Thursday, March 6, 2014

Arrival at Earthaven

First Day at Earthaven

I arrived at the Medicine Wheel House at Earthaven yesterday to begin my work exchange program where I’ll be for the next few months. It’s about a 7-8 hour drive from Arlington, and I was able to break that into two trips by staying over night with my sister at Virginia Tech (thanks Nina). 

The only hiccup in yesterday’s drive was a big accident that caused traffic to come to a complete stop. I was all ready to be disappointed at being stuck on the road, but it ended up fun - after 15-20 minutes people started getting out of their cars, walking around, and talking to other drivers. I counted at least 3 people walking their dogs on the grassy median of the highway. After talking to Katie on the phone a bit, I played harmonica for awhile. Eventually I noticed some cars had found a break in the median 1/3 mile ahead, so I went off-roading onto the median and went on my way in the opposite direction. I still made it to EH in time for dinner.

Since I arrived before the other work-exchangers, I got my pick of the rooms. I chose one on the third floor with a nice bed, desk, dresser, side-table, and a stove pipe that routes smoke and heat up from the first floor - should make the room nice and cozy on cold spring nights. Two big windows look out into the forested hillside and face the morning sun, so waking up this morning was a treat. I couldn't tell if there was total silence or if I could just barely hear the gurgling creak about 30 yards away.

Can’t help but learn cool things

One thing I love about the people at Medicine Wheel is that it’s hard to go for long without learning or without having an interesting conversation. It’s the kind of atmosphere that will really accelerate me as I move into this new lifestyle.

Some examples from the first 18 hours here:

Before dinner, everyone in the house stood in a circle and held hands. The cook described some things we were all thankful for. It was reminiscent of family prayers, but there was no reference to a deity, and we did not bow our heads and close our eyes - instead we all looked up as we acknowledged what we were happy for.

I met a renter over dinner (“SE”) who moved to the community last weekend. She is in her sixties and just retired. She shared the story of telling her mom, who will be 91 next Tuesday, that she was moving to Earthaven, and how opposed her mom was to this. Her daughters were also disinterested as they’d lose continuous access to Facebook, but since the daughters were on their own, they weren’t forced to come here with their mom.

She also described being separated from her husband but still on good terms with him. SE described calling him a few days ago to ask him to send her mom flowers for her birthday, since she couldn’t afford them. Her husband said he would, but only if she included his name on the birthday card she was going to send. Listening and watching her as she told the story, I could tell that despite the separation, there was still warmth between her husband and her. 

These vignettes demonstrate one of the reasons I so enjoy being here - I get to hear about others’ very unconventional life experiences and how they made things work (or not). In this case, I learned about spouses who chose to separate but who still treat each other with warm respect and care for each others’ parents. SE also understood the difficulties I’ve had explaining the value of Earthaven to family members.

Also over dinner, I learned about one resident’s current project of making a composting toilet & a wooden structure to go around it. I heard about a program at another community where students go for a few weeks and learn human technology from the ground up - you start using flint to make fire, then you use the fire to make something else, and so on until you’ve got cordage, arrows and arrow-heads, etc. I don’t know many details, but I learned that the students who’ve been doing this the longest are now doing metal-working with ore they’re extracting from the ground themselves! 

We also discussed “income equivalents” based on how one lives one’s life: one resident (“BB”) discussed a friend who lived on $30K/year and had more disposable income than someone who makes $90K because they built their own (natural) home for $5-10k, didn’t own a car because they lived near the center of town, and grew 70-80% of their own food. The debts of home and car loans don’t exist, and the size of the home (and one’s attitudes) prevent spending money on the useless crap associated with the consumer culture. We discussed more of the details than I’m conveying here, but I’ll elaborate more in another post, because I’ve already done this kind of math many times and find it very compelling!

After cleaning up from dinner, I curled up on the couch with a blanket and browsed a book on foraging near the wood stove fire, very cozy and warm. SE read next to me.

One last story from last night: on my previous visit, I’d met an ex-Earthaven resident named RM, and learned about her decades of anti-war / peace activism. She’d dropped off some peace activism literature here before I arrived, and it sparked SE and me to talking as I browsed through it. We talked about how inspiring RM was and how she was exceedingly knowledgable about power politics and current events, and it was very tempting to join her in her work - she could make a very compelling case for why to care so much about peace activism! We discussed how there were many causes that deserved that kind of passion though. SE described it needing to find one’s ‘center’ - don’t let yourself get pulled in many directions at once before you’re truly ready to devote yourself to a cause, even if many causes seem deserving. I’ll elaborate more on my personal thinking on this topic in another post.

And this morning, when I came downstairs into the kitchen, I found a great big book on the dining table called, “Edible Forest Gardens, Ecological Design and Practice for Temperate Climate Permaculture” - one of the major topics I want to learn here! With books like this randomly showing up on the dinner table, it’s not just easy to learn things here - it would take effort not to.

I already miss the family and friends I’ve temporarily left, and I’m looking forward to returning soon to  visit and catch up with folks. Earthaven and Medicine Wheel aren’t ideal, but I’m super excited to start my transition into this new lifestyle here. I’m surrounded by attitudes and values I admire, loving and giving people, deeply important knowledge, and stereotype-breaking life experiences. I’m not alone here in having given up a relatively high income to live in financial poverty but natural & social abundance, and being with others who had the understanding and strength to make the same move is really encouraging.