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.

-Rachel

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