Life on the commune

| 27 Jun 2012 | 03:29

I guess you could say we live on a commune. I hesitate to use the word, with its connotations of a hemp-clad guru who preaches renunciation of the outside world in favor of a psychedelic free-loving paradise. Not that the above doesn’t have its appeal, it just doesn’t happen to describe our farm. The six of us – soon to be seven – living in three houses on 48 acres in Warwick are a disappointingly mainstream bunch.

In one house are me and Husband Joe, who does have long hair and sideburns but is still an accountant. Next door live Mike, who works in a factory, Ivy, a full-time mom who works a couple nights a week at a pizzeria, toddler Claire, who likes to climb things, and two Australian Shepherds. Across the driveway is Dan, who owns a steel fabricating company.

We live together on the farm less because we’re philosophically into intentional communities and more because that’s the only way we can all afford to live on such a bountiful piece of land, across the street from the best disc golf course in the world. That’s not to say we didn’t get a kick out of the idea of living communally, especially when Mike gave us venison loin that he’d hunted and bass he caught in the pond out back. But back when it was cold and the grass wasn’t growing, neighborly interaction, while nice, seemed optional; maybe we’d all sit around a bonfire one summer night when we had the time.

We ended up getting together much sooner than that. It had been raining for a week and was still coming down. We convened under cover of the outbuilding and perched on parked tractors to discuss the problem of the uncontrollably growing grass. If the growth of grass can be considered an emergency, we were in the midst of a crisis. Our grass was, as Dan put it, like something out of the Little Shop of Horrors. Already, about ten acres had gotten so overgrown that the tractor sputtered and stalled when we attempted to mow. And it was only May; the grass was just getting started. If we intended to keep our pastures from turning into tundra, it meant all hands on deck. That was the night I realized collaboration was not optional. The mowing, the garden, the chicken coop, the maintenance, the mowing again – it was too much work for any one or even three of us, and that was before the arrival of an infant. Rockabye baby, on the John Deere…

If we each mowed three hours a week, we calculated, we should be able to keep the overgrowth under control.

(We might embrace reforestation if it weren’t for the fact that we’ve installed our own disc golf course, and it’s not fun looking for your disc in waist-high grass with ticks jumping on your head. If we have a shared common interest, it’s an adoration of the Frisbee, so even though we rarely have time to play anymore, letting the course go to grass would be disastrous for morale.)

Forget bonding around a bonfire. We’ve already gotten to know each other well enough just through the incidental interactions of working in tandem. We have conversations, sure, to ask where the hell some tool got to, or to convey crucial information like Dude, you weed-whacked my sage bushes; or, the groundhog was spotted cavorting in the garden and has stolen the peanut-buttered bread out of the Havahart trap, and that’s why Mike is now stalking around with his rifle.

Group living isn’t always as romantic as it sounds when you Google “intentional communities” and read about the sweat lodge ceremonies of the Aztlan earthwalkers of Colorado, or the Trappist monks of upstate New York, who live a contemplative life of solitude and silence, prayer and penance, in a joyful spirit of faith. They must have a gardener. But all the same, it is kind of fun. Since we’re all already outside, sweating and hammering and mowing and shoveling manure, might as well cut up some watermelon for everyone, or pass on the news that the lower field looks like it’s sparking, there are so many fireflies down there.

And then there are those rare moments when our work all adds up and it seems that we’ve succeeded in imposing some order. It almost looks like we know what we’re doing. At times like these, it’s a pretty good bet that nature’s winding up for a bitch slap. Maybe the tractor’s about to get stuck in an overgrown ditch you didn’t see, or the wind is going to crush that gazebo you just set up right onto its side. But the best one? We discover an animal hole under the shed and realize that our impenetrable garden fence, made of the toughest wire mesh and extending 18 inches underground, has actually fenced that peanut-butter thieving groundhog IN.