The Montague Farm auction was scheduled for 11am, and I arrived at 10am to bear witness to all of it and to harvest nettles.
At 10am, it’s just me, the auctioneer, and one of the original commune inhabitants, Sam. I walk towards them carrying a paper bag. “Is that cash in there?” Sam hollers. “No…nettles. If only nettles were a currency.”
Montague Farm –how to describe it? It is a windy, rough, unfinished place that so many people love deeply.
Montague Farm brings out parts of me that need a space like this to emerge –the gleaner, the gatherer, the planter, the tender, the lightning rod, so many early zen tears, cooking. I use(d) the ingredients of my life here.
Where I am standing, the nettle is gorgeous. I’ve never harvested in this patch before by the teacher’s cottage. It has been wonderfully mowed and the cold has done it good. I cut and cut and feel comforted by my task, my plan, my practicality. I want to make edible treats for my neighbors who helped me out when the power went out last week.
More developers. A circle of men in long black coats talk near the barn, out of earshot from where I am. I feel excluded as I harvest. I know I look different from them, and I self segregate. I have two different boots on. I do not look like a developer or banker. I am the only woman here.
My thoughts turn bitter and cynical. I’ll make “foreclosure nettle pesto,” I seethe. This is where we need Occupy Wall Street. Here, as bankers and developers chummy up and make their mark. I don’t want to be excluded from here. I do not like private property. I do not like hierarchy and feeling powerless.
By 10:45am, more cars pull in (Audis, fancy pick-ups, older cars, and some all-terrain four wheelers with maple syrup tanks in back.) People mingle, and I join them. We are hugging, wondering who the bidders are. Many of us have met over the past six months, seeing if we could gather buyers for the Farm or help make a plan to keep the Farm in the community. Susan, Nina, Janice, Karen, Sam, and Tom lived here in the commune days. Clara was born and raised here. The abutters who tap the maple trees in spring arrive, along with other neighbors; the town sheriff Gary who lives next door comes. I see the Zen Peacemakers lawyer Tom who obviously cares for the place; the architects Jeremy and Scott transformed the barn into a sanctuary and now feel deeply connected here. Laurie stands with a young couple and their child. Dennis arrives. Dear Dennis, who lives down the road and whose wildness is like this land. Later when he leaves, he jokes, “Text me!” He has no idea what a text is or how to do it. Neither do I.
Nina, one of the former commune members, insists we all be able to hear the auction, not just those who brought the 25k in cash needed to bid. Before, it seemed they were going to do the bidding privately in the board room inside the barn. Nina convinces them to let us all listen. Just after 11am, on the steps outside the barn’s main hall, the auctioneer starts his litany. I lean on a tree, as we stand in a semi-circle listening, some with their heads down. The language is poetic as he reads the property boundaries: “Beginning at a heap of stones on Sawmill River….north to the Gunn’s Brook so called…Excepting the Ground on which the school house now stands…Being known as the home place.”
Kanji, my dharma brother, shows up in the midst of this. “Kisui!” he yells, and I’m momentarily surprised to hear my dharma name. Our zen teacher Eve gave each of us a name when we made vows to the Buddhist precepts in the Montague Farm Zendo, and I, along with two others, was named partly after the water on this land. Kisui means luminous water. For years, there was a sign in the barn’s bathroom above the sink: “The water here is from our well and is very good.” I loved that sign. The water here is extremely good.
The auctioneer starts the bid at 480,000. A man standing near the auctioneer in a black wool winter coat looks down to the ground, and I dislike him in that moment. I imagine him wanting so badly to win the bid. “Do I hear 490? 480- 480 going once, going twice, going three times. Sold for 480,000.”
We are silent. So quick! Hearts close and weep by the willow planted by Sam and Janice thirty years ago and stepped on by a cow. Grief. Nina rushes up. “Who are you?” she asks the man whose bid has won. The man says Kevin and no one gets his last name. Someone says, “It’s a developer, there goes the hill full of housing units.” I go to the main hall and ask a woman I don’t recognize who she is. She is from the USDA, which had guaranteed Zen Peacemakers’ defaulted mortgage. I think this means the USDA is now in better shape regarding the mortgage. I don’t know. She doesn’t look relieved. It’s probably a mess. Somehow I get clear that the bank, rather than a developer, has bought Montague Farm. “The bank bought it,” I yell to those who don’t yet realize.
People mingle and strategize next steps –could there be a collective offer, another try? The bank will want to sell. People will meet tomorrow. New connections are made. I go back to my paper bag and cut more nettle. Prickly, wild, nourishing nettle.
As the crowd thins, I run up the hill to gather Roxbury apples that I tasted yesterday while walking the land, having considered making an auction bid with my friend Dan. Our bid was much lower than the bank’s 480k purchase, and so we didn’t have a chance this round.
The yellow-brown Roxbury apples are bruised and beautiful. Turns out Nina helped plant the very tree I am harvesting from. Soon my car is loaded up with my gleanings. I’ll make nettle pesto this weekend. I no longer feel a need to call it “foreclosure pesto” but think of “resilience pesto.”
The bank owns the farm. No developers for now. The future is unknown.