So getting on noticeably poorly
amongst company, we said more fond good-byes and headed south to Pocahontas
County and wild and wacky West Virginia once more. When we got down to the land again, we found Kristin, Eva and
her young son Josh and Andy living there.
I found Eva a fascinating and eccentric young woman, over six feet tall,
bewitchingly beautiful and both funny and outspoken. She and her very young boy had somehow ended up living at Gesundheit
and she was one of the prime energies around the place. It was she who was responsible for the
fabulous vegetable garden that fed so many people and she worked in Lewisburg,
the nearest big town, as a massage therapist.
She was always great fun to be around and I secretly had a little crush
on her. Kristin was always Kristin,
now deeply committed to Gesundheit both as a model care unit and as a way of
life. Andy was the
man-about-the-house that year, had a Scottish father and became a good friend
and confidant of mine eventually. We
had driven straight into mid-winter and the land was frozen and covered in hard
mud and snow.
Life was funky but very entertaining
in Hillsboro. The land was down a back
road about three miles from the village itself which only had a school and two
little grocery shops, one of which was a hold-over from the fifties and sixties
with products still packaged from that era.
There were a couple of garages, for this was a very rural area and
without a car or a truck one was pretty paralyzed. We saw signs which would grow to be familiar, like "Beer,
Bait and Ammo", the three prerequisites of rural life in these parts. There was a tiny library in a trailer, a
Post Office and not much else in the village except for the Pearl Buck
Center. The house in which the
well-known novelist was born in and the larger house in which she had lived and
worked were situated just outside the village. Although her politics had been pretty much discredited by this
time, there was a very minor industry still operating around her name.
Hillsboro was a rural farming
community with a rapidly dwindling population and an uneasy relationship with
the young dropouts who had come to buy land and live there in the early
Seventies. It was hard to know what
the locals thought about the Gesundheit Institute and the steady stream of
strange visitors that trickled through the little wooden shack that, at this
stage, was the only permanent dwelling on the projected hospital site. There was a further complication in that a
well-known Neo-Nazi group also lived in the area, a bunch of high-level extreme
right- wing survivalists who had a camp up in the hills where they wrote
pamphlets and books propagating their ideas.
I hope that there was no confusion in the locals’ minds’ between the
immigrant hippies and the fascists, but I expect there was. Hillsboro was in fundamentalist Bible
country and there were lots of local churches. It was still possible to find thirty acres and an old wooden
farmhouse for $30,000 in Pocahontas County and rents were unbelievably
low. It was a very beautiful,
untouched and unpolluted countryside and I liked the idea of coming to live
there as soon as I saw it. I couldn't
imagine going back to living in New York again for it seemed too expensive and
too dangerous. I'd had too much
trouble keeping it together there last time and anyway, we'd just had a shot of
the city in Chicago. West Virginia was
safe and cheap and we could walk straight into a circle of good friends
immediately. I hoped that Carol and I
would get a chance there of working out our problems.
It was the Year of Haley's
Comet. In spite of the freezing winter
weather, Carol and I would go out at night and climb the hill behind the house
searching the sky for it. Just before
Christmas, using high-powered binoculars, we started to see the comet every
night, a red-brown slightly streaky star in the sky. I found it wonderful to have lived at a time when the legendary
Comet was in the vicinity of our Earth and to have been able to watch it pass
us by. Of course, it wasn't the
threatened spectacle that one might have dreamed of but still a experience to
tell one's children about.
Kristin had a suggestion about where
we might live for there was very little space for permanent living at the house
on the Gesundheit land. The little
house had three small downstairs rooms and only two tiny bedrooms upstairs
although there were plans to build onto the existing structure. It was made of wood and heated, like all
the houses around, by a wood stove.
There was an outhouse toilet, which could be a slight ordeal on a snowy
winter morning. Anyway, Andy, an older
man and ex-lover of Kristin's, who was living and working at Gesundheit for the
winter, had a house nearby that he had renovated and was trying to sell. A warring couple called Eric and Cappy and
their three young girls were living there but there was room for us too. Kristin somehow thought that Carol and my
presence might stabilize the situation there.
Andy was agreeable to the idea, the house was in walking distance of
Gesundheit and we went over and met the others who agreed to let us move in. We had a nice bedroom, there was a room I
could make into a studio and we would share the kitchen and living room
spaces. It was definitely worth trying
out the situation although I wasn't particularly drawn to the other couple and
had my private doubts about being able to stabilize any bad situation.
We had a great first day with Eric
who owned a magnificent Belgian carthorse which we used to haul tree trunks
down from the woods for firewood. I
did one of my favourite batiks of that log hauling experience as soon as my
studio was ready. And so we approached
Christmas, getting our new home together and making a huge English Christmas
pudding which I steamed literally for days until it was rich, moist and
potent. We walked around our
neighbourhood and met John and Leslee who had just bought a big house in the
nearby hamlet, it couldn't be called a village, of Beard down by the Greenbrier
River and its Trail. They were
starting a guest house business and needed house sitters over the holidays. There were lovely walks along the River
Trail around endless bends in the river past lots of little signs of a
community and an industry now long gone.
I was amazed how quickly a civilization built of wood and a little stone
could vanish and the land be reclaimed by nature. Of course, most of the heavily wooded hills around had already
been logged by settlers so that the trees were second growth. But I could see how transient our impact on
the world could be.
Carol went up into the mountains
thirty miles away and got a job as a masseuse at the spa at Snowshoe, our
nearest ski resort, which showed great initiative, I thought. When she went up there in the heavy snow
to work at night, I would act as her chauffeur. I got to take long saunas and jacuzzis and to work out on the
Nautilus equipment while she worked.
On December 21st, Gesundheit held a Pagan ceremony for the Winter
Solstice. On a freezing afternoon with
snow on the ground all around, we huddled in a little sweat lodge with a bunch
of friends and shivered rather than sweated while Eva lead us in a strange
Native American traditional chant. The
rocks never really heated up enough and the ground was wet and muddy with a
thin layer of straw. I remember staggering
back up to the house early to avoid frostbite in my toes and collapsing by the
fire with a lot of hot tea and cookies.
We stayed at the rather elegant, traditional guesthouse, "The
Current" over Christmas but celebrated and feasted over at Gesundheit with
good friends. I recall that Carol was
depressed and quarrelsome. She managed to bring up our differences in
front of everyone which reminded me how poorly she did in company and made me feel a little resentful. But we all went on to play "Dr Ruth's
Good Sex Game" which was good fun and gave us all an opportunity to display
our expertise on the subject, which of course we all liked to do.
1985 ended with Carol working up at
Snowshoe and my taking a lot of saunas and hot baths. There was big party in Hillsboro on New Year's Eve where someone
came with a new drug called MMDA or Ecstasy, which we all tried. It was a night of fireworks in the snow,
dancing and a lot of hugging but I felt the physical effects of the drug
strongly and as I hugged another stranger and told them how much I loved them,
I couldn't help reflecting that we were all high and that none of it meant
anything much. The next day, we were
still all strangers and I realized I didn't even know everybody’s name.
The New Year did not start
smoothly. Carol and I were not getting
on well together nor did life go smoothly with Eric and Cappy who had problems
of their own. Cappy objected to the
smell of wax from my batik studio and asked me to either move the studio
outside or to batik only when she wasn't around. I have to admit that I was mildly outraged at this, for
personally I have always loved the slightly sweet, slightly pungent smell of
hot wax. Having elevated art to the
level of some fringe religion, I found her request almost sacrilegious. So I went on working away everyday in spite
of her protests and had started a new West Virginian series. I had several pieces started, a
"Logging in West Virginia" piece with Eric and his fantastic horse
straining right out of the picture as they pulled at a tree trunk and a study
of a little deserted church just down the road. In retrospect this wasn't a calculatedly diplomatic move but
nobody had ever, anywhere, complained about my work before and I had to work or
go under at this point. My work had
been disrupted terribly during the past year,
Carol was becoming impossible to be with and work was my only
salvation. She was deeply depressed and
had announced that she thought that she was pregnant. This was pretty hard news to deal with, for on one level, both
of us would have loved to have a child but, in the current emotional climate,
it was probably a terrible idea. As if
to try to escape the tension and problems at home, I started to get out more
and more into the community and got involved in a variety of creative projects.
Andy heard of my radio training in
California and enlisted me to help him edit a recording of Arthur Miller's
"The Crucible" that he and a group of friends had made at our local
AM radio station WRVR in Greenbank the year before. So we would drive up the road to Greenbank every week and work
on the gargantuan task of putting together a version of the play that could be
broadcasted. There were hours of tape,
take upon take of each scene, many of which were flawed or unusable for one
reason or another. The recording
quality was very uneven and all had to
equalized and played around with before they could be used. Sound effects, doors opening and closing,
footsteps and "outdoor" noises had to be slotted into the mix. It was truly a labour of Hercules and after
months of work, was finally left unfinished.
As far as I know, the play was never broadcasted which was a great
shame. But it got me out of the house
at a crucial period and served its purpose as far as I was concerned at
John and Leslee, the owners of
"The Current" just down the road were both very politically
conscious. John's family owned a lot
of land in Renick down towards Lewisburg and last year they had organized a
music festival there to raise money for various worthy causes. It was called the "Spring Creek Music
Festival. It had been quite successful
considering how late in the year they had had the idea and how little time they
had had to organize it all. This year
they were going to do it again and I quickly volunteered to join the planning
committee. I eventually took on the
Catering booth having had a lot of experience with the "Kitchen" Tex-
Mex Mobile Unit in California the year before. It was a good cause and an interesting project, trying to
balance the needs and tastes of the rural community with our own tastes and
ideas. There were a lot of people
involved and a pleasantly anarchic approach to decision- making, which slowed
the planning process down a lot. We met
weekly at a church in Renwick whose own ideas had to be taken into account
also. Kiss or Judas Priest were not
being included in our short list of groups to perform at the three-day outdoor
summer Festival. But neither did we
want anemic new age or squeaky clean Christian music either so that selection
of the music was no easy feat. Getting
the right bands to come and perform for charity and expenses would keep us busy
for the next few months.
I continued to explore the community and to make new friends, some
of whom lived on a back road called Lobelia Road, a local area with a
reputation for trouble. My friends
Bernadette and Phil had a farmhouse up there, the latter being a retired folk
musician from Atlanta who was the local sound engineer and ran the sound board
at Spring Creek. His wife taught
Special Education in the local school and both of them were to be important
elements in my life in West Virginia.
Bob, who lived high up on the ridge behind them, was a local osteopathic
doctor with a little practice in Hillsboro.
It had been he who had found the corpses of the two young women who had
come to the Rainbow Festival which had been held nearby a couple of years
before. This tragic murder had shocked
the local immigrant community and it wasn’t until much later that the people
responsible had been brought to trial.
There had always been rumours about the practice of Black Magic back on
Lobelia amongst the locals and there had been another rather sensational pair
of deaths on the road a few years before, also unsolved. It was as if a local curtain of silence was
drawn from time to time on this little back road in Pocahontas County, itself
the least populated part of West Virginia.
I found it all very fascinating and was quickly becoming very involved
with the community.
Carol and I soon discovered the
"Little Levels" Clothing Store also. It was situated in an empty local church and was only open for
one day a week. But it was a veritable
treasure trove for second-hand clothes aficionados like ourselves. Each piece of clothing cost only ten cents
and the small building was literally filled ten feet high with mounds of
donated clothes . Of course it was
Polyester Heaven for the most part but incredible bargains were to be found in
there if one took the time to rummage through the garbage. Several sweet little old ladies ran the
Store and were very helpful in helping one find clothing or missing shoes. They sat around a central wood burning
stove and I always noticed a strange acrid smell about the place and wondered
what it was. One day I watched one of
the little old ladies stuff armfuls of plastic and leather shoes into the stove
and realized that this operation had clothes instead of wood to burn. I still own some fabulous items that I
discovered under the polyester at Little Levels, a beautiful Christian Dior
shirt, heavens knows how that got there and a great white and black jacket
identical to one worn by Paul McCartney on one of his record sleeves. Paul ?
In Hillsboro ?? We would go to
Little Levels en masse to pick up costumes for Halloween and I remember feeling
slightly outraged when all the clothes went up to twenty five cents in price a
few years later. Clothes even got
mysteriously recycled through Little Levels.
I remember buying a bunch of great old patched jeans there one day and
discovering that Eva had thrown them out at Gesundheit and had donated them to
the church the week before.
Meanwhile, life went on rather uneasily at Cappy and Eric's where
Carol was going in and out of deep depression. One day, after yet another row, I discovered that she had once
again packed up all her things, taken all the money and vanished. I eventually tracked her down to Snowshoe
where she was still working at the Spa regularly and managed to persuade her to
come back to Hillsboro. Thinking back
to all the conflicts and arguments and paranoia of our marriage, I'm a little
amazed that I hung in there so long.
But I was still in love with the beautiful, shining and seductive side
that she displayed half the time. I
suppose on balance that I must have been getting more good than bad out of the
relationship. When that balance
eventually shifted, I got out and moved on.
But that point was regrettably still quite a long way down the
However, when Carol finally returned
to the house from Snowshoe, it was the
turn of Cappy and Eric to become alarmed and demand that we move out, perhaps
afraid for the safety of their kids.
Once again my personal credibility was totally undermined though of
course I sided with Carol in the conflict.
There was an incredibly ugly scene in which Eric threatened us with
violence and we hurriedly packed up and
moved over to the Gesundheit house.
Kristin was going off traveling somewhere and let us stay in her
room. But it was only a temporary move
for Carol, who moved out and went to stay in a rented room in Hillsboro. She was terribly depressed and upset and I
could neither help nor reach her. I felt
secretly relieved when she announced that she wanted to terminate her now
Meanwhile, in the heart of a freezing mid-winter, I set up a new
batik studio in the trailer in the big field at Gesundheit which had pink flamingos
painted on its side. It was pretty
grim out there and was without heating of any kind. But I was driven to go on with my work. I would go out there through the snow in
the morning and work there as long as I could before my fingers and toes went
completely numb. Then I would stagger
back up to the house for warmth and food before going back out there
again. Looking back on that
experience, I think that I was very heroic or very desperate, for I would
literally have to break the ice on the top of my dyes in the Pink Flamingo
trailer every morning. The snow that I
brought into the trailer on my boots the day previously would still be lying on
the floor the next day. But I managed
to complete at least six batiks in my
new series which included a good painting of the Gesundheit waterfall in
winter, dripping with icicles and glittering like diamonds on a midwinter
One long harrowing day in February,
Carol and I drove over to Charleston, the capital of the state and she finally
had an abortion. We spent the night
there in a motel and drove back the next day.
I think both of us felt a better and less pressured by our situation. Carol continued to live in Hillsboro with
her Mrs. Hollingsworth and went on working up at Snowshoe. But she felt ill, continued to bleed and I
was getting worried for her health.
She alternately seemed to need me and to want to hurt me and I was
trying to keep her at arms length. Our
relationship had hit an all time low and held little compensation for me at
Then early in March, Carol called me
feeling so faint and ill that I took her to the Clinic in Hillsboro for an
examination. She was referred to Low Moor Hospital in Clifton Forge, some sixty
miles away. There she was looked at
again and immediately whisked into emergency surgery. She was terrified and I was shocked. Four hours later, the surgeon came out to tell me that he had
had to perform a complete hysterectomy.
One ovary had been abscessed and the other had endometriosis. Carol came out of surgery in poor shape,
but behaved so desperately bravely that my heart went out to her once
more. At that point, I reflected on it
being a good thing that she had not gone off to some Third World country in
that state, for there probably wouldn't have been adequate facilities to
diagnose or deal with an illness like this.
We both stayed at the hospital for
five days, Carol making good physical progress but terribly depressed and me
sleeping in an uncomfortable armchair by her side all those days. We had plenty of visitors, talked with her
parents in Wichita and both felt very happy when Leslee called and invited us
to come and stay at "The Current" while Carol recuperated. I remember feeling really good once we got
back to Hillsboro and "The Current" and Carol was upstairs, warm and
asleep in bed. And then I suddenly got violently ill
myself with uncontrollable vomiting and sudden diahorrea for twenty four hours,
the price of being a pillar of strength during the past week. But soon I felt better and went back to my
work at the trailer while Carol got her strength back.