What's scarier than a for-sale sign on a house only two neighbors away in a neighborhood sparse as this one? Nightmare scenarios assaulted me: Loud Larry's Motorcycle Mudtrack; Jack's Giant Backhoe Farm; Arnie's RV Park and Draft Horse Crematorium. And if those were unlikely, it wasn't hard to picture a paranoid survivalist settling in behind gun turrets and razor wire, German shepherd dogs barking all night, searchlights, camo ATVs. Or my God! A retired Karaoke orthodontist from Connecticut (my home state!) in pink pants and Izods! I mean, there are ten acres over there and a pond.
But I wasn't worried about a tear-down. You can't have a tear-down culture in a place where nearly every house is about to tear itself down anyway, so no danger of some ape coming in and erasing the squinting 1850's federal to build a 12,000 square-foot starter mansion. But the beautiful old place could be painted hot pink-this I've seen elsewhere, and not far away. Or stripes-what better way to decorate clapboard, what with your straight lines already in place?
What I'm trying to say is that I don't have that many neighbors out here, so the ones I do get in rare moments of turnover are important. I liked Helmut Bitterauf (born and raised in Germany), and adored his family, and really just would have preferred to keep him, but he was retiring to town, kids all gone. And it wasn't a week after the sign went up that he leaned over my dooryard fence and told me he'd sold the property to a guy who owned a bar in Massachusetts.
Okay. Fine. I like a cocktail or two.
Next rumor was that this Massachusetts fellow had bought the place as an investment, and that his daughter, a student at the University of Maine at Farmington, would live there.
In March of 2005, the rumors turned into an attractive young woman standing in the driveway, gazing lovingly at the house.
Didn't want to bother her right away with a visit and a pie. And soon in any case there were other people there, too, cars coming and going, definitely someone who looked like he owned a bar in Massachusetts, also further attractive young people, not that I was paying any attention. But Helmut had built a little sauna and there came an afternoon when I couldn't help but notice some female naked people rolling in a late snow, steaming. Older fellow I know in Temple noticed them, too, driving by one day on his weekly trip to town, and now he was going back and forth every fifteen minutes, four miles per hour, suddenly lots of errands. And then there was a graduation party-what else could it be, all those long, flowing dresses the night of the UMF commencement?
On the eve of the summer solstice, I heard drumming. Also singing. Campfire. Dancing. Sauna chimney smoking.
Deju vu: 1975!
I was like a moth, hovered with my pie and nice note, drawn to all that light. But I was like myself, too, shy that is, not the guy to march over there and demand my share of the Mexican avocado soup or the Abyssinian walnut salad or whatever it was that always smelled so good as I walked, drove, floated past.
A sign went up, professionally made:
Living Arts Center
And a brochure came in the mail. Yoga. Massage. REIKI. Life coaching. Healing haircuts. Healing haircuts! I hadn't had a haircut (healing or otherwise) in twenty years. Also, a grand opening potluck party. Which I attended, only to find a couple dozen familiar community faces among the new ones, all ages, every sort of socio-economics (if perhaps a tight political spectrum), old-line Mainers beside new arrivals, good vibrations all around, driveway full of Subarus.
Sara Mulvey had (and retains) the warmest presence and a genuine peaceful affect, good boundaries too, even in a hug, which she offered me as neighbor. She was not at all self-important, abundantly ready to laugh, serious, too, when the serious moments came, just not somber, not earnest, not better-than-me, as I'd no doubt expected her to seem, given my grumpy experience of other new-agers.
Joe Hodgkins was there, a young man grown up in Temple and back from various forays into the world, a solid soul I'd known for a little because I'd employed him briefly. (Also his sister Abby was a good friend to the Bitterauf girls, always in the neighborhood mix years back). I don't know that he needed work-he was already gainfully employed at a local organic farm-but I'd needed help putting new clapboards on the back wall of my house. Joe's a fantastic worker-a smart, capable, self-starter. My house continues to be in constant need of repair. At the party, I asked if he had any new hours to offer. "Kinda busy," he said, giving me a wry look through cooking-besmirched spectacles.
The food at The Source soiree was delectable, no Jell-o salad anywhere on the long table, a world of tastes, a world of homemade. Oh, and beer and wine and good desserts, including that pie I'd been intending and finally delivered.
In the last two years the yoga classes have grown and the solstice and equinox parties have burgeoned. There have been firewalks (not I), and retreats and concerts. I tried a yoga class and loved being able to walk up our country road to attend. One of the other participants had made spring rolls and we all ate them together after, impromptu communion, communities large and small.
And Joe Hodgkins, commuting daily one mile from Temple, Joe has gradually built the modest Bitterauf vegetable garden into a small organic farm, raised beds spreading across former lawn and beaver meadow alike. Community Supported Agriculture, it's called. The Source gets a cut of his earnings (and he mows the lawn, he says, "Or actually I mine it, for mulch," and people like me buy a share or half share, vegetables to be picked up every Tuesday through the growing season and beyond. I forgot to hike over there last week, but found a bag in my fridge: kale, chard, lettuce, radishes, spinach (all the early July greens). Joe had just let himself in, finding my house empty. He sells to the local gourmet shop, too, and at the Friday farmer's market, a quiet, sustainable business inside an even quieter sustainable business.
Back in a corner abutting a settler's stone wall, one of our visionary young local carpenters has built Sara a gazebo, thirty feet in diameter, high-peaked conical roof, no center column (a homespun engineering feat), lumber he milled himself from large pines on Source land. The bug screens aren't in yet, but it's going to be a beautiful place for yoga, for dance, for meditation.
Abby Hodgkins was over there painting the other day, all grown up.
And they've built an outdoor stage for their (acoustic) concerts. Sara wants to expand the sauna, lots of plans, health retreats, camp sites for pilgrims. Her friends, her acquaintances help out with everything, some getting room and board in the house, some tenting, most just hoofing it from homes all around the county. The Source employs several masseuses and other healing artists. Sara and others give various types of yoga classes at all levels, cooking classes, movement workshops (unto bellydancing), foot soaks, too, and ear candling, whatever that is. (Ask Sara-she's got a website: www.source365.net
Again, I want to say how the whole enterprise reminds me of what have (shockingly) become the old days: the sixties, the seventies. All the best of that era, let me emphasize, beautiful people working together with local products to make community, bring peace, make a living as quietly as possible. I remember being harassed, 1972, Plymouth, Maine, remember being seen as a buncha hippies building log houses inexpertly, the cops always coming by, neighbors gawking, teens throwing mud bombs, fist fight in the dance hall (unwilling combatant, I lost). The local store had a sign: no hippies.
But now, here in the 00's the tension's largely off. People largely understand that yoga isn't bizarre but healthful, people largely want to take care of their bodies, people largely tolerate the offbeat, people appreciate a craftsperson, a trained health provider who's yet not a doctor, people largely want to eat better. All, it must be said, while largely wanting to retain the right to make fun of tie-dyed aesthetics.
That's good neighbors.Bill Roorbach's most recent book is Temple Stream (Dial/RandomHouse). He lives in Farmington in an old farmhouse that he tries to keep standing. For more information or to contact him, go to billroorbach.com