And then there’s Ty Tymon’s place, Pangaea Permaculture. In terms of disorganization and lack of structure (and structures), it’s all right. Ty himself looks pretty harmless, a sixties-ish guy six feet tall and thin with long dreds, dressed like a Rasta, always rolling or smoking or finishing smoking a giant spliff. But he’s a former Black Panther and told me a story once of how he went at a guy with nunchucks for crossing him. The first time, I went with Rambler and some other guy, down winding red back roads, turn after turn through the ropes of kudzu, for hours. I had no idea where we were. Time and space telescoped, we were driving the contours of a fractal. Finally there was a dented mailbox, painted red with yellow dots and the address: 202 Tomato Lane. We parked and piled into Ty’s little trailer. I soon realized, once Ty and Rambler got to smoking, that it might be forever before we left. I’m not into pot myself, so the conversation and the ambience bored me yet kept me on edge, much as I tried (as I always try, and always unsuccessfully) to chill. I was also the only female, and though none of these guys were remotely menacing, I was unforgettably conscious of how bepodunked I was. I browsed through the dusty bookshelves that lined the interior, floor to ceiling, and spread on the cushions near the incense. Most were paperbacks from the seventies, about revolutionary black politics, flora and fauna identification, the messed-up institutions of Amerikkka, manure and gardening and alternative building methods, and photo albums of Ty naked with a variety of young women.
I must have looked pretty out of my element, because after a couple hours, Ty handed me a small glass of blood red juice, slightly viscous, which he called elixir. “This stuff is rare,” he said. “My homemade elderberry wine, last bottle.”
“Oh Ann, don’t drink it,” yelled Rambler. “Elderberries are poison. It’ll kill you!” I couldn’t tell whether he was kidding. “It’s my gramma’s recipe,” Ty told me. “Trust me. You just have to make it right. Girl, c’mon. I swear, it’s OK.”
So I drank it. I’m not much of a drinker, and I was raised cautious as a cat, but this stuff was delicious. Deep, sweet, and subtle. I could taste centuries in there. I could taste the land that Ty’s grandmother knew, combed, tended, became. She had gotten it, she owned it, Ty told me, though I don’t remember how. How in hell does a black woman, a medicine woman, part Native American, living in rural Georgia at the turn of the twentieth century, lay claim to land? She must have been as powerful and charmed as Ty himself. More so, even; the heir was probably a dilution. I saw her moving over the land, following game trails, bending to know and to use each plant, even the toxic ones. The rest of the evening was comfortable and warm.
I went one other time to Pangaea, for Ty’s annual New Year’s Eve gathering. When we pulled up, he was making wild hog and venison burgers. He had shot the wild hog himself, as it was ravaging his farm, and his neighbor had bagged the deer, and they had shared. On an iron grate over a wood fire in the sand outside the trailer, he poked at the meat with a stick. The smell was intoxicating. And my admission here, just to show that I too have something at stake in the telling, is that I ate some of that meat. Just as I am fickle in my arts, wandering in my path, and wavering in my career, it should be no surprise that I am an imperfect vegetarian, though rarely. That evening I was in another world, and I took that world’s communion.
We sat around the fire as the dark flowed down, and people came and went: Ty’s neighbors and friends, communards, the bohemian fringe of small towns, and some folks who just knew that there’d be lots of Natty Light. I chatted for a while with a woman wearing pelts—a schoolteacher with a double life. Two locals, a couple unpredictably paired (she was a round ball, and he a long stick, both with strikingly asymmetrical features), groped drunkenly in the shadows. The embers calmed, and I left the circle before the drumming started, and definitely before the dancing. When midnight approached I walked out to the road and found the highest point, the better to be nearer the blazing stars. When hollering, singing, and cowbells rose from the distance, I knew the new year had begun.
I tested out my sleeping bag that night, in a tent I had pitched off the path in the afternoon. It wasn’t as warm as I’d hoped, but I was glad anyhow, as I learned the next day that all who had crashed in the house had slept very poorly. Apparently the stick-and-ball couple with the crooked faces had loudly fornicated all over the property for hours, including romping over beds already occupied by others. But the morning was fresh and in the new light I walked the narrow trails, exploring the hulls of half-finished bamboo yurt frames, pagan sacred circles, and the sparse rows of wintering vegetable patches, where Ty’s grandmother still moved.