Friday, August 26, 2011

Pedaling For Supper

Earlier this summer, I came across a really interesting article about using pedal power for other applications besides just moving yourself (and maybe some cargo) down the road.  The article was really long and had some complex diagrams and the takeaway, for me, was "This is pretty tricky stuff."  That was mostly because I was skimming, and not the fault of the author.  Regardless, I kinda dismissed the concept after reading the article.

These days, I make frequent use of a pedal-powered flour mill.  Here it is, in all its high-tech glory:

Yep. That there is a very old exercise bike which, when you pedal it, turns a wheel which grinds the grain.  Let's take another look at that connection:

See that complex arrangement of gears and belts?  No?  That's because there isn't one.  The bike wheel is butted right up against the wheel of the mill, and that pressure alone (maintained by strategically placed bolts and clamps) is enough to grind the grain when you turn the pedals. I love it when the simplest solution really is the most effective.

Grinding flour this way is like riding up a hill, and the more grain you put in the hopper at once, the steeper the hill gets.  I do a lot of standing on the pedals.  Yet this is by far the most rewarding exercise bike I have ever used.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Welcome Back Cotter (Also Nita)

[continued from this post]

Maya has told me quite a bit about The Hippies, the hapless and idealistic residents of a five-year-old intentional community up the road. Some members have become friends of hers, but she speaks of The Hippies as a group with a mixture of amusement, scorn, and chagrin. When I ask for details, she paints me a verbal picture of well-intentioned but exceptionally clueless individuals who have somehow managed to stick with their wreck of a community over a period of perhaps five years. ("Aha!" you may be saying, "You've found an intentional community nearby! Why don't you stay there for a while?" To which I answer, "Noooo thank you.") I hope to be able to present you with a more complete picture of them in a future post, but for now, you'll have to settle for my first impression:

There's a little boy in the weeds. He's naked, with long, wild brown hair; at first glance, he could be Mowgli. "My name's Seth," he says to me, bright-eyed. "What's your name?" Seth was clearly not raised by wolves; in fact, he has a really good start on this whole social interaction thing. He introduces me to his mother, Alita, a slender woman in a dingy skirt with close-cropped hair, and his sister Leila, a golden-haired toddler in Alita's arms. I shake Alita's hand and introduce myself as a WWOOFer. "Cool," says Aletha, smiling and nodding. She seems shy, or maybe tired. "The dogs ran off, and Maya and Beau went to look for them," I tell her. "Ray's over at the sawmill." She nods, and Seth shoves a piece of paper at me. "I made this," he says. The paper is heavily scrawled with pink glitter glue. Beneath the glue, there are lines of adult handwriting in pencil. "That says 'Seth Age Five,'" he explains. It doesn't. The words there make no sense... or more precisely, I wouldn't want to be in the sort of mindset where they would make sense. "Sure enough," I nod. "Seth, Age Five." Reduce, reuse, recycle, right?

I offer Alita and her children some water, which they eagerly accept. Alita doesn't have much to say, and I'm kind of at a loss for entertaining her, but Seth happily fills in the gaps. A tall, sprangly-haired, heavily bearded man appears -- I saw him earlier, over by their truck -- and stands rocking back and forth on his worn hiking boots. He introduces himself as Mojo. Alita hands him her water glass and repeats my story about the dogs to him, and he chuckles. Someone says something about blackberries, and he points out a bunch of fresh scratches on his bare shins for me. "Yikes!" I say. "You're serious about your blackberry picking." Mojo agrees that he is.  He seems less shy, but not very interested in small talk. He says to Alita, "We're an hour late for the potluck." Alita nods, and they turn to go.

"I'll tell Maya you came by," I offer, thinking maybe they have a message to leave her, but no. I still have no idea why they came. My wary city-dweller mindset suggests they may have been scoping the place out, but I quickly rule out this possibility: they made it past the locked gate, which means they have the combo, which means they are friends.

"Are you coming to the potluck?" Seth calls back to me. "Nope," I say. "Are you having a potluck here?" he presses. "No... maybe some other day!" "Okay!" he yells, climbing into the truck.

An old man arrived at the same time as the hippies, and I thought he was with them, but he actually came by bicycle (an impressive feat in these hills). He immediately made a beeline for the sawmill, and is now walking back this way with Ray, talking animatedly the entire time. Let's call him Ivan: a wiry, gray-bearded fellow who talks a mile a minute. Ray introduces me when Ivan stops to take a breath, and I get a firm handshake and a canny grin minus a couple of teeth. I take the opportunity to mention that the dogs have run off and Maya and Beau have gone looking for them. Ray shakes his head. "They won't find them," he says.

Ivan leaves shortly afterward, Ray returns to the sawmill, and soon Maya and Beau return, dogless. It's dinnertime when Cotter and Nita at last come panting home, covered with mud and burrs, to affectionate scoldings. Maya has secured the loose gate with twine; Cotter won't be leading Nita off again anytime soon.

The mosquitoes are fierce today, so we eat our homemade sourdough pizza in the screened yurt. A feeling of contentment pervades. The dogs are home, Ray has finally finished milling the logs, Beau is reading Lord of the Rings for the first time (he thinks he might like it better than "Star Wars"), and I begin my first blog post since leaving home. I have a lot to say.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Who Let the Dogs Out?

THAT first wakeful night at the Little Farm is made up for by the second night's sleep. I oversleep a bit, too - until about 8 a.m. (gasp!). Beau consistently starts his day at 6 (cooking breakfast, remember), Maya at 7, Ray somewhere inbetween, and I had wanted to get up early enough to get well into weeding and hay-spreading before it got warm. But after breakfast, Maya and Ray lend a hand in the pasture, and the job is done lickety-split. "You guys are a whole lot faster at that than I am," I remark sheepishly. Robert replies, "We've had a lot more practice."

After lunch and more dishes, Maya leads me past the outdoor shower, across a beautiful meadow and a little way into the surrounding woods to show me the spring house. The spring is currently the only water source at the Little Farm, and its uphill location means that all plumbing is entirely gravity-fed (except for when it needs an assist from a gas-fueled pump). Though Ray and Maya would like more water for irrigation, it provides more than enough for household, livestock, and garden needs.

The spring house was built by Ray and his father after repeated bear visits to the spring churned up enough muck to make the water run cloudy, resulting in some intestinal distress for the farm's residents. (Yeah, I'm really glad I missed that episode.) It's a neat little structure, containing a set of pipes that channel the water down toward the fields and buildings, and also allows enough water to spill down the hill that the lush woodland vegetation continues to thrive.

When Maya and I pass through a gate in the fence surrounding most of the farm, Cotter becomes extremely agitated. He hasn't done this when I've gone through any other gates, but now he stands at this one, barking incessantly. "Aw, he's worried about us," I say, and Maya says, "He just does that sometimes." But as she's showing me the spring house, Cotter comes bounding toward us. "How did you get out?" Maya exclaims. Apparently the gate wasn't fastened as securely as we thought. He has brought Nita, the young livestock guarding dog who lives outside the fence, and the two of them are extremely excited. "Stay close by," Maya warns them, and then goes back to telling me about the spring.

Only a minute or so passes before we're ready to head back. Maya calls the dogs, but there is no answering bark, no crackling of underbrush. They're gone. Nita is always free to run out here, but it's only with Cotter's roving influence that she'll stray out of earshot. Beau is recruited to the search; when calling does not work, and waiting a while does not work, he and Maya get in the truck and go to look for them.

Maya leaves me with a bin of dried mustard plants, asking me to remove the seeds from the chaff. It's a soothing and time-consuming activity, and I have to kind of figure it out as I go, which is fun in an undertaking of this scale. I'm sitting in the shade, rubbing the fibers between the palms of my hands, when a truck rumbles up the drive. It has hippies in it.

[To be continued!]

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Shower Time!

THE outdoor shower was one of the first amenities I encountered at the Little Farm. It is a very outdoor shower: no walls or roof of any kind. I expected to be uncomfortable with this, but in fact, this may be my favorite shower ever. Take a look:

What's that? You can't see it? That's right. The shower is not only set waaay across the garden from the other structures, and therefore invisible from them, but it's also screened by a friendly little cedar that doubles as a useful towel rack. I refer to it as the Tree Butler.

You can, however, see the brightly colored hot and cold water pipes. Part of the magic of this shower is its position downhill from a huge solar-powered hot water tank. You will basically never run out of hot water. (You will also basically never run out of water here, period, but that's a topic for another post.)

Closer in, you can see this shower's many fine amenities, including a shower head (modified for low pressure flow), a mirrored medicine cabinet, and... um... a floor? Floors are good, right? I'm kind of a fan of floors.

Hmm, wonder what's in that medicine cabinet? You know you wanna find out.

Oh, right. That's where they keep their frogs, of course.

Sometimes, a very friendly cat will also come and keep you company while you bathe, and help dry your legs when you're done.

So, okay: endless hot water, nice. Tree towel rack, nice. Privacy in the open air, nice. Critters, nice I guess, if you're into frogs and cats. Mosquitoes, not so nice, but could be worse. But what's the big deal with this shower, Lindsey? Of all the showers in the world, why would you bestow the word "favorite" upon this rustic specimen?

Oh, I don't know, maybe THIS VIEW:

Beats a shower curtain all hollow, I tell ya.

Friday, August 19, 2011

First Day on the Little Farm

BEAU is learning to cook this summer, starting with breakfast. At this point he has mastered bacon, eggs, and cheesy potatoes, and I mean really mastered them. I fill up and then go to my first assigned task: spreading hay on the bare spots in the pasture in order to mulch, discourage weeds, and plant grass seed. It's not a very big pasture, and the bales are already distributed for me; I just have to use the sort-of-broken pitchfork to spread it around.

The hay comes off the bale in flakes that remind me of shredded wheat. The pitchfork is awkward, and my pitchfork skills are basically nil to begin with, so I eventually resort to Maya's suggestion of spreading it by hand. The other part of the task is pulling up star thistle, which blends in with the other vegetation so that just when you think you've gotten it all, another plant pokes you in the shin.

Here's star thistle:

You can see the problem: it would be pretty painful to eat. So I pull and spread, and pull and spread, and my clothing collects burrs and hayseeds while my nose collects dust, and the shade shrinks as the sun gets hotter. I begin to feel I've been doing this forever (though it's actually been, maybe, an hour and a half). The pasture is small, but the work is slow... or rather, I am slow, and slowing; I think I can get better at this job with time, but I'm pretty sure I'm not going to finish it this morning. On one of my many trips in to refill my water bottle, Maya invites me in to help with lunch. Today, this turns out to mostly mean sitting and talking to her while she prepares lunch.

Over the meal, which is, of course, delicious, Maya begs Ray to go to "the Pipe" for a swim. He's been using the sawmill to cut logs, and is anxious to finish the job today, so he says, "You guys can go without me." Then, with no further pressure, he abruptly relents: "Okay, I'll go. But just for an hour."

The Pipe is so nicknamed for the fat irrigation pipe suspended above the swimming hole, which provides a prime spot for jumping off. The water is incredibly clear and shriek-inducingly cold. Today, though it's a weekday, we're soon joined by ten or so others: sunbathing college kids, twentysomething stoners, a middle-aged guy with a pot belly and beers, two water-wary preschoolers in lifejackets, and a handful of extremely enthusiastic dogs. Feeling oddly timid, and too chilly to spend more than moments at a time in the water, I sit quietly on the shore and watch the genial interactions.

Back at the farm, I help Maya more in the kitchen: for-reals help this time. I've been offering to wash dishes at just about every opportunity, mostly because it's a way to help that involves minimal opportunities to screw things up. Last night, Maya cheerfully informed me that "Being a farm wife is a lot like being a scullery maid," because there are always so many things to wash. So my assistance with the endless task of dishes is making a better impression than I could have hoped. Meanwhile Maya, though busy with other tasks, is overflowing with explanations, instructions, anecdotes, and helpful information on a multitude of topics.

Then there is dinner, and after dinner I'm washing more dishes, because why not; but the topic of who's done dishes lately comes up, and before I know it Ray has been shamed into taking over for me. He's worked a lot harder than I have today, but my weak protestations are overruled, so I hang out until milking is done and we all settle into the screened yurt to watch a movie, Netflix'd of course: "Babe." You know the one, about the pig who learns to herd sheep? None of us have seen it in ages, and I'm curious to see what filmmaking blunders will become apparent now that I'm in the company of people who really know pigs. There isn't much; one rear shot of Babe is, to my hosts, obviously that of a girl piglet, but the only other near-criticism is "That's the slowest-growin' white pig I've ever seen." More attention is given to the phrase "It's the way things are!" as an explanation for why certain farm animals are regarded as food by humans. This line will be quoted over and over again throughout the coming days. The line "Christmas means carnage!" (as recited by the film's Greek chorus of mice) also meets with much merriment.

When at last I tumble into bed, I fall asleep pondering whether I can manage to come back here again next summer.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cheating, Confession, and Cows

MANY, many thanks to all of you who have contributed comments, e-mails, and reshared my adventures. I so appreciate all the love, prayers, positive predictions, enthusiasm and well-wishes you have lavished on my efforts thus far. I wish I had time to reply to them all, but please know that I am grateful for every one.

*  *  *
I need to be honest with you about this: according to the description I've given of this trip, the one where I say I'm going to visit a bunch of intentional communities, I'm cheating.

The Little Farm is not an intentional community, not in the formal sense of the phrase. It's a tiny permaculture/organic homestead, about three years old, run by Maya and Ray with help from family, friends, and WWOOFers (organic farming interns). I first heard about it over a year ago, when Maya sent a message to a WWOOF e-mail list calling for volunteer helpers, and I've been daydreaming about it ever since. The place is an intriguing mix of idealism and practicality, of old ways and new: hand tools and wifi, a composting outhouse and a high-tech weather station. But it is not the kind of place I said I was going to be visiting.

But see, the other purpose of this trip, the less-frequently-stated one, is to visit places that sound cool, just because, y'know, I can. And I've always wanted to try WWOOFing. So here I am: sitting in a yurt, netbook on my knee, listening to the multitudinous grunting of a mama pig feeding 8 babies just the other side of the screened wall.

*  *  *

AS dusk falls on that first day, Maya and Ray take me to meet the cows. The current milk supplier, a doe-eyed Jersey, is ready to be milked, and while Maya sets to the task, I ask a million questions. Lucky for me, she and Ray are natural teachers and storytellers, and only too happy to answer.

Milking one cow takes Maya about 40 minutes, I learn, and Beau, who has less experience, can get it done in about 90. My half-hearted interest in learning to milk begins to wane; that's an awfully long time for a hand workout. Maya learned to milk on a goat farm, and agrees it's easier to start with a smaller udder. There are two more cows here, a heifer and a young steer. The latter, the first cow birthed here, is affectionately referred to as Burger Buddy [not a pseudonym, ha!].

Maya and Ray only began acquiring livestock just last summer, and the learning curve has been bumpy. They've read books, taken classes, and hung out on livestock-specific internet message boards, soaking up as much info as they could before (and after) taking the plunge. Even with all their research, they've made mistakes: unethical cow sellers have sold them defective animals, and at one point they almost lost a cow to malnutrition. Some of the non-mistakes have been challenging, too; Ray describes artificially inseminating Mama Cow as easy but extremely unpleasant, and removing Burger Buddy's horns, in gory detail, as "by far the worst part of animal husbandry so far."

Why go to all this trouble, then? The unasked question is answered when we return to the kitchen and drink tall glasses of fresh milk. It's rich, sweet and incredibly satisfying. I've always been a milk fan, but this is a whole other realm of deliciousness. Unlike me, Ray and Maya were not milk drinkers before they had a cow, but this has become a daily treat for them. Ray says his teeth used to be extremely sensitive at the gumline, but that's cleared up completely since he began drinking raw milk. I'm sold; sign me up!

*  *  *

OTHER parts of this lifestyle may take more getting used to. That composting outhouse, for example: no seat, just a hole in the floor. Erg. I'm a city kid and haven't had much squatting practice, but it looks like I'll be getting some now. My bed is one of several mattress/box spring pairs in the open loft of the barn building, accessed by an aluminum ladder leaning casually up against the loft edge. The flooring has been extended forward, but the job is unfinished, and at the top of the ladder I pause to eye the gaps before stepping gingerly across them to the main (completed) area of the floor. Good thing I'm not a sleepwalker.

As with any night in a new place, I spend more of it awake than I would like. You'd think it would be quiet out here in the middle of nowhere, but there are so many new sounds to keep me alert: cows moving around, a boar hronking, dogs bark-bark-barking, and long before dawn, ducks quacking and a rooster crowing. I find myself hoping, for the first time but not the last, that we eat that rooster.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Destination: Middle of Nowhere

I finally hit the road Wednesday morning.

My CD player stutters and skips before the first disc ends. It's prone to overheating on road trips, but this is the earliest it's ever quit on me; I suspect the sun on the dash isn't helping. This is disappointing, because the mix I put in first was specifically designed for road trips and leaving-home-catharsis, but the drive itself turns out to be plenty cathartic. Alone in my car, I can be as emotionally messy as I like without disturbing anyone else, yet the forward motion reminds me I can leave the feelings behind as soon as I'm ready. This is important, because right now I'm very happy and very sad at the same time. All the leavings-behind and all the goodbyes seem very real, here at the brink of the new.

Traffic is minimal, and the miles roll by soothingly. The scenery is pleasantly rural and gorgeously forested, but because it's the same scenery I grew up with, it scrolls past my eyes without leaving much of an impression. Then, along about Roseburg, I round a hillside and am confronted with a perfect model railroad scene: gnarled trees arranged sparingly on a hillside of tawny crushed velvet. This is different. Now it feels like I'm getting somewhere, and I begin paying more attention to the scenery outside myself... which is good, because soon the road becomes more winding and hilly. My 1990 Volvo has to knuckle down to get us up those hills, but it gets the job done. The sound of the engine and the air blowing in the windows make a decent enough soundtrack, and when my thoughts start to spiral, I shove the CD back in to coax another song or two out of the player before it chokes to a halt again.

I greet the California border with a loud cheer. I pass border guards (do they really spend all day asking people if they have any fresh fruit?), a giant metal flower sculpture, and a barn with STATE OF JEFFERSON painted on the roof: Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore. My destination lies some 50 miles east of Redding. Near my goal, I overshoot a turn by about 15 miles and have to double back, and by this time the driving is really not that fun anymore, but almost there, almost there... twisting turning paved roads become twisting turning unpaved roads, and at last I'm heading up a long gravel drive, past the NO TRESPASSING signs and the cattle gates, to the Little Farm.*

Ray and Cotter meet me at the upper gate, Cotter with a wagging tail and Ray with a warm handshake.  Behind them, a cluster of tiny wooden buildings nestle into a valley walled with towering trees and carpeted with wildflowers. It's gorgeous, and when I tell Ray so, he concurs: "I know. Sometimes I have to pinch myself: is this really my life?"

I am introduced to Ray's partner Maya, and Beau, their helper for the summer, as well as Uncle Don, who's just here for dinner. The meal is almost ready, and while Maya finishes preparing it, we sit on stools around the entrance to the outdoor kitchen. Still dazed from the long drive, I soak in my surroundings, half-listening to Ray and Don's architectural discussion of their future house/barn. "We'll put the cows on the first floor and we'll sleep on the second," Maya explains, stepping away from the wood stove for a moment. "And then, when there's snow on the ground, you can just go downstairs and milk the cows!" I have to ask: "Won't the smell bother you?" "Oh, our cows don't smell bad," she assures me. "You'll see."

I take another swig from my glass of cool, delicious spring water and do a double-take as two small black piglets trot by. Moments later, a squat, hairy mama pig with pendulous teats trundles past, grunting amicably, followed by a herd of wee piggies. Everything about them is hilarious, from their dainty gait to their big floppy ears to their surprisingly deep grunts. My instinct is to point and say, "Ohmygosh, you guys, look!" But everyone here is already accustomed to the sight.

We eat dinner on a picnic table in the shade: extra cheesy frittata and flavorful homemade kraut. Dessert is baked apples and cream, whipped at the table with an eggbeater. Conversation is pleasantly laid-back. On the way here, I reminded myself that if I don't like these people immediately, it could still work out really well. After all, some of my favorite people grated on me the first days or weeks I knew them. Remembering this now, I chuckle: I hope it's not a bad thing that I find them all utterly charming, right from the get-go.

* Out of respect for their privacy, I'll be using pseudonyms for the Little Farm and its residents.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Delays and Stuff

AFTER the coast, the next stop is my parents' house, a convenient waypoint on my journey south.  My family greets me with open arms, even though my arrival happens at a less-than-convenient time: my dad, brother, and nephew are preparing for a week-long Boy Scout camping trip.  Tensions are high, stuff is everywhere, and here I come with a bunch of stuff of my own.

When I said I had all my stuff in my car, I was exaggerating.  I had the last of my stuff in the car, but my sister already took a station-wagon-load down to my parents' house for me, and now it's all sitting in the middle of the garage.  Before I left Portland, I got rid of tons of furniture and books and CDs and pretty much anything else I could bring myself to part with, which turned out to be quite a lot, but the remainder is... disappointingly bulky.

My parents have very generously offered me attic space to store everything I'm not taking with me. So now my task is to sort out the stuff I'm storing from the stuff I'm taking, and to box up the stuff-to-be-stored and squeeze it into my corner of the attic. And this is, inexplicably, impossible.

I don't understand it. I just performed a series of superhuman feats, involving contractors and repairmen, extremely adhesive linoleum squares, enthusiastic friends, and lots and lots of paint! I just let go of a bazillion excellent possessions! I just managed to transport all my remaining things to another town! I am clearly unstoppable! And I have space and time to work in, everyone is being so kind and accommodating, someone else is preparing all my meals, and... nothing is getting done. I am grasping at every distraction, I'll get to it in a few minutes, just as soon as I get done with these other things, oh no the day is over, guess I'll have to work on it tomorrow. Like that, days slip by.

So I ask my host at my next destination: I need a little more time. Is it all right if I come a day later? Saturday instead of Friday? And the answer comes back, We're leaving town for the weekend, how about Monday? Sure, I say with relief. Monday's great.

But on Sunday, it really looks like Monday will not be so great. Even though the campers and their gear are gone now, I still have so far to go. Worse, fatigue is descending like the Sandbag of Damocles, so heavy that I can't even draw on eleventh hour adrenaline to get the job done. I was warned there would be payback for the stresses and postponed emotions of the past month, and I suspect that time has come. I send another e-mail to my host: Sorry, but would Tuesday be all right? and then I tumble into bed, hours earlier than usual.

I sleep for nearly 12 hours, and when I get up there's a reply: Tuesday's busy for us, you should come Wednesday instead. Ahahaha. Time is on my side again. So I return to the unpacking-sorting-repacking with a will. My progress is slow, and I am still easily distracted, but I am finally reaching the bottom of the heap. And I have a lot of time to think about why this is so hard.

1. It's hard because so much of the hurriedly-boxed-up clutter I brought from Portland represents unfinished tasks: contact info for people I was supposed to contact, papers I was supposed to file, comics I was supposed to finish drawing, clothing I was supposed to mend, items I was supposed to give to specific people -- and going back through them, I have to decide over and over whether to seize this one last chance to follow through, or write it off as a failure.

2. It's hard because a lot of this stuff, I don't even want to keep, or at least not in this form -- I don't want boxes of unsorted photos, I want them all scanned and backed up online; I don't want archives of paper memorabilia from past years, but I want to go through them all one last time and take notes -- but of course, I don't have time to take on projects of that scale now.

3. It's hard because I didn't really have time to get everything all sorted out back in Portland, and now just when I think I've got, say, all the photos boxed up, I find another cache of them in an unexpected corner, and then there's no room left in the existing boxes-designated-for-photos.

4. It's hard because I feel (irrationally) like, after all the stuff I've gotten rid of, I shouldn't have this much left. At this point in my progress, I envisioned I would have shaved my possessions down to the essentials so I could brag about my minimalistic lifestyle. ("It was easy to let it all go," I would tell my rapt blog-audience. "The hardest part was deciding to do it.") Reader, I will not be bragging. I will have too many boxes in the attic and too much crap important stuff crammed into my car to turn up my nose at anybody. The stuff, it clings.

5. And, honestly, it's hard because I'm clinging to the stuff.  The stuff and I, we are two halves of a velcro fastener. I'm packing up the last remnants of a decade's worth of life, and on some level I'm feeling fairly insecure about this whole mad scheme, so I'm dragging my feet.  Everything up until now has been something I could get my head around, but beyond this point is Uncharted Territory.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

How It Begins

IT is 8:30 on a Sunday night when I finally cram the last of my possessions into my car.  I take one last pass through the house, looking for anything I might have left behind, but there is nothing.  The house is more empty and more echoey than I have ever seen it; when I bought it, the previous owners left behind some unwanted furnishings at my request, but now there is nothing. "Oh, House," I begin fondly, and then, swerving clear of nostalgia: "make me some money."

I expected to feel sad at this point, locking up my home of nine years for the last time; but getting this place fixed up, cleaned up, and moved out of has taken so darn long, so many many hours of work, that I'm just relieved.  And tired.  I've done little else for the past several weeks, and many of my friends have devoted spare hours (in some cases, hours they could barely spare) to the cause.  (That, more than anything else, has made me question this plan of mine: looking around at all the people who lavished time and energy on this house-prep project of mine and thinking, Why am I leaving all these people who love me so much?)  Now I'm over 24 hours past the time I'd hoped to be finished, and a cot is waiting for me in a vacation rental on the coast, and I'm eager to get on the road.

The summer light is already fading as I cruise gently through my neighborhood for the last time.  My car is very heavy, I observe, accelerating a little extra to get up the hill south of my house, but my heart is very light. I keep checking in on it: How are you feeling? Okay? How about now? Still okay?  But every time the answer is still relief, relief that this massive project is finally over, relief at having crossed a sufficient number of things off the list that I can drive away now, relief at having the bulk of the goodbyes behind me.  When I begin a trip, I always wonder what I've forgotten -- did I pack my deodorant? my comb? my checkbook?  But this time, I am plagued by no such questions.  Everything is with me.

At the gas station, I fish out one of the mix CDs I grabbed for the road when I was packing.  The first song is in Icelandic, and I have no idea what the lyrics mean, but it's clearly all about anticipation.  Its chiming refrain urges me on toward the freeway, toward the coast, toward the Next Thing.

* * *

My name is Lindsey, and I'm leaving home to have Adventures. I quit my job and rented out my house so I could travel and learn more about the world. Right now, what I'm most interested in learning about is community -- the kind of community people deliberately build together, community in which people share resources and living spaces and themselves with one another.

As a single, middle-class thirty-mumble-year-old, I have worked most of the past two decades to be independent, to be able to provide for all my own needs, to not need anything from anybody. I found it exhausting and largely unsatisfying, and I never felt like I was much good at it. Furthermore, it left me with little time and energy for other people. Oh, I've always been blessed with excellent friends, but community is a different sort of thing, and I have felt its lack.

Therefore, in planning this new phase of my life, I decided community was the thing I most wanted to investigate. Specifically, "intentional community," an awkward catch-all phrase that includes everything from communes to monasteries to kibbutzes to utopian efforts to eco-villages to farming co-ops to co-housing developments to... well, once I started researching the subject, I found there were a lot of subcategories. And they all sounded pretty interesting, in one way or another. I started putting pins into a map and found I could identify something worth visiting just about everywhere.

So, after a lot of thinking, this is the plan I landed on: I am going to visit a series of intentional communities, and I am going to stay long enough with some of them to get a feel for what life is like there, and I am going to exchange labor for room and board whenever possible, and I am going to write about my experiences, right here on this blog. In the interest of making the money stretch as far as possible, I'm restricting my travels to North America (just the US for now, though there may be some border-crossing later).  I am planning to do this for as long as I can manage, which I anticipate to be about two years.  I don't know what will happen after that. But I have a feeling that by the time I get that far, I'll have some ideas.