The International Writers Magazine: Lifestyle Travel
Fred C Wilson 111
A Utopian Community
It was my first time out. I had just received my brand new State of Illinois driver’s license; after initially flunking the state road test on my birthday I had finally made it; boy-oh-boy-oh-boy was I glad!
Photo: Twin Oaks 1967 © Aaron M Cohen
In those days one passed the state driver’s examination and within weeks the paper document arrived through the mails. You cut it out, placed it in your wallet/purse then hit the road. Now days you receive the valued photo document incased in plastic at the test site within an hour after successfully passing the test.
That particular weekend our professor led our party of four on a field trip to Twin Oaks commune in Louisa County Virginia on the East Coast. The commune was a utopian community modeled on the tenants of behaviorist-novelist B. F. Skinner’s epic work Walden Two. We were to take turns driving in shifts.
The Twin Oaks ecovillage is a utopian community. A member of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities it was founded in 1967 at the onset of the ‘days of rage’ when the fabric of American ‘democracy’ was being blown all to hell despite a booming economy. With the Vietnam War raging, bloody riots in city streets, the Cold War that nearly grew hot only six years hence, the opening salvos of the Women’s Movement, the implosion of the Catholic Church, the Stonewall riots two years down the road, Dr. King’s assassination a year away and minority racial/economic oppression killing the country some people wanted out or an alternative way to make a positive impact on the human community the Twin Oaks commune seemed an answer.
It was my inaugural drive; my first time behind the wheel. And since I never do anything easy always take the hard way there was a horrific hurricane brewing out east. I was going to drive from Chicago to the sovereign state of Virginia mostly solo. As I remember there were four of us using one car including our Sociology professor a venerable old soul who was bucking for canonization. Our teacher was very active in church activities, the Civil Rights Movement as a foot soldier and at the organizational level plus a community organizer. I think his fantasy was to earn a Nobel Prize in Sociology his chosen profession.
Then there was this girl who didn’t talk much not that she was a snob in love with her dynamite looks, the woman just didn’t have much to say to any of us. Lastly we had another young lady who reminded me of the sister I wished I had. She wasn’t a looker. You could talk with her about anything. Her replies were so profound I racked my brain asking myself how on earth she knew about things imbedded so deep inside me I never knew existed; but she knew. I could only assume this exceptional young woman eventually became a psychologist. If so she would have made a damn good one.
It was still sunny when we drove through Indiana. We stopped in Warrenville, Ohio in my opinion one…weird…place; they had state liquor stores. They ‘hid’ the booze under lock and key. We got hungry; our party of four had lunch at a diner. The locals stared us down as though we were creatures from another planet. Eventually their uneasiness got the better of us; we paid our bills then left.
We stopped at a pool hall to ask for directions. There was this old man laying on a battered bed with his piss pot nearby for easy access. He gave us the desired directions to get back to the interstate. There was a fight brewing in the hall. As we made our ways towards the front door some good ole boy almost cleaned my clock with the fat end of a pool stick as I tried to get by him! After our mid-morning madness we skipped grocery shopping and beat a hasty retreat back towards the highway towards our goal. After that near miss we had to endure the hurricane that had ravaged the East Coast and roared its way towards us. Driving through a fierce storm wasn’t the ideal situation for new drivers. The girls made the long drive tolerable. Our professor slept through the storm. Intense rain and hail made driving difficult and dangerous. Those long and winding roads didn’t help our situation any. Like Chicago weather most of the year we rarely saw the sun.
Just our bad luck Pennsylvania’s interstate was undergoing heavy construction. The long drive though beautiful Pennsylvania could have been pleasant if it wasn’t for the damn rain and road crews. I narrowly missed causing an accident! When it got dark we had to park and sleep on the shoulder. The downpour never let up. The rain was coming down so hard I couldn’t see ahead of me. We couldn’t find lodging; the fog was soupy thick. With four people all practically laying in each others arms sleep came hard. What should have been a pleasant experience (two men/two women) the horrendous downpour nixed all prospects for pleasure. We were forced to urinate in little paper cups and pass the piss to the end person who deposited it out of the window letting it mingle with the incessant downpour.
The next morning we woke up alongside the road. It had rained all night but by morning it stopped. We poured out of the vehicle to stretch our legs made stiff by the cramped way in which we slept. Once outside we paid Nature’s call; we dropped our drawers/panties and pissed along the side of the road regardless of who saw us as they sped by. Picture four people standing/squatting alongside a busy highway as streams of yellow poured from them adding color to the rain soaked soil. After we answered nature’s call we piled back into the car and drove on.
A few hours later we entered Virginia then had lunch at a local Howard-Johnson’s. It was in the restaurant I fell in love with fried claims. If we had more time instead of a single holiday weekend and if the weather wasn’t so adverse the drive would have been a pleasant experience instead of one of patient endurance; such is life.
Hours later we finally arrived at Twin Oaks. The rain had stopped, the sun shown brightly in the sky. The warmth of the sun sent our spirits soaring. We parked our car and entered the main building. I was surprised by the orderliness of the place. This commune was a contradiction to what I’ve always read and heard from friends and associates that such places were dirty, disorganized and peopled by morally loose hippie types; Twin Oaks appeared quite the contrary.
||Twin Oaks is one of America’s longest running secular intentional communities. There are currently 100 adults and 17 children in residence. To ensure quality clientele the commune’s managing body only select people they deem suitable for community life.
Laziness, hostility, freeloading, disorganization and other community killing attributes aren’t allowed. In 1967 when the farm was formed only the desire to create the ideal community kept the dream alive; now the farm is a self-sustaining enterprise a veritable factory a beehive of industry. Anybody who’s serious about joining must undergo an intensive three week probationary period.
Though the community stresses communitarian and secularist values Twin Oaks isn’t hostile towards religionists as I discovered. One Sunday morning I asked one of the residents where she was going in the course of our conversation; she replied “to church.” When I was there I found life in an equalitarian society could even be fun. Point—sharing the bathroom with two pretty girls!
I grew up in a home environment where it was everybody for himself. I don’t think our sainted mother intended our family to end up that way; our intense sibling rivalry just got the better of us. Even to this day my two half-brothers and I compete and argue more than share and dialog. Communication among us is rare. In spite of our more than humble beginnings all of my family members are well paid professionals, workaholics and extraordinarily creative. Competition in my family is brutal! Twin Oaks renders such revisionist behavior moot.
The communal kitchen, bathroom use, library everything was shared. Compared to what I was used to life at Twin Oaks was culture shock in the extreme. I deduced that living in such a positive environment should be the new societal norm though I have extreme doubts such a lifestyle would work in larger human society initially. Twin Oaks reminds me of the time I once considered a Franciscan Monastery. Communal living is wholesome. Though non-sectarian, Twin Oaks reminded me of the very first Christians who shared everything. This attitude insured that nobody would be in want. Complete sharing was emphasized; salaries, personal possessions, food; EVERYTHING. Given those times sharing on a more intimate level…well…I have no idea. I wasn’t there long enough to find out.
The great American ideal of individuality goes against to grain of life in communalistic Twin Oaks. Like monasteries, the Twin Oaks experience isn’t for everybody no matter how ideal this scenario may seem. Knowing the person I am I wouldn’t survive in such a community in the long run. Like that Franciscan monastery in Wisconsin I’d wash out after a few months. I’m spoiled rotten. I’m hooked on the concept of dogged American individualism. I have a deep admiration for the Twin Oaks model. I consider it vastly superior to our gimmie’ mine acquisitive society where greed is the order of the day. Our mother tried to tell me that sharing is better than hoarding but I didn’t listen; after the short time I was at Twin Oaks I wish I had listened to her.
|Twin Oaks resides on 450 acres of lush green farm land. As with the Skinnerian model residents are paid with standardized labor credits though money is used to conduct business with the outside world. Jobs considered low status in modern contemporary American society pay more in the commune. This is done to instill in residents that no job should be considered undesirable or beneath ones dignity as a human person. It felt funny living in a community where everyone shared, never showed hostility or even raised their voices in anger.
It was odd living among people who practiced original Christianity. Twin Oaks had a plethora of religious people of all persuasions and more than its share of non-believers all of whom from my observations all got along quite well. What I found strangely embarrassing was the genderless bathroom facilities.
Conflicts are solved by a board of mediators. Non-members live dormitory style. Residents with full membership with aims of making Twin Oaks a life long commitment have private rooms. People who are into the Twin Oaks ideal but somehow don’t go in for communal living may live in private residences in nearby towns and cities; they contribute a certain sum to maintain the commune. After a few days of living like 1st century Christians it was time to go back to dog-eat-dog Chicago.
The drive back was more exciting than the trip over. We drove back across the Maryland panhandle and on through West Virginia when we caught up with that damn storm that roared its way west. Since we had to be back in Chicago we were hard pressed for time. Again we were forced to sleep in our car during another rain storm. We woke up to the radio playing ‘Country Road’ a popular tune in those times. It was ironic that we drove through the actual Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia mentioned in that song as we drove.
||The Creator’s designs are wonders to behold. Our party of four made a side trip to West Virginia’s Shenandoah National Caverns. The caverns have wowed visitors globally since 1922. This national park displays Nature’s natural wonders in all her majesty and beauty. The crystalline rock formations will take your breath away as the old cliché goes. Being a serious ‘foodie’ the rock formation I enjoyed most was the famous ‘Breakfast Bacon’ a thin slice of rocks that looked like cooked slices of juicy fried bacon my favorite food.
photo:©Shenandoah Cavern - David Jones
The other formations of interest is Rainbow Lake, Diamond Cascade, Capitol Dome, the Cathedral Room, Long View Hall and many other separate but inter connected caverns; don’t forget to bring your camera.
At one point into our East Coast odyssey we almost didn’t get back home; the reason racism. Finding ourselves back in the sovereign state of Ohio I had a run in with a local lawman; my ‘crime’ driving while black with a pretty white girl resting on my arm as I drove. Here’s what happened one bright sunny hurricane receding day on a lonely road in Ohio. As I was driving back towards the big windy there was this civilian car close behind me honking his horn. The guy was driving so close behind me if I were to sneeze he’d hear it. At first I thought it was some clown who wanted to pass us up. I ignored the guy. With the right lane free he could have passed me up without any problems. I kept driving and continued to ignore the clown trailing close behind. Then he flipped on his Smokey the Bear hat. The guy was a local ‘Law.’ I was driving through his territory! I pulled over on the shoulder and parked. Seeing him in uniform approaching my car unnerved me though I tried not to show it.
“Good morning Officer; any problems?”
“Where you from…boy?”
“What’s on this cracker’s mind with that ‘boy’ shit?” I thought. “We’re on our way back to Chicago Officer.”
Then this guy got in close…real close enough to stick his head through the window. “I don’t know how they drive where you from but us-ens’ here in O-hi-hoe have rules. You drivin’ too slow! I oughta’ arrest you!” then he turned towards the girl in the passenger’s seat. “Miss you alright?” the cop asked her.
“Yes sir I’m okay; thank you Officer,” she coyly replied.
The he turned towards me. “Why didn’t you stop?”
“I didn’t see any mars lights so I thought you were…”
“Like I said I oughta’ arrest you; now git!’”
The cop tipped his hat towards my pretty passenger, returned to his car and slowly drove off. I resumed driving once he was several blocks ahead of us. My two back seat passengers were mum throughout my ordeal.
The drive back to Chicago was a quiet one. When we approached the city from the high bridge on the Skyway we were safe. Seeing the majestic Chicago skyline from the bridge on a bright sunny day was a sight to behold. A month later the semester ended. I received an ‘A’ grade in that class though I never drove back East again.
If you want to know more about the Twin Oaks community and Shenandoah National Park Caverns please go to:
Both sites will recommend places to stay and how to get there. Enjoy your stay at both of these scenic places but I highly recommend that you fly, dog it (Greyhound) or go Amtrak. Driving is not a good idea; gas too high, stressful and the small town constables can be a mite rough. I hope you have better weather than I did when I made the trip.
© Fred C Wilson 11th July 2015
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