Wednesday, January 19, 2011
When we first moved to the Belfast area from Seattle, we considered buying a piece of land a bit further north, in the Blue Hill area, and building a straw-bale or timber frame or passive solar home. The wooded coastal setting combined with energy efficient housing was really tempting, but doing it on our own seemed daunting. We looked at tons of small home, straw bale and passive solar building books, scoped out pieces of land and calculated what it would cost to clear, drill wells, and build, and debated if we really wanted to have to drive 20 minutes just to get into town and buy a second car for our work commutes. I began to realize I'd go batty in the winters, isolated and holed up so far from "civilization."
Also, the longer we lived in Belfast, the more we liked it and the less we were interested in a piece of land up the coast somewhere. Belfast is small enough to get to know people and be fantastically walkable, but vibrant enough to have some solidly great restaurants, a humming art and music scene, a co-op grocery store to rival anything we had in Seattle, and all the services we could want. As a hub for the region, it has a great YMCA with a new pool and a gym, it has a big Hannaford grocery store, and is close in to other coastal towns like Camden and Rockland without being too touristy or expensive. If we stayed in Belfast, we could avoid buying a second car since Dan could walk to work, and we'd be closer to the friends we were starting to make here. We started to look for houses in town, but were turned off by older properties that needed work or would have huge winter heating bills. None of the land parcels in the area really appealed to us, so we ended up in a holding pattern, staying in our in-town Belfast rental and dreaming of finding a more perfect solution.
In April of 2009, we heard about Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage, and came to an open house. What we saw was exciting. We got a warm, friendly and laid back vibe from the people we met, many of whom have now become close friends. Passive-solar houses being built on a pastoral farm plot that was right on the edge of our vibrant seaside town was the solution to all of our housing questions.
It was exciting to have found the answer to our housing quest. As first-time homebuyers, we'd be getting something that not only was high-quality, energy efficient new construction, but we'd be living in a community with people who had owned homes before and could help us when we faced those daunting home-ownership issues which lurk out there with names like "house painting boogeyman" or "ghost of refinancing" or "oh god the plumbing is broken beast". Best of all, we'd stumbled into the perfect community balance for a couple that's half introverted and half extroverted.
Despite the image many people have in their minds about cohousing, it's not a cultish, hyper-connected, in-your-face-all-the-time community structure. In fact, most people who live in cohousing tend to be introverts. It provides the right mix of privacy (we own our own home) and the availability of community (we can have dinner at the common house or garden with a neighbor, but we don't have to). It provides a comfortable, well-known community where neighbors won't be invasive but are happy to see us when we want to wander by and have a chat.
The more we've worked on this project, the more our paradigm of how we want to live has changed. It's not just the awesome houses (I can't tell you how excited we are to move in...) or the gorgeous setting or the town. It's the idea that we're not isolated and alone. We may want to have kids in a few years, and it's reassuring to know that there are many people in my community who have and have had children who can share their wisdom (and leftover baby gear) with us, and to know that as our kids grow, they'd have a safe place to romp around in the nearby wilderness, learn to garden (from someone other than me, who tends to accidentally kill plants), and be able to interact with adults of all ages.
Most importantly, in cohousing we'll have the support of our community, the comfort of regular interaction, as well as the ability to close our door and be cocooned in our own cozy little home without worrying we'll be perceived as anti-social or anti-community. Our cohousing community takes us as we are with no judgment - and that's what community should be.