Continuing the Journey Towards the Examined Life

My Summer Apprenticeship at Windward, an Education and Research Cooperative Working to Model Village-Scale Sustainable Systems

Note: This article was written for the Gadfly, the student newspaper at St. John's College in Annapolis. St. John's is a small liberal arts school on the great books program. All students study a variety of subjects, such as mathematics, physics, philosophy, biology, language, and music, through reading the seminal works in each field and discussing them in small classes.

As Johnnies we're familiar with Socrates' exhortation that "the unexamined life is not worth living". St. John's does a wonderful job helping us learn to examine our intellectual lives through exploring concepts like justice, virtue, reason, etc. We are not, however, merely creatures of intellect, but physical beings as well. At Windward I found a community where I can learn to examine the things that underlie my physical life.

If we are to live examined lives, then how we get our food and energy or how we use our bodies to interact with the world are as important to reckon with as justice, virtue, or reason.

Several things initially attracted me to Windward. I wanted to go into engineering for developing communities after St. John's, and Windward does fascinating work on village-scale energy systems. I had gotten a taste for creative physical work building sets for KWP, and saw opportunities for that kind of work at Windward.

They also had a list of recommended books that help potential apprentices get a sense of where they've come from and what they're doing. I'm sure I'm not alone among you in being a sucker for being given interesting books to read.

Coming in, I knew I'd be working on building an axial-flux alternator that would generate electricity using waste heat. But that barely scratches the surface of what I ended up doing. Windward has an abundance of tools, material, and knowledge that can serve as the basis for a wide variety of projects, and we are constantly increasing our resources.

Another project I took on was an experiment to determine the effects of keeping our rabbits in outdoor colonies instead of in cages. I also spent time caring for our animals, building raised garden beds, taking my turns cooking community lunches, and working on our new earth-sheltered greenhouse, among other things.

In the social realm, I participated in and learned about the material, intellectual, and social structures Windward has developed which have sustained this intentional community for over 35 years. One result of these structures is that the members of Windward are some of the most authentic communicators I've encountered.

At St. John's I grappled with ideas. Ideas are great, but without a connection to the physical world, they seem limited in application, if not in scope. At Windward ideas are brought into contact with the material world, and I find it immensely satisfying to see ideas expressed not only in words but in physical objects as well.

It's one thing to read about and discuss electricity and magnetism, it's quite another to see those principals express themselves in a machine I helped build with my own hands. For another example, at St. John's I had conversations about the ethics of eating meat, but at Windward I experienced the birth, feeding, raising, slaughtering, and butchering of our animals, as well as the challenges of processing, preserving, and storing the meat. Being a part of this process helped me become more aware of what it means to be a person who eats meat, and informed my ideas on the matter in ways reading or conversation alone never could.

Overall, my time at Windward helped me become more conscious of the ecological factors that underlie my life. I've become much more aware of myself as a physical being. I've found new questions that I previously wouldn't have known how to ask, or even that they needed asking. I've chosen to stay on at Windward for another year, and look forward to continuing the journey St. John's set me on towards living a fully examined life.

If you'd like to learn more about Windward, visit our website at www.windard.org, where among other things you'll find articles about current and past projects as well as a reading list with books that inform Windward's past, present, and future.