12. Wandering in the wilderness

By the time that school year in Crownpoint was up, I was ready to move on.From the black night skies of New Mexico, I headed out for the black stone beaches of northern Maine. A colleague, a long-haired math teacher named Jean, owned property in Washington County, and he convinced us that on the northern Maine coast were homesteads begging for two couples to settle in and live the good life, à la Scott Nearing, off the grid, growing our own, breathing the clean salt air.

So the four of us – me, Connie, Jean, and his wife – plus two-year-old John-John and our dog, piled in our big Dodge van, towing Jean’s pickup full of stuff, and headed for Salem, Mass. With a brief stopover in Missouri to visit Connie’s relatives, we pretty much drove straight through, even switching drivers on-the-fly.

In Salem, where Jean’s family lived, we gathered our energies and sallied forth into the wild, full of enthusiasm and naivetè.

It was an ill-fated journey. We loved the Maine coast, we loved camping and meeting people – like Gracie, the beautiful young single mother with two kids whom we met in the campground on Beals Island one day. Gracie was a Beals descendant whose grandfather designed the Maine lobster-boat, and only lived down the road, but she liked to take her kids camping. She invited us over for TV and showers whenever we were in the vicinity. Washington County was beautiful and unspoiled; we loved looking at beautiful properties, tramping the woods to find property lines, and drinking coffee with realtors.

But no matter how good the deals, bankers tend to expect one to provide some evidence of means to make the monthly mortgage, and none of us managed to scrape that together. I had two part-time job offers, and not much else for the four of us. Some wise Mainer suggested “ya gotta rake a little blueberries an’ dig a little clams an’ do what ya gotta do to make it on this Maine coast!”

Only problem is, ya gotta pay the mortgage!

So we eventually all bailed out. I only lost $1500 earnest money, but easily had that much fun and learned a lot to boot… but relationships are difficult under the best of circumstances. Under the stress of that trip, things were very hard amongst our little group. Over and over, I found myself looking for some kind of reliable value system, some kind of spiritual guidance through the trials… but nothing seemed to come.

I was wandering in the wilderness and no Moses was forthcoming.

We ended up in Georgia at my parents’ house. So much for the quest. Connie and John-John flew to Georgia to get out of the stressful camping life. My dad found both of us job offers in the schools in the little town they lived in, so I loaded all our stuff – which we’d sent to Augusta, Maine via Bekins  – in a 16-foot trailer and headed out.

Some 36 hours later I arrived in south Georgia, exhausted and dazed. I presented the idea of buying property in Maine to my dad’s banker, who said simply. “We don’t loan money on property out of state.” So we settled in.

The jobs weren’t too bad, and we found a great little house easily, moved in and began re-organizing our lives. We felt a bit out of place in the rural south, but somehow we made it through two years there, teaching elementary and middle school children who couldn’t name a town past the next one in any direction.  Despite the fact that the first question most people asked us upon introduction was, “Where do you go to church?”, we made friends, and it was nice being with my parents, seeing them enjoy their grandson.

But the wanderlust was still strong. I was ruled by my dissatisfaction, and my rudder-less heart wandered into forbidden places that wrecked our perfectly quaint little lives. Before long, we were on the road again, seeking something… something… we just weren’t sure what.

We visited The Farm, Steven Gaskins’ late-hippie experiment in Buddhist-based communitarian living, and though it had its charms, it was not for us.

Then we discovered Koinonia Community, a pacifist, mixed-race Christian intentional community and farm near Plains, Georgia.

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