Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Becoming Native To A Place — Coleen O'Connell

From the banks of Thompson Creek in the St. George’s River watershed in the great state of Maine

For those of you who awaken each day to another day of sunshine it may not be known to you that there are those who feel responsible for the return of the sun each day. Twenty years ago, upon adopting a new homeland in Maine, I immediately began to explore the native history of the land. I had never read of the Wabanaki Confederacy in any of my history books nor heard of the northeast tribes who call themselves the Micmac, Maliseet, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy and Abenaki. This confederacy knows themselves as the “People of the Dawn” and they hold a responsibility on Turtle Island (North America) to call up the sun each morning.

On the eastern most point of the United States in a place in Maine where the waters were once filled with cod and whales, I am awakened in the dark to the sound of a rattle shaking near my head. My native friend, gkiesotonomook, is rousing us to action. I rise, dress and silently walk the path to the ocean’s edge. First light is announcing itself. With sweet grass lit, a smudging ceremony purifies each of us. As my friend faces the eastern ocean and raises his arms, a school of harbor porpoise passes quickly off shore – synchronized fins cutting through the dark water. A seal pops its curious head up in front of us. The ocean is calm this morning though a small breeze blows the smudge smoke toward the east.

Though not understanding the language of the prayer, I resonate with the earnestness in which my native friend calls forth to the directions. The intentions of his every movement and each word spoken brings with it increasing lightness. Pink and indigo streaks are beginning to lace the eastern sky. Black is shifting to dark purple out on the water. The spruce and fir trees are turning green as the blanket of night is lifted. The prayers continue with an increased tempo. As the sun peeks over the horizon my friend shouts a greeting of welcome. Tears roll down my cheek in a rush of primordial recognition. Another day has begun on Turtle Island. He turns with a big grin and announces “Let’s make some coffee and have some grub.”

How do I become native to this place? The local ancestors of the first white settlers to Maine (which was then part of Massachusetts) claim that your family must live here 3 or 4 generations before you can say you are native. The hippies that came in the 70’s and had children, who are now having children, cannot yet say they are natives. “Just because a cat has her kittens in the oven doesn’t make them bisquits” the old white guys proclaim. It occurs to me that the concept of Native has been contextualized and I wonder what my Indian friend would say to the bisquit joke?

I recently read somewhere that if you are native to a place, you must be able to tell it’s stories. Whether or not I can ever become native to this place, I am surely making it my home. I drink its waters, eat its wild berries, warm myself with its wood, and bask in the wild beauties of each season, including mud and black fly season. I eat lobster and blue mussels, grow potatoes and squash, nurture an apple orchard, and wonder how to get the wood chuck to stop living under my house and eating my flowers. I am an apprentice to the order of life in this wooded Eden. I am collecting stories each day I live on this small piece of land in midcoast Maine. Like the bear that wandered in to eat out of the bird feeder; or the porcupine that has her babies each year in the crawl space under my house; or the beaver that built an incredible pond on our stream – but then were eradicated by local trappers whom I had a confrontation with. I document the changes with photos that will collect over the years – taken each season at the same spot. I have instituted rituals that arise out of this place... and I love that others join me. This spring when the adolescent male turkey was practicing his mating warble in my front yard, I chided him for sounding more like a dog than a turkey. I wished him luck as he headed into the woods seemingly in search of the willing partner. Next year I hope he is back in full regalia and accomplished sex talk ... I can only wait and wonder.

Silently, and without fanfare, the Native Americans of North America continue their ceremonies that entwine their lives within the web of life. The Hopi’s gather ceremonially in their plazas; the Lakota dance and fast during four-day Sundances; the Makah conduct their ceremonial whale hunt. In our fast paced consumer culture, these ceremonies go unnoticed... relegated to another time, another worldview. I used to be confused by all the different Native cultures around the world proclaiming that their mountain, or their ritual site was the center of the Universe... that life arose from these special places. How could this be that there could be so many different “center of the universes”? In my westernized thinking – there could only be one center. Who was correct? I have lived my life into the answer – coming to understand that when I truly reside in a place, come to know my more-than-human neighbors, and am mindful each day of my place in the web of life, my home becomes a sacred place. My community has become the center of my universe...my life revolves around the order of things that sustain me in this place. As the circle shifts, so does the center... an ongoing dynamic as invisible circles are imagined into life everywhere on our planet.

It no longer matters to me whether or not I will ever be considered a native Mainer. I am of North America, I am of this land that gave birth to my parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents and beyond. I too will become an ancestor in just a generation. What does matter to me is that those that come after me will have fresh water to drink, will have clean air to breathe, and will have soil and a climate that will support the growing of food. If I can leave this physical existence knowing that I have done my best to insure that legacy for future generations then I will have the due reward that I desire. I will have found my place in “the family of things” as poet Mary Oliver announces.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Match Point — Emily Gable

I really don't have a reason to title this "Match Point" except that I just watched Juan Martin Del Potro, a 20 year old Argentinian defeat the 5 time Swiss champion Roger Federer for the title of the U.S. Open Tennis tournament. I felt so honored to be a witness to this event, along with the millions of people also watching along and cheering. Maybe it was re-assuring to see a different name in bold to take the main stage....what an amazing match, and wow they get lots of cash with that prize! Maybe he'd like to donate some to the coho community?

Back to the reality of life with two children under the age of 3. Our days are full. Full of smiles, giggles, screams (of joy and of upset), singing, animal sounds, poopy diapers, sinks of dishes, dirty laundry baskets, you get it. Most of the time I don't know if I really have a life besides my family. I know I once did , and I imagine that the possibility exists sometime, but not quite yet. But there has been a distinct moment in time when my body has said "this is all you". I thought maybe this would be a good place to share with my future coho community and whoever else may end up reading this; the struggles of a seemingly young and healthy family, as getting to the match point is indeed quite hard work!

On May 23, 2008 I woke up excited and ready to get to the first Belfast Farmer's Market of the season. I was already dreaming of tasting the cheese samples from the Appleton Creamery and getting a fresh loaf of bread from Billy of the Firefly Farm. I was second in line to get a shower, enjoying the kicks of my baby in my womb, as I was just entering my 26th week of pregnancy with my second child. As I finished up my bathroom routine the room started spinning and I immediately grabbed my dirty clothes and ran for the bed about 10 feet away. I felt as if I were inside of a centrifuge, my world spinning endlessly around me, no up, no down, no in between. I felt as if I were falling but I was already on stable ground. I called for James, but could not be heard. Eventually he caught sound of my voice and came up the stairs. Maybe he would be able to do some Reiki on me and this would all stop and go away. But nothing slowed down. This was something serious, maybe I was having a miscarraige, this was all I could imagine, and I was worried. I began to be sick, as most people who get severe sea sickness do. James called our midwife, but there was no answer. He left a message. Next option was 911, and the dispatcher sent the EMT who arrived in minutes. One happened to be a neighbor from down the road, another an overweight smoker who I only remember by his huffing and puffing the entire trip to the hospital. What was going on, and why was this happening to me?

It turns out, after an emergency MRI and helicopter ride to Maine Medical Center (MMC) in Portland, that I had a blood clot in the right side of my cerebellum, causing me to have a stroke. I was unable to speak with clarity (due to weakened vocal chords), unable to swallow for 8 weeks, lost sensation on the right side of my face and left side of my body, and was living in constant vertigo for 6 months. I spent 4 weeks in Portland at two different hospitals. Parula, who was then 16 months old, was cut off from nursing, and broke her arm the 2nd day I was in the hospital. Good thing she and James were on their way to seeing me in the hospital, a quick trip to the ER. It was an extremely stressfull time in our lives. When we all returned home from Portland I was not in good shape. I could barely walk, I had to be fed liquid through a tube in my stomach as I could not swallow. I also got to carry around a bottle that I spit in, as I was unable to swallow, saliva included. The hottest days of summer came and went, and all I wanted to do was drink a tall glass of water. I sucked on cold popsicles and ice, my throat rejecting anything to go down. One day James encouraged me to try to eat something, maybe a bolus of food would be easier than a small amount of liquid. I swallowed a bite of homemade pizza a friend had brought over, and from that moment forward I was all about swallowing again!

Sorrel was born at MMC August 19, both he and I were very healthy and his birht was as natural as possible. We were both released from hospital care within 36 hours. I was able to drive a car again in late November, and this summer I have begun to feel in my body again, much more grounded and able to take care of not only myself, but also my kids. For a long time James was the primary caregiver to us all, holding the space of physical functioning human in our household. He has involuntarily taken on a huge load of care and done an amazing job at making sure we are all happy and staying healthy.

All of this being said, I think it is a huge part of my life that I cannot leave out, as my entire physical perception of the world has been changed by this event. The thoughts of joining the cohousing community first came into our minds last fall, when our friend Maria had become an exploring member and urged us to attend a meeting. We felt skeptical, as we weren't really ready to think about this idea that seemed larger than we could handle at the time. Now it seems we can handle not only the idea, but the reality of community as well. So many people were willing to help us out when we were struggling the most, and I know I would do the same if I were on the other side of the situation. This group of people involved in the Belfast Cohousing community feels open and inviting to me and my family. Having a community to support and be supported by seems to be extremely important with all I have come across in life so far. Not only would there be opportunity to help others with whatever their needs or desires are, but we have a chance to be a part of the creation of something sustainable, beautiful and extremely satisfying. In return, we are living more efficiently, with help nearby if needed, and with community for our kids to grow up knowing their neighbors! If there is one lesson I have learned from this life over and over and over again, it would be that our time here is finite. So, why not make the best of it and share the joys and struggles with our friends who are also our neighbors?!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

You've become an Exploring Member, now what? — Elizabeth Garber

Since we have several new Exploring Members, I'm including a letter I wrote to Arielle earlier this summer after she and her family joined and had come to a first General meeting. She had written in to the egroup to say "We are so incredibly buzzed and excited, but now what? When are meetings and what can I do?..."

We have worked to minimize numbers of big meetings so more work can happen on projects and in smaller committees. The General Meeting is held on the second Sunday of the month on the same day as our Open House's so we can make a day of it and so long distance members can enjoy both . We have many other ways that members of the Cohousing community can get together for fun and projects. Some are planned events where we sign-up to volunteer at events to share about Cohousing (like the Common Ground Fair coming in September) and some are spur of the moment.

When we have interested families in joining the community we've put out the word for potluck suppers at the Farmhouse, or small group lunches at Chases and then walking the land. This summer we have had some wonderful camp outs on the land. Many things like this depend on someone saying, How about we do this?! and organizing it, checking with others on dates, and seeing who comes. A fun event coming this fall with be the Women and Girls Clothes Swap party and a pot luck with our new Austrian family comes to visit in November and I'm sure many more events will be created!

A good way to help keep this project moving is joining a committee. See what's a good match for you. If you'd like to join Membership and Marketing to help with getting the word out, you can contact Wendy and/or Denise. If you're interested in Process committee contact Jim. If you'd like to write something for the E-news, a new member profile or responses to joining, you can send that to Steve. If you want to join the Finance Committee contact Sanna or Margi. If you want to help plan and organize Open Houses, definately let me know!

If you want to learn alot more about what's happening nationally with cohousing go to the National Website. Several members went to the National Convention this summer and I think we are going to be getting DVD's of keynote speeches. Ask Wendy about this.

When I first got involved I looked for a project that I could take on and really make my own. I looked at something that could help take some of the weight off Sanna and Wendy and the Steering committee. Organizing Open houses and writing the press releases and posters seemed just right for me.

As you find out what is happening in the community see what area speaks to you where you'd like to participate and that is a good match for your skills. Steve saw the Website as a good place to bring his energy. Since he started he's add the Enewsletter, gotten us on Twitter, added videos and loads of gorgeous photos! In August, Coleen and I were simultaneously taken over with Farmhouse nesting instincts. She cleaned and organized and I found and hung art work. We met with Sanna beforehand, confered, checked over everything and then cruised.

We seem to be a community where people listen to what is next, check in with the right folks, and keep things moving. Our primary marketing focus is to create more ways to connect with families to give them a connection to our community is . Any thoughts, confer with Wendy and Denise!

The best way to strengthen our community and help us grow is to have fun together! A group of Cohousing families went sailing over Labor Day weekend, and two members worked on Sanna and Alan's boat so that it was ready so they could go sailing. Other members have gone kayaking together, gardened together, and moved heavy furnature into the Common house with speed, fun and efficiency! We'd played with Jeffrey's amazing bubble making collection of gizmos at the Belfast Street Fair and we have danced in the street together in the summer on Thursday nights as well as grilled hot dogs and cut watermelon to give away at the Cohousing booth.

If you want to see what our future cohousing homes look like you can peek at the spec house (our 1500 sq. foot house), designed and built by Geo-Logic, drive down Crocker Road (off Route 3) and see a new house just going up to the right down in a field. You can read on Geo Logic website information on their designs.

When I first got involved as an Exploring Member I felt that not only the community and vision had opened to me, but also the land. I got tall Muck boots (for tromping through tall wet grass last year) and started exploring the land every chance I could. I followed the Little River, explored the woods, found the two ponds, the gravel pit, the valley of enourmous apple trees (perfect for apple picking for cider pressing in October). I fell in love with the land, the flocks of geese flying overhead, and meditated next to the stream. In the winter groups of us cross country skied up the stream and snowshoed across meadows, and there was a sledding and skating party. A group of us met at dusk in the spring with Mike Shannon who taught us how to listen to the sound of the woodcocks' mating dance.

What's been great for me to realize, is that our cohousing community is not something I'm waiting for, it's something we are creating right now.

Since I wrote to Arielle to answer some of these questions, I lent them cohousing books to read, had a fabulous waffle breakfast with Arielle, Rob, Willa and baby Jem, and mentioned Wendy's dream that we have a blog some day. Arielle jumped right in and made it happen! Thanks Arielle and to all our new Exploring Members! Who knows what gifts you'll bring to the community!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cohousing and Marriage — Arielle Bywater

For some reason, a bunch of friends of mine have marriages in trouble at the moment. It's a little alarming to me. Even though my marriage feels very solid, it's hard sometimes to look around and see and hear all the talk about the impossibility of heterosexual monogamy and of the institution of marriage and not feel somewhat doomed. (I should say that although I am using the term "marriage," I am really thinking about long-term partnership of any kind.) Sandra Tsing Loh's piece about her divorce in the recent Atlantic drove this point home further for me.

And here is another way cohousing seems beneficial to me: cohousing can help us avoid so many of the pitfalls of modern marriage. Pitfalls like the isolation of living in the suburbs and waiting, alone and tired, for your partner to come home from work. The isolation of parenting solo. Cooking and eating and cleaning and gardening alone. Plus: the lack of models of good, long marriages. The lack of models of productive and compassionate communication.

I'm not naive. I know that living in intentional community does not solve all of life's problems, or guarantee a good relationship; in fact, living in community sometimes seems to facilitate "partner roulette." But when I think about it for myself, right now, I think that being around others who have good attitudes towards the work a long-term relationship, and focusing one's whole life on living better with others, seems like it would go a long way in keeping one's own relationship healthy and sustainable.
I found this quote on the subject:
"Cohousing takes a lot of pressure off the family. The modern family is over stressed-especially emotionally. A cohousing environment balances marriage and offers some relief to the emotional burdens on the modern family. Living in community provides an inherent support system. A mother with 2 children who desires a divorce must carefully consider the dramatic lifestyle consequences. Will it be too difficult to raise the children alone? Obviously, cohousing doesn't eliminate these problems, nor should it try to, but it does add to peoples independence. yet even though divorce might appear easier in cohousing, the statistics show that the divorce rate for people who live in cohousing is lower than for comparable segments of the general population."
--Niels Revsgaard, sociologist and member of Drejerban, from Cohousing-A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves, 2nd Ed