I’ve been prodding my partner Iuval to adapt his “treatise” on sustainable living, simplicity and intentional community into a book. But after two years of debating the issues with him, I’m starting to think I’ll write the book instead! It would be an epic of the great struggle between his view (that we should all revert to Neandertalism–living in caves, eating nuts and road kill, bathing once a year whether we need it or not,) and my belief that we can find a simplicity that provides quality of life and practice conscious consumption of goods and energy that makes ecological sense yet doesn’t enslave workers while still keeping our cell phones and washing machines. (Iuval denies my claim he’s Neanderthal. Here’s an old rant about primitivism.)
My debates with Iuval have reached a fever pitch as I visit him at the veggie oil schoolbus homestead he’s established on a mountainside in Murray Valley, near Jasper, Arkansas. He and I have blended the last two months with traveling for family and staying at my cabin in the woods of Heathcote Community, north of Baltimore, Maryland. Now I’m visiting him where he’s put some of his simplicity into action and our differences are showing!
I joke about him wanting to live in a cave, but his veggie bus sits on a shelf within sight of a sizable cave where Iuval’s landlord, Shelby Badders, lived for many years. Shelby now lives in a comfortable cabin on his land. He believes fungus or something else in the air of the cave effected his lungs. Still this mountain man in his seventies had no trouble helping a crew of us cut up and haul off dozens upon dozens of trees that had fallen into the dirt roads on his mountain in the recent ice storm.
Shelby says he’s pessimistic that the simple, autonomous life he and his family tried to live when they settled there can be had. Yes, they built a comfortable cabin, gardened and homeschooled their kids. But he notes that they never succeeded in growing all their own food. And Shelby, his ex-wife and children having moved on, still depends on propane for cooking and still drives to town for provisions.
Iuval maintains that Intentional Community is one of several improvements he brings; that where Shelby went wrong was to try to make it as a single family homestead. Iuval would find land, build large group houses and invite as many as one or two hundred people to live there, growing most if not all their food and eventually making everything they need–shelter, clothing, technology–all from materials found or made locally, meaning within fifty or a hundred miles.
Until he finds such land and begins his community, Iuval has been living on his converted schoolbus, named Shadowslo. This is after Shadowfax of LOTR, of course! Here Iuval experiments with technologies that are gentle on the environment and provide independence from the global economy. Iuval wants to avoid any of his monetary energy going to exploited or slave labor, although he admits this is impossible to completely avoid today. All his electrical needs are satisfied by solar panels on his roof. He pipes water in from a nearby stream. And he has built a rocket stove for cooking and heating. He gathers materials from neighbors and junkyards but still needs to buy some tools and equipment for his systems from local stores, which presumably buy on the global market.
Iuval and I have a running joke now. Whenever I want to buy something, say, a printer for my computer or a scarf, Iuval will say, “You don’t need that. You can do without it or share it or make it yourself. When you buy it, you’re just being lazy. You don’t need it but if you really want it you should make it!” Then I make faces, shift weight from foot to foot and insist that he whittle me one. He’s been put in charge of whittling me spark plugs, a cell phone and countless other luxuries but he’s not gotten out his knives yet. He must be lazy…
Of course, the truth is, I could live with less than I do. Even as I have dedicated the last fifteen years of my life to simple living, I sometimes become complacent and comfortable. I rest on my laurels. I appreciate Iuval prodding me to do better. But after a few days on the veggie bus, I’m ready for a shower and a laundromat. And a movie. And a veggie burger.
No, Iuval, don’t whittle me one! I want it bought and served to me in a restaurant with natural fiber tablecloths and Paul Simon on the sound system. I hope they seat us, ripe (reaking) from our hippie habitat!