Dreams are the stuff that awaken you to another life, connected to reality or not. Dreams and memories take you backward and forward, often uniting the two. The past becomes the present and merges into the future and spirals back again. It’s all the same. Rolling on the same continuum. Like a locomotive streaming down the tracks or backing up to hitch another train. You remain the same and, even though you’ve changed, you come home.
For years I had been trying to clean up my diet. 1971 had come and gone and my stomach was in shambles. I was in the mood to change. Get away from meat and go vegetarian. I decided to go all the way. Eat nothing but brown rice. See how far that would take me. I’ve always been a creature of extremes. Trying to find the middle ground has always been difficult for me. Going the vanilla way. Lives of quiet desperation. Middle America. The fifties. Every time I travel that line between the extremes, I find it unsatisfying. Go against the grain, I say. But when the extreme becomes the norm, as so often happens, it’s time to move on. Find something new. Out on the side.
Every three months or so I would take off from Eldorado Springs where I lived and travel by bicycle down into Boulder to buy a gunny sack of brown rice in the Green Mountain Grainery at ninth and Arapahoe. This health food mecca was conceived and born out of Mo Siegel, Wych Hay and Peggy Clute’s collaboration. They plied the hills above Boulder, hunting for herbs, which they harvested and then hand-sewed the herbs into tea bags, which they sold as Red Zinger Tea at their store. Thus was founded Celestial Seasonings out of the Grainery and, the foothills above Boulder. That tea was a staple of my diet back then.
Wot a Life
Here, I occasionally ran into a group of hippies that came down from the foothills to procure supplies they couldn’t grow themselves. I was there buying my quarterly gunny sack of brown rice. In those days that was all I ate. Drop a couple of cups in a pressure cooker and voila, dinner, a pile of mush straight from nirvana. Yeah, I was on the macrobiotic diet, well, the extreme version. Except for the massive quantities of beer and pot, I lived a clean, ascetic life. If you can call it that. My body was high on rice and my mind electrified on pot, plus other sundry goodies you could pop into your mouth. Often, I’d wind up in places I’d never been. Wot a life.
Over time I struck up a friendship with them. They liked my dog Mon Cul. I liked them. They lived in a commune above the little town of Nederland in the mountain thirteen miles from Boulder. I asked if I might visit with them sometime. They told me to come on up. Stay awhile. Fit in. Try it out. You might like it. So, I took some time off from the bookstore I worked in, packed my Kelty pack, grabbed my sack of rice, put Mon Cul beside me in the cab of my ‘55 Ford pickup I called Trusty and headed out of town – up one of the canyons that snake into the foothills, a prelude to the mountains of cool air and ice-laden peaks.
When you find yourself out in the mountains Time seems to have no beginning and no ending. The mountains are an escape from all things low, things like Nixon and the problems in Amerika at that time. Trump today. Vietnam and the violence in the streets. Mountains, says Bilbo, mountains, I want to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains. He was right. It’s not enough to look at them from afar as you’re standing on the plains gazing longingly up at the peaks. And it’s not enough when you’re in them, surrounded by their sheer bulk and size. You can feel their weight, even as the air becomes lighter. You always want more. Vista after vista makes your breath skip a beat.
Many miles later, stoned, dazed and confused, my old ‘55 Ford huffing and puffing in the thin mountain air, I arrived at a dirt road forking off the highway to the right with cairn and pole stuck in the center, stapled with the number 7 in faded bronze. The sun was setting in a glorious haze of red behind a sentinel of rock that resembled the serrated spine of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. As instructed I followed the bumpy, sometimes impassable road for fifteen miles up into craggy country. This wasn’t a track fit for mules, much less an aging pickup. I navigated a rut as deep as the Mariana Trench, rounded a bend and came to a open space. A small lake glittered in the dim mountain afterglow. Snow capped peaks rimmed the spectacle. On the far side of the lake an old farmstead with broken down buildings stood out in disarray, the fading rays of the sun fanning its demise. A number of tepees and yurts were set up nearer to the lake. Of course, I’d seen plenty of Tepees, but I’d never seen a yurt. Up ‘til now.
As a kid I grew up on a farm. I lived in the dirt, played in streams, took whiffs of the marijuana my French-bred mother smoked in the backyard, while my father was away on the high seas in the Navy. When I look back on my early life, it seemed like I had grown up on a commune. A remote farm in Appalachia. As I drove into the commune high in the Rockies, I was reminded of my childhood. How wonderfully strange it is that memories can become gateways in time, transporting you back, then suddenly catapult you forward into similar circumstances. Past and the present were connected. It was a magical moment, something I thought I had lost. I lit up another joint and got out of the truck, Mon Cul bounding behind me, his nose to the ground like the hound he was.
The hippies, which comprised five families, greeted me at their homesite on the shores of the lake. Children, covered in dirt, naked, were playing in the sand at the edge of the water. Mon Cul was already swimming, fetching sticks. A bonfire was roaring. I smelled food cooking, delicacies from a vast garden nearby were spread out in a rainbow array on a long plank table. And rice, plenty of brown rice, of course. Bowls and bowls of it. I handed my gunny sack to one of the women, who smiled at me. I was looking forward to my stay. I was suddenly tired. The mountain air can do that to you. Conk you over the head. I was offered a chair, one that seemed to have come from the old farm. It was rickety, but as I sat down in front of the fire, put my feet up on a rock, the chair seemed to fold its arms around me. Someone handed me a multi-colored tie-dyed shawl, wrapped it around me. My eyelids slowly and inexorably clamped down over my eyes. A dream came to me. I was six years old, playing in a stream catching Salamanders and winking at frogs. I was home.
Next: Life at The Commune