commune tepee

NO-CAR GARAGE A rustic tepee makes a perfect environmentally friendly abode for Cedar Moon resident Bernhard Bach.

But keeping Cedar Moon afloat means more than just writing checks. Space in the commune doesn’t become available often (the newest members have already been there a year), and when there is an opening, it sets into motion meetings, trial runs with potential lodgers, and a screening process that attempts to separate the folks who truly believe in the commune’s goals from those who just think not wearing deodorant for a few months would be “neat.” Compatibility is key, but so are things like keeping a workable ratio of males to females, kids to adults, and couples to singles. And then there’s the issue of sex.

“Living in small spaces with 20 people in their 20s and 30s who are basically awesome,” Bell says, cocking an eyebrow suggestively, “things come up. Some people here are involved in open relationships, others are monogamous. The sexual dynamic is really fascinating, but it means we have to be very open with our communication and accountability. Otherwise, having a community couple break up can be super-awkward.”

Perhaps worse, though, is the frustration that can manifest when your space is limited to the walls of your bedroom. Except for the four separate living quarters in the secondary house, every other square inch of Cedar Moon is communal property. “It’s hard sometimes,” Hogan says. “Everybody is on top of each other, and sometimes you just want to be left alone. Here, that’s not really an option. I’ve been known to hand my kids off to another member of the community and disappear into the park for a while.”

Later in the evening, as the last of the summer’s 100-plus-degree days mercifully cools to a dull simmer, I’m sitting in the long grass with Bell. Goats meander around us, while 4-year-old Ember picks at salted sesame-seed crackers.

“Some people use the term reindigenize to describe us, but I don’t know,” Bell says, slipping the walking boot off and massaging her aching toes. “I think as a community we’re just figuring out where to go as people who were raised in a modern culture, but who want to get back to a different way of life. I want to help build a sustainable culture that will last for generations.”

Perhaps sensing her mom’s point, Ember wriggles out of her clothes. Earlier in the day, she completely blew the minds of a group of middle schoolers when she nonchalantly squatted to pee in the woods during a hike. Now, with no outsiders around, she’s going full-out nature child. Buck naked, she takes a strafing run at the goats, then throws herself over the seat of a nearby swing set. As the sun begins to droop beneath the surrounding cedars, her tiny white fanny arcs back and forth in the air.

Thirty minutes later, I’m behind the wheel staring at a flashing yellow sign hanging over Interstate 5. It’s warning me of a smog advisory. In Portland? It sounds like a mistake, but a quick glance to the right confirms the alert: Mount Hood is barely visible through a thick gray haze, and Mount St. Helens is just a rumor. The only thing crystal clear is the line of taillights leading back toward downtown.

Suddenly, the horror of the composting toilet doesn’t seem so bad.