Archive for March, 2011

March 28, 2011

Delphinia, Olympia

We have arrived in Oly!  We’re parked in my friend Catherine’s driveway, and have been doing some intense biking in the rain.  Yesterday we spent an afternoon/evening with a beautiful community called Delphinia that’s about a half-hour bike ride out of town in some gorgeous country.  Delphinia is on 36 acres, about 19 of which are set aside for land conservation.  The land has been home to a community for many years, though it was only recently bought by the group of people who are Delphinia.  There are several houses, some of them octagonal (so cool!), built by hand by the residents — some are hidden so deep in the woods that they completely blend in with their surroundings.  About 13 people live there, ranging in age from 8 to 40 years old.

Part of the land is farmed and the food is mostly eaten by the community members; last year a couple Delphinians started a CSA program and will hopefully be supplying fresh organic produce to Olympia’s residents in the years to come!  The farm also has several chickens (they just got new chicks too; must be the season!) and some adorable, friendly goats.  [If anyone’s ever read Drop City by T.C. Boyle, they might remember the goats on the top of the bus… it got Max and me thinking…]

Since folks at Delphinia live in separate houses, there’s an emphasis on getting together weekly for communal dinners and/or meetings (they alternate) in the largest house.  We enjoyed a delicious meal of salad and goat stew (last year’s goats), and we brought over some of our plentiful dumpstered chocolate and bread.  Community members take turns cooking, and the chef for our dinner made a cheese cake from scratch — apparently it was his first time doing this, but you’d never know it!  After dinner we were invited over to one of the octagonal houses in the woods, which was an incredibly beautiful structure inside and out, with a large loft bedroom, full kitchen, large wood stove, grid electricity, running water, even internet access!  Delphinia seemed to be an interesting balance between experiencing the rough outdoors, living with the land, and also having many modern conveniences.  Most folks worked in Olympia (individual rent ranged from $150 to $700).  Definitely a blessing for people who need to be close to a city but also want to live in the woods in community!


March 28, 2011

Dumpster Score #21: Seattle

Theo’s Chocolate: ~1 gallon bag of chocolate

Tall Grass Bakery: two enormous bags full of bread loaves, muffins, bread sticks, scones, and rolls (Tall Grass is the new Essential!)

March 28, 2011

Sherwood Co-op, Seattle

The Sherwood Co-op near the University of Washington (ironically right near frat row!) is a beautiful house with a vibrant modern hippie vibe and a long history.  It’s been a communal house since the 1930s, and is the last of its kind from that era that’s still in existence in the Seattle area.  It was bought by the Evergreen Land Trust several years ago, and is now home to 14 people, mostly in their 20s, some students and some not.  There are regular mandatory house meetings where decisions are made by consensus, exceedingly well-organized chore and cooking rotations (see pics), and a lot of art and activism.  The Evergreen Land Trust owns seven community properties (of which we have visited four), and the older folks always refer to Sherwood as their bright shining star, like their flagship community.  It was definitely a fun, youthful place to visit.

This colorful wheel is on the wall in the common room.  The rotating inner wheel has housemates’ initials, and it shows who has which responsibility during each meeting.  The responsibilities include taking Stack (remembering who raises their hand to speak and in what order), keeping Time, general Facilitation, Vibes Facilitation, being in charge of the White Board, taking Notes, and being in charge of the To-Do List.

This enormous chart, also in the common room, shows what all the communal chores are, who’s doing them, and when they’ve been completed.  It’s quite complex, and though our generous host took time to explain it to us, I honestly don’t remember half of it.  So just click on it and admire it.  Yay for organization!


March 24, 2011

Dumpster Score #20: Seattle

Field Roast Factory: 2 gallon (maybe larger) bags of delicious minimally-processed vegan meat

March 23, 2011

Dumpster Score #19: Seattle

Theo’s Chocolate: 1/2 of a bucket pannier full of chocolate

Hot Mama’s Pizza: 10 slices of pizza (assorted toppings)

March 21, 2011

Our Sacred Acres, Snohomish

Happy Spring!

Sunday, March 20th was the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring.  As we traveled south from the Bellingham area back to the Seattle area, from a Winter of glorious snow and cozy community cabins to a Spring of endless and mysterious possibilities (and hopefully lots of sunny festivals!), I realized how much I wanted to celebrate this transition with a group, and I did a google search for Spring Equinox celebrations in Seattle.  What came of this simple quest was a pretty amazing, incredibly grounding one-day experience with a wonderful group of people.  Many of them are part of the organization Women of Wisdom which promotes “women’s spirituality, creativity and wholeness, and empowers women’s voices and their contributions to the world” through an annual conference, regular workshops and dinners, esctatic dance, and outreach for women in transition.

The Equinox celebration was held on a beautiful piece of land in Snohomish, WA called Our Sacred Acres, which is a forming intentional community (four people currently live there).  It is surrounded by 30 acres of forest and wetland, creeks and rivers, and our group of about 20 heard owl hoots and coyote cackles as we circled and did a qi gong warm-up.  The guest of honor was Gretchen Lawlor, an incredibly inspirational womyn and astrologer who writes for the We’Moon calendar.  We started a fire in the large fire pit and Gretchen led us in AstroPlay — we each became a planet or other significant celestial entity and acted out the Equinox!  Gretchen’s way of describing the relationships between planets, Moon, Earth, and Sun was mesmerizing, and gave me a completely new sense of astrology as a colorful, powerful, and life-affirming way of understanding the cosmos and our place in it.

After our AstroPlay we went inside our host’s beautiful house for a massive amount of delicious food (pot-luck style, with a lot of dessert!), then, at 4:21 PM, hurried back to the fire pit to honor the exact moment of Equinox by dancing and hooting wildly around the fire — an incredibly refreshing release of energy!  We then formed a circle in twos and ritualistically cut away the past from each other, encouraging each other to transition into the new.

Our post-ritual conversations back inside the cozy house revolved around intentional communities (everyone was interested in our travels), ways of addressing oppression both within communities and more generally in society, the meaning of gender in personal relationships (such as Max’s and mine), and the work of the Women of Wisdom Foundation.  I found myself sitting on the floor at Gretchen’s feet, looking up and listening intently to what she was saying, and I felt like I was gaining something huge that my life had previously been lacking: tender, respectful, fascinated contact with someone from an older generation, a contact fueled by curiosity, love, and support.  Max and I were the youngest there, and I could tell that many of the older wimmin felt relieved that someone could carry on the torch of fighting for gender equality, developing female spirituality, and practicing mutual respect… many people came up to us throughout the day and gave us heart-felt thanks for being there, which felt funny to me, because it was us who had to be most thankful for them!  Without their work over the past 60 years, where would we be!?

Blessings and thanks to Women of Wisdom, Danielle our wonderful host, Gretchen for all her inspiration, kind words, and fascinating conversation (if only it could go on for forever!), and everyone else who has helped and performed such soul-healing work!


March 21, 2011

River Farm, Deming

River Farm is a rural community near Deming, WA which is about 20-30 miles east of Bellingham. There are 8 adults and6 children with families pretty much living in their own houses. The community has really evolved over the 20 years that it has been in existence. These days there are once a week meetings, and a few small income generating projects.

We ended up staying as unofficial WOOFers so that we did 4 hours of work per day for the two full days we were there. The first day we worked with Erin and she was really nice so the first hour+ of our “work” pretty much just involved walking around the farm, her giving us a tour. She showed us the community building, where they had meetings and where WOOFers and farm interns stayed and we walked down to the barn where the 2 horses and 12 sheep and the multitude (maybe 30?) of chickens lived. All the while we were taking along 4 fairly stubborn goats on our walk. We saw most of the individual houses and when we got to one end of the little dirt road that led down the farm, we tied the goats up next to a little hexagonal 1 story house and walked down to the river. We walked along the river and saw the beautiful little rock beach that everyone hung out at during the summer. Erin explained that they used to have fairly large (herb?) festivals on the order of a few hundred people, but that one year there had been a propane explosion, and while no one was seriously hurt, it brought the fire department in and all of their codes, and since then they haven’t really hosted anything of that size.  They do still have smaller gatherings, including permaculture instruction and spiritual celebrations.

As we were walking, Erin explained to us that 2 of the goats had contracted an uncurable, debilitating virus, and that they were going to be put down that night. She showed us the grave that she had spent some time working on and asked if we could help dig it out. So Rachel and I spent about 3 hours the first day we were there digging a goat grave. It was pretty morbid, although doing it together made it ok.

The next day we worked with Doug, the member of River Farm who was “hosting” us for that day. We were originally going to be pruning blueberries, so we watched an instructional video about how it was to be done. It was a video from probably the early 90’s with a man in Corvallis, OR demonstrating the proper way to prune blueberries. It was a decent video, but most of what I got from it was that we were to prune the low shoots and the twiggy branchy parts. It seemed much more complicated and subtle than I had expected. It turned out that Doug had never pruned blueberries either, and the woman who knew what she was doing wasn’t around, so we decided that we didn’t want to risk doing it wrong. Instead we helped clean and weed the giant greenhouse and shoveled some gravel from the river into potholes on the road. Afterwards, Doug showed us his beautiful house. It apparently started as a tiny one room cabin and he’s been building onto it for the past 20 years. River Farm mills some lumber as part of an eco-forestry program, so his house was sided with some of the planks that they didn’t sell. He also showed us his solar panel and electrical system. He’s totally separated from the grid, so he has a small set of solar panels and a battery bank. All of his lights are 12V DC led lights, which are really bright and very energy efficient. He heats most of his water on giant woodstoves that are kept running during the winter and uses that for hot water around the house. It was really cool to see the way that one could live in synergy with energy constraints as opposed to the way that most people demand instant access to all of their utilities.

Oh and there was a really cool old schoolbus probably from the 60s that was just hanging out way out in the kind of farmland. It had been renovated on the inside with a woodstove and wood floors and a nice propane stove/oven. No one was living in it and it seemed like it was half abandoned half farm equipment storage.


March 18, 2011

The Lighthouse, Bellingham

We visited the Lighthouse for one of their twice-weekly qi gong/ meditation sessions. I used to practice qi gong at the Shaolin Temple Los Angeles, and like to practice the forms on my own, but this was a very different kind of qi gong than what I had been taught. Eight people live at the Lighthouse and there were about that many in attendence for qi gong, but I’m not sure how many of them were house members. We sat in a circle on pillows on the wood floor in a large room with little furniture, just an elaborate bird cage from which came occasional chirps and flutters. In the center of our circle was a large white singing bowl. The woman leading the meditation told us a brief history of qi gong (generally the same story I’d heard before, about a man named Bodhidharma bringing physical meditation practices from India to China, where monks were becoming weak because they only practiced sitting meditation), had us close our eyes, and then had us to practice speaking “celestial language,” which was basically any sounds that came to you, like freestyling noise instead of words (or speaking in tongues, depending on your perspective). We then connected to Universal Energy and Earth Energy through certain hand positions, used (or tried to use!) celestial language to focus our thoughts on forgiveness of ourselves and others, and finally practiced a form of singing which reminded me of one of my favorite community activities with the TTT — we used to call it “harmonizing,” though it’s harmonious only by chance, and basically involves singing or humming any notes you want and listening to how they interact with the sounds others are making.

If I may go off on a personal tangent that has nothing to do with intentional communities…

While the rest of the circle chatted in celestial language, I discovered an interesting phenomena. I couldn’t quite get the language, so instead of “speaking,” I just hummed, and I tried my best to imitate the deep sound of the beautiful singing bowl. It was a low, penetrating note, and though I couldn’t quite hear myself through the chatter of voices, whatever noise I was making started vibrating inside my head so that I experienced a sustained virtigo — I literally couldn’t feel which way was up. My eyes were closed, so I couldn’t define “up” through sight, and though I could still feel the pressure of the pillow underneath me, I could have been floating through space with a pillow pressed to my butt by some mysterious force. I felt no movement, just a disconnection from the usual consciousness of direction; no up, down, or sides. It didn’t feel good or bad, just very, very different. I felt like I was exploring a new plane of physical existence.

The meditation ended with three low bows toward the center of the circle, and the group quietly dispersed, thanking the woman who lead the session and hugging each other — many were clearly friends. Though we didn’t get to talk to many house members, from what I’ve heard the Lighthouse is a spiritual community and is completely vegan. They are also well connected to the Sushi Tribe.


March 18, 2011

The Oasis, Bellingham

The Oasis seemed to be a pretty famous spot around town; wherever we went, when we said we were visiting intentional communities, people would ask, “Oh, have you been to the Oasis yet?” The house is owned by a landlord, so the tenants are renting, but it’s been a communal house for some 20 years, and used to be home to a number of families, older folks, and kids. Currently there are about nine residents, and I think they’re all in their 20s; the longest standing member has only been there for a year and a half. The three-story house is dark and beautiful, clearly well lived-in, and right next to it, nuzzled up close like an old friend (who isn’t going anywhere), is a full-length school bus, painted and full of tapestries and candles, and home to three of the community members. The back yard has a garden, cob oven, woodstove-heated hot tub, greenhouse, chicken coop (they just got chicks), pond, shed, and a cabin where two community members live. The property has clearly been worked on for decades – new people who move in must feel like they’re inheriting something powerful and full of industrious human energy.

The Oasis makes decisions by consensus, using a voting system similar to that used by the TTT. When a proposal is made, all house members raise one finger if they approve or two if they disapprove, or they can cross their arms in front of their chest to block the decision altogether. If at least one person blocks, or if a certain number of people hold up two fingers, the proposal can’t pass (ie. further discussion is required). Chores and cooking are scheduled for all community members in an egalitarian fashion, and we were impressed by how clean the house was, and how quickly the kitchen was cared for after dinner. The Oasis’ members clearly cherished their home; they seemed to care for the physical space with genuine love and attention, and their Sunday night house meeting (though dismayingly male-dominated) was quiet, calm, and even-tempered.

On our first visit to the Oasis we were invited back for a tree-climbing workshop. We were super excited to attend, but unfortunately it was pouring rain on the day of the workshop, and it was cancelled. Instead we came back for their house meeting (not quite as exciting as climbing trees, but still always interesting). Much of the meeting involved the on-going creation of a list of by-laws for the community (the TTT calls it our “Hitch-Hikers’ Guide”). The housemates hashed out their consensus decision-making techniques and some other details, and ran into the same problem the TTT always has at house meetings: after three hours people wanted to get going on their homework. Sub-committees and google docs were formed (ah, so familiar), and many issues were tabled. During the meeting one guy passed out cups of tea, and another a bowl of ginger cookies.

Almost everyone who currently lives at the Oasis has lived at the Sushi Tribe, and it seemed like they considered themselves sister communities. Folks at the Sushi Tribe would say things like, “The Oasis is like the Sushi Tribe only they have their shit together,” and “The Oasis is like the Sushi Tribe, except clean,” etc. It was cool to see a town where people had so many intentional community options. And there were several communal houses we didn’t even get to see. Their creation seemed only natural: people make friends and lovers, people travel, people need places to crash, people need places to organize. Therefore, there are communities.


March 18, 2011

Our First Ticket

We couldn’t really have thought we’d do this entire journey without at least one ticket, could we?  While parked near the Sushi Tribe on Forest Street in Bellingham, we got our very first ticket (aw, isn’t it cute?): $20 because our vehicle was over 80 inches wide!  Some bus traveler friends who were also staying at Sushi had recently gotten the same thing, went to court, and had it reduced.  We decided to try the same thing.  We’d been planning on leaving Bellingham within a couple days, though, so we didn’t have time to mail in the ticket asking for a court date.  We went to the courthouse straight away, and were able to schedule a date for 9:30 AM the following Tuesday, which was after we’d planned on leaving, but we figured it was worth it to stay.  Monday night I set my alarm for 8:00 AM… The alarm went off and we took our sweet time getting out of bed, but when we looked at our wall clock it read 9:30 — I’d forgotten to account for daylight savings.  So we jumped on our bikes and booked it to the courthouse, waltzed in 20 minutes late, sat for a while but weren’t called, had to walk up to the judge’s big desk and interrupt him to see if I was on the list, were told they couldn’t find my papers, and were finally able to speak with him after all the other people were done.  He said he hadn’t heard of the 80 inches law until a few days before, when someone else had come to him with the same ticket (probably our friends), and he gave us $10 off our fine.  I’m still not sure exactly where it’s legal to park Ollie in Bellingham, but thankfully we didn’t have any other trouble!