Living in Community

September 22, 2011


     Recently, we started the process of going through the notes published during the first 10 years of Windward's history here on this plateau. A newsletter published on paper and mailed to subscribers, before the widespread use of the Internet made blogs and websites as accessible as they are now. The exercise is intriguing and informing in many ways, not the least of which is to see how much has changed over the years, and how much at its core, stays the same despite the years that have passed.

     In one article from 1996, Walt comments on the challenges of community from the perspective that people are used to moving through the world as individuals meeting their own needs. When living in community demands a fundamentally different approach. One of the founders of Tamera, an ecovillage in Portugal, made a similar comment that I heard recently, wherein he recognizes the difficulties of learning to deeply care for the well being of many, and in turn be deeply cared for by many. While these comments are very thoughtful and very true, the irony is that both of these men who have lived in community longer than I have been alive, are describing rather intellectually, rather abstractly, the transition a person needs to make if s/he is to successfully live in community long term, that is necessarily material and physical in nature. What they are describing is a way of existing in our bodies and moving through the world that is foreign to many of us.

river maples showing the
first signs of fall

     The weather is beginning to turn here on the plateau, the air cooler and crisper, the sun providing a desired warmth as a opposed to an oppressive heat. The fall is the beginning of the turning inward, the reflecting on the season passed, a storing away in the roots what has been gained from this year's growth. Yesterday I noticed the first of the oaks that have already started their slow process of leaf senescence‒ when the leaf produces less of the green, energy capturing chlorophyll and the pigments of other colors become more visible‒ that ignites the forest in reds and oranges and yellows. This morning as I was running and breathing in the cool, dry mid September air, thinking towards the winter and what needs to be done before the first snows, I was reminded that the need to live in community is just one more of the remarkable things that the land literally ingrains in us, if we are willing to listen, and even if we are not.

     I do not usually describe personal challenges or hardships here in the notes. But I am finding more and more that I feel compelled to share them, in an effort to give interested readers a window into what life here can be like, beyond the projects, beyond the goats and gardens, agroforestry and aquaponics.

     This past summer has been a difficult one. Starting in March and stretching through the summer and into the early fall, four wonderful interns and apprentices have joined us here on the plateau for varying length stays. This translated into, on average, one or two extra set of hands to help around the farm. In contrast, in recent seasons past, we have had three to four extra pair of hands (and the hearts and minds that accompany them) per season. As our systems grow and manifest their fuller potential, it takes more time to just maintain them as operational, let alone make improvements or start something new. And so we find that it takes many more hands to help make the work light and progress rapid. More people also allows for increased personal flexibility to follow one's bliss, as one person is likely not the only person capable of performing a given task and so we are each more free to do what pleases us; and with more people comes greater possibility for overlap of specific interests, collaboration and creative exchange that can bring ideas to life and provide fulfillment.

Ryan and Mike, two of
the people who helped out this year

     The people that have joined us this spring and summer have been deeply inspired and touched by the work we do and most of them want to find a way to spend more time here. So this bodes well for our future. However, it doesn't change the reality that there is much to do, and at many times over the past several months has felt like too few hands to do it all.

     As we think about, design and implement many of the life-support systems here, we are attempting to minimize the amount of human labor involved‒as this is key part of sustainability. This means systems that for the most part function on their own, without constant human inputs. However, in order to get there, particularly when the land needs to be regenerated, structures need to be built and technology developed, there is much time and energy invested up front. And it is through the need to invest our personal time and energy to create our life support systems that the land teaches us about the need for community.

     With every sore muscle or hour less of sleep, the land is teaching us to think about our well-being as deeply intertwined with the well-being of others. With every task that must be left until tomorrow because the sun is low and the body tired, the land is teaching us to think beyond our needs and to think of the needs of others. With every hand that assists in lifting the heavy load or helps to milk the goats or bring in the harvest when we fall ill, the land is teaching us that to be deeply cared for by many, is to be deeply human. For only if as individuals we can help others meet their needs and fulfill their desires, will we, in turn, ever truly be able to meet ours.

Lindsay and one of the kids

     With enough time, living a life close to the land transforms us, ingrains in our muscles and tendons the understandings needed to move forward as individuals, together. It is still our choice whether we pay attention to these parts of ourselves that enable us to be fully nourished but that seem to have senesced in a world where stories of stark independence and individual accomplishments serve as the cultural fairy tales. Yet the land helps us remember what we once carried in us but has since been lost in the distances we have travelled and the spaces in between our bodies and what truly provides us with sustenance.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 71