Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Taylor Camp: Free Expression as Community

photo by John Wehrheim
Walked into one of my local coffee bars this morning, deep in thought, intending to hunker down and work on my book.  Saw a friend focusing on his project in the prime window space.  I knew where that conversation would lead and I was afraid to go there.  I settled into a spot in the other room and he came over and we proceeded to dive into a conversation that led to the Big Q that has been on my mind of late:  The meaning of life, of my life, etc.  This guy is similar in age and like me is forging a new direction after a traditional job/ career.  He works daily on a mathematical explanation that explains the physics of the universe.  We engaged in an hour long discourse on his theories and purpose in writing this paper that seeks to prove the underlying unity of the world.

Aware that there are no accidents and each path offers value if we can see it, I realized that our conversation led to my presenting question of the day.  What is and how do we sustain meaning, after we have experienced fifty or sixty years and the various twists and turns of life?  The topic has been gurgling with me for a couple weeks now.  It came to the surface when the manager of my B & B in Maui mentioned a recent documentary film about Taylor Camp, a ‘back to nature’ community in Kauai in the 70s.  I accidentally happened upon this place while driving around the island in a rented camper with my girlfriend.  We were on our escape to paradise trip, infatuated in love, and free of jobs, school, and home.  The inhabitants welcomed us even though we were complete strangers, we were of the ‘tribe’  We were also young people looking for an alternative to the disillusion and hypocrisy of the post hippie, post Vietnam 1970s America.  They shared their home grown dinner, their lilikoi and vodka punch, and their herb.  The evening evolved into a big camp fire complete with singing, guitar playing, and drumming.   Always a documenter, I made an audio recording of the free form singalong.   It ended with my purchase of a large quantity of another of their home grown products.   I played that cassette once upon return home but then it disappeared never to be found.  And I also lost my connection to that joyous night of spontaneous celebration of life and community.

Fast forward about 35 years to the B & B on Maui.  That rang my bell, woke me up, and like Lazarus I have been walking toward this recovered memory.  Stumbling toward understanding of what this all means for me at this time of life.  I am free as I was at 25, in fact perhaps freer in that the economics of the next month or year are not in question.  Looking at that moment at Taylor Camp activated the deep yearning I have carried all these years.  On the surface it can be seen as nostalgia for youthful freedom from responsibility.  On another level it may be the urge for community or belonging.  And more personally it represents a call to adventure of the unknown, the fresh, the novel and the uninhibited.  Many threads can be seen in this historical experience and they seem to point to the ultimate question, the one that most people have at some time in their lives and the one that my mathematician friend at the coffee bar is tackling.  What is this life all about?   How can I enhance my experience of my life’s purpose?

I have searched for this sense of meaning and purpose in life off and on for many years.  Indeed, the answer is clearly personal.  Ultimately, we all form our own opinions and solutions.  It may be in religion, work, or family.  At this stage of life it seems more pressing since the aforementioned ‘have tos’ are eliminated and the time left is more limited.  My mathematician friend asserts his experience of meaning occurs when “the inner self no long feels separate from its experience.’  That day at Taylor Camp back in the day was like a flashlight shining on my core sense of meaning… free expression as community. 

In subsequent blogs I will share other individuals’ experience of meaning in their lives.  Until then, keep living the dream deferred.


  1. Excellent Ran - thanks for sharing! Nicely written. Did you see the doc? If not, I can send you one. Also available online and FindingUtopia.org.

    Robert C. Stone,
    Director, Taylor Camp

  2. Thanks. That means a lot to me. I have been unable to find it around at any video store anywhere. Please send. I just read the book by John Whyte White. He really knocked it in as placing the whole experience in context of the times. I went through much that he talks about. Taylor Camp is iconic for me, especially so since it did not get mass publicity (on the mainland). I am similar considering a 'pilgrimage' to the site. My personal email: ranklarin@verizon.net. Mahalo!!

  3. Wonderfully said, Ran. I am a refugee, a victim of the Taylor Camp diaspora.
    Luckier than most, a few years after the destruction of our homes, I landed on the Big Island with a large part of my Taylor Camp family intact here in Puna.
    In addition to the film, you may be interested in the Taylor Camp book, which is available thru amazon.com; I believe they even offer free shipping.
    To me, the book is even more satisfying than the film in that I can go back and read narratives over and over and re-see so many people and places through my much older eyes.
    I do appreciate your mission, for it's the mission of so many of us who have lived the dream and now must transform encroaching crankypantsness into self compassion and wisdom.
    Aloha 'oe,
    Francine Pearson

  4. Unfortunately I never experienced your actual Taylor Camp. Eheu! Not brave enough I suppose, to go the whole hog into the adventure back then. + I am a Brit. However I still think I am a Late Bloomer Boomer and feel the same way you guys do, the same regrets and yearnings. I have got shot of a lot of stuff deemed unnecessary and want to spend my last decades being kind and kinda selfishly working on my artwork. Tell me about it!