It was my last day in Portland and I didn't know how I was leaving. Craigslist had come up empty for a ride further south then Eugene, and even none of those posts were responding to emails or calls. I had a ride from Eugene to Chico if I could make it there by 10am. It became clear that hitching was my best bet, which I'd never done under a deadline. But this post is not about that adventure. It's about how that adventure led me through Tryon Life Community Farm and what I found there.
I'd heard about Tryon last december. In a chance meeting, whose synchronistic elements are only now unfolding, I ran into Jenny, an ex Twin Oaks visitor from 2001. She was acting as a sort of resident consultant for a co-op in Boston. Kassia and I were crashing there over night on the way to a meditation retreat.
It was an exciting reunion. I gave her 5 years of gossip on Twin Oaks; she told me a little about Tryon, a permaculture demonstration community on 7 acres in Portland next to a state park. Well, I'll be out there next fall, I said, so I'll be sure to come by. Jenny said she was about to embark on major world travels, and it wasn't clear she'd be back by then but I should definitely come see the place.
About 8 days ago, after arriving in Portland, I mentioned to Sabrina, my host in Portland, that I wanted to check the place out. She knew about it but had never visited. We drove to southwest Portland for their Friday "open-to-the-public" hrs and a self-guided tour.
The place is lovely. It is actually bordered on 3 sides by Tryon State Park, and several of the 7 acres are still wild. The other border is a low traffic residential street. Two large community buildings and various smaller structures are clustered on one end of the property. I learned that this was one of the sites for the City Repair Village-Building Convergence. The tell tail sign of highly creative cob siding were everywhere. We saw a family of goats gradually devouring the massive blackberry thickets. Most of the rest of the open space is devoted to gardening.
A wonderfully warm and enthusiastic new member named Laura answered a few questions as best she could. I found that Jenny had indeed returned. Excited, I left her a note, which it turns out she never got, but it didn't matter.
Saturday night was Howl, City Repairs annual Halloween benefit bash. It was an amazing party, with four stages and about 1000 people. Sabrina, a Burning Man enthusiast, hooked me up with costume materials. I was a disco unicorn ;0) With my sequined horn and sparkling blue sunglasses it was impossible to miss me. First I ran into Laura, then Jenny, and we discovered the miscommunication. But then, email addresses properly exchanged, we proceeded to party till dawn.
Jenny's a busy organizer, and after two emails it wasn't until my last day that she called me. "Why don't you come over for dinner," she said. "Well, I might be hitching, and I'll be hitching south, so could I just crash there and get a ride to the interstate in the morning?" "Sure, no problem!"
I threw my crap together and made the last bus out to the farm, but the driver had no idea what stop I was talking about. Luckily a fellow passenger knew. "I saw someone else with a big backpack get off at that stop, and I visited the farm once," she told me. Another example of the renowned friendliness of Oregon. I arrived to a supper of quinoa, stirfry, and marinated tempeh - solid commune fare - and a half dozen warm faces. Over half of the members (there are 17 adults and 5 kids) were out at Halloween parties or tricker-treating, but those present gave me enough to talk about.
Jenny told me the story of the creation of the community: The couple who'd owned the place had wanted to turn it into a yoga retreat center - that explained why the two buildings were so community oriented. But their relationship fell apart and the dream was never realized. Groups of people, many students, rented the place over the years, and no matter who lived there it seemed that the place had a magic to it. Parties there are apparently legendary, and a vast network of people can claim connection of some kind.
3 years ago the couple decided to sell. They sold the purchase option to a big development company, who planned 13 luxury homes. That's when the fun started. A number of the residents wanted to fight the development. Those that didn't moved out, and were replaced by activists, and the vision of the land as a permaculture and sustainable living demonstration and education center was born. They appealed to the couple to reconsider, but to no avail.
Facing eviction, the first thing the residents did was to mobilize a grassroots effort to put pressure on the developer. Their efforts paid off and after a couple months the developer agreed to sell them the purchase option for the price they paid plus expenses - a total of almost $200,000. The residents had just 4 months to raise this, and they pulled it off. They then had 10 months to raise the $800,000 needed for the down payment, and they pulled it off.
Jenny described to me one of the most impressive grassroots efforts I've ever heard about. They covered every avenue possible, local government, media, schools and other institutions, canvasing, and simply following up on every possible lead that came to their attention. But what really caught me was that in addition to incredible intelligence and organizing skills, the relationships were well tended. There was clearly so much heart and soul that went into the effort - I could still feel it sitting in the room, talking to them. And, in addition to that, the vision was solid, and they held it in the forefront of everything they did. Having finally won the land, the residents don't think of the land as theirs. They consider themselves stewards, continually working to actualize the vision that enabled them to save the land from development.
It's an exciting time and they are just starting to figure out their communal systems and structures. I shared my thoughts on membership and labor system structures, and found them to have an amazingly keen sense of the issues. Not only are these folx incredible activists, but they are essentially community minded.
Jenny and I talked about relationships too, including our experiences with polyamory. She talked about being new to the world of sex and romance, and having a very pragmatic approach to her passion. "I love kissing my friends, If I'm going to be sexual with someone it's because it will deepen our relationship as commrads. It's the work that comes first." Right on. I wish I could say I was so unaddicted to lust.
And then came the biggest revelation. I've been writing and talking about what I want to do a lot. Summed up, I want to help build a network of groups for the purpose of mutual support to help people get their basic needs met outside the money economy. All of a sudden I hear Jenny and Brush, another founder, articulating this vision, with the intent of utilizing all the connections they'd made in saving the farm. "All eyes are on Portland right now," said Brush. "There's all sorts of national media attention on Portland as a cutting edge green city, on it's arts and music culture... The city knows that it's because of all the young radicals, but it's not sure what to do with them." "It's all about weaving and stacking," said Jenny. "Stacking functions. It's a permaculture idea. It means that every part of a system should serve as many purposes and support as many other parts of the system as possible." So, the idea is, apply this principle to all the cool, progressive organizations doing good things to help provide social services.
I showed them some of my writing. "Yeah, exactly!" said Brush. I felt euphoric. I'd imagined that if I started this work I would be holding the vision solo for a while, until I gained enough momentum to inspire others. But here are people who are already coming together around the same vision. "We just need a few more people to have a critical mass of organizing energy so we can blow this wide open," exclaimed Jenny.
When Pax, Hawina and I decided to get pregnant we recognized that I was in a different place in my life. When Willow was born, Hawina was 39, Pax 47, and I was 21. We imagined that I might need to go off at some point to do something else, perhaps join the circus. So we established the Circus Claus.
Has my circus come to town? I don't know. But I'm intensely intrigued. This is the first time I have come across an opportunity so compelling that I could actually see moving away from Willow. It's also a place I could easily see Willow moving to, and Pax and Hawina, though I'm trying hard to hold back from that fantasy.
As I write this I am on a train, rolling through the wetlands where the Sacramento river meets the San Fransisco bay, heading towards the Oakland airport and back to Twin Oaks. My physical health has been failing the last few days, and my emotional health feels on edge too. Phase 1A of my exploration is coming to a close. I'm tired. I'm full. But I feel satisfied - mission accomplished.