Digs Ville

by Jay Thiemeyer

Woke in the shelter and grateful for that. Notwithstanding the foul standing air filled with methane from a hundred men bunked practically on top of each other. Snoring, hacking, shouting in the echoing tiled chamber where the toilets stank and hair clogged the sinks, which apparently translated into the belief that noise didn't happen there, or if it did nobody would notice. Or at least nobody that mattered, what mattered was leaving.

Rode bike to catch ride to the farm. Past celebrants in the spendy-trendy NW, clustered at the street-car stops. Celebrating the boondoggle. Full-tilt boogie. Heading for the "Sand in the City" performance at Pioneer Square, later on no doubt. Oh, the excitement.

Made my rendezvous ready for the country. Ain't been out of the city for too damned long! Put my bike and knapsack in back of truck for ride to Digsville. Shared space with a large-tailed dog. "You can put something between you and the dog."

"What? My face?"

The approach to the farm's location is discouraging. Highways tearing off into space, over-hanging depressed rivers and singed trees; people shut in air-conditioned metal cages, sealed in separate vacuums, facing straight ahead, "bunked practically on top of each other," one to a car or whatever - personnel carrier - oh, the excitement... The sky was clear. No rain in sight, as we made our approach. The dog and I exchanged phone numbers and promised we would keep in touch.

First impressions: filth is for compost. The methane level is negotiable. Paranoia is rare and provoked by things like someone firing off a few illegal rounds in a field down the road. Loneliness is exchanged for the smell of woodsmoke, mowed fields and a feeling of closeness to the earth. The buzz of insects, sing-song, is light on the constant breeze coming over from the Gorge. Autos, Interstate, highway's commotion are memories collapsed behind the dark green barrier of trees. Exhaustion is arrived at honestly, progressively, from working in the ground, not from the neurasthenic resignation induced by the shelter or the endless lines, and endless walking which constitutes a day "homeless" in the city. Clean air, privacy, serenity, calm, peace of mind, a place to collect one's thoughts; these are words and juxtapositions of words that have meaning here. Dignity has meaning here.

The handful of Villagers who have been on this site since Cinco de Mayo, assisted for varying periods by other Village people, live in a cluster of tents beneath several large trees which are either Douglas Fir or Sequoias, opinion varies, and high aloft one of them is a nest of Blue Herons. Their swoop can be heard from time to time, punctuating the day like the off-hand appearance of an ultra-lite prototype buzzing over from the airport. One and a half acres are under cultivation, parceled from a supporter's twenty-acre plot to be used indefinitely for cash crops.

Tomatoes: beef steak, Roma, cherry. Cantelopes, watermelon, squash, peppers, chard, lettuce, and pumpkins - Jack O'Lanterns, Atlantic Grand - which can grow to half a ton, fitted next to plum trees and apple trees. Bordered by rows of corn, wax beans, Brussels sprouts, and a small concentration of rosemary, dill, marjoram, parsley, and mint.

The kitchen is thoroughly stocked and orderly, food shelved in an "L" around a large, home-built table and beneath an expansive blue tarp. An oven, and gas-lit burners. Citronella torches to keep the bugs away (the encampment abuts a drought-challenged wetlands), and dogs. Two rambunctious Labs, one German Shepherd pup.

The three of them go nuts when the coyotes come out at night. Their yipping sounds like a bunch of drunks laughing their heads off. A den of them resides nearby, and they sit in the woods just past the tents and kick up a fuss every night.

I was there Saturday night and Sunday morning and between the coyotes and the folks sitting around the fire talking politics and playing spades, dawn came too soon. And when it came, Frank awoke like clock-work. With day-break came an unfamiliar sound, a "shooshing" whose cause he couldn't place.

Frank has been at the farm since its inception. He has watched it come to life, and with it expanding prospects. There are plans and work proceeding for a recycling cooperative. With experience working as a supervisor on one of the Sodoma Farms in New York during the '90s, Frank has high hopes for Digsville.

Sunday was Frank's birthday, and the shooshing annoyed him out of his tent and into the clearing beside the encampment. He immediately rushed back to wake the rest of us. Low across the meadow, a half dozen hot-air balloons, tamping down with low bursts from the gas jets, were easing to the surrounding fields. As we watched, more balloons dropped through the low-hanging gray clouds.

I hold the image and keep it with others. Frank whittling the arrow and feathering it with something a buzzard left. The Black Lab, Trey, who would run anywhere, anytime, into any kind of undergrowth, to retrieve a rock. Four bent backs as the weeding resumed with the one remaining balloon lingering in the background.