Coyote, a long time Twin Oaks member, died a couple of weeks ago. It’s far from the first death there. When you’ve been a community for well over fifty years, you will will see a lot of deaths (and a lot of births). How does a commune deal with death? Twin Oaks documented Coyote’s funeral and I put it on our Facebook page. Here’s what we published:
When this was published on Facebook, we got a comment remembering someone who had died at Alpha Farm.
It’s sad, but death is part of life and we need to develop our own ways of dealing with it.
After a long decline, Coyote, a member of Twin Oaks died last Thursday with friends next to his bed. He had been declining for months, or, actually, years. In that time dozens of people were part of his care, helping lift, move, and clean him, but also just sitting with him, or reading to him, or singing to him. The day Coyote died, I was part of a group of people who gathered in Coyote’s room. We gently placed our hands on him, held his hand, and sang to him.
Less than a year ago, my father died of covid in an elder care facility. Of course, we family couldn’t visit him in the months before he died, or sit with him when we knew that he only had a few days to live. After my father passed, the memorial service, as so many people have experienced in the past year, was held on Zoom.
We were all relieved that Coyote had not died the day before when there had been a birthday celebration for a child turning twelve. Everyone wanted to attend the party. The birthday party had live music, including several songs that were written and performed by the birthday boy. Probably about forty people were in attendance. Twin Oaks has maintained a strict lockdown protocol, so there has been no covid here, but we have been able to include neighboring communities in our “bubble.”
Someone from another community had brought some larping paraphernalia to the party (shields and padded sticks that posed as swords). Kids and adults had a great time running around whacking and chasing each other while the music was playing. I noticed that one of the adults running around was a member who had given birth less than a month ago. Various people at the party were taking turns holding the baby.
The birth had been here at Twin Oaks, with friends in attendance, singing and holding the mother’s hand. Even the day of the birth, the mother managed to walk, but she was clearly fully recovered if she could run around with a padded sword, being chased by kids.
The bedside vigil, the birthday concert, the home birth–none of these events are unusual or remarkable here at Twin Oaks. Or weren’t. In this time of global pandemic it seems that everyone is longing for a return to being able to gather together with other people, no matter the reason. What so many people everywhere have been discovering is that what we all need more of in our lives is to be with other people to just do stuff together—in a word: community.
Twin Oaks is lucky. Some of our members complete their membership, but don’t move far away and continue to volunteer to support us. Some of the most valuable of these ex-members are the ones who can operate our equipment or fix our infrastructure.
Denny Ray left Twin Oaks many years before i arrived (and that was over 2 decades ago). But from early on in my membership i knew who he was, because he fixed things. Twin Oaks prides itself on on being self sufficient. And in many ways we are, in ways few families or even companies can brag about. But our little secret is we have some ringers. Denny definitely was one.
Denny was an independent political force in the labyrinth decision making system at Twin Oaks. He would get an idea in his head that we should do something and he would make it nearly irresistible to follow his advice, He wanted us to change to Blossman Gas; he argued that it would save us money, he argued that they gave better service, he argued they have safer equipment. But in the end what really won over the planners is when he said “And i will manage it”. We would have paid him, but he would not take money this time.
Denny brought the Blossman crew in and they went around to all our residences. They proposed a bunch of new hardware and i was frankly a bit scared that in the end it would not end up saving us money. Denny asked me to give hammocks and pillows to the Blossman engineers, which i happily did.
Denny was of course right. The new gas company ended up saving us over $10K a year, even after we paid for all the new equipment. Denny had negotiated a great deal for us. Best hammocks we ever gave anyone.
But Denny was loved for far more than his utility. He was funny, friendly, generous and highly opinionated. He loved his little house and would never move back to Twin Oaks, but he was often over for lunch consulting with old friends who were members, or newer members who knew he often had sage advice or a good story to share.
Denny also was a photographer. He would catch us walking on the road with our kids, and later send us a much loved picture to remember the moment. He loved our plays and musicals as well, and took photos of the performers in costume. We very much appreciated his generosity and artistic dedication. The sight of his much-beloved blue truck was always a cause for celebration.
Denny would get frustrated with us for poor decision making or treating a member poorly, and then he would take time away from the commune, a week – sometimes even a month. But his love for the place and its people always brought him back.
Denny’s last year was a tough one, He spent a bunch of nights in Twin Oaks hospice facility, Appletree. We don’t use Appletree for anyone who is not a member, but Denny was exceptional and no one even considered challenging the decision to bend the rule for this old friend.
I’ll miss Denny, who used to often joke about my many girlfriends or how i was upsetting the bureaucrats on campus. I’ll miss him, and i will remember him, his commitment to community, and his willingness to be part of something greater than self.
Kristen/Kelpie here: Cameron Taylor was of the Scots diaspora and a friend of mine. He and I often spoke of his love of Lallans, the old Scots language of his boyhood. He tried to teach me how to roll my r’s, at my request. We would often tease each other in the hammock shop, and listen to music, and play guessing games. He was partial to tango. I’m partial to folk, especially that of the British Isles. Cam was a boy in the land where Robert Burns lived, near Dumfries and Ayrshire in Scotland. He was born Kenneth Taylor, and changed his first name to honor his mother’s clan. His father died in WW2, and he moved to Argentina with his mother. Now, of course, I wish I could remember more of what he told me. I’ve written here a short account of what I do remember.
Cameron had a passion for kayaks, and for the people of Greenland, who taught him ocean kayaking, fishing, and their way of life when he was a young man. He put together his memoirs of this time: [what’s the link?-ed] I enjoyed hearing about his times in Greenland. Several times he pointed out the young woman he loved there, and the wondrous times he had in the North. During his later years, at Twin Oaks Community, he built a traditional kayak, which he donated to a museum, [fact check: ask Kevin] after spending time traveling with it. He also spent many days kayaking on local lakes, especially with Kevin.
Before Cam came to Twin Oaks, he was an anthropologist. In addition to his time in Greenland, he spent time with the Yanomami in Brazil. He and his wife studied their culture, and he learned the language. I remember he brought a Yanomami hammock to our hammock shop, to show us. We marveled that anyone could balance on one of them, much less sleep! It consisted of strands of strong fibrous plant material, maybe bark, in parallel, knotted on both ends. One year, he asked to go to the Yanomami to help vaccinate them, as part of an interna because they were under immediate threat of disease. Twin Oakers were proud to help him on this journey.
Cameron was also our Dairy Manager for a while, and was responsible for getting the loafing shed built, so our cows could have a place out of the sun. He also found and brought Dexter, a border collie, who helped immensely with herding.
And of course, he made hammocks, and taught us how to make hammocks. I remember his infinite patience with this. I often had to ask him for help, and he was always willing to give it.
One of my most fond memories is watching a meteor shower with Cameron, camping out by the grapevines, drinking from a bottle, and listening to him sing a long funny song from his childhood. I tried to get him to sing it again, later, in the hammock shop, when we were sober, but he wouldn’t.
I don’t remember why we decided to celebrate Burns Night dinners, but I do remember Cameron being an important resource for verisimilitude and delight. We had three, I think, in a space of four years. Cam inspired us to make haggis, a delicious (no! really!) lamb and oats sausage, and a main ingredient of the dinner served usually Jan 25, celebrating the works of Rabbie Burns, and all things Scottish, which included whiskies, poetry, singing, and merriment, and a band. Cam requested My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose, so we learned it, as well as a few other classic Burns hits, like Green Grow the Rushes Oh. Thankfully, we didn’t record ourselves. Cameron read aloud a section of Tam O’Shanter, Burns’s funny hero poem, which needed translating for the modern American audience. Cameron, always the considerate teacher, obliged.
Thanks for reading this long ramble. I hope Cameron would be happy with it. I can still hear his laugh. Cameron’s lovely, always, in my memory. He’s stubborn, argumentative, caring and wise. A wit and always ready with a story. I miss him.
Milo McTavish has gone to the other side. He was an extraordinary man.
Over the life of this blog, I have written about him several times. About his work as a wanderingelectrician and his taste forhighlandScotch whiskey. He was part of the crew which started the Karass Inn. And there are several tales we are not allowed to tell about this old friend.
What is well known about him is that he helped out the communities movement a whole bunch in a number of places. I worked occasionally as his travel agent, getting him from worthy project to ambitious startup. He went to Missouri, Colorado, Virginia, Vermont and New York on his nomadic crafts person adventure. Never by plane, mostly by train. He preferred to do things right, but he could always work within the budgets of these sometimes struggling entities. This versatility was a big part of why he was so valuable. All he would ask for, besides our regular room and board was Scotch whiskey.
As important as his work was, Milo will be remembered for his slightly larger than life character. He was a wild card – “a disrupter” long before that term was popular. Cantankerous and boisterous, he always had a story (often of Kenya where he came of age or Her Majesties Merchant Navy) and time to listen to yours. He was also an excellent teacher and shared his skills with numerous communards, some of whom required a fair bit of patience to train. He was a hard-partying, proud pagan. Milo had loud opinions about many a thing and had no fear in telling you how uninformed you were on almost any subject where he knew more than you, which was likely most topics.
Milo was a missionary. He rescued a failing health food coop in Norfolk and managed it with his then-wife Susan. They ran it together for 5 years. He canvassed for the Rain Forest Action Network and CalPIRG. He even worked with the Dolphin Research Lab in Florida. He had been a cop and occasionally on the other side of the law. He complained loudly about what he called “the 3 monos of the world”: Monoculture, Monotheism, and Monogamy.
Milo was often the life of the party. And with his passing, some of that party is gone as well.
But Milo would not want us mourning his passing, he would want us to party harder. There will be one this weekend (12/16) in Norfolk and next weekend (12/23) at the Pizza Stone in Chester, Vermont to remember him. Contact me if you want more details on these events.
[Milo’s family of choice is trying to get in touch with Milo’s Scotish family to inform them of his passing. If you have any leads on this, please contact me by email (paxus at twin oaks dot org) or comment on this blog post.]