Tobie and Neva found each other later in life, both being each others 4th marriage. Neva was born there, once a secretary in DC, she’s now back to her homesteading Oklahoma roots. She’s enchanted by these newer ideas of permaculture and ecovillage styled communal living. Tobie is a kind of hillbilly backwoods man through and through. He chuckles at a lot of these new ideas and kind of just does things the way that make sense to him. The contrast is nice. She wants to open up her family land and invite people to put some kind of a security deposit down and build their own house there, too. Building codes are lax over there, so just about any house could be built.
Yale, Oklahoma, the nearest town to them, was an oil boom town in the early 1900s. Now vacancies checker the buildings along the old downtown main street, some completely abandoned, some with modest active businesses, one second-story spot with the caved in roof visible from the street. Abandoned houses dot the residential streets. The location means that in the 5 years they have been doing this project, although many have come to visit and help out, no one has come to live there or even stay there for longer than a few months.
We ended up at Neva and Tobie's Ecovillage, tentatively named Hidden Hill, on the outskirts of town. In total darkness we pulled into the driveway, facing a 1988 toyota pickup truck with its hood up. A tall wiry scruffy faced man in his early 70’s with a gaggle of barking white puppies and dogs walked towards us. In a few words he greeted us and told us that we could park right where we were. The next morning he and the dogs came back out to us while we were making coffee in the van. He was jovial but relaxed, smiling with a perfect set of teeth that only a great set of dentures could produce, and missing the top most section of one of his thumbs. We said maybe two or three words to him, and he immediately drove into conversation about automotive troubles and conquests he's had while hauling cedar trees on ancient fords and chevys. After about an hour he caught himself talking to much and asked us a cursory question or two about our lives. He left us to our breakfast, and we ate and wondered at what was to come. Next, Neva came out and greeted us with big smiles and wide-eyed bespectacled head nodding when we explained our trip plans. We felt pretty immediately accepted, and were taken on a walk through the woods around the property right away. We forraged puffball mushrooms and heard their plans for the layout of peoples perspective cabins and ecovillage buildings. Unlike any other ecovillage I’ve been to, they’re not on a tight schedule, just doing their thing. Furthermore they just seemed to trust us. It quickly felt like the kind of place where you could look up one day and realize you’d been there a year already. We all found a nice flat place to park the van for our stay and agreed to cobble together a bunkbed for the guest cabin in exchange for some ammenities and some shared meals. Except for the house they live in, all the structures around the place are haphazardly put together in a way which comforted me.
Tobie showed us the various functional and storage structures around the property. He explained at long length about how he built all the buildings by hand with cedar poles from the forest, heavy duty nails and wood from old buildings slated for demolition that he salvaged himself. His stories were rambling and lackadaisical, raising his voice when something even slightly exciting happed.
“The truck wasn’t working too well, but WE PUT THOSE LOGS IN THAT OLD TRUCK AND DRAGGED IT PLUMB FROM THE MIDDLE OF THE FOREST TO WHERE WE STAND RIGHT HERE!” His punchline was a slackjawed dumbfounded smile, almost a trademark of his stories.
He showed us his workshop, full of tools and antique artifacts alike that he kept around as curious things to start conversations. A dumptruck, a dead mercedes and several old ford and toyota pickup trucks of questionable functionality laid dormant in the yard. Chickens, roosters and guinea hens roamed free across the land, pecking at this and that, snatching an occasional insect from between the dead leaves, or perched on a pile of wood or other useful junk strewn about the place. Goats roamed the field beyond the fence below the yard, bleeting and grazing; barn cats appeared trailing Tobie out of no where (a veritable pied piper of animals); the big white Pyranese guard dogs and pups laid lazily basking in the sun in the yard outside house, which was just sandy packed dirt pecked bare by chickens and covered in holes dug by the dogs. Roadkill was strung up on clothes lines, waiting for its turn to be useful like everything else around. Almost every building was askew or sunken in some way. A fat cob oven was tucked behind the house, cracked all over but still functional. A pit was dug out below for an earthship style greenhouse, the dirt-packed tires beginning the walls peeked out from the hillside. Down by the goat grazing field was the beginning foundation of a community building with tall cedar poles raised and waiting, and up by the goat barn was a small milking cabin which had been converted into a place to host working hands coming to stay.
Anyiki and I spent most of our time working in this small cabin. This cabin was horribly dangerous. It had a power supply of 120v with a 100 amp breaker connected directly to an outlet. This household outlet was built to handle about 15 amps and should’ve been wired to a 20 amp breaker. On top of that, the lights in the cabin that were plugged into the deathtrap outlet had exposed hot and neutral cables, meaning that any accidental bump into those wires would result in a horrible burn, and possibly an untimely demise. Tobie told us the fix was temporary, but that it worked and got the job done anyhow. The floor of the cabin was covered loosely in a dirty carpet atop a damp foam carpet pad, with a helter skelter dirt and brick floor beneath that. The walls were sheets of salvaged plywood and paneling cobbled together piecemeal and painted white, the 7’ ceiling some thin paneling beneath a tin roof. It had been intended for a simple milking shed, but with the surprising number of folks from around the world who had shown up there looking for a place to stay and work in exchange for food and a room, they had to re-purpose it into a living space. With all Tobie’s salvaged wood from old houses in town, we had a lot of supplies to build the bunkbeds, and time enough to add some silly artistic elements.
The whole place operated in such a relaxed way, especially for a farm-type endeavor – the days were getting shorter and darker in winter’s approach, and there was never a shortage of things to be done, but rarely a rush about any of it. Like the kind of place you could sit quietly and observe the rustling happenings undisturbed for just about as long as you like.
One morning we awoke to the sound of a pickup truck pulling out of the driveway. When we got to the house in the morning there was a massive deer strung up on a tree with a come-along. The white pups were surrounding it trying to bite its ankles.
Tobie comes out of the house
“Well, we got a deer.”
But we had no time at the moment to skin it - the puppies were being sold tomorrow and they had to be washed. We spent a good deal of time rounding up these white puppies and washing them, removing fleas and ticks, getting the dirt out from inside their ears. Neva would come out time and again, stressing over the job as the approval of the prospective pup-buyer would mean they could afford food for the grown guard dogs for a long while.
“Tobie you caveman! Be gentle with those pups! Don’t get soap in their ears!”
“Make sure to wash them around the asshole.”
A few days later Anyiki and I (mostly her) helped him skin the deer. Blood dripped down the carcass to eager pups waiting to be tossed the scraps. We used a bolt cutter to lop off the less meaty sections of the legs and gave them to the dogs. I was a little squeamish, but Tobie butchered as if he were lazily wittling a twig. Seeing him, it was easier to proceed. We got the backstrap, leg and neck meat, and ribs off the deer, and threw a lot of the smaller or hairier bits to the dogs. The meat was portioned and frozen to stock the reserves for the months to come.
They welcomed us to their Thanksgiving dinner, which was small, warm and tasty.
Tobie took us fishing one day in a small stocked pougnd nearby. Folks in the area would make arrangements with people with ponds on their land for fishing rights in exchange for bringing a few cleaned fish to the pond owner’s door each time they went.
They took us to their small welcoming church, and introduced us. The sermon was surprisingly in accordance with our non-religious views, centering around striving for continuity between your heart and your outward actions, rather than judgement, repentance, or cautionary tales. The folks seemed genuinely glad to welcome strangers, if only for the day and nothing more. A fellow churchgoer named Hugh treated us all to lunch afterwards, at one of the only restaurants in town – a new bustling place called Mugsy’s, opened by a local boy who went off and made some oil money and returned to reinvest in the town.
When asked, “what are you going to do with the rest of your day, Hugh?”
He made an extravagant smoking gesture and said,
“Have a cigar and read the newspaper.”
written and photographed by @anyiki and @meatcomputer
We found the place in the begining of a 5 month van trip spur of the moment via ic.org