The Hermit of Budelli — and the Hermit in Me

Top 5 Things You’ll Learn If You Read This Whole Thing.

  1. The location of Budelli Island. And Sardinia. And Corsica.
  2. What ‘Spiaggia Rosa’ means.
  3. The sad story of Bucky.
  4. What I found when I went back to the commune.
  5. The amazing story of Mauro Morandi.

Mauro Morandi just wanted to be away from all this.

I get that. I’ve been there — perhaps for vastly different reasons than Mauro and for a much, much shorter time, but yeah… I get it.

The year was 1989, and Mauro was attempting to sail to Polynesia from Italy in a catamaran when its engine fell apart. He and his boat washed ashore on a tiny speck of land called Budelli Island between Sardinia and Corsica — and then he just… stayed.

So a disclaimer: Yes, I had to look up in my friendly Hellhole Canyon Preserve library where exactly this was. Hippie Mom, she of the butt-length wavy blond hair and constant wearer of culturally appropriated moccasins, might have been a great homeschool teacher, but her curriculum on the commune, while heavily centered on the all-encompassing love of Mother Earth, didn’t include much on the Great Mother’s features outside of the state of California.

If you leave Rome, head west and somehow obtain the ability to walk on water, you’ll eventually see two huge islands. One of them is Sardinia. To the north is Corsica. And in between, so tiny that you just might miss it, is Budelli.

Back to Mauro.

When he landed on Budelli, he found just one other person, an old man who said he was the island’s caretaker. It was a good gig, the man told him, but he was old and couldn’t do what he used to do, which amounted to tending to sand, rocks, plants and animals while making sure tourists, miscreants, ne’er-do-wells and interlopers didn’t disturb the same.

So Budelli said, “I’ve gotcha, bro.” He sold his boat, said goodbye to the old caretaker and moved into the World War II-era shelter overlooking the island’s bay.

For three decades, Mauro was the sole resident of Budelli. Oh sure, at first, tourists would come for the day and be a general pain in the ass, trampling much of the grandeur of Spiaggia Rosa — pink beach — with their flip-flops. Maura would politely say the island equivalent of “get off my lawn!” while trying to educate the visitors on why they couldn’t swim there or sink their feet into the environmentally protected sand.

But when night fell, the visitors would leave, and it was just Mauro and the island.

Day after day after day. Night after night after night.

There were afternoons of brutal summer heat, weekslong frightening storms and many, many idyllic island days, each of which Mauro welcomed in utter silence. For months at a time, especially between tourist seasons, Mauro said nothing, not a word. He simply was. And he was happy.

Returning to the Commune

As longtime fans of good-old Q.F. and “The Crazy Life” know, I grew up in a secluded commune amongst the redwoods in Northern California, a self-sustainable community filled with hold-on hippies and their families.

And then I left.

It was 1988. I was 17. I left in the middle of the night, shouldering a backpack with all the things I counted as “mine” and walked toward the town we visited only for supply runs a few times a year. A few hours into what I expected to be months of foot-time, a beat-up old Volkswagen bus straight out the 1970s passed by with a putt-putt-puttering diesel engine belching noxious dark-gray smoke. Its brake lights bathed me in red as it stopped about 100 feet ahead. The back door popped open and a middle-aged man with scraggly brown hair in white-guy dreads wearing a plain black T-shirt, fringed brown vest and acid-washed jeans popped out.

He was wearing yellow-lensed glasses, I noticed as I walked cautiously toward him while he simply stood there, silently, a smoldering cigarette that was burned nearly to the filter hanging loosely from his mouth.

He was stoned. This I could recognize easily from my time on the commune, where grandparents, parents and, depending on their medical conditions, sometimes even the teens often spent a few hours each evening with the same care-not look my soon-to-be friend had on his face.

I stopped about five feet away from him at the back of the VW bus, and we both stood there in awkward silence, him looking me over in quiet contemplation about any potential danger I posed while I did the same to him. Then, with only a tiny motion of his head back over his left shoulder, he offered me a ride. I accepted.

This is how my new life began.

Five years later, I had, among other adventures, attended and dropped out of college, worked as a snake collector for an anti-venom operation, met the love of my life and married her.

Flaca was a dream. I met her two days after I left the commune, and I knew from the second I saw her that she was The One. It took her a month or two to realize this same Truth for herself, but once she did, we walked gently and peacefully on the path we knew would end in marriage.

There’s an old saying from where I grew up… You can take the person out of the commune, but you can’t take the commune out of the person. (We didn’t use many gender-specific pronouns where I grew up.) I had seen it happen again and again… dreamy young people disappearing from the fold one day, only to return a few days, weeks or, at most, months later. And we always welcomed them back with open arms. Sometimes, we reasoned, people needed to experience the outside world for themselves to realize exactly what we had created in our little patch of redwoods.

I can remember exactly one person during my time on the commune who left and never came back. Her name was Bucky, and, no, that’s not a misspelling of Becky. Bucky had fiery red hair and a matching disposition. If she wasn’t screaming and yelling she was crying or bitching about something, and she’d been that way from the moment she was born, her Hippie Mom would say. She was 21 when she left, and all the more irritating. Most of us realized she was gone on a cold February morning only because breakfast, for a change, was quiet. Bucky had been on quite a tear of late, and we’d spend morning after morning after morning listening to her argue with her partner, Windswept, about everything from the upcoming daily chores on the commune to the ingrown toenail that just wouldn’t respond to our hippie treatments.

So one morning, we sat there eating our oats listening to the sounds of the forest when someone realized we could actually hear said sounds of the forest uninterrupted and said, “Hey. Where’s Bucky?”

Admittedly, most of us just shrugged our shoulders and went on enjoying the reprieve. But then Windswept came bursting in two minutes later with her hair flying all over the place, screaming, “She’s gone! She left a note! She’s gone!” So we did what commune folk do, which is take care of our own. Windswept nervously read us the two sentence letter: “I can’t do this anymore. Goodbye.” and then we wrapped her in hugs and comfort.

Three months later, word got back to us: Bucky was dead. Suicide. She had made it to Iowa, of all places, and settled down there in an Amish community, if you can believe it. They found her one morning five-and-a-half weeks after she left the commune. It wasn’t pretty. Windswept never was the same, and who can blame her?

But I was not Bucky, nor was I any of the others who flitted away only to flit back. This was what I told myself when I shouldered my pack that night. This was what I repeated when I got into the back of the VW bus. This was what I celebrated when my one-year anniversary off the commune came around. I even bought a cake… a small little ice-cream cake from the local Dairy Queen. I shared tiny slices with my new friends, which included the guy who had welcomed me into his VW bus and, of course, Flaca.

By the time I was 22, married and talking about having kids, I truly believed the commune was out of my system. It wasn’t an easy flush, mind you. And it wouldn’t have happened without something I didn’t even know existed on the commune — psychotherapy, and lots of it.

Listen: Nothing bad happened on that commune. In fact, it was a much, much better place, statistically speaking, than the outside world I now am entrenched in. There was virtually no crime, and when incidents did occur, we dealt with them internally with a sense of peace and mercy that seems to have escaped our national judicial system — if It ever really was there in the first place. We didn’t have child sexual abuse, domestic battery, theft, vandalism, robbery, assaults. They just didn’t happen. Not outwardly, Not behind closed doors. Nowhere. Our predecessors had actually started a new way of living from scratch back in the late 1950s that had worked.

So when I say I needed psychotherapy, it wasn’t because of the commune. It was because of the world.

Once I left, all of a sudden I started experiencing things I never knew existed. Yes, there were the positives. Diverse viewpoints. The love of a woman whose ancestors were from a foreign country that I actually could visit and experience for myself. Plane rides. Train rides. Big Macs.

But there also was everything that sucks about the outside, the things we just sort of shrug our shoulders about or express momentary outrage for … before we just accept them as part of living. Racism. Sexism. Homophobia. Crimes against the vulnerable that I would read about in the newspapers that were suddenly available to me and on televisions that seemed to be blaring every single place I went. Things like jobs and money and having enough “stuff” and staying connected to the world through technology — and keep in mind, this was before smart phones and the explosion of the internet.

Loving Flaca was easy. Understanding her world was not.

So one day, a year after we were married, I told her I needed to leave for a while. I can’t say she saw it coming, but she certainly saw something coming. She’d seen it during the every-other-week counseling sessions she attended with me, the sessions that I still needed (and, to a large extent, still need) to help me to adjust to the outside world. She saw it in our home life, which was extremely simple by traditional samples but still was far too busy for me to be comfortable.

“I’m going to go back to the commune for a while,” I said one night just after she turned off the light — a lamp powered by electricity. We were both laying there in what she considered darkness but what was anything but true dark. There was the street lamp outside. The rise and fall of headlights through our curtains from the nearby street. The constant glow in the sky from the nearby city lights we couldn’t afford to get away from.

“Queso,” she said softly, her voice tinged with worry and her Hispanic accent. I loved how she said my name. Love it still. “You haven’t had any contact with anyone from there for five years.”

“I know,” I replied softly. “It won’t matter. They’ll welcome me back.”

“But will you ever leave?”

It was a fair question. And I told her not to be silly, that of course I would leave and come back to her, that she was the love of my life and that we were going to start a family and move away from all this busyness and find a simpler happiness on our own.

But if I had to tell the truth that night, I wasn’t sure. Because, like I said, the commune had a way of sucking you back in, of becoming your everything again the moment you stepped foot back among its people, its peacefulness.

Two weeks later, I kissed Flaca goodbye and walked away, heading north. There was no VW bus this time. I walked and walked and walked. And when I couldn’t walk any further, I veered off toward a train station, took it to about 30 miles from the commune and then walked some more.

It was evident from about a mile out that something had happened. Nature had begun to reclaim the well-worn paths I had adventured on with boys named Chestnut, Moon, Skychaser and Bob and where boys in the generation after me had done the same. Your average Joe wouldn’t have recognized the change, subtle as it was, but when you’re raised not just on the land but as part of it, well, you notice.

You notice paths just a little more covered and small bushes with branches not broken by passersby and signs of animals that would have been far too skittish to live near people.

When I rounded a familiar corner, I saw an unfamiliar site. Oh, it was the commune, but, at the same time, it wasn’t.

The structures we had built to hold our gatherings, eat our meals, store our supplies, keep our food… the trailers some families (like ours) had brought in to live… they were all not right. The patches of ground that had produced our sustenance were covered in weeds and residual grown of crops untended. There were no animals… no horses, no pigs, no chickens, not rabbits, no goats.

In fact, outside of what nature was doing on its own, there were not signs of life at all.

The soft and comforting hum of commune life was … gone. Almost as if it had never been there in the first place.

I walked around, looking for I’m not sure what. This wasn’t a game of hide-and-seek. I wasn’t detached from reality. I knew what had happened. But maybe there was… what? A note? Some sort of sign as to where everyone had gone and maybe even why?

There was nothing. No sign of the people who had lived here or where they had gone. And there certainly was nothing to explain why.

It might seem odd to an outsider, but the last place I ended up was what had been my own home, our trailer. Ending up there last? Well, I guess that’s commune mentality. There are always others who might need you more. Not sure if that’s a good mindset or a bad one, but I lean toward the former.

I searched every room. It didn’t take long. There isn’t much to any trailer and there was even less to ours. No sign of Hippie Mom. No sign of Hippie Dad. No sign of Hippie Sister, eight years my junior. No personal mementoes. No left-behind shirt, no spoiled foot items. Nothing. Just an empty trailer that smelled like forest.

So I stayed.

I don’t know why, but I stayed. For about 11 months, I did the work of the commune solo. I got the gardens growing, fixed what needed to be fixed, and made the place inhabitable again, if only for myself.

The only person I saw was the shopkeeper in town when I made my two supply runs. Oh, and there was the hiker who had veered off a trail and wandered by around noon on a sunny, hot day that would give way to an insane downpour in the evening. I was cooking some squirrel over an open fire. He saw me from about 50 yards away, my beard unkempt, my clothes dirty. We made eye contact. He nodded. I nodded. And then he left.

In the entire 11 months, I uttered 11 words out loud, 10 of them to myself (the 11th being “Thanks” to the shopkeeper). Six of them were what Hippie Mom would have considered “bad” words — after cutting a finger, stubbing a toe or breaking something of great value to a guy living alone in the forest.

The other four came out toward the end of the 11th month. They were said into the receiver of a pay phone, which still existed back then, after the call was answered with the sweet, kind, Hispanic-accent-tinged voice of my wife: “Flaca,” I said, my voice hoarse from lack of use and the sobs I was struggling unsuccessfully to hold down. “I’m coming home.”

Forcing Out a Hermit

So yeah, I understand Mauro Morandi. I understand why he might have chosen to stay on Budelli, why he went months without speaking, why he never wanted to rejoin a world that, for whatever reason, just wasn’t for him.

Just a few years after he arrived, Spiaggia Rosa was dubbed by the Italian government as a place of “high natural value.” The beach was closed in an effort to protect its fragile ecosystem. Like the commune, nature returned. It always does when we let it.

The island was forced off the tourist maps, and instead of hosting thousands of a people a day, it hosted just one: Mauro.

During his time alone, he would collect the driftwood and other assorted crap that washed up on his Spiaggia Rosa — on his pink beach — each morning and spent his afternoons crafting it into sculptures and furniture. Being alone, he said, sparked his creativity. I get that.

And then one day in 2016, after a three-year court fight with a New Zealand businessman who had owned the island privately and valued Mauro’s contributions to its survival, the Italian government successfully claimed that Budelli belonged to a national park. Those national park officials then decided they didn’t want or need a caretaker. Well, maybe the island needed a caretaker. Just not Mauro.

“Morandi symbolizes a man, enchanted by the elements, who decides to devote his life to contemplation and custody,” said the national park’s president and Top 10 World’s Biggest Douchebag member Giuseppe Bonanno. “No one ignores his role in representing the historical memory of the place. … But it’s hard to find a contractual arrangement for a person in his position.”

He added that there were “several legal problems” preventing Morandi from staying on Budelli, which amount to the fact that he’s getting old — he’s 81 now — and that his home doesn’t meet modern safety requirements.

For. The. Love…

The park service took Mauro to court, trying to force his eviction. The public respond with a petition that quickly garnered 70,000 signatures and served to pressure local politicians to indefinitely delay the hermit’s removal.

“Mauro has lived in Budelli for a quarter of a century, he knows every plant and every rock, every tree, and every animal species, he recognizes the colors and the smells when they change with the mutation of the wind and the seasons,” the petition reads. “If Budelli remained a marvel of nature, it is also because of him.”

Last month, Mauro decided to give up the fight. He announced to his Facebook followers that he had decided to leave after even more threats of eviction from park authorities.

Wrote Mauro in a post translated weirdly by Facebook: “It’s a 20 year old I’ve been fighting against who wants to send me away, even if I’m supported, psychologically and not just by Budelli and all of you who support me, but now I’m really pissed off and I’m going to leave hoping that I’m going to Budelli will be safeguarded as I have done for 32 years.”

The park responded that the island is undergoing work to demolish illegally built structures (such as Mauro’s, presumably), increase energy efficiency and replace signs on the island. Mauro needed to be evicted, a statement said, “for safety reasons.”

In other words, the exact reasons that Mauro stayed on Budelli, the exact reasons I went back to the commune and have struggled so hard to adapt to life outside its walls… those very reasons that exist out here are the reasons he now has to leave the place he went to not be a part of here.

Progress.

Development.

Improvement.

Modernization.

Ownership.

What this should do is cause all of us to take a step back, suck in a few deep breaths of air that aren’t quite as refreshing for all the progress, development, improvement and modernization we have seen, and wonder why we’re doing all this stuff.

Not just to a tiny island off the coast of Italy. But to ourselves.

Good luck, Mauro.

Q.F. Conseco is the relative of website owner and Storyteller-in-Chief John Agliata. He is, in fact, John’s great-grandparent’s son’s son’s son. He lives outside Escandido, California, near the Hellhole Canyon Preserve with his wife, Flaca, and their three children, Franz, Hans and Helga. All three are homeschooled and extremely unsocial. Q.F. is a singer, songwriter and poet when he is not working as a trimmer for a large medical marijuana growing operation in Humboldt County, California. He spends at least three hours each day alone and silent.

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