C.T. Butler makes me look good. It’s my turn to cook the Heathcote Community dinner again and the consensus trainer/vegetarian chef and co-founder of Food Not Bombs is my guest and helper! Or more accurately on this day, I’m his helper.

Nearly all of the adult members of Heathcote take turns cooking dinners, which we share six nights a week. It comes out to cooking about twice a month. The rest of the nights, we just show up and get fed. Since we rotate, folks tend to make their specialties. So not only does someone else cook my dinner, but I get their best.

I don’t profess to have a best.

I observe with bewilderment people who savor cooking as a hobby, a joy, a vocation or avocation. I didn’t get that gene or whatever. Me, I like to eat well so I cook. I get no special creative satisfaction out of the process. Even so, since I like to eat well, I do know how to get a sparkle from my spicings.

Cooking with C.T. is like taking a car ride with a war correspondent. We have consensed upon his traditional refried beans, a recipe that originated in El Salvador & Nicaragua.  As he casually chops onions and garlic, he tries to remember the recipe from his days of feeding homeless people and protesters with Food Not Bombs. As he slices proportions down to feed the twenty or so we’re expecting, he’s reminded of arrests and police beatings and stories start to flow.

Food Not Bombs just observed the thirtieth anniversary of the occupation of Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant (May 24, 1980). The six activists who would eventually rent a house together and establish the first Food Not Bombs collective, were all protesters at that event. When one of them, Brian Feigenbaum, was arrested, the others literally started holding bake sales for his defense! I’m reminded of the t-shirt/bumper sticker slogan, It will be a great day when the schools have all the money they need and the Air Force has to have a bake sale to buy a bomber.

Thus started a food/activism connection for the collective. “Most of us worked in restaurants at the time, cooks, waiters, etc., and we knew first hand the mountains of food that’s wasted,” C.T. explains. At first, the group collected the restaurant and grocery store leftovers hoping to feed themselves for free, liberating time and resources for their activism. But immediately they could see that they had discovered a resource far beyond their own needs. “Of course, we were activists, so our values were to see the food get used where it was needed,”

This took several forms. The collective gave food away in Harvard Square, which established the non-violent direct action template that eventually prompted clashes with police in cities around the world and arrests for serving food without a permit (although their home town of Cambridge, Massachusetts was supportive, negotiating with FNB and eventually naming C.T. Peace Commissioner). Food Not Bombs also catered demonstrations and direct actions, feeding participants so they could stay on site long hours, keeping the protests going.

Thirty years later, C.T. stands in the Heathcote Mill kitchen, mashing the pinto and black turtle beans in small batches, because we couldn’t find a masher with a long enough handle to reach the bottom of the pressure cooker. “I always say I’m mashing in the love, it looks violent but it’s made with love,” he smiles without stopping.

So many times, that sentiment has been spoken in this kitchen. I’ve heard many Heathcote members describe the act of feeding their community as one of nurturing and love. How broken and sad it seems to me that the FBI would eventually target Food Not Bombs as a “terrorist” organization. And that feeding the hungry would be viewed as a crime in dozens of cities over the globe, resulting in thousands of arrests of Food Not Bombs chapter volunteers the world over.

But right now, C.T. is feeding me and mine. As from that first Food Not Bombs collective house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, autonomous chapters operate by consensus. C.T. has written two books on consensus decision-making. And he’s had a long friendship with Heathcote through his consensus workshops. This community’s consensus on this meal is: forty thumbs up!

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Open Classroom: A Great Year Closes

Wren on May 28th, 2010

What an amazing year Heathcote Community’s Open Classroom had, thanks to our curious, energetic learners and my apprentice, Gloria (above, left) and Heathcote intern Kwame (above, right), both of whom practiced putting down their expectations of the kids’ academic acheivment and finding their curiosities about our students’ emotional, social and environmental lives.

Gloria, a Heathcote Community member and resident of our strawbale house Polaris, right, is a science and math teacher who came bearing microscopes, minerals, birds’ nests and books, books, books! Now under her leadership we’re looking at expanding Open Classroom to five days a week, with many more students and interns, and an Arts and Sciences focus. Go NatureGlo!

Kwame, a gardening and community life intern at Heathcote, is from Ghana. He spent many of his winter hours with us while there was less  gardening to do. And of course, the kids took to him and climbed him like a tree, as they do all our twenty-something interns. He shared his family photo album and the kids mentored him in how to play in the snow during Snowmaggedon. The sight of Kwame gleefully diving into a snow bank as if it were a swimming pool will stay with me for a while!

The learners lead their facilitators into explorations of mazes, Monopoly, origami, paper airplanes, sharks, dolphins, horses, wolves, chipmunks, dragons, pandas, beavers, wombats, Singing in the Rain, STOMP, frogs, tadpoles, snakes, cooking, the food pyramid, bikes with no training wheels, ladyslipper, swinging, Frederick the Mouse and torn paper art, collage, playing store, card games, book making, chess, cheetahs, Cheetah Girl, Shark Boy, Shark Girl, Lava Girl, Lava Boy, Spiderman, Peter Parker, gymnastics, circus, juggling, unicycling, tai quan do, and so much more that is, well, life!

Open Classroom will provide children’s activities and information about the program and internship opportunities at Spoutwood Farm’s Mother Earth Harvest Fair, Sunday, October 3, 2010. Join us!

My nemesis/totem, the black rat snake, has arrived back at Heathcote on schedule this spring. This has me tenting again this year, since our project of jacking up my house created some gaps where snakes might again access my living space. Time to recall the famous story, reposted below. Click on photos for details. —WT

Spring, 2006

Sometimes the bogeyman is a flashback of some rapist or the echo of that ever negative parent. It could be that childhood biting dog or one’s inner voice. Or it could be a succession of 5-foot black rat snakes coming in through windows and walls. Okay, on a day in early May of last year, it was black rat snakes.

My dogs were already barking. This was an experience they’d clearly had before. A huge snake was outside on the window ledge, tracing a familiar path to a missing window pane covered loosely by plastic. The plastic was stapled in a couple of places, there to keep the rain out.

This would be a good time to mention that I have an understandable, justifiable childhood trauma around snakes. Okay, they’re sacred and symbolize earthiness and fertility and feminine power because we’re all past that myth in Genesis. But this means nothing to the six-year-old me that went crawdad huntin’ in Jack’s Creek on our farm in Kentucky.

You may be thinking I mean crayfish hunting, but since I’ll have no dignity by the end of this story, I might as well confess now that my sister and I were crawdad huntin’.

Granny had driven us in her Olds 98 and outfitted us with her brand new kitchen bucket. Beth and I walked the creek, turning over rocks, jumping back when the bigger crawdads would torpedo out. We rounded a couple of bends, well out of sight of Granny, engrossed.

This would be a good time to mention the Paul Bunyanesque stories my grandfather would tell about cottonmouth water moccasins. Pap claimed that they ate his dairy cows. And with each telling of how he’d gone out into the field and ended the behemoth with a shotgun, the snake got bigger and bigger. On our farm, snake stories were as fishing stories in this fashion.

So when the cartoonlike meeting of engrossed girls and startled cottonmouth took place, there was only one way it could play out–epically. The snake reared up and met us face to face to face. It opened to showcase the cottony room of its mouth. We screamed in chorus with its scream and waved our hands in the air, sending the new kitchen bucket flying. We ran atop the surface of the water all the way back to Granny and the Olds 98, so as not to leave any footprints in the muddy creekbed for the snake to follow.

We told Granny about the snake and the face to face to face and the cottony room from the safety of the car. Now I loved my grandmother and she told me on many occasions that she loved me, too. But this was not her shining moment. I swear to you that her only response was, “You girls go back and get my bucket!!!”

I note for the record that she herself did not retrieve it, either.

So as the black rat snake poked at the plastic, I was amused to find myself considering covering the pane with my own kitchen bucket. Instead I grabbed the staple gun and began stitching a solid seem all the way around, just barely ahead of the snake’s nose. I won that race and darted outside only to watch the snake retreat into an opening under my house where my tub’s drainpipe protrudes. The snake got in anyway.

I had lived in Hina Hanta, left, the Heathcote shack formerly known as the Hillhouse, for four years. And about two or three times a year I would come upon a small black snake inside. Now, I hate snakes for
understandable, justifiable reasons and I would evacuate with the dogs, wait a few hours and return with another Heathcoter to conduct an “all
clear.” This worked for me, barely, because I knew the snakes were catching mice and their bigger cousins. And for that reason I was glad of each one I encountered outdoors. But the snake in my window had no fear. This was new and unsettling.

I was unnerved enough to leave the light on when I went to bed. I don’t know why I thought that would make a difference but I found it a comfort. One of my phobias around snakes and my life deep in the woods is that they’ll end up in bed with me. Fertility be damned, I ain’t having that!

But two nights later the choice was not mine. I jolted up to the crazed barks of Echo, my brave protector of the two shelties. She was ranting and racing from the bed to the stairway of my loft room. The sight was simply a shocker: undulating across my floor, blocking my exit, were two five-foot long black snakes, mating, and I mean passionately. They showed no signs of being phased by our waking.

Evacuation being my policy I stood on my bed, holding both shelties by the collar with one hand and pulling clothes off a chair and onto myself with the other, all the while watching the snakes go on and on and on. I would have been struck awed and mystified by the beauty of their fluid movements if I were another person, without my understandable, justifiable fear of snakes. Instead I was all about escape.

But when they finally untied themselves, the snakes were still flush with whatever hormones were giving them boldness and drive. One started to the right, finding the wall and turning toward my dresser, my bed and me. The other went left to the wall and started in my direction, using the dogs’ indoor agility tunnel to make its way toward the bed. I yanked the tunnel away and that snake was discouraged enough to retreat to the stairs where it disappeared into a hole in the wall. When I looked for the right hand snake, it had lifted its head to the top of the dresser. We split. We booked. We ran on the top of the water so as not to leave any footprints in the muddy creekbed for the snakes to follow.

The next day, I brought Bob, a Heathcoter, up to the house, not for an all-clear, but to consult on plugging my many holes. As he stood in my bedroom hearing the story a black snake emerged from a seam where wall meets floor. It sat coiled, as if it were part of our discussion. These snakes without fear, this was so strange and new.

Bob became my champion at community meetings–”Wren shouldn’t have to live like this. She’s got snakes having sex on her floor!!! We’ve got to do something!!!” That was all well and good, but now huge snakes were slinking about at every turn I made. Kitchen, bathroom, upstairs and down, I came to estimate that I had between 8 and 10 five-foot long black rat snakes in my home and I was not in charge.

My friend Charles is fond of saying that the wheels of community grind slowly. The Heathcoters were not going to disappear this infestation in a day or even a week. In the meantime I needed a place to sleep, alone with my dogs, alone, without snakes, alone.

Now, I had observed that black snakes don’t tend to chew holes or dig them. They avail themselves of ones created by the critters they’re hunting. This logic is what inspired me to set up my seven by seven Coleman tent in place of my bed. I believed that if I kept crumbs and such out that mice and their larger cousins would leave the fabric intact, thus creating all the barrier I needed to get a good night’s sleep. For the record, this is not a belief I need clarified in any way. it works for me. If you are of the impression or experience that a black rat snake might in fact chew through tent fabric, there is nothing to be gained by sharing. Do not email me.

The tent became my bedroom within a bedroom. I set up a power strip inside and plugged in my alarm clock and lamp. I inflated my aero bed and each night I called the dogs inside and zipped us within our hiding place.

Enter Mr. Hacker, the snake wrangler.

Although I admit to hating snakes as bogeymen I am an animal rights activist. In lucid moments I know that they’re just returning to their hatching site to breed, being good snake citizens. Even so, I can confess to having a few fantasies involving Pap’s shotgun because I know that I ultimately stuck to my beliefs, even when they were inconvenient. Mr. Hacker of White Hall was probably the tenth humane pest control person I called. The others had said that snakes couldn’t be trapped and that repellents didn’t work. Mr. Hacker had invented a successful trap from pvc pipe and a used eel trap. Bring it on.

He installed the trap and decided to wait a while since I was so dripping with the things. For over and hour I listened to Mr. Hacker tell me stories of catching snakes. He would take the captured ones many miles away. “Sometimes I just slow down and pour ‘em out the window…” I didn’t need such details. He rambled on about family, the cousin who actually hacked up his wife’s lover in some bar, and wasn’t the family name ironic, I really didn’t need such details. Eventually a snake appeared on my stairs and he picked it up with his hands. “Wow, that’s a big one!” That’ll be thirty dollars. Here was hoping he slowed down enough for that one.

As Hacker’s trap caught one after another and sometimes two at a time, I got busy trimming every room and covering every possible entry, on the shack’s interior and exterior and winning my own eel traps on eBay. After a time the snakes stuck to the outdoors and the porch and became shy again.

Homeschooling students attending the World Religions class on my porch helped me name the snakes and when we were not evacuating we were amused and amazed. And my students found my unusual bed amusing as well.

It is winter now. Whether in my walls, some woodpile or rocky outcropping, I know the snakes are asleep. I know my holes are plugged. These nights I just climb in, I don’t zip the door closed. But life is a spiral of seasons, not a straight, evolutionary trajectory. I have grown through this but I, like the snakes, know that spring happens. I might have call to zip up yet.

–Wren Tuatha

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Okay, I’ll admit that after six days of baking my brain in the sun and heat at Spoutwood Farm, I’m not so swift anymore. My head aches, I close my eyes a lot and make zombie noises. You could embed a promise that you can have my car and a goat into a conversation about the existence of aliens and I’m not likely to catch it. You could dress Carole King in fairy wings and say she wants to buy my most expensive necklace and I would just moan, “We’re closed…” Even so, I’m pretty sure that I left the remains of tent #3 on that hill and now it’s gone. Who steals trash? I withdraw that question, I know dumpster divers. Come to think of it, we sell a cloth shopping bag with the “dumpster diving team” logo on it. Still…

Retracing my steps, I arrived at Spoutwood Farm in Glen Rock Pennsylvania on Wednesday, giving me two set up days prior to the Fairie Festival, usually Heathcote Earthings’ biggest show of the year. Although the day Wednesday has no etymology associating it with wind, I’m going to pretend that it does because, wow. It was windy. I had three EZ Up canopies to set up, two for Heathcote Earthings’ inventory and one as a Heathcote Community information stand. My booth site was at the top of the hill and the gusts scraping across it were impressive.

I got help opening the tents from four twenty-something volunteer fairies. Number three gave us lots of trouble. I’d recently replaced some of the cross braces and might have over tightened some of the bolts. By the time we yanked and coaxed and threatened it open, the volunteer fairies flitted away to some other mission, leaving me to stake all three tents myself.

I was hammering down tent one when a gust scooped up tent three, bowled it over my van, and down the hill, leaving it upside down in the middle of the field. About three-fourths of the cross braces and upper supports were bent. It was totaled. Another vendor helped me walk it into place and I finished staking. I even staked number three into place and duct taped it to number two for support. It was in position to cover my tables but I would not be able to collapse it again for removal.

So our temporary boutique took shape.  Tables were positioned and necklace branches and handmade batik flag sets were hung. Several new collections of earrings shined on our custom made displays. Scarves, purses, buttons, bumper stickers, hand etched gourds, clay cats, elephants and bunnies, onyx fruit, candleholders, turtles, frogs and cats, handmade instruments, including bamboo xylophones and flutes, ocarinas, grass and juju bean rattles, thumb pianos, wrist bells, all paraded out for showtime.

There was a chance of rain for Sunday. So in my mind, I made contingency plans for getting inventory away from the curled and mangled corners of tent three.

The rain blessedly held off until the festival was over and the very last scrap was in the van! Instead, our bodies faced the challenge of heat. The crew, C.T. Butler, Regina Tassone and Kwame Bidi, helped me drink gallons of water, yet no one needed any bathroom breaks. I started to feel heat exhaustion by the end of the first day. By the last day, I was dragging and a bit foggy. Thanks to my crew for picking up my slack!!!

So Sunday evening, just before dark and the first raindrops, everything was packed away except tent three. I left it there over night, staked down, since it needed to be dismantled to fit into a vehicle.

The next morning, I arrived solo. The field was occupied by slow moving, dazed vendors, packing up the last of their wares. And several tents remained to be taken down.

I  was armed with the wrench they give you with every EZ Up you buy. It’s a happy little wrench. You dance around your tent, “La de da. This is the only tool I need to work on my wonderfully engineered instant shelter. La de de de da…”

But your little opera needs a dramatic shift–”Ooh! I’ve been deceived!!! An allen  wrench and socket wrench are also needed…or dynamite…Curses, EZ Up!”

So I went off in search of more tools. In the interest of full disclosure, I also obtained a fast food sandwich at this time.

When I returned, the field looked much the same, a scattering of vendors, moving slowly among the remaining booths, business as usual. But when I pulled up to my site, it was empty, in a stark, satisfied way. No tent number three!

I ran up and down the field, looking for  some corner it might have blown to, but it was nowhere, as if it had never existed. I stared at the sky, as if I might sight some UFO that curiously requires mangled steel and poly canvas as a fuel source. The sky just stared back at me, as if saying, “I didn’t see anything.”

I hiked over to other vendors in other corners of the field. People remembered seeing my tent but didn’t see it leave. I sought out Rob and Lucy Wood, Spoutwood’s owners. We polled all the clean up fairies. Everyone had a theory, no one had any facts to report.

Well, what can I say? Weather is my white whale. Heat, floods, Snowmaggedon, now wind.

The aliens got away clean this time. What the fuck? Who steals trash? I’m stuck there. I lack closure. Some part of my soul still haunts that field, the part that rolls around like a dying plastic spider…


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Upcoming Post: The tent theft and the “culture of stuff”–My life didn’t change, although the business took a $500 hit. But the twinge of violation leaves one with the pause, what else could leave while I’m not looking? An heirloom? A child?

Also, the issue comes back to intentional community, where we ask, what kind of world do we want to live in? We like to envision a world where, maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to lock our doors. In community, if something disappears, there are just a few people to question, they haven’t fled the scene, and if you find the new owner, you just discuss it as a misunderstanding.

Stay tuned, and feel free to comment here and on the HCD facebook fan page! –WT