BRENNA BELL’S LEFT FOOT is harshing my bohemian dream. From about the middle of her left shin to the battered top of her sun hat, she’s the epitome of the 21st-century Earth Mama: tank top, cutoff corduroys, tattoo of the lunar cycle orbiting her right biceps, child at the hip. Her walking stick, with a foggy crystal embedded in the top, has red and yellow ribbons streaming from the handle.
She is, quite unapologetically, a hippie. And not the kind maxing out Mom and Dad’s American Express down on Hawthorne, either. “That word has so many meanings,” the 33-year-old says, popping a freshly picked sprig of dill into her mouth. “But if you mean somebody who’s a free-minded person who lives closely with nature and with other people? That’s what I am.”
But then there’s that foot. While the right one is bare and crusted in a funky shell of sweat and dirt from traversing the trails of her communal home here on the outskirts of Tryon Creek State Park in Southwest Portland, the other is packed inside a hospital-issued, plastic-and-metal walking boot. Limping her way through a garden path choked with bamboo shoots, fennel leaves, snap peas, and various other ready-to-eat flora, Bell rehashes the night three months ago when she wiped out on her bike while speeding down the twisty road toward home. It was dark, and she remembers taking the curve a little too fast, losing control, and hitting the ground. When she hoisted herself up on her elbows, she stared blankly at a foot wrenched 90 degrees in the wrong direction.
So it’s with a smile that she informs me that after being confined mostly indoors for the better part of the last 90 days with a dislocated ankle, she’s officially returning to the fold here at the Cedar Moon commune this afternoon. Not just to the fields—where, like everybody else, she must devote at least 15 hours a week to sowing, seeding, weeding, or other tasks related to education and upkeep—but to the surrounding cedars and firs, where she tends to lose herself for hours teaching her 4-year-old daughter, Ember, the names of the trees and flowers.
Recovery, she insists, would’ve been nearly impossible without the help of the other 15 adults (and 6 children) who call Cedar Moon home. While Bell was laid up, they watched her daughter, cooked, changed her pee bucket, and when the pain medication became too much for her stomach, they even scrubbed the puke out of her bedsheets. “Honestly,” she says, “I can’t understand how people don’t live in a commune.”
As we emerge from the man-made archway of blackberry bramble that signals the end of the Edible Forest Garden, where wine cap mushrooms and fern fronds grow wild, the true beauty of Bell’s home reveals itself in a wide, gently sloping hill that encompasses the bulk of Tryon Life Community Farm (TLC Farm), the five-acre garden maintained by Cedar Moon. Lettuce heads, squash, carrot tops, spindly quinoa towers, cornstalks, and just about any other vegetable or fruit you can think of pop up from the ground as far as a shaded eye can squint. Unseen goats bleat. Chickens cluck. Children with names like Talon and Myrtle laugh just within earshot.