Thursday, June 29, 2017

Return to Houkola – Part 2

(See previous post for Part 1, if you missed it.)
Miriam, in front, and I walk towards the buildings that are all that's left of Houkola, the commune of the seventies.

            As Miriam, Sequoia, and I ate lunch on the slope above Sasha's cabin, 

looking over the distant hills, forests, and fields to the freeway and its tiny moving vehicles,

the memories spilled over. Stories poured uncontrollably from my mouth. "We used to walk up that ridge so we could see Mt. Shasta from the top," I said, gesturing to my right. "Ela learned to ride a bicycle on this flat spot where we're sitting. Sasha said it was like having a mini I-5 out her door. One night I woke up hearing, 'Ohmmmm. Ohmmmm.' I thought it was strange that someone would be outside ohming at that time of night. Then I realized I was hearing the trucks on the freeway."
            We peered through the windows into the house but didn't try to go in because it was filthy with animal droppings. I could see the doorway into the one bedroom, where I had lived during my first winter there, after abandoning the tipi; the long narrow kitchen, where we would make voluminous salads from the garden, which, augmented with brown rice, were our dinners, night after night; the very living room, where we would spread cushions and tablecloths and have dinner on the floor, and then the music and stories until late in the evening. The rainbow paintings were still on each side of the windows.

The rainbow paintings in the living room

"When I first got here, I was taking heavy anti-psychotic drugs," I told Miriam and Sequoia. "They made my neck and shoulders so stiff I moved like a zombie. Mariposa told me later that she thought I was the strangest person she had ever met. I felt strange even to myself. Then one day my doctor gave me a medication to relieve the stiffness. There was instant relief. That night as we were having dinner here in the house, Rachel walked through the door – this door – took one look at me, and said, in her dramatic way, 'A veil has been lifted' – as good a way as any to describe the difference."
            Miriam's memories and mine were sprawling out, sometimes converging, sometimes not. People's names tumbled from our mouths – Seven, Running Deer, Vicky, Ruthie, Rachel, Frank, Apple, Sasha, Mariposa. Juice Lenny and Air-brush Lenny. Tom, Eric, David.  People who had come to Houkola for a few days, a few weeks, a few months, a few years; people whose names were forgotten, but who gave us music or stories or help in the garden; people whose names came back to us as we sat there where we had once known them. Memories of communal living flooded our talk: working in the garden, cooking dinners, playing music, doing crafts, hitchhiking to town and back and asking the driver who gave us a ride back to let us off at a certain spot on the freeway, saying we would walk from there, astonishing the driver as we shouldered backpacks full of food and town trip items and walked into nothing but woods and mountains, into emptiness, because somewhere out there in that wilderness was our home.
             Miriam, Sequoia, and I walked up the hill to the spot on the knoll where Miriam and Eric had built a hogan, where Sequoia had been conceived. Now Sequoia stood inside the square of boards on the ground that was all that was left of the hogan, standing on the spot where she had been conceived.
Sequoia (r) and her mother, Miriam, on the site of the hoagn

Here Miriam's memories spilled over as mine had done below – walking up the hill to the hogan through the snow and in the dark after dinner at the house, her mother and brother coming to visit from Switzerland (Miriam, too, is Swiss), the cross-country trip she and Eric had made just after she became pregnant.
             As we walked back down the hill, I told one last story, about the time when we in the commune had decided to go to Lake Chelan, Washington, to pick apples for much needed income. But someone would have to stay behind to take care of the land. I said I would stay. As I walked down the hill now, more than forty years later, I remembered watching everyone else drive off in our orange and white jeep, O.J., and feeling my utter isolation, the enormity of the wilderness closing in around me.

I looked up now at the mountains and the vastness and felt again that moment of fear. Now, too, I remembered just as vividly throwing off that fear at once, so I could do what had to be done. That I could stay alone in that isolated spot for that long was a test of my wellness. I did it, and I knew by that that I had returned to myself, that I was fully healthy again.
            Houkola was a healing place – for me, for the young woman whose boyfriend had been killed in Vietnam, for others whose hurts I didn't know. Like many communes, Houkola was a place of openness and acceptance, healing factors in themselves. Many legacies of the hippy movement are of questionable value, but I think there are few places in this country where I could have had the freedom and the support that Houkola gave me to return to myself, as I so desperately needed to do.
         Before Miriam, Sequoia, and I left Houkola, I dug up some irises and pulled up lilac shoots to plant at my own home, like the memories planted at Houkola that still nourish who I am today. 

Miriam and Sequoia in front of the main house at Houkola.

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