Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Living on the Earth

Eileen and John Kaser arrive tomorrow afternoon for a week in Leran before heading off to Switzerland. They live in Montrose Colorado, the town where we recently moved. Our history with the Kasers goes back a long, long time. I thought you might enjoy the ride.

About 40 years ago (c. 1970) I was more-or-less attending Northwestern University near Chicago. It was a tumultous time in the States for college kids struggling for direction---political, moral, social, you name it. The VietNam War was raging. After the incident at Kent State University, I took my cue to drop out, and a year later I found myself visiting a fellow disillusioned dorm friend who was now attending school in Colorado. One thing led to another, I bought my first car (Magic Crud), packed up my 4 LP albums and moved to Colorado. Over the next few years, Eileen and I embarked on numerous life-changing adventures, at least for me. Of course, at the time, Eileen was called "Tom-O-Hawk" and I was "Growling Horse".

We were somehow blessed with two books that became our bibles. The Indian Tipi became the DIY manual for our summer housing project. I rented a portable sewing machine, only to return weekly to have them repair it. I was never asked what the hell I was sewing. We scrounged materials from surplus stores and roadside dumps. We advertised for land to erect the tipi, and then missed the mark by 100 feet when we pitched it. It began a summer more memorable than most.

The other manual of biblical proportion to us was Alicia Bay Laurel's (probably not her real name) very famous hippie book Living On The Earth. I understand it is now into it's 25+ edition. I think we had the 2nd edition. It was all one needed when living in a tipi. It was classic---one-page instructions for everything, and I mean everything. And we attempted more than a few, with less then stellar results. There was dandelion wine, tire tread sandals, yoghurt, bean sprouts. The instructions were generally so vague, that there was no possible outcome except failure. I especially remember my first yoghurt: something about putting the milk in a jar, adding some sort of acidic liquid, closing the jar, putting black cloth over the jar and setting in the sun. The only acidic liquid I had was a jar of pickles, so that's what got used. Yum, yum, yum. The instructions for tire tread sandals didn't account for cutting through steel belting. Dandelion wine never instructed us to first sterilize the garbage can we were using to ferment the mass. Get the picture?
Eileen was attending summer school, and would often have to study. I was working an agricultural labor job in town, getting paid $1.40 an hour, sometimes 10+ hours a day. It made me think college wasn't such a bad idea after all. There was no time for either of us to run errands, so Eileen suggested importing her 16 year-old sister MJ out as our gopher. It surprised me when her parents agreed to the idea, but it was a brilliant scheme. MJ had just received her driver's license, so she was thrilled at the idea of cruising around all day on her own, then retreiving each of us at the end of the day.

We were city girls who were enchanted living in the mountains. Magic Crud, my car, couldn't make it up all the way on the rutted road, so we had to walk the last half-mile every day. We carried our provisions in rudimentary boy scout packs. One friend built us a latrine that looked out at the Never Summer Range. Another friend constructed a tripod for our 50 gallon water carrier, since there was no running water on the property. We had a great fire pit and a triangular cooking platform built between three trees. Eat your heart out, Alica Bay!
The only rule we had about friends coming up to visit was that they had to bring water. Water was our precious commodity, so anyone with 4WD who could bring a large quantity was especially welcomed. Except for the time some friends brought water up in used gas cans. I'm sure our breath would have ignited with a match for some time after that.
Eileen and I had known John for some time, and we had been part of a group of friends. I'm not quite clear on the chronology, but at some point, Eileen and John went from just friends to more than just friends. You'll have to ask them. John was of great assistance during the planning and implementation phases of the tipi. I remember one evening in a parking lot, tracing out a huge semi-circle onto the canvas that would eventually become the tipi. I do believe John came up with the idea of how to draw an 18' circle on the ground. When the day came to haul our tipi poles (which in reality turned out to be corral poles), Eileen and I started carrying them up one at a time, then two people on one. Then there was the brilliant idea to rent a Jeep and drag them up. Might have been John again.
Because we had no running water and no large water reservoir, we had to address taking showers before we could actually move up there. Eileen was enrolled at school, so she could use the university gym. The greenhouses where I worked had a bathroom with shower, so I was given permission to use their facilities. I can't remember what MJ did, but at 16 who knows? We each had a set of "tipi clothes" that we only wore when at the tipi, because they were so smoke-permeated. We then changed into "city clothes" down in town. At the end of the summer I have a vague memory of putting our tipi clothes into a final farewell bonfire. At least I'm sure I don't have mine anymore. Only the memories. And the friends.


Linda said...

Wow, this takes me back. I had Alicia Bay Laurel's book and tried many of the same things you did. Never lived in a tipi, though. I did camp out an entire summer in a tube tent.

This explains a lot about the Montana cabin you and Doug built and I now live in. I'm sure my friends and relatives who were appalled when I talked about hauling water up the hill in the snow the first couple of years never read Living on the Earth. Their loss.

Anonymous said...

These are great Nancy, I knew the stories but I don't remember ever seeing photos. lro

Peggy said...

All I can say is that Leran better look out with the two of you in town together.