days were so full and I was feeling like I didn’t have time. I didn’t even have kids then, or a full time job.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


T talked at her rural work place following a lunch break. Born 1953 Louisiana, then Texas.

I remember Woodstock, but I was too young. I wanted to be involved. I had two brothers, a brother-in-law, and a cousin who all went to Vietnam. That’s when I really became aware, because my mother was real present with that, conscious of telling us all the time, we have brothers, we have family there, we have to watch this, we have to be aware. She wasn’t anti-war until they started shooting students, then she was like, I don’t know what is going on in this country, but those are our children. We shouldn’t be shooting them. I remember her walking, wringing her hands, saying, this ain’t right. Up until then, you support your government, that’s what she was taught, you known. Everybody came home. We were really blessed. Everybody. And they’re still well. They didn’t talk about the experience. You could see the visible change in all of them.

When I was a junior or senior in high school is when I started realizing that for one, there was nothing for the girls in school to do – no sporting events, no organized sports at all for girls. That’s when I started recognizing that there was nothing going on if you’re not a foo-foo girl – cheerleaders or drum and bugle. There were no outlets. The women’s movement seemed kind of vague and put-on-ish to me, because my mama and aunts and everybody just did it because they had to. So I’m looking at these women getting all this press, thinking, bring your cameras, ok? I could show you some women that have been doing it raising children, doing everything alone.

We moved from being sharecroppers in northern Louisiana to the refineries in Texas. The oil boom was going on. I was 3 or 4. By the time I was six, my father was in the hospital with terminal illnesses by heavy metals in his system. There was no EPA. There was nothing. I remember thinking why would they let somebody work where it would hurt them. And I was little. Yet, my mother was one of the most optimistic people in the world. She’d say, “Now you hold your head up, girl. Nobody knows your situation. You’re not any less or any more than any other individual because of this.” All the men were gone. They died from lack of environmental protection laws that allowed them to work in places that killed them in a very short time. My father never came home except on weekend passes and died when I was ten.

So my aunts and my mother just did it. We lived in town when he got sick, and then moved out to a farm because my mom knew that. We had milk cows and chickens; we sold milk and butter; we raised a huge garden. We never went without. But we knew we were poor. One pair of shoes. Lots of kids. My mother was uneducated, too, so she harped on us getting an education. But then we get in school and there’s no support for that. Even though I had good grades, there was no counselor once suggesting that I should apply for scholarships. They just were not available. They told me, get married, have some kids. So that’s what I did.

By the time I had children, I looked up and found myself in the mountains in North Carolina. That was my first experience with anything, and that’s when I decided, you know what, I can live in the woods. I was raising gardens, I can do this. My husband was a Marine. That’s why I was in North Carolina. Lived there for six years. That didn’t last. The 60s helped me see a way out of putting up with a situation that you married into because that’s what you were taught to do. My mother would tell me, “Look your daddy died real young and I was stuck with all these kids. Don’t you leave this man.” We were taught it’s until death do you part, quite literally. I believed that, until I looked around and said to heck with this. There’s only so much any individual ought to have to take.

I had to tell my mother that she taught me that I didn’t need that fool dragging me down. She said I never taught any such thing, and I said, yes, you did, by example. I cannot stay when I can obviously see I’d be better off if I came home and lived with my sister – you know, whatever it took.

I’ve always been kind of different from my family. I have really different views. Maybe it was just the times. Being raised in a huge southern city, a big sprawling ugly nasty greasy oil dripping from the sky. It’s the armpit of the world. Then getting out in the mountains, it was like, I will not raise my children in Baytown, Texas. That put me on the path. I started gathering books, how-to books, survival books, and taught myself just from books about herbs and flowers and plants you could eat if you had to. It wasn’t until I got to Arkansas that I actually practiced that.

I had a three year old and an infant when we moved to Arkansas. He came with me. I gave him a choice, you can stay or come with me, I don’t care, this is what I’m doing. I had written a bunch of letters to addresses I got out of Mother Earth News, kind of a yuppie thing at the time, everybody had Mother Earth News, you had your Foxfire books, you know. The big Whole Earth Catalog. I still have one. I have the Last Whole Earth Catalog. I wrote to places in Australia and New Zealand. I wanted a caretaker’s job. I just wanted to leave Baytown and I was broke. Anywhere. That’s how I ended up in Arkansas. He came with me.

My mother was such a worrier, she made me feel guilty, so I wouldn’t do things with other kids my age because I knew it would upset my mother if I got caught. I didn’t start smoking pot or drinking until I was already 18 and living out of her house. I was always the one who was the designated driver. So I was a poor kid but I got to drive other people’s cars. That worked out real well. When everybody else was tripping and everything, I was thinking, yeah, well, you don’t have my mother. The last thing I would do was lay a burden on her. That’s what I had seen my whole life, that she had done nothing but struggle.

But after I was 18 and left home was when I did all the experimenting. I’ve always been kind of an oddball. I only did LSD one time, and I was gone. It scared me. I said I’ll never do that again. All I’ve done is peyote and mushrooms since. Well, I was about 30 before I did any of that, because I was a big chicken. I was married to an alcoholic who did any drug possible, so I was kind of anti- for quite awhile, because if I joined in then, see, I couldn’t badmouth him. So I kind of had an attitude – it wasn’t until I got to Arkansas, around 24 or 25, when I started relaxing and realizing that I could smoke a little bit. I’m such a moderate person, I don’t do anything except maybe eat too much. I’ve never felt like drugs altered my lifestyle much.

I really and truly believe that the back to the land thing – you know, I’d been raised in that and I saw that as easy. I didn’t have a good education, but could grow some vegetables, you know. It was a way of keeping my kids safe, raising them with proper food. I couldn’t do that in the city. I had a tiny little yard and every inch of that yard was food. My neighbors thought I was some kind of quack. My house didn’t look like other people’s houses. I knew that if I just lived out where I didn’t have nosy neighbors and people judging me all the time, I’d probably be more comfortable and I could focus more on what it is I might could do. Because I didn’t know.

I’ve lived in so many places, under a bluff, in a tent, and this is with children. I’ve done it all. I’ve had an adventure. Somebody answered a letter that I had written inquiring about caretaking an old farmhouse. He ended up being a kook. I lived in the farmhouse with his wife and children and me and my kids, then it turned into this big – they were trying to build some kind of commune or something. Well, when you’ve been raised in a large family and you know how it works, I got real impatient with them. It’s like, this isn’t going to work, people. It’s not practical. It’s some idea they had, some idealistic lifestyle, and I’m a pretty take-charge person. This guy wanted to be some kind of guru or something, but I was there because I could see there were gardens already established, different little dwellings, you know. I’m not into a lot of peripheral stuff. I’m real tolerant. I’ll put up with everybody’s stuff, until they want to dictate my stuff.

I learned so much, just be being able to meet the locals. I’ve been around her now for twenty years. My daughter just turned 20 and she was 18 months old when I came to Arkansas. My husband would go on binges and end up being gone for days at a time, and I’d call every hospital and police department. Never could depend on him at all. As poor as we were when I was raised, we were never once on welfare or public assistance. My mother taught me to be so ashamed of it that I was willing to live under a bluff with my children with what little I could do, and then finally I said, this is nuts. I went into human services. It was only about a month or six weeks in the summer time. It was a party to the kids. They thought we were camping. I just let them believe that mama was fine. I had learned by then to have lots of dried grains, and we’d cook everything from scratch, and I grew a little garden patch. But I went to the DHS and they got me lined out and I got some really good friends here and stayed with them for awhile, then I decided to go tree planting.

So I took my kids back to Texas to stay with my sister and my mom. So that’s how I got up out of the dirt, just deciding. Tree planting, that’s slave labor. The irony is, of all the years my mother told me I had to stay with that fool, he’s the one who ended up just leaving. He was gone once for a year, and that’s when I said, I’m done. I’m not calling anywhere, I don’t care where he is, I’m done. And that’s when I went tree planting.

I truly believe that the universe prepares us – you can call it “God,” name it, whatever. The universe prepares us for what we need to do. Once you are grown and an enlightened individual, all the stuff can fall into place, all the things you didn’t understand. Like, no wonder I had to do that because I’d be messed up right now if I hadn’t done that. I went tree planting. I’ve been a laborer all my life, my parents were laborers. It was easy for me, and people were out there struggling. It was like, for once in my life, I’ve got something going on, you know. It felt so good to come home with thousands of dollars – had a bank account, you know. But knowing that all my aunts and mother, you know, they worked right alongside men and got paid less than the men their entire lives and here I was right up there with the men, beating them sometimes, planting more than they did.

I’ve married a man who already had a piece of property, and we’ve added to it so we own forty acres, and it’s completely self-sufficient. We have all solar power and produce our own electricity in the wintertime from a waterfall. We try to grow all our own food, but that is a struggle. That was my goal, I see that now. All those how-to books, books on root-cellaring, all the stuff I dreamed 20 years ago, really, I know it now. I know it as a fact that I can do it. Without all those struggles, I’m sure would not appreciate it. We have not chosen an easy lifestyle.

I’d always wanted to live close to the land. My mother would say, “Honey why do you have to do something so hard? I worked all those years to get you up out of that dirt.” To her, being a laborer is something she didn’t want for her kids. I’ve got a brother who’s a millionaire, a big executive. If she had to count each one of us and our professions, she’s got pretty much everything. She did a good job. Nobody’s in jail. Nobody’s a drug addict.

The land is my religion, it’s what I believe. You’ll see some real high society lady and she’s looking at something she’s going to purchase, something real earthy, that doesn’t even look like something she’s want. I think people desire to have earthy things near them, on them. We are part of the earth. So your spirit is diminished if you don’t have that in your life. That’s why we decorate, we make our surroundings reflect what we need in our lives. If you could come to my house, which is this incredibly tiny little house, it’s in this beautiful spot. We don’t need beautiful floors and all that, because we have the surroundings. I truly believe that the reason I live where I live is because my spirit needed it. When I was in Baytown, I was so tired of living like I was living, living with an alcoholic, I literally got on my knees and said, ok, God, I’m done, ok? I’m going to give these kids away and I’m going to go jump off in front of the nearest train, because I can’t live like this anymore. When is it going to be my turn, and I can relax? I’m not a Bible scholar, or even a student, but the words Ecclesiastes 3:11 popped into my head, so I run and look it up. This verse says, there is a time for everything under the sun, a time to reap and a time to sow. So when I read that, I said, ok, that’s pretty blunt. If you don’t know the Bible and this comes right into your head, then you’re thinking, ok, I’ll look it up. And then I realized it was my turn.

I’m not rich but I’m comfortable. I own my own land, I’m self sufficient. The world could fall apart and yes, we’d struggle, but we’d be ok. We have gone that far. The thing that’s inside me is that the rewards are finally coming. My mother did not come to see me for 11 years. She would not come to Arkansas. What she thought was, it was the Beverly Hillbillies or something. She’d seen poverty and degradation her whole life and she thought that’s what I was doing. But she’s living in an ugly horrible place and I live in something that’s beautiful. Then she came and was so amazed. I’ve got a flush toilet in my house, all the comforts of home. It’s just hard to get to. All my sisters came too.

Somebody told me I must have an old soul. I like to be with the earth and with people who appreciate it. I didn’t come here knowing about solar energy and all that, but I wanted to stay in harmony with it. I went 18 years without a phone. I just got a phone this last year. I didn’t want them running a line down through there, it was too destructive. We live on the creek – it’s very fragile. I’m a woman warrior for the creek. I’ve stood in front of the road grader and said, “No, get out of here. You can run me down but you’re not doing this.” They come to grade the road and they have this one method that doesn’t work. I’ve watched the road for 20 years now. I know what that road needs, and if they’re not going to do it, I’d rather maintain it ourselves. We’ve maintained it for years. If we let them come down into the holler – it’s so fragile – you change it just a little bit and it’s changed for years. It’s the Felkins Creek, and it enters into the Kings River. We’ve in the headwaters. It’s pretty wild and wooly. There’s times we have to hike out. We have a highwater trail, and we park our car on the bluff and it takes about a 15-minute walk to get down to the house, because the creek’s roaring and we can’t get in or out.

T has a sawmill. He cuts lumber for people. He’s a wonderful artist and carpenter. A handyman. He can do anything somebody tells him to do. He’s making a lot of money now, building staircases and really nice things in houses, not furniture. He’s so much older than me in spirit that he calms me down.

My son’s 23 and he’s studying to be a doctor. I have a 20-year-old daughter M who goes to the university in Fayetteville and then a 12-year-old C. These two girls have been raised in these mountains and they take it so for granted. I’ll see them out there and think, God I would have given anything if somebody had brought me out here when I was 11 years old. C thinks nothing of it, she just takes off, she’ll be gone 2-3 hours. She’s building a fairy house or just doing her thing, totally unafraid. Now the bear in the area got her scared. He was really big. She knew if her dogs ran from him, she probably needed to be afraid of it. Otherwise it wouldn’t have occurred to her to be afraid if the dogs hadn’t signaled her to run. And when I look at them and think you know, this is exactly what I wanted, they’ll walk out there barefooted at night and not even think about how some people would be terrified. So I raised the little earth mothers that I hoped to raise.

I’m proud to say that all three of my kids were straight-As – these kids are really smart. And I attribute that to being able to grow without that fear. The impact on society as a whole is that I’ve improved it. I smoked around my kids. I asked my son when he was a teenager, what do you think? I was concerned – I love my kids and would never do anything detrimental to them. My thought was, I had some cousins who snuck around, be all up in the room, you know, hiding from their kids to get high. Anyway, I asked my son – I wanted to make sure – I said, “What would be the difference that you could point out to me how I was different after I smoked?” and he said, “You didn’t say ‘no’ as often. You said ‘yes’ more often.”

My bigger kids were raised around alcoholic behavior and that’s what M told me. She said, “Mama, I saw grown-ups be really stupid on beer and whisky and I never saw you do anything on pot.” She said, “I see you and your girlfriends – there is no difference.” And C, with the new programs – Just Say No – and the drug day and all that, her papa and I sat her down and asked her, and she said, “Well one thing they tell us is that pot’s for losers. Y’all don’t look like losers to me.” See she’s coming home with information that’s not applying. I de-program her regularly. She would say, “Well, mom, it’s illegal.” And I said, “There are things that are legal in this world that shouldn’t be, like tobacco – millions and millions are dying from it. They are making people addicted to it. There’s millions to be made from it. The illegality is like a political thing that’s in our time.” I said, “When my mama was a young woman, alcohol was illegal. So she grew up thinking that her uncles were these horrible sinners and really it was just beer, just a little corn squeezin’s they were drinking down there. They weren’t doing anything wrong on a Saturday night. They went to church Sunday morning with straight faces.” It is illegal and I have discussed that with C because it worries her.

She has a little friend who has two lesbian moms, you know. This little girl is so thrilled that she can come to our house and be herself and talk about Jay – now Jay is a woman, so quit pretending that Jay is a man, like she does at school. I want her to not feel embarrassed, to relax. She’s a little girl. She shouldn’t have to create subterfuge to cover for her parents. I want to be able to help her – because I believe it takes a village to raise children – so she can see somebody stand up and say, “You know what, B, – it’s OK.” As a matter of fact, this last weekend, we confided to her that my oldest son is a gay man. She was so relieved.

My 20-year-old daughter appears to be heterosexual, but she took a girl to the prom. I was so proud of Kingston [school], because I was ready to go to bat for the girls. I was ready to give the school a hard time, but they didn’t bat an eye. I went in the office and told those ladies how really proud I was of them because they could have made an issue of it.

Once, as an activist we met the foresters up in the woods. See when Newton County Wildlife Association was doing their whole big thing – they’re over on the Buffalo, see, and we’re on the Edgmon side. We didn’t have any group. There was nine of us standing up in the woods, no support whatsoever. We read that poor park ranger, I mean, we read him the riot act. We had him up against a tree for awhile. He was really good, gave me his personal number and everything, because I told him, “Number one, I didn’t even get notified. My property borders this land, but because I only have forty little acres and friends of ours own 196 – they didn’t even live here and they got it in the mail.” I said, “I know we’re just a small little group, and it’s going to happen, it’s after the fact. It’s happening right now. We should have been notified.” I said, “Where did you read that, that you can cut the woods and it doesn’t affect the waterways? You don’t live here,” is what I told him. “Obviously you don’t live here, because the truth of it is, it does. It’s truly foolish, and I’m not going to argue the point with you.” I told him, “You have your college degree, but I live here and I know.”

I know that my grandfather cut timber, but he cut timber with mules and would have never considered it proper to do what they do today. And he didn’t have chainsaws or anything. And then, my mother and father were sharecroppers, and their concept of working hard on something that wasn’t theirs was passed down to me. It stems from the fact that that’s what they had to do to survive. My mother took that after my father was gone and made it an issue in our lives. She said, “I want you to get an education, but I also want you to know how to live off the land in case you have to.” So my whole focus of getting on the land wasn’t just from one point of view. It was presented to me in a way, like when I bought all my books and I was all excited that you can learn things from books. But there’s some things you just have to do. And without the experience of my upbringing making me more confident, I might not have found the connection. I never knew how rewarding it would be. Even when I was living under the bluff, camping out at night, feeling like, you know, this must be what my ancestors were doing thousands of years ago, they were sitting up by a campfire guarding their children. At least, I don’t have to do that. There’s no wolf going to jump out and eat my kids. I might have this drunkard up on the main road down here after awhile, but that would be the only thing, you know. It wasn’t a frightful thing to me. Concerned maybe. I’m not much of a scaredy cat.