Soon after Nancy and the Gipper won the White House, March of 1981, I fled Ronnie’s trickle-down economics by heading toward Kingston to a little run-down farmhouse and a few out buildings, a place called “Dandelion.” It was an unassuming commune in the middle of nowhere, at the end of electric poles. I presumed Canada would be beautiful, scenic everywhere, but in this part of Ontario, the landscape was flat, perpetually sodden, and gray.

About ten Canadian and American twenty-something men and women lived and worked together there weaving hammocks, tending an impressive garden, pressing unpasteurized cheese, smoking a little pot now and then, and generally attempting to live a simple, peaceful, egalitarian life according to the behavioristic utopia depicted in B. F. Skinner’s Walden II. The cultivation and expression of nonviolence with an absence of hierarchy was a daily ambition. Initially I thought this was my moment; here is where I might fit. Dandelion might be the place where I would find an authentic sense of self – to pursue my ideals. And just maybe find love.

After a few months, I was not so sure Dandelion was the best alternative for me. Despite the aspiring principles, the residents remained startlingly human. The politics of couples, the influence of intimacy, ruled the place though power was camouflaged by rhetoric and passive-aggressive justifications. Of course, there was no overt hostility. Displeasure was manifested through indifference. No one yelled, the expression of any angst discouraged, but jealousy was a constant and pervasive thread. If you weren’t hooked up, you were adrift. There was, most definitely, no free love – and I am not referring to sex, just simple camaraderie. A bit of tenderness now and then would have been nice. I threw myself into jerry-rigged construction projects to prove my worth and my commitment, to be accepted and well-liked, but no one seemed to be paying any attention.

Bronwyn and I were single leftovers, uninterested in each other, but milked the cow together. She was usually sullen – admittedly depressed and bulimic before she arrived – problems with her father and men in general. The contrast of my persistent buoyant moods was unwelcome. We pulled on the teats in silence, our knuckles banging against each other, our heads pressed against the cow’s warm flanks as if it might be easier to speak through its belly. She existed outside the orbit of pairs and avoided most everyone, and everyone easily obliged.

I guessed at one time, upon her arrival, she made an effort to fit in. Perversely, when she left, the entire community turned out to see her off and wish her well. They were genuine in their sentiments, the women playfully mooning her at the end of the lane; but it was much too little and far too late. Bronwyn’s expression was anger and humiliation, and I thought I was the only one to recognize and wince at her pain. She started walking down the road and would hitch-hike eventually, but the main highway was miles away. Why didn’t someone drive her to Kingston?

All the buildings were named after beans. I slept in Tamari, the residence building. Sprout was for children. I was weaving a hammock in Aduki, the industry shed, one morning when one of the resident wild cats dropped a baby rabbit, a gift, at my feet, and when I declined the present, ate it while it still breathed. I thought it was strange that the bunny did not make a sound as it was being devoured. Growing up on an Ohio farm, this was not shocking; but it was a startling bit of violence given the community’s mission. Would a meeting be called to discuss the cat’s aberrant behavior? Sean abruptly rushed into the shop shouting, “Turn up the radio! They shot Reagan! They shot Reagan!” He danced around the hammock rigs in exuberant glee, his face pure, unabashed joy, more emotion than what I saw from anyone in weeks.

I was stunned. I wondered if a presidential assassination party was on the schedule. Would there be a planning committee? A cake? There must be cake. At twenty, politics was rarely on my mind though I knew my sentiments and lifestyle were obviously liberal, a far cry from the hawkish conservatives in the U.S. government threatening Star Wars and tactical nuclear deployments in Europe. I was no fan of Reagan. But here was a man whose body was pierced, whose life was jeopardized, with bullets from a gun, our overly and increasingly convenient expression of rage and mania. “They” shot him. Who was “they?” Which “they” was to be congratulated? Was anyone else harmed?

Later I learned of James Brady who caught a bullet in his head, Timothy McCarthy of the Secret Service who deliberately made himself a target, getting hit in his lung and liver, and Thomas Delahanty, a DC police officer, shot in his neck, the bullet ricocheting off his spine. All because John Hinkley wanted to impress Jodie Foster. At Dandelion I discovered I could not take delight in the suffering of others no matter how remote they may be, what they believed in, or what they represented.

Dandelion was all worthwhile, I suppose; however, after four months of hammock weaving, I determined that people were about the same everywhere and that my ideals could be actualized most anywhere – even Ohio. Oh sure, we laughed, we all had fun now and then, and everyone was oh-so-very-nice; but I didn’t find love at Dandelion. What I learned about the dynamics of groups and organizations and their inevitable dysfunction would be priceless in my future – in family, social circles, and employment. In academia, I witnessed these same scenarios replayed again and again. I was oddly grateful to Dandelion for the demolition of my naivete and the crystallization of my value for compassion and the wisdom and necessity of affection.


David Sapp, writer, artist, and professor, is a Pushcart nominee. His work appears widely in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Publications include chapbooks Close to Home and Two Buddha, a novel Flying Over Erie, and a book of poems and drawings titled Drawing Nirvana.