A Leo in exile. A one man band.
I don’t know if he still lives in his thirty-five acre abode, deep in the woods of South Carolina, or if he passed away and the woods have started to reclaim him. I don’t remember his real name, confided to me in a drunken night of loud vinyl, too much pot, and a thousand stars shining from the pond in front of his porch. He lived only as he wanted to, a Leo in exile. A one man band.
I met Corey when I was 19 or 20 and he was nearly 60. He had a mess of short, white, curly hair, bright blue eyes, and all the charm of a hippie who had known he was cute all his life. He had a guitar and love affairs with women half his age or less. He drank too much and held forth at the one bar that let him in ( he brought his own beers, you see) about the evils of capitalism, environmental genocide, plastic, the meat industry, and every other topic covered in his monthly Earthfirst magazine, I imagine. He was right. He was just a twat about it.
When you are 20, meeting an older person who has survived, maybe even thrived, by breaking all the conventions and living proudly as themselves, especially in a state like South Carolina in the 1990s — well…it makes an impression. I ended up living in a spare cabin he had built years before, after my brief marriage to Mister Wrong (he was 31, I was 20) ended in less than a year. I stayed with Corey in the woods for longer than my marriage lasted, that’s for sure.
To live there was to learn about the 1,000 years of humus Wendell Berry longed to accrete. It was a lesson in what is right, when you strip away the convenience we have insulated ourselves with. What is right is to take what you need and leave the rest. The first time I hungered for meat, Corey allowed me to catch a fish from his pond. He fed those fish soaked dog food most days. He would walk to the end of his wee, rickety wooden dock, bang the saucepan of dogfood on the dock once or twice and wait a moment. Soon, the fish would come swimming up, his little brown trouts, and nibble the food he threw on the pond. These fish he allowed me to try for. When I caught one and gutted it, he put its heart in my hand, still beating. He told me to thank the fish and eat the heart. I did.
I learned that no human, much less a wildhuman, is ever easy to live around. We all have our quirks. In my twenties, I was probably (definitely)unbearable! We each lived in our own cabins, across the wee pond from one another. Those cabins are a story for another day, perhaps, but the point is, there was space. Space to be myself. He just let me learn about plants, animals, fires, how alternators and inverters work with solar panels, the use of scarab beetle larvae to remove human waste, basic gardening, wild foraging. So many things I learned, so much of his wisdom came in handy as I encountered intentional communities in other places. But mostly I realized that living as a wildhuman in this world can be lonely, that there is no turning back. Whether you live in a commune with a hundred people, or a woods with one other person, it is a path you walk alone most days.
I think of Corey often. Our last letter exchange was years ago. I have moved so many times since, I can’t find the envelope and don’t even know if I can still use his old lover’s address to send things to. Telephone? Pah, you haven’t been listening. No telephone number to call. I will just whisper my well wishes to a Rainbow the next time I see one. Wherever he is, I know they will reach him.