Far Out: A Life On The Road
If you’ve been following my work then you’ll know that I completed a photo story on an intentional community/ecovillage last semester. Here is a pretty cool story I wrote following an interview with a very ‘far out’ member in that community I met: and 82 year old hippie who’s lived her adult life on the road. I’m so privileged to be able to tell her amazing story. You can also see the published version of this story on page 4 in my program’s paper, the Pioneer: https://loyalistphotojournalismblog.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/jan28photojournalismpioneer.pdf
The mother and her two toddlers stumble through the thick rainforest growth of Pacific Rim Park, desperately longing to reach their final destination. It is a long journey for Barbara Wallace, struggling through the foliage with her two children, both under the age of two.
They are out of money, and out of options. A friend recommended following a path on the beach in front of their motel in search of a small community the family could find respite at in on Vancouver Island, BC.
Finally they stumble across what they have been searching for: a group of people living in the forest, with tarps strung across logs as their only shelter from the elements. The leader of the small community occupies a small cabin, which is littered with kittens. He offers to part with his cabin so that the small family can occupy it, as long as they wade into the surf once a day to retrieve seaweed as feed for the swarm of kittens.
Now many years later, a geriatric Wallace sits in her rustically decorated living room, reminiscing with her husband Milton at her side.
“When I was driving my bus around North America and I would pick up hitchhikers, they were like a virus. And I remember these very, very deep conversations, and I was driving the bus, and there would be some hitchhikers sitting on the steps and we’d be having these deep conversations, then ‘Oh! It’s getting dark; We’d better find a place to sleep, who’s going to make the fire, and what are we going to have for dinner?’
And it just became a ‘we space’, not a ‘me space’, and then it became an ALL of us space.”
Wallace, 82, had received her PhD in experimental psychology from Rutgers University in New Jersey at age 33. She worked as a professor at the University of Alberta for five years after receiving her doctorate before deciding to abandon her teaching post to pursue a life of hippiedom.
“I became quite friendly with the graduate students, and they began critiquing the culture, and introduced me to Frank Zappa, and the Mothers of Invention,” Wallace says. She eventually accepted an invitation by some of her graduate students to attend a Frank Zappa concert with them.
“I felt really at home, and really good, because it was lively, and joyful, and the words of the song were critiquing society as well,” Wallace says. “So that started a chain of events that led me to walk out on my job.”
Wallace also said that she was heavily influenced by Ivan Illich’s book, Deschooling Society, which critiques the institutionalization of modern educational systems. Wallace’s personal critique of the school system is that it focuses mainly on the individual making money, rather than what is the best way that we as a collective can make use of our time here on this planet.
“There was a wave that went through, and it wasn’t just in North America, it went through the world. There were enough people of higher level of consciousness that could trigger it not into despair, or ‘fight-backness’, but into ‘let’s change the system’. And we are in a smaller wave of that right now.”
Following her rejection of mainstream society, Wallace took her two young children and began travelling and living among a variety of communes, colonies, and intentional communities. Overall, Wallace says she lived in 12 different communities.
“I just dropped out of the regular world, sold my house and everything in it,” Wallace says.
One of Wallace’s first stops was the community in the rainforest of Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island. Wallace and her children lived there until the authorities kicked the community out.
Life on the road did present its challenges, however, one of which was the changing weather.
“Winter came and I was living in school bus, and was making breakfast one morning,” Wallace says. “I was cracking eggs in the pan, and the last egg I cracked fell on the floor and it froze instantly, and there’s my kids were crawling on the floor. And I said ‘I cannot live here in the winter with my kids’.”
After being on the road in western Canada, Wallace decided to drive across the country to Toronto, visiting various communities along the way, and then made her way south to visit family in the States. She had arranged an unpaid teaching job for herself in Cuernavaca, Mexico at an institute founded by the defrocked Catholic priest, Ivan Illich— who’s writing inspired Wallace to abandon her profession.
Following her year teaching in Mexico, Wallace decided to return to Canada, and she started the journey with only $40.
“Actually, I got to Edmonton with more than $40; people were so nice along the way— they bought us dinners, toys, took us home and gave us a bath,” Wallace says. She also says that she has hitchhiked that Mexico-Canada route one-way three times with her kids.
“Her best quality for me is that she walks her talk,” Brenda Dolling, Wallace’s friend and neighbour, says about Wallace. “She is able to manifest her dreams and her values in a way like most people haven’t been able to. It isn’t easy to do those things, and she’s lived in poverty situations, she’s given up a lot, she’s struggled with sickness and other issues in order to keep going toward the dream of a better world in so many different ways, and that is totally inspirational to me, and is the kind of person I want to be when I grow up.”
Wallace’s’ most joyous times were yet to come, at a large, well-known community called The Farm.
She arrived at The Farm— an hour south of Nashville, Tenn.— in ‘78, just in time for its heyday.
At that time, The Farm was a totally egalitarian community, as any money that a community member made went into one pocketbook. One of the guidelines was that anything greater in value than a guitar belonged to the community as a whole.
“The purpose of the community is what held it to together, and what helped everybody work together, that was, ‘We are out to save the world by being a better model— by being a model for how people can live’,” Wallace said.
The community was not off the grid, but they did use very rudimentary methods for electricity. Only minimal amounts of electricity were taken from the grid, and were shared among the community using wires on the ground or looped through trees, and they lit their homes with taillights from cars powered by 12V batteries. They were very self-sufficient, in that the community had a school, bank, common store and meetinghouse.
“It was about 500 [people] when we got there, and it got up to 1,400, and we had a lot of community relationship patterns,” Wallace says. “Well, we had a set of agreements, and no one could move in until they were a soaker for awhile.”
‘Soaking’ meant that the community would soak up the vibes of the visitor and vice versa, with regular reports to the soaking committee. There was a strong emphasis on no violence—or even anger— and on practicing conflict resolution.
“They say to married couples, ‘don’t go to bed angry.’ Well this was ‘don’t go to bed with any kind of a twisted relationship with 1400 other people’.”
“Our guidelines were, if you have a problem with somebody, address it at the earliest possible moment, at the lowest possible level, you and that person,” Wallace says. “If you can’t solve it, bring in a fair witness that knows both of you. If it became a really big issue, then the midwives would be brought in; the midwives ran things, the women were just powerful in that community. And if they couldn’t handle it, then it would go to the community.”
Wallace also met her third and current husband Milton during her time at The Farm, and they were married in the community. Milton was an aerospace engineer before he too renounced his profession, choosing to live out his ideals in community.
One of Wallace’s favourite memories from that time is their wedding, with 700 ‘Farmee’ guests after meditating for an hour and a half. A group of women got together in the afternoon and made a plethora of decorated flat wedding cakes.
At The Farm everything was done together. There was a private phone line connecting the various residences, and a conversation would be something along the lines of, “Yes, Mary had her baby today and is doing just fine. We are going to be picking beans tonight and then freezing them tonight, so come on out to help.” They would have tall worktables so that while work was occurring, dancing and singing could happen simultaneously.
Paradise soon turned to disaster, however, after the community leader over-expanded to support the growing numbers of people, and a large storm wiped out most of the farmland purchased. Through the disaster, the community as a whole lost a quarter million dollars of communal money. Following this, the community shrunk from 1,400 back people down to 500 in about six months.
When leadership started to take a turn that neither Wallaces could support any longer, they decided to leave The Farm and start their own community.
Following The Farm disaster, the Wallace couple decided to found their own sustainable community. The Sun Run Centre For Sustainable Living was an off-grid educational centre, which provided resources to those interested in sustainable living on topics such as solar photovoltaic and wind generation electrical energy production, alternative building methods, water capture/conservation/management, organic food production/storage/processing, and philosophy. The centre had 500-1000 participants per year, from 27 different countries. Old age took over, though, and the Wallaces decided to sell their property.
After interviewing 70 different groups about how they would further the Wallaces educational programs at SunRun, the couple sold their property to a group of five people who seemed likely to continue the work the Wallaces had begun.
You would think after such a long eventful life, one might want to settle down in their old age and enjoy the rest of their life quietly with their family. It is not so for the Wallaces, however.
“We are so lucky to have found each other because we both have that goal: I’m never going to be done until I keel over,” Wallace says.
This goal follows from the Wallaces belief that if you are someone who is aware of social issues, then it your responsibility to be working full-time to make things better until your last breath.
Wallace moved to Whole Village Ecovillage and Intentional Community with her husband in 2014, because they decided they were too old now to start a new community, but still wanted to be active community members. The couple decided Whole Village was a good location because of its proximity to Toronto, and Wallace’s children.
At the age of 82, Wallace still burns bright by participating in the Farm/Land Mandate group and the Big Picture Mandate group at Whole Village, processes biweekly food orders for the Ontario Natural Food Depot, manages the farms dairy coop, and has started a biochar initiative in the community, including controlled trials with various crops.
Wallace is an individual who has the potential to inspire many, who has fully developed values and goals, and who actively walks her talk.
“I see her in so many ways. She’s not one-dimensional at all. There are so many different Barbs,” Dolling says. “And that lovely human touch she has that makes you want to be with her is pretty amazing. Not everybody has that way of making you feel like you’re at home with her.”