“You want me to first build the tree houses and then design them?” Pilgrim said, but he was not surprised. It was just this type of impossible task he was good at. And thus i would often ask him for these things.
6 weeks later with the help of all manner of volunteers and Acorners there were 7 different tree houses in the Acorn backyard. Pilgrim was never shy of work, because he was so fast at so many things, he reveled in it. It defined him as someone who could get things done, including difficult things often with surprising haste.
Pilgrim came to Twin Oaks in the late aughts and we became fast friends. In his relatively short time at Twin Oaks he did many significant construction projects at several of our buildings. Basically single handedly he did a major overhaul of Degania, our principal education building. He tricked out various rooms, including his own, which had a Hawaiian theme and fancy stairs to the loft. Later, in a too-short visit, he taught us how to mud drywall in our hospice-style addition, as we marveled at his speed and patience with our technique.
It was not his handiness or speed he will be remembered for though. His name gave the biggest clue. He was a Pilgrim, he was traveling from place to place looking for the truth, his truth. A place that could accommodate him as the hard working, hard partying person he was. He lived in a bunch of communities and tried to start some in this search.
He lived at Twin Oaks for a while, but ultimately the rules and bureaucracy got him down. He moved to East Wind where he helped build the ambitious but ill fated Villages in the Sky festival project. East Wind’s more pioneering mindset and rugged living was closer to Pilgrim’s style. As Deborah (who founded East Wind and Acorn and lived at Twin Oaks for many years) was fond of saying “I know there are problems at East Wind; they are just problems I am better at managing than the ones at Twin Oaks.” Pilgrim’s hard partying style fit comfortably at East Wind, where his ability to repair buildings quickly elevated him to minor hero status. But he was not through searching.
Pilgrim wanted a place which would model sustainable living and while East Wind (like Twin Oaks) is dramatically more sustainable than almost any place in the US, Pilgrim was looking for more and went to Ecuador with a shipping container of tools and supplies in hopes of building a better world there. He learned a bit of Spanish, directed international crews of volunteers working on tropical gardens and other sustainability measures. But too many variables were out of his hands for this situation to work for him, he was dependent on land owners being generous, had to balance tricky visa situations, and was perpetually willing to do too much work for too little compensation.
He returned to the States, where a new possibility called. Pilgrim had a famous green thumb. In Florida where he spent a bunch of time, there were all manner of impressive gardens he had started and developed at family members’ houses. So when Colorado decided to legalize recreational marijuana he called me up and said he wanted to try again to start a community, with cannabis growing at the center and the US based Stardust project was born. Pilgrim chose the name.
Despite his significant skills and an impressive crop in the first season, there are way too many ways to fail at growing pot and we hit a bunch of them, including theft. Stardust collapsed and our ragtag collection of members scattered across the country, many returning to the communes from where we had drawn them.
Turns out i don’t have any pictures of Pilgrim, which is a bit ironic because i have a bunch that he took. He was a gifted photographer amongst his many other talents. But he was not interested in capturing images of himself, he was modest in this way.
I have clear memories of both sides of Pilgrim: the guy who got me to build a heavy fence with him in Savannah, faster than i think i have ever worked before, and the guy kicking back with a beer at the end of the long day, enjoying the music and conversation. He was only a part time workaholic, who understood that you needed to relax deeply to appreciate what the work brings. In the end, i fear those beers took Pilgrim from us too soon.
In an effort to travel cheaply, I skipped my last chance to see him in Florida this last Christmas. I will always regret not seeing him one last time. And now finally, after years of fixing, building and making things better this craftsman can take his well deserved break.