- Going back to the land was a powerful declaration of autonomy, and Oregon forest seemed the ultimate terra nullius. Lesbian separatists were similar in some respects to the influx of hippie back-to-the-landers settling in Oregon at the same time. This movement also rejected consumerism and championed downward social mobility. Both groups eschewed private property and sounded early alarms about environmental devastation. And both indulged the colonialist fantasy that rural land was theirs for the taking.
In other ways, however, the land-dykes were very different. They were slightly older, with activist credentials and advanced degrees. They didn’t harbor the suspicion of elders typical in the counterculture; they welcomed the Mountaingroves as they’d welcomed Wittman’s aunt Betty — as matriarchs. The land-dyke collectives were not a druggy lark or an art project, but a serious political endeavor.
Of course, the biggest difference between rural lesbians and their heterosexual back-to-the-land neighbors lay in gender norms. Agrarian communes had a default tendency toward traditional divisions of labor; feminism tended to evaporate off the grid. One memoir, for instance, by a woman in a straight commune near Cabbage Lane, describes the land as “man’s country.” She explains her community’s heteronormativity with a shrug: “Somebody in the couple had to be able to wield a chain saw, build a structure, repair a vehicle.” 28 On lesbian land, that person was never a man.