Early Letters: 2

The wood cook stove

This is the second of three posts containing brief passages from letters that Joyce wrote to those becoming interested in Light Morning soon after we moved to the land. The first bouquet of vignettes (and a fuller introduction) can be found here.

February 1975

Since picking up my pen here in our small tent, the wind has begun one of its roarings. A strange day, with its own story. An ice storm several days ago left every tree, pine needle, and blade of grass frozen, as though made of glass. Fragile glass mountains. Lovely, yet also a sense of tension: the trees bent down under the weight, the strain on brittle limbs, rigid and vulnerable. But there was no wind to threaten them.

Then earlier today the sun shone for about 20 minutes, just enough to release the branches, to give them back their essential flexibility. Now this raging wind, and those thousands of trees bending and twisting. I can feel their wild, joyful freedom.

* * *

More sun today, and quite welcome. The physical adjustment to cold is easier than the mental adjustment to sunlessness. But so far we have only had two of those endless six or seven day stretches — one in early December and one just ending. Otherwise, winter has been a joy to me. I find it more beautiful here now. So open, with long views of mountains and valleys. And the pace is perfect. There are, as always, innumerable projects. But those projects are more patient than the summer ones. Nothing’s going to ruin if it has to wait another day.

* * *

[In response to someone who had been touched by Season of Changes:] There appears to be an ever-growing fellowship among those like yourself within whom this information finds confirmation, and who are responding as constructively and creatively as possible, given the many obstacles involved. Change comes hard to us all. The turnabout in lifestyle and basic assumptions that seems to be called for is as difficult as it is essential. But as you and we and many are realizing, it is indeed time to turn.

* * *

Your resolve to make your move as quickly as circumstances allow is heartening. The rewards are great. It’s like leaving the Shire [a reference to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings] — the same reluctance and even fear, and the actual difficulties to be met. Yet also the joy of aliveness and the challenge of the task. There is help everywhere, and that builds faith, and faith is conducive to learning to love, which is giving, and that helps somebody else, and so on.

* * *

I sometimes wonder if the particulars of where to settle and what to do are relatively unimportant as long as one holds an openness to change; a willingness to be led by that perfection which brought us this far. My faith in that process grows daily.

* * *

I wish you could see what happens to the mountains when there’s a good snowfall. For several days after, there’s a surprising variety of animal tracks every which way. This morning, two very clear pairs of tracks going up toward Temple Hill. A rabbit, followed by a bobcat. (I presume the chronology.) By the time I got to there, a third set of tracks alongside. But then they turned back after a bit toward yoga knoll and there was Robert already well into the standing yoga poses.

Yesterday’s walk to the mailbox brought discovery of some strange ones, especially coming in the back way thru the woods, where it’s a fairy-land of laden boughs and rhododendrons and the sounds of the still unfrozen stream.

Bobcat tracks in the snow

There is peace here. Peace and order and beauty. I no longer think I could live any other way. Hopefully we will soon be able to share the depths of this experience with more people, for it’s something that one’s mind cannot stretch enough to imagine.

* * *

It’s not yet time to begin gardening. We’re several weeks behind Roanoke, because of our altitude. And Roanoke is several weeks behind Virginia Beach, where we lived last year. So we wait. There’s a seed-bed to start, but the tilling and planting are in April. A neighbor plows and discs for us and we have a rototiller to finish it off.

Meanwhile, our days are filled with wood-chopping, cleaning up old piles of this and that, removing poison ivy, trail-making in the woods, landscaping the root cellar, dismantling an old house on Temple Hill, distributing Season of Changes, a growing correspondence generated by the book, the expansion of our community shelter, designing individual shelters, and planning tenting sites for visitors.

Robert’s writing another book (Wax Statues, Cotton Candy, and the Second Coming), Marlene’s putting together a pamphlet on drying fruits and vegetables, the garden needs a rabbit fence, roofs leak, tools need sharpening, brush needs raking, a raspberry patch needs clearing, fruit trees need pruning, clothes to wash, meals to cook.

Then there’s our centering gestures (yoga, meditation, study) which take up the mornings, and our sharing together (talking, reading aloud, making music, visiting neighbors and nearby communities) to which we give our evenings. In other words, the days are full.

* * *

The next people who want to join us will have a difficult time of it. None of the four of us fully realize what these two years of working side by side have done for us (and to us) as a group. We each have different predilections and ways of thinking and of doing things; yet we’re also tight-knit in many respects. We hold much in common, many basic unspoken assumptions and habits of relating to one another, just like in a marriage. This has been necessary for what’s building here, the holding to a common purpose.

But it’s time to learn more flexibility, more givingness, a further degree of lovingness, a gentle accepting of differing ways — while in no way compromising our purpose here. We had neither the skill nor the secure faith in our vision to be able to do this before. But I think we can do it now. In fact, according to the brief glimpses given me, we must do it. I find it the most difficult and exhilarating thing I’ve ever tried.

* * *

It’s warming up; should make for a good hair-washing day. That always lifts my spirits beyond reason. Perhaps it’s a breath of fresh air for my brain.

* * *

The past ten days have made my notes on preparing for cold seem irrelevant. New grass is sprouting; daffodils and tiger lilies are making their beginnings; many of last year’s favorite birds have just returned; the bobcats are mating — eerie cries in the night. There’s a general balminess, but not yet that smell of fresh, moist earth that permeates a young spring day. And today’s wind confirms my own caution based on the memory of a year ago. It can get very cold. Come well prepared.

March 1975

Garden Way cart

Finally this letter begins. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the dynamics of the process, what it is that a letter waits for, sometimes so long, and then suddenly an urgency — now! Often it takes me by surprise and I’m suddenly filled with a sense of communion with someone whom my thoughts haven’t held in weeks. Sometimes I write; sometimes I let the wave pass by. I always wonder.

The weather has been wet and cold. I didn’t want to send that to you. It’s still gloomy out there, but yesterday’s sun dried out my soggy insides. Friday night’s gathering started it. I came home feeling like one of those transformers up on a pole: 6,000 volts coming in and only a 200 volt line in which to express myself. A whole bunch of clear-eyed alive people.

* * *

It’s good to be a community again. Ron and Marlene just returned from visiting family in Wisconsin. The six weeks alone as a couple gave Robert and me a new perspective on marriage and its expansion, as though marriage, among other things, is practice for community. And beyond community sits global harmony. But that’s far bigger than my range at present.

* * *

There are the difficulties, of course, as one accepts responsibility for learning to love one another in community. But these challenges will be met in any environment. Community only intensifies things and quickens the pace a bit.

* * *

Robert and I have been busy designing a “house.” We’re reluctant to move out of our tent and into a solid structure, but it’s becoming clear that something further is needed. Two major reasons — one being physical comfort and flexibility on those bitter, sunless days; the other being the need to model a small, simple, inexpensive, comfortable structure. The tents, as you might agree, are hard to relate to.

So our house is in the drawing stage. Plans so far are for something about 9 x l2, with lots of openable windows east and south, dug into the earth a few feet for warmth and coolness, made of rocks and poles and pine slabs. A tiny stove in one corner for days when the sun’s not out. A patio and grass lawn and flowers and plenty of space for sleeping out under the stars.

* * *

Gardening will begin soon. Fruit trees are arriving from nurseries, blueberry bushes and rosa rugosa need bedding down. Ronald just started a watercress patch in one of the streams. But not today. Today makes spring seem far off. Robert’s up in our tent, writing; Marlene’s down in theirs typing; Ronald’s been trudging around in the snow on one of his mysterious missions. We will gather again at suppertime and talk about the warm days coming.

* * *

Congratulations! Your new wood cook-stove sounds beautiful. As I sit near the warm stove in our small community shelter, toasting my wet toes on this cold snowy day — about five inches have fallen so far — I can assure you that you will not regret your investment. There is nothing quite so wonderful for cold toes.

Last night we went to a nearby commune for a session with some folks who had come up from Raleigh, N.C., to learn about alternative lifestyles. They’re a college class, actually, prof and all, though some aren’t students in the normal academic sense, and very fine people. One of their keen interests is off-grid sources of energy. So, with the usual sense of humor, an ice storm put out the lights for the night.

* * *

Marlene just came back from the mailbox where she and Willie made a snowman for the mailman who never showed up. The roads are too bad. Mañana perhaps.

Robert’s up in our tent, thinking; Ronald’s down in his, reading. A peaceful day, with all projects buried and canceled. The cardinals are frolicking in the wheat we threw out for them. They’re actually fighting over it, contrary to their image. But mostly they sing, when they’re not forgetting.

* * *

Sometimes I find myself becoming impatient when the way is not clear. Yet things always seem to unfold according to a masterful perfection.

* * *

[In response to a letter from another community:] What of yourselves, and your inspiration and experiences thus far? Perhaps we could trade some inspiration, even at the level of book bartering, and some tales of how things are going. That would be my wish, anyway, were I not inclined to believe that you folks find your time growing ever more precious. As do we, I suppose.

Yet it would seem that within the network that is growing among the many communities there would be much to gain from such a mutual sharing. Perhaps an economic system will develop. Meanwhile, we would welcome any news about your community and its growing edges, and also any questions you may have about ours.

* * *

Just the barest beginnings of spring. Craggy old trees turning young. Other new shoots up for the first time. The birds seem familiar with the place, glad to be back.

* * *

Some warm days and the garden has been cleared for turning. A new season; an open season; a plentiful, busy season. We have cherished winter’s peace, yet the magic of last Sunday — three groups of guests, all with different energies, blending in warm fellowship — brings promise and gladness into our hearts.

* * *

A dip back into the low twenties after a luxurious hot spell, during which the visitor season here must have officially opened. We had nine for lunch on Sunday, not counting us. Various groups coming and going the last few days. Everyone brings a different energy, so the soup de jour is always different and exciting. We enjoyed Eddie and Maureen and Michael’s company, and it seems they left with more of an understanding of what’s happening here. One cannot really pick it up through letters.

It’s a funny thing. I’m beginning to realize that it’s not even something we can show to people who come here. It’s as though the experience comes from some other level, and we’re just part of the scenery. Nature is a main character, conspiring through weather, and her subtle signs and tokens, and still subtler influences we can feel but can’t name. She woos and sabotages. We can only stand back and watch.

Sunday was just such a day. There’s a couple we have known for quite some time who live nearby with their two children. Over the past year they have come up quite a bit and we have exchanged ideas about our sense of directions. A friendship has grown. Until recently, they had been searching for land, looking to do a homestead — meaning self-sufficiency as a family, not in community. There’s an enormous difference.

But they have moved away from a need for independence, and even for self-sufficiency. Christ-sufficiency is what they say they want. In Season of Changes it’s called Self-sufficiency. The idea’s the same.

We have much in common with these people, so we’ve often wondered whether they might eventually be drawn toward living with us. Our ideals, including diet, are similar. They’re aware of the implications of simplicity. They also know, from experience, about some of the trials of community.

We have talked about the ins and outs (the ups and downs?) of their coming here, should they choose to give it a try. That’s where the three-month or six-month waiting period takes the tension out of the idea of expanding. Everybody knows that if it works, it works, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

The big question is whether our spiritual paths are enough alike to be compatible. We have similar metaphysical backgrounds, but their interpretation of Christianity is more orthodox than ours. (I say “ours” blithely, for the four of us also have differing interpretations.)

So none of us knows, but we look forward to trying it out and seeing how much difference it might make. At the moment their hearts lean toward Light Morning, but they want to wait for inner confirmation before making any decisions. It’s hard from their end; there’s no security in a move like this. It may be where they are meant to be; yet again, it may not.

Anyway, that’s where Sunday comes in. The weather was perfect, the atmosphere was magical. Light Morning’s purpose was in evidence as we moved among varying groups of visitors who had all come for different reasons and would all take home different seeds. The blending, the flow, the fellowship, the peace of the mountains — all who were here were touched.

It’s hard to be rational at a time like that if you’re considering living here. Then to top it off, the couple’s two children happened upon the “laboratory” and spent the day fixing it up, bubbling with delight, sweeping and rearranging the furniture. It was a sore test for alternative courses of action. That’s what I mean by “sabotage.”

* * *

Such a blustery and wet night! The cook stove smokes at every gust, looking much like wizard’s work. It’s also a gentle reminder that it’s time for me to head back up the hill to our tent and go to bed.