The First Visit to the New World
by Jon Dexter, Geologist
The briefcase full of nuggets convinced us to visit Alabama. It wasn't that our scruples had been overcome by greed or even by curiosity, really; it was that the stranger had provided us with a good enough excuse for why he was keeping secrets.
As a geologist, I quickly established that the nuggets were gold; as a geologist, I also had good reason to doubt that it had come from Alabama. There had been some gold mining in Eastern Alabama, but that mining had mainly involved crushing tons of rocks to produce ounces of ore; gold from there would be in fine flakes rather than in nuggets. But I could also understand why he would want to keep such a strike secret; harder to understand was why he was willing to share it with us.
Saul Clanton and Mark Johnson traveled to Alabama with me and him in one of our VW Microbuses. He took us to a small trailer on a farm in Northeast Alabama between Guntersville Lake and a plateau. I knew I was in a limestone region before I got out of the bus; OK for farming, but no place to find gold deposits. He promised to show us his land the next morning. Since it was not quite dark when we arrived, I asked him if his land wasn't all around us. "This is my land," he said, "but the property I want you to see is somewhere else." Before it became dark, I looked around outside. Between us and the highway was the old foundation of a house. In the opposite direction up the mountainside, there was a faint path through the woods. I followed it upwards, noting frequent outcroppings of oolitic limestone, and found a cave with footprints just inside the entrance. I then walked up past the cave. While the ridge did not look high from the ground below, I found myself running out of daylight long before I reached the top, so I had to turn back. Through gaps in the trees, I could see the ridge on the other side of the Sequatchie anticline and the other side of the lake in the distance, and I gathered that the plateau was just as high on this side as I had seen it on the ride down; that is, perhaps a thousand feet high.
The next morning, I expected us to get into the VW again. Instead, he made sure we had our cameras and led us up the hill to that little cave. I asked him why we would go in there. He explained that the cave would come out on the other side of the ridge where his land was located. I asked him if he found his nuggets by going through the cave. He replied that the source of his gold was on the other side. I motioned for Saul and Mark to come over to talk to me away from him. Although our host did not know it, my two companions had been selected on the basis of their strength as we still did not quite trust him. I explained to them that I was convinced that he was lying to us. This cave could not possibly extend through the mountain, and there was no possibility of finding any gold in this region. However, we decided to play along with him but to keep very close and not give him a chance to get us into a trap, pull a weapon, or whatever he had in mind.
As soon as we entered the cave, he picked some flashlights off of a flat shelf and gave them to us. We proceeded down a slope, across a low flat, sandy stretch, then into a smaller side tunnel that wound around into another main passage which seemed like the one we had left, except the entrance ahead was level with the passage rather than up a slope. His story about coming out on the other side of the mountain was now ludicrous as we had traveled less than a hundred yards. I nodded a warning to one of the others, and then we walked out into a completely different world.
In clambering down into the cave, we had been moving north. Now we walked out heading south (I could see the sun to the southeast). Above us was a clear sky with puffy white clouds, yet we had entered the cave in overcast weather just five minutes ago. To the east was the same mountainside I had seen across the valley the night before, about four miles away. Around us were impressive trees. We walked down the hill to discover massive trees, one of which was hollow with a door and window cut into it. He opened the door and pulled out a rifle. "Don't worry about my shooting anything," he said, "This is just for self-protection from wild animals." He then suggested a hike to the river.
As we made a mile or so hike to the river, we had many other clues that something strange was going on. There were far too many bird cries above and too many animal tracks beneath. We didn't cross the highway or see any sign of Guntersville Lake. I never once heard a car, train, or airplane. However, we were on what seemed to be a heavily traveled trail, not faint like the one going into the cave. We skirted a small hill and then followed a gap through a small resistant ridge of reddish, loose sandstone which paralleled the edge of the river. Then we continued down to a wide flat area with much smaller trees and lots of shrubs, the flood plain of the river. The river itself was a powerful stream, about a thousand feet wide, without the slightest sign of human habitation. However, in the water near the shore were several small alligators (for a while, I was telling everyone they were crocodiles). We kept our distance. As we walked down the river, some large animals on the other side caught our attention. I borrowed our host's binoculars to confirm what I could hardly believe: the animals were elephants! Some were very busy pulling down branches along the shore while others were in the the water, blowing water over their backs. No zoo that I knew would have so many!
Saul and Mark were also quite excited and even somewhat scared while our host seemed to be tickled at our reaction. He used this opportunity to announce to us that he owned everything we had seen. Mark asked him, "But where the hell are we?" He replied, "You see why I couldn't explain back in Pennsylvania or even back in Alabama?" He offered to answer some, but not all, of our questions on our walk back.
On the way back, we learned that he had discovered a way to travel from our world to his world and that his world was not in a different time or place but was virtually identical to our own. He told us that he had tried living in his world by himself, but he had been too lonely, and now he wanted to share it, but only with those who were responsible and willing to accept his conditions. I asked what those conditions were, and he replied that his visit to us had already made him feel certain that we would not find his conditions to be a problem; however, he didn't have them written down or anything. "One obvious condition is to be careful who you tell about this."
We went right back to the cave and on through and down to his trailer. I immediately phoned the store. As soon as Judy came to the phone, I explained that we needed a lot of other people immediately and gave her a list of names. She protested that some of those people were far too busy to take off for Alabama right now. I told her that the trip to Alabama was more important than anything else they could possibly be doing. She asked me if it had anything to do with the gold; I told her I had been so astonished by what I had seen that finding the gold source had completely slipped my mind. She immediately wanted to know the details. I told her that I could not give details because she wouldn't believe me; the only solution was to bring down the people I requested. I told her that I would send either Saul or Mark back that day with our bus to help bring people and their camping gear down.
Well, that night the phone kept ringing, and I kept insisting that I couldn't explain for good reasons but that no one would be disappointed if they came down. I also kept insisting, "Yes, I need you too, and you will want to be here."
It was a couple of days before anyone started down; they had to wait for Saul's bus to arrive, and they needed the time to get ready. After Saul arrived, they pumped him for all they were worth without learning anything (I warned him), and then two microbuses came down together, taking a couple of days to get here.
We had quite a procession through the cave, only this time the weather was pretty on our side and rainy on the other. But no one was disappointed or complained, even though we didn't see any "crocodiles" or elephants this trip, although we saw signs of their presence. Most realized something was odd almost as quickly as I had. Beth Godwin, our biologist, had a fit as soon as she saw a tree near the cave entrance: a huge, disease-free chestnut. She told us that all the American chestnuts had been destroyed by the blight 35 years earlier; yet here was an extraordinary specimen of that very tree. Rather than walking quietly as we had, everyone on this trip kept asking questions about what we were seeing, all the way to the river and back.
Down the hill from the trailer were the foundations of a house, around which we had placed our tents, and that night, we all gathered together there, sitting on the foundation walls, for a good discussion.
We insisted on more information from the Founder (as he was later called to hid his identity) than what he had given us, and he finally said he would tell us more if we would agree to some of his conditions first. Doug Lance told him that we could only bind ourselves to such an agreement, not our whole community. However, we could make the following agreements: first, we would agree to respect his rights and not take his discovery away from him by force; second, we would keep his secret, letting others in our community know only as much as was absolutely necessary; third; we would be honest and straightforward, stating openly any doubts or reservations we felt. Fourth, we would let him make the final decision in the event of any disagreement between us and him.
He was impressed with these terms, and after checking to see if we all agreed to them and getting Judy to write them down and having each of us sign them, the Founder told his whole story, sometimes stopping to answer questions that helped us understand the nature of the loop and of the New World.
After he finished his account, he said that he wanted for the New World to be settled, but he did not want us to repeat the same mistakes made in the old world. He wanted a secret, separate, self-sufficient, utopian community that would agree to protect its natural heritage forever. He admitted that he did not know all the answers to what such a community should be like and that perhaps none of us did either; nonetheless, he wanted a clear contract that had to be adhered to. He felt that since he was offering us an entire world that he had a clear right to make demands in return.
When we asked him about his demands, he mentioned several ideas of his. He didn't want any automobiles or anything else that required a combustion or petroleum-powered engine. He was opposed to the production of dangerous chemicals or byproducts. He wanted the beauty of the forests and the habitats of the wild animals to be guaranteed forever. In particular, he felt that the trees on the mountainsides should never be cut, the shores of rivers, lakes, and oceans should never be developed, and that marshes and swamps should be left alone. He also did not want any industrial, residential, or farm wastes to be dumped into rivers. We should also work very hard to prevent violence and crime, and we should attempt to create a world in which future wars would be unlikely.
He felt that we were the ideal people to accomplish his goal, and we agreed on that point. Nonetheless, it was very clear that we would have major issues to resolve. After several had voiced strong support for his terms or had suggested problems with them, the discussion broke up into little groups, each having their own discussion. After some minutes, Doug interrupted everyone. He suggested that we take several days to think about the situation, also using some of the time for exploration in the New World. And he suggested dividing into several groups, each group with a separate responsibility. Each group would report its progress at dinner each night to get feedback from the others. Group one would work on a specific, detailed contract with the Founder, group two would come up with suggestions for how we would settle the New World, group three would look at the problem of recruiting new people, and group four would figure out how we could travel back and forth between the worlds without drawing attention to ourselves. At the end of three days, we would finish and return to Pennsylvania. His plan was adopted, we formed ourselves into groups with the amended understanding that everyone should contribute useful ideas to every group, and we began our new tasks.
The next three days were very busy indeed, with a number of trips into the New World and with various group sessions. Our Founder began to show signs of discomfort at being the center of constant questions, discussions, and arguments, so Judy took time to go on long walks with him. She told me that he needed to be in a T-group with us, but that he could easily feel overwhelmed, so it would be better to try to make close friends with him individually.
Over the three days, group one discovered some of his attitudes about his discovery which we had agreed to respect. He would not agree to letting us make any experiments on the piece of plastic he had discovered or on the field it produced, but he did agree to let us examine it if, and only if, it failed. He was almost fatalistic about such a failure; he was much happier with the idea of the two worlds being forever separated than with the idea of free and easy passage between them. In fact, he wanted a clear cut-off date beyond which the loop would never be used. He would allow us to add an automatic power back-up for the loop, and he was strongly in favor of greater protection against someone trying to seize it. He refused to let us take the risk of traveling to Europe or Africa to look for signs of people in his world. He also did not want us to move the entry site to Pennsylvania; however, he would agree to its being moved from his grandparents' farm in the future, if necessary, but only if we did not move it beyond the extent of our settlement. That meant, in effect, that we could move it to Pennsylvania or anywhere else provided our settlement had reached that far.
Group one also explored his expectations of our community in the New World. He was not in serious conflict with any of our solutions, and he was willing to incorporate some of our ideas into his charter. He did not care what level of civilization we aimed for: cavemen, hunter-gatherers, 18th century pioneers, or modern technologists were all the same to him. On the other hand, he demanded an entirely different relationship between man and Nature. He felt that all past civilizations had been too ignorant and too destructive; even the American Indians had wiped out species and destroyed forests.
Finally, group one established that the Founder was suspicious of democracy and change; he saw history as the shadow of a few great men. He wanted a strong charter in the hands of a limited number of people. In fact, he insisted that those of us there (which happened to be a dozen) should receive his charter, not the whole community. Here we disagreed; however, we felt we had no choice in the matter but to respect his wishes. However, we felt it would be absolutely necessary for the new community to be operated democratically; only the control of movements between the two worlds must be controlled by a small group, and he agreed to this, provided our laws could not easily be changed. If he had not agreed to general democracy, I don't see how we could have continued. We also suggested, and he agreed, that the twelve be rotated. He suggested that one person should be replaced each year and that all of the rest must agree on the replacement. To solve the problem of protecting land from development forever, we suggested a zoning scheme and finally agreed with him to the following compromise: one third of all land could be used as we wanted, as long as we avoided erosion, pollution, strip-mining, or dumping; one third could be used partially, with roads, timber-cutting, grazing, and occasional buildings allowed but no change in forest or ground cover; and one third could not be used or changed at all, except for hiking and other recreational activities, with some trails and shelters allowed. He wanted the area within one mile of the hollow tree to be set aside for his use only, except for our route through it to settle the New World.
Group two, during this time, decided that the level of civilization we could reach would depend on the number of inhabitants we could supply. Our present community, although quite self-sufficient compared to most, was still only able to produce food, clothes, and a small amount of finished goods. If it was us and only us who moved to the New World, inbreeding might cause medical problems within a few generations. Unless we would be willing to settle for a much less advanced society, making a fully independent community would require decades and tens of thousands of newcomers. To some extent, in settling the New World, we would be re-creating civilization. In addition to our need for human resources, we would also have to spread across the continent and oceans in order to acquire mineral resources, such as iron, copper, lead, aluminum, tungsten, and oil (for lubrication only), and in order to grow tropical crops, such as rubber and bananas. We would have a tremendous advantage over the the pioneers that had settled America: we had knowledge of improved techniques in nearly every area; maps of all the terrain, deposits, forest, species, and soil types; and advanced equipment from microscopes to digging machines and the designs for most of that equipment. Rather than having to invest in prospecting and research, we would have to invest in gathering already available information.
Group two, in keeping with the aims of our community and the values of our Founder, did not want us to adopt a high-tech wasteful society like the one we were living in. Instead, they wanted us to adopt a slower pace of life and a less property-oriented society, but they did not see any value in abandoning technology where it was effective at solving problems. Of course, we would have to forgo many technological advances due to difficulty or high cost.
Group two also considered the need for trade between the two worlds. For everything of value that we moved from the old world to the new, we would have to either earn the value on this side or send some product of ours back. The members suggested another and larger trip to California the next summer to bring back a much greater amount of ore. This time they suggested that the gold be sold slowly, in small amounts, as needed, to maintain our trade balance. They also felt that after colonization had begun that our best source of income would be through the sale of lumber or products made from lumber, as we would have many acres of forest to clear to produce crops. They suggested that the sale of furniture in particular would be a good choice. The Founder was somewhat unhappy with our taking another trip to California; however, he admitted that as a community, we would face many of the same economic problems he had faced as an individual and agreed that we could make a one-time trip for that purpose.
Based on group two's decision that we would need large numbers of people, group three decided that we must recruit hundreds or even thousands of newcomers each year. They felt that the new people should spend at least six months acquiring an understanding of our ways, training for work, and learning to understand their personal social-psychological needs and problems through encounter groups. They suggested immediately establishing other communities around the country in order to rapidly increase our numbers. They predicted that, with interest in country and alternate lifestyles awakening and with protest against the Vietnam War increasing, our opportunities for new recruits would increase. They suggested that before looking elsewhere that we first contact the young people who had left our community for better opportunities, as we could offer them abundant opportunities now, and that we also recontact those who had inquired about joining our group in the past, especially those who had stayed in contact over the years, and that we also try to enlist our friendly associates elsewhere.
Group four decided that the cave method of hiding the connection between the worlds was too easily discovered, too inconvenient, and was very likely immediately dangerous to the chestnut trees. They proposed that we cover and protect the cave entrance on both sides and keep someone on duty with the loop at all times, and that we carefully screen objects and people passing into the New World to prevent the entry of plant, animal, and human diseases.
They also suggested that we then move on to building what would appear to be a trucking company headquarters on this side. Trucks could come and go with cargo but would appear to be merely refueling when they stopped here. Goods traveling to the New World would be inspected and disinfected. Vehicles with passengers would arrive in the night without stopping nearby, so they wouldn't arouse suspicion, and so the passengers would not have a clear idea of where they were. There they would transfer to transportation that would carry them through the loop. The person tending the loop would control it from the other side. Using a small loop, he would monitor our side from a safe vantage point to ensure that everything was OK, and then he would open the main loop briefly to allow passengers or cargo to pass. We also might need air locks and to wash everything that went through to the other side.
As the number of people increased on the other side, we would have to become more self-sufficient to keep the traffic constant. If it kept increasing, we would eventually draw attention to ourselves.
One possible suggestion was that we might use a trolley system on the other side, but group four thought we should wait to check that idea out first with Elmer Walker, our technology and trolley expert.
During these days of discussion, some of us theorized about the loop and the nature of the New World. The most plausible theory was advanced by Dan Hopkins, who argued that the New World was not an alternative world. If it had been such, it should not be so similar to ours even if separated just 30,000 years ago; instead it seemed to be another side to our world through another dimension. As Dan later wrote:
Think about a two-dimensional creature living on a flat surface. Although he can perceive only front and back and left and right, he is still in a three-dimensional world and at any moment, he is a short distance away from an alternate world that is virtually identical to his own -- the other side of the surface he lives on. In the same way, we might be living within a dimension or dimensions that we cannot perceive. In fact, we know we are, since space is curved and the universe is expanding; they cannot be curved in or expanding into ordinary space. We also know that there is more matter in the universe than we can detect. Perhaps this matter is located within invisible dimensions. The fact that there is a one to one correspondence between the two worlds -- suggests that two universes exist virtually on top of one another. Therefore, the loop, rather than transporting us to a new location, may be just taking us to an invisible side of our old location. Although matter and energy cannot normally and freely pass between the two worlds, perhaps they do under some circumstances, of which the loop is an undisputable example. Gravity, and perhaps other atomic forces, treats the two worlds as one; thus, mountain building and erosion are almost identical on both sides. In addition, small amounts of matter might be exchanged from one side to the other keeping the mineral resources the same in both worlds. Lightning blasts and/or other phenomena may carry whole plants, animals, and even humans across, keeping species similar on both sides. Thus, we have two separate worlds that share the same creatures and topography. This same theory can also account for some of the mysterious events that happen in our world, such as the disappearance of people.
Some objections were made to this theory. Some felt that if the theory were true, there ought to be humans on both sides. Others felt that if it were true, animals should have crossed from that side to this side or at least the chestnut blight should have crossed to that side. Several suggested, but no one claimed credit for the theory, that the two worlds were identical at some time in the past, maybe as short as twenty thousand years ago but are now drifting further apart. Before either theory can be proven, a great deal more must be learned. The discovery of anything from the old world in the new that was not carried across by us would prove the first; the lack of any such evidence would eventually validate the second. Whether people may exist elsewhere in the New World would be an important matter for future exploration.
On the third evening, we wrote up and signed the final version of the charter. We agreed to present the proposals to the Community and, if we were successful, to begin massive recruiting of colonists, to return in a month to begin work, and to send a second group to California at the beginning of the next summer. Then we went back to Pennsylvania.
Back in Pennsylvania, to help resolve the issues more quickly, we invited the whole community to meet at the schoolhouse. The whole group of us who had visited Alabama (and who were now Gatekeepers) sat facing our audience. Doug told them about the Founder, the New World, and the charter, and we showed slides as proof. Some of the slides (loaned by the Founder) showed herds of elephants (actually mastodons), the giant sloth, alligators, and rare plants. Others showed our explorations as well. We also volunteered to show them the New World, but we did not include any specific details about how we got there. While the idea was unbelievable, the fact that all of us believed it helped sell its reality. For the most part, everyone was excited and quite happy about the new opportunity. However, the charter raised some issues. A few were unhappy about the prohibition against any combustion or petroleum-fueled engines. They pointed out that chainsaws and bulldozers would make clearing land much easier than using handsaws and ox carts and that, later on, airplanes would be much more useful than balloons and gliders. There was a greater concern about the undemocratic nature of the charter and its administration. They felt that the twelve people chosen to administer the charter would have too much power. We defended these limitations by pointing out 1) we did not have a free choice, 2) we were mostly officers and would be acting as officers in our new capacity, and 3) the twelve would each serve a maximum of twelve years, with one replaced each year. We also pointed out that they were perfectly free to reject the charter or to ask for further clarification.
Finally, the various neighborhoods voted and agreed to accept the charter as written. Some people could not accept the charter as written and thus could not travel to the New World, but they agreed to keep our secret and to help us. Besides them, there were a number of others who did not wish to move to the New World for other reasons, but who would also support us.
We next presented our plans for how to proceed. These also generated some debate, so we divided into four groups for discussion in different rooms. Out of these discussions came some refinements in our plans, and also a very important proposal. This proposal, by Alice Hepfield, was that since we were colonizing a new world, we ought to think very clearly ahead of time and create "new ways of doing everything." Someone, for humor I think, asked if her suggestion meant men should wear dresses there. Alice replied quite seriously that she saw nothing wrong in making style changes, if that suited us, but that she was more concerned with more important changes. She said that most change in the world had happened without any planning, and this created a lot of inefficiency and waste. Now, for the first time, we had a good opportunity to look ahead and to plan how we wanted to live. She suggested forming committees to look at weights, measures, uniform part sizes, spelling, government, money, and any other features we felt were important. Her proposal was not acted on immediately as we had more pressing concerns, but we agreed to form such committees as soon as practical.
With the number of tasks facing us, we felt a great challenge. One problem was that we needed very capable people working at many tasks at once -- constructing a station, building a few new trolley cars (Elmer had thought that trolleys made good sense), creating a community in the New World, mining for gold, recruiting newcomers, increasing production, developing a new sense of what we were, learning new tasks, and organizing everything. For a community that had reached a comfortable plateau many years ago, all this change was traumatic, producing yet another problem. Tension was also created by our recognizing that the next two or three years would probably be the most important in the new colony, influencing events for many years to come. However, we were also excited, invigorated by this new opportunity. Everyone felt more important, more needed. We also felt very special, and we felt that our lifestyle would finally have a chance to flourish and show its capabilities.