CARIBOU, ME—Residents of the recently disbanded intentional-living community Harmony's Path said Monday that disputes concerning the shared use of a homemade wool blanket caused the utopian society's rapid undoing.
"We wanted to create a community of peace and social justice based on the elimination of personal property," charter member Michael Schoenkamp said. "However, some of us—particularly those who refused to obey the 'charter members have the blanket at night due to the cold' rule— lost their way. Sadly, those greedy few were able to rend our community asunder."
Based in a hexagonal wood cabin in the isolated backwoods of Maine, the commune's 14 adult and three child members sustained themselves for more than two years by selling almond butter and hammocks at local farmers' markets, and were able to plant and maintain a large vegetable garden and apple orchard until the blanket came between them.
According to Schoenkamp, the blanket, which was woven over the course of several weeks from the shorn fleece of their pet lamb "Walden," initially symbolized the strength and unity of the community that worked together to make it.
"I began to see a little selfishness when we were boiling the cornflowers to dye the blanket," resident Will Fiorentini said. "Kevin [Uhlenbeck], who comes from a very strong paternalistic, Calvinist background, said something about wanting to keep the blanket in his work area, since its creation was his idea."
The commune members decided to vote on where to keep the blanket. The vote, which took place last Saturday, marked the first time in the commune's history that a gathering resulted in shouting.
"Everyone got really upset when John [Abberton] proposed that the blanket be circulated room-to-room in alphabetical order," Fiorentini said. "Actually, I think Paul [Buckner] supported the proposal, but he wasn't allowed to speak, as no one remembered him contributing all that much to the blanket."
Monica Little, a staunch feminist and one of only two adult female Harmony's Path residents, suggested that the comforter should be given to the women.
"I believed the women should have the blanket, not to satisfy the sexist idea that we are frail and deserve preferential treatment, but to correct the imbalance of centuries of patriarchal privilege," Little said.
After many prolonged sessions, commune members drew up a blanket rota that charted the blanket's distribution and gave Dylan Farger first turn with it.
"I had hoped things would return to normal the next morning," resident Mitchell Redding said. "Unfortunately, Dylan showed up and began insisting how he should get to keep the blanket an extra night 'because it wasn't cold enough' the night before."
Redding added, "I always had a feeling it was a mistake to let a traditional Marxist into our egalitarian, nondenominational community."
Despite priding itself on accepting individuals of diverse backgrounds, the commune was once again in conflict on the third night, when Desmond Wright, a lifelong naturist with a clothing-optional lifestyle, was refused his turn with the blanket when other members expressed concern that he would "sweat all over it."
It was when the blanket went missing that commune members held the first ever Emergency Measures Task Force And Tribunal. After what one member described as a "kangaroo court," the "confused and frightened" 64-year-old resident Frank Horwell falsely confessed to having stolen the blanket, which was later found bunched up in the bulk grain bin.
According to Horwell, Phillip Gresham, who oversees the community's garden, used the collective's meager savings to purchase a non-organic, mass-manufactured Polarfleece blanket of his own at a local store.
"That money was supposed to go into installing a new water-purification system in the coming months," resident Amy Bauer said. "We had never had to oust a member of the commune before, but there was little choice left after Phillip refused to share that synthetic monstrosity with the rest of us."
The final blow to the society's cohesion came Sunday morning.
Thomas "Lodestone" Sloane, the commune's founder, who for days had reportedly grown detached and been overheard mumbling, "One must be sacrificed so that the rest may endure," awoke at dawn and walked coatless in below-zero temperatures to the commune's barn. Members discovered him hours later.
"He was just sitting there, covered in blood, gently rocking the decapitated lamb in his arms," Bauer said.
Stephen Mangum, whose blanket turn had finally come the night before, remembers wrapping the shivering and unresponsive Sloane in the blanket that morning. Mangum then packed his bag and took a bus back to his Connecticut hometown, with other residents following suit.
"Perhaps we were more like-minded in our values and beliefs than we ever realized," Mangum said. "The way we allowed a simple material possession to come between us, utterly destroying any hope of fulfilling our idealistic goal, was, if nothing else, truly harmonious."