Throughout the process of filming I stopped by three Radical Faerie Sanctuaries. They are sanctuaries for any one who has felt the sting of homophobia or been attacked and cast out by their family because of their sexuality. After an interview with one fellow I learned his mouth had been slit open by a random hate crime in New York.
The faeries have a theme of environmentalist spirituality, a return to nature. They seem to pick and choose from every religion what they like and then throw in a bit of shamanism, Santeria and magic. Ask any Faerie and they will tell you something different about what it means to be a Radical Faerie.
Faeries typically rebel against the hetero-normative ideal in culture. This construct that men are to hunt and gather, not show emotion and smoke Marlboros’ while women are to remain subservient to men and wash dishes and make babies. Ironically, I think many Radical Faeries are setting up a homo-normative construct, this concept that homosexual men dress and act a certain way, talk with a lisp and love Tori Amos. This an ideal that I have seen many homo friends of mine rebel against as well. To be sure, none of this applies to all faeries, only a considerable amount. The faeries and I spent one evening watching Tori Amos videos and I had a great time.
I got mixed signals from all of them about filming, which is understandable. Their desire for anonymity is crucial to their purpose.
On my first visit I made the mistake of visiting the sanctuary on the west coast with a female journalist during an all male gathering. Not surprisingly, we were turned away. Later on I met a faerie at “The Ranch” who left dismayed by the financial mismanagement within that particular sanctuary.
The second sanctuary I visited is located in the deserts of middle America. The land is old Indian romping ground and is treated as sacred. The land is on the continental divide. The sky is huge and two different series of clouds from two different oceans converge above. The sunsets and sunrises are amazing and the weather is erratic and filled with lightening storms. The bugs and animals are unique and the land is teeming with life.
I met Randy at this Sanctuary. He is from Missouri and he told me an amazing story of his life. When he was young his family was on social services and through the social services he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. He was put in a hospital for a year, half of which was spent in solitary confinement. Years later he found out he never had Tuberculosis and that he was being used like a guinea pig.
From that time he struggled with poor communication skills. He got fed up with his families’ religious hypocrisy and drug use and left home around the age of 12. Mostly he kept to himself living in the woods and on top of mountains. Eventually he got lonely and began hitching rides.
His story goes on from there and gets more interesting. He was well spoken and very polite but he told me that he had anger issues and he wanted to formally apologize to all his former communities for the anger he had in his past. About a month later I heard that he left the Sanctuary after losing his temper.
I don’t believe I would ever want to live in a Radical Faerie culture, I think it would drive me insane. I met three people with names that were synonymous with glitter and when I forgot a name I had no idea what pronoun to use. Without a doubt though, there is a deep seeded anti-homo mentality running through mainstream culture so it is important to have a queer safe space to work out all the pressure, and for that I respect the radical faeries.
I showed up at the last sanctuary in style with 100 pounds of East WInd Nut Butter and two jugs of home-made wine that my friend Jude had made. The ladies of East Wind were in love with this particular sanctuary.
I am not sure how the Radical Faeries will fit into this documentary as a whole, even if I did get the access I wanted. The Radical Faeries are a huge, complex organization that defies definition and is deserving of a whole 90 minute documentary of their own. It would do the Faeries an injustice to include them on this documentary I think, so I probably will not….but don’t hold me to that….
Did I mention I almost got hit by a train in Kansas?
We were up late night in upstairs Rock Bottom (the dining hall) talking about the future of East Wind nut butter and thoughts on capitalism. I was getting to the idea that if someone out there is silly enough to pay $30 for a 16 ounce jar of peanut butter we should milk them for it. Everyone in the room disagreed with me on moral grounds but they all pointed out that I kept saying “we”.
This is the mindset you naturally take on within an egalitarian community. Such attitude is inevitable when everyone makes the same amount of money and work is considered anything that make the whole of community better. Upon entrance into the community as a member, you are asked to leave all your land and bank accounts behind. When I first heard this rule it sounded very daunting and controlling. It does make perfect sense though. Obviously there are natural limitations to equality and egalitarianism. The best you can do is setup a system where everyone is equal economically at least. Everyone has the same opportunity on this community, but it is up to the individual to pursue opportunity and this is where the equality of power begins to fade.
The land in the Ozarks is filled with noisy bugs, armadillo, deer, bluffs stalking over the river and oaks on both sides. It is beautiful. I took a long hike with some of the oldest members of the community. One person who had been there with the communities inception and another who had lived there since 1979. They were both in great shape to hike around and climb rocks. I got a great interview with them as they passed around a bottle of whiskey and we stared at the skies.
The food is absolutely delicious and you get the feeling that you are becoming healthier with every meal from East Wind.
East Wind is a nice balance between the anarchy and lawlessness of “The Ranch” and the tedious structure and long meetings of Alpha Farm. In my personal opinion, East Wind was just right. Like the Ranch the community is open to the dangers of being infiltrated by slackers and questionable characters but unlike “The Ranch” there is a well-worded system in place to get rid of those people.
East WInd is a fine example of Social Democracy and it works well within the small scale of the commune. The original charter written by Kat Kinkade called for a population rising to 750. Kinkade probably would have wanted more but she was held back by the water demands. Most members shutter at the idea of having such a huge population and most recognize that their would have to be serious systematic changes in governance to function.
Kat Kinkade is an interesting character. She started Acorn and Twin Oaks, two sister egalitarian communes in Virginia. She also started the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. She was the major force behind every egalitarian community that exists in the U.S.
Kinkade read “Walden II” and was inspired by the B.F. Skinner’s behavioral psychology theory and wanted to try out the concepts on a large level. She was not interested in making a hippy commune, and she was not primitive.
She was all for technology and she abhorred lazy potheads. Spending hours combing through the old charters and declarations from the 70s I began to get a feel for the pragmatic nature of Kinkade. I could not figure out what drove her. In her mid-thirties something inspired her to put her entire life and loads of money into her philosophies. Some say she oversimplified human nature by thinking we could be controlled and trained through a series of rewards and punishments like lab rats. She seems to have disappointment in every community she started, but for what it is worth, she did a great job.
East Wind is unique by having a nut butter factory. This has made the community semi-affluent compared to every other commune. Although the cost of peanuts rising is hitting the business with doubt, they are still moving forward, installing solar panels and a T1 line. The T1 line was a cause of commotion during my stay. People feared the culture of the community would change if WiFi were all over the commune and that people would become more isolated. Others thought it was silly to fight the waves of technology and that hermits will hide away either way.
I had a wonderful time there. People were promising me interviews if I stayed longer and I hear they cooked a birthday cake in my honor although I was gone. I fell in love with the land and the characters there and was very much a part of everything that goes on. I am afraid that some may be upset by the reality I present in the documentary, because it will not all be a picture of utopia, but then nothing is.
The Greek translation of Utopia is “No Place”.
Before I left, the community loaded me up with a hellofalot of peanut butter and homemade lemongrass wine to give to the Radical Faeries which brings us to the next story…….
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I have never felt pure serene solitude as I have in Nevada. I took highway 6 East through Nevada and turned Southeast to highway 375 right outside of the infamous Area 51. There was one town on the way.
There were plenty of unidentifiable lights flying around in the sky. Distant lights that move unlike airplanes and skitter back and forth. At first I thought they could be far-away radio towers but they were actually moving. Three lights in the distance that seemed to be moving together but were too far apart to be one unit. I have no photo of those three lights, but I did take this time lapse while I was sleeping. Each frame of this lapse represents 30 seconds and the whole time lapsed is about 12 hours. At the bottom of the screen you will see cars zipping by and in the sky you can see plenty of tiny specks of light flashing on and off which are probably shooting stars. But, at about 19 seconds look closely at the right of your screen and notice about 50 lights flying off into the distance over the course of several hours. Also, at about 22 seconds there is a huge streak of light in the upper left of the screen that cannot be a shooting star. If anyone out there in internet land can explain them, please leave a comment.
Many nights of hiking around in pitch black setting up time lapses, and more hours spent driving down dark and dusty unknown roads that don’t show on maps. My car has felt the pain more than me perhaps…
In Utah I found Skutumpah road, an old dirt road that wraps around Mount Zion. It stretches for roughly 120 miles starting in the town of Glendale and heading Northeast before cutting Southeast. The old man in Glendale asked me, “Are you absolutely sure you want to go down that road, you’re gonna need a can of beans and a lotta water.”
One of the locals that owns a Ranch suggested I camp in Lick Canyon. I made it there after dark and hiked in occasionally looking up to see the Canyon rising above me. Their were Cougar tracks in the mud so I took my photo and got out of there.
The end of Skutumpah road was said to be easier then the beginning. This is false. The further south you drive down Skutumpah the more it resembles two parallel muddy trenches passable only by dirt bikes. One hundred miles in and I was not about to turn back so I held my breath and charged my 88 Honda LXi (who I have named Loxie) through the muddy trenches hoping things would look better around the bend. Somewhere within the violent shaking both of my front lights popped out of socket.
Soon I was in Page Arizona surrounded by familiar Wal-Marts and McDonald’s. I walked past the largest man-made reservoir ever built. One of my fondest memories from this trip is swimming in the Glen Canyon reservoir. After a week in the hot and dusty desert it was a delightful bite of heaven to soak in the cool water while looking up at the canyons towering above.
The next day I awoke in Navajo territory. After doing some electrical work on my Honda over a cup of coffee I set out. I stopped at a roadside market and ate a grilled mutton (lamb) while talking with the cook.
My goal in passing was to find a Navajo or Hopi elder who had been alive before the Peabody Black Mesa Coal Controversy in 1968. Peabody essentially screwed the entire region out of their water and natural resources. I researched it and read that the Black Mesa coal mine shut down in 2005. I stopped at a store and asked where the abandoned Peabody Silo is. “Peabody is still here unfortunately,” said the cashier.
Sure enough there were two relatively new coal mines in the region. I guess the stigma of the Black Mesa plant was so big that it was best to just open a new coal plant. I did find the abandoned Peabody plant and took this shot.
Afterwards, it was another hour or so of dirt roads. The clouds were amazing. Whatever dirt road I was on shot me out right where the first mesa is. I saw many abandoned trailers along the ridge of a vast canyon.
I walked into the Hopi cultural center and caught an old man named Kiv. Judging by the deep burrows in his forehead I guessed he was in his 60s or 70s. He explained to me that he was born on the first mesa of Hopi land, but he left at the age of 9 because all the rest of his family had left.
“There was nothing left, no reason to stay,” he told me. He seemed upset as he told me that he had never been to the Grand Canyon. I soothed his anger by describing my hellishly painful descent into the canyon with no sleeping bag and having mice crawl on me as I slept on the picnic tables…He got a laugh out of that. I threw in a tid-bit about some guy that died there last week. I asked if he knew any elders that could talk about Peabody coal and he told me I would eventually find someone.
On the road I picked up a young hitch-hiker with a “Disturbed” tee-shirt. He didn’t say much but he had me take him directly into the village. Everyone in the village was at a volleyball game that we passed along the way. The village reminded me of Tegucigalpa, Honduras except empty and on top of a huge mesa surrounded by canyons. Nobody was there and half the shacks were abandoned.
I found the edge of the canyon and had a peek. On my way back to the car I saw an old man in front of a shack sitting on a crate with a cowboy hat on. I walked up to him and said “Hi.” He responded by ignoring me for a brief moment. I almost thought he didn’t hear me but then he looked in my general direction and started hocking up loogies and spitting. He got about three of those out before I was out of listening range.
The second mesa sits upon a canyon right across from the first one. There was a tiny village of adobe pueblo on top of a mount with cars wrapping around it.
There was a house on the edge of the canyon with a sign that said “Crafts, Welcome,” so I made myself welcome and knocked on their front door. A young boy came out and told me there were no crafts for sale today. He told me there was a dance going on at the top of the mesa where I can find a man named Walter Koyowitha and interview him. I tried to get the young man to go with me but he didn’t care for dancing.
I was about to stand out like Rosanne in a baseball auditorium so I left my camera in the car and took the rock stairs up the mountain. Everybody that was from the area knew Walter Koyowitha and it alleviated the awkwardness of essentially being in the middle of a Hopi Pow-Wow and being a complete outsider both mentally and physically.
The village felt like a castle, the way it winded up. As I hiked up I imagined that centuries ago the Hopi were dancing and banging on drums just like they were tonight. The dance was in a open space on the top of the mesa that was only accessible by ladder. Someone told me that Koyowitha was singing and drumming. I would have gone in to look for him but the dance was letting out and the ladder was swamped with people trying to leave so I waited and watched and listened to the language, the accents and the beautiful clothing and jewelry of the Hopi.
Finally, I found Koyowitha in front of his old adobe home. He was sweaty and tired. I told him that I wanted to record the oral history of Peabody Coal within the Navajo nation. It was important because Peabody is still blowing up the mountains of Kentucky and West Virginia while cheating people out of their mineral rights and exploiting their lack of education. His face grew dark when I mentioned Peabody. “You shouldn’t talk about such things around here, the Hopi people are still bitter about what Peabody did.”
I didn’t get my interview, but I got to step into a world of culture that I thought had no longer existed. I figured it existed in a Disneyland-like way, as a touristy faux of the real thing that once was. I was surprised.
Every mesa village I went to, the entire village was together at some event. The Hopi tribe is truly a great example of what intentional community could be.
Perhaps I will walk into every community and say that I am looking for Walter Koyowitha, just to see where it takes me.
For the past two weeks I have been at an anonymous commune in Northern California. I was given the opportunity to film with the understanding that I do not name the actual commune, thus we will call it, “The Ranch”. The commune began in about 1968. It was one of the original “Hippie” communes and I understand it used to be a training ground for the Black Panthers. There is an excellent book about it that has been out of print for 30 years called “January Thaw”.
There were many philosophically and politically minded people, most were transient. It was very different from the structure that I found at Alpha Farm in Deadwood, Oregon. There really is no structure at the Ranch only guidelines it seems. The motto is “Free Land, Free People”. This community is like a school and an ongoing experiment that began in the 60’s. A group can honestly test how life and a society can run itself in different ways. I think the people that started this commune occasionally look at it and laugh, thinking about how they have been through every thing all those kids are dealing with.
As more people became okay with being filmed, many of the people who were against it at first came around to being interviewed. There were a few anarchists that wanted nothing to do with the camera, although a few of them did get interviewed with masks on. There is a wall of security amongst some anarchists, and it is difficult to get access…. hell, its difficult to even come around and not get my camera smashed.
I learned a great lesson; do not film when people are drinking heavily. Every time I tried I came into an argument. The second time it happened, the argument escalated until a man was screaming “You need to pack your shit and get out of this commune right now!” The next day, we had to have a “feelings meeting” because we had spent the entire night screaming at each other and we woke up half the commune. We came to a clear understanding of how it all happened and I see where I made my mistake. Since then, we have laughed about the whole scenario.
Right now I am in San Fran with and I am about to film a squat called “Fancy House” in Oakland. I know that Oakland has had issues with police brutality, but I never understood how much animosity the people of Oakland had towards the police until last night. The conversation was bitter and I could not get people to agree that perhaps at least 1% of police have good ethics and want to make a safe and better society. We talked a bit about the Oscar Grant case.
I drove into the Wolf Creek Sanctuary to film and interview the gathering and some of the elders, I was a bit nervous being a complete outsider. My nervousness was justified when I was told to wait across the street as the elders decided on whether or not allow me in. The gathering had just had a heated debate the day before to decide who was allowed into the gathering. As luck would have it, they decided they were not allowing women or any man not identified as homosexual.
Unfortunately, the Radical Faerie Gathering will not be making its way into this documentary, but I am still in contact with a Faerie community that would like me to pay a visit but is still undecided about allowing me to film. Being a sanctuary, they are justifiably concerned with their privacy.