Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Cappella Voices — Sarah Smith

Let me tell you one of the reasons why I want to live in cohousing, and especially cohousing on forty-two acres of rolling pasture land with areas of woods. Silence. Silence gently broken only by useful sounds: a tractor tilling, doors slamming behind laughing children, a tire swing or a hammock squeaking. And conversation. And music. My true hope is that the music we hear outside will be the music made by people and other creatures. And, I hope to have walkable spaces which even in the heat of a busy day will be so silent that my ears will ring and I will shake my head just to be sure I haven’t suddenly become deaf.

Let me share two quite different acoustic experiences I had recently near my home in the Salem, Massachusetts area.

For the first one, Bill and I traveled to the resonant Boston Symphony Hall for an extraordinary combined concert by The Del McCoury Band (bluegrass) and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Dixieland and Blues). It was a romping, rollicking, musical two hours, which had the sold-out crowd roaring and screaming for more. But the part that hit me the hardest was an a cappella moment. The words a cappella mean literally “in the manner of the chapel, ” but it refers specifically to voices without instrumental accompaniment. The four members of the Del McCoury Band stepped away from their microphones and stood in a curved group on the edge of the stage. The expected hush fell, which in a space like Symphony Hall is remarkable enough. Then, one voice at a time, they began a traditional gospel song. It was led by one voice on the simple verse, then joined by the other three voices at the chorus. It was so quiet that I could hear the entrance of each man on his part, then the tingling ecstasy as they met and swelled and tuned into the chord. I sat straight up in my chair in rigid listening pose, not wanting to miss a crumb of each musical moment. I didn’t. My hands burned with heat when I was finally convinced to stop clapping, whistling and hooting along with everyone else. So, you see, I love music — the more a cappella the better.

The second experience came a few weeks ago as I stood in the early morning with my dog on his first outing of the day. Nearby was a city yard, grassy and tucked behind the house next door, so that even in busy Salem it was relatively quiet. As I stood in reverie with the cold March air on my bare cheek and my ears exposed, the soft call of the mourning dove pierced my thoughts. Again, I stood in rigid silence, afraid to lose any part of the sound or the moment.

I have had similar experiences at my house in Waldoboro: standing intently on the river bank and craning my ear to the woods as the evening falls and hearing the enchanting rising song of the hermit thrush. Or the high cry of the slowly circling osprey, looking in vain for a fish for dinner. Or a robin caroling along after a summer thunderstorm.

For the most part, it’s hard for me to find silence a walkable distance from my house, since I can’t drive or even bicycle. I can take the commuter rail and subway to Symphony Hall, but it takes more than an hour, and it costs about $60. My dream is to be able to step out my door into the peaceful quiet of a Belfast summer morning and stand, silent and still, until once again a soul-piercing bit of a cappella music wafts to me on the breeze.

Trust and Let Go — Barbara Chiasson

This cohousing project reminds me of the exercise I did back in college where you close your eyes and fall backwards and trust the group to catch you so you don’t crash to the floor. John Ryan, a consultant who has been a project manager/coordinator for several cohousing groups, has said that the success of a cohousing project depends on the ability of each member to trust and let go.

I took my first steps in that direction when I attended an open house, where I was warmly welcomed first by Anne, and then by Wendy. They were so patient and answered all of my questions. Later, I walked the land with Hans and Chuck and made a wreath with Elizabeth. What fun! I felt their excitement, and I decided to make my exploring member payment just as soon as I could get it in the mail… trust and let go.

I clearly remember the meeting when we decided that our houses weren’t going to be single-family homes — they were going to share walls and be duplexes and triplexes and quads. What a concept! Many of us lived in the woods or out of town, away from others; and the single-family model was what we were used to. But we also wanted increased energy efficiency, and a shared wall meant shared heat and less energy waste. After all, that is in our mission statement! OK, maybe we can let go of that single-family house concept… trust and let go.

Then there was the question of, “How do I best fit in with this group? What will be meaningful to me, and how can I best offer my skills and experience to the group? ” It’s a little like dating — how can I show them what I have to offer and how do I gain their trust? But we’re not talking about just one person, we’re talking about 45-50 people! I took a mad dash into facilitating (big meetings, lots of people, difficult decisions… Yikes!), and the process committee/conflict resolution team. You never know what will come up… trust and let go!

Since then it has been a journey of trusting and letting go and falling in love with the people of this project. At some point, I had a paradigm shift; I stopped worrying about whether my house had this or that, or even how much it might cost or what else I might have to give up. I found so much more when I found this project. Not only will I be living lightly on the earth in a beautiful, well thought out energy efficient house, but I also found my tribe of people. I feel like I can trust and let go, I know they have my back! Steve and I joke about being willing to live in a shack or a teepee if we can just live with this incredible, brave, amazing group of people that call themselves Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage… I’m trusting and I’m letting go!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Twelve Months in Waldo County — John Lightner

I have sometimes been asked what my favorite time of year is. Truthfully, I don’t really have one. Every season, every month has something unique to offer. I can’t imagine sacrificing one month’s benefits to afford more of another’s. Here follows a list of some of my favorite events and activities in a Belfast calendar year.

January — New Year's Dip

This year, Pia Gibson lured me into participating in the New Year's Day plunge and I have to say that jumping into Penobscot Bay with a crowd of enthusiasts is a wonderful way to start the year.

February — Ski Touring

For me, February means cross country skiing. One of the reasons I moved to Belfast was to be able to ski out my back door and I haven’t been disappointed these last few winters. I know that skiing at our new home will be equally satisfying.

March — Maple Syrup Season

I have slowly been refining my technique and have recently been able to meet most of my family’s annual syrup requirements (which are considerable). The 2011 season has been astounding and I already have almost three gallons of syrup in my basement. All this from just a dozen taps in five trees. We will need to get busy planting sugar maples if we want to incorporate home boiled syrup into our diet at BC&E.

April — Spring run-off

Technically this starts in late March. Time to dust off the old canoe and get in the fray for the St. George and Passagassawakeag whitewater races. Hi water or low, sleet or sunshine these are great races to participate in or just to watch. If the competition isn’t your thing, it is equally great just to paddle these and a handful of other great runs around the county. I did just that last weekend and made a leisurely run down the St. George river in Searsmont. We were a party of two canoes, a raft and a handful of kayaks. The day was sunny but crisp and we took our time, basking in the sun when we could; bailing out the boats beneath the rapids. A much different experience from the race.

May — Planting Time

Ideally, I would have started some of this in April and perhaps even March if there is an early spring, but I seem to get most of my vegetable garden organized and planted in the month of May. Who would want to work in the garden without a black-fly net anyway? I do fantasize about there being a greenhouse in my life someday.

June — Sailboat Prep

We have quite a few sailors in our community and most of us put off our boat maintenance until just before we float. As far as work goes, there are few things more worthwhile than messing about in and under a boat (with apologies to Rat) in anticipation of launching. Often there are a few improvements or new gear to be installed. It remains to be seen if or how boat storage will be worked out at the Ecovillage, but I have hopes for a more communal atmosphere around sailboat prep once we move in.

July — The CoHo Cruise

The past two years we have put together a joint sailboat cruise involving Cohousing boats and friends. Penobscot Bay is famed as a sailboat cruising ground. The first year featured a memorable full moon reach across Penobscot Bay to our anchorage at Holbrook Island. We rafted up and had a five boat platform at our disposal. Kids had the run of the decks and the parents found a safe haven in the Gibson’s big catboat cockpit. We haven’t managed more than three days, but we aspire to longer adventures.


If you can’t figure out what to do in Maine in August without my advice…..

September — Around Islesboro Race

The first Saturday after Labor Day, the Northport Yacht Club (three miles from downtown Belfast) hosts an open race around Islesboro Island in the middle of Penobscot Bay. The starting gun goes off at 10:00 AM and, depending on the prevailing wind and general forecast, forty to fifty boats set out to sail around the island — twenty-eight miles as the crow flies. Most of the boats aren’t serious racers and there is a great informal atmosphere, but it is a race and many of the boats will take a shot at hoisting their spinnakers even if it is the only occasion all year they will take the chance. Last September’s race (2010) saw twenty-five knots of wind at the start with the race beginning downwind. The sight of forty mostly over-canvassed boats headed off down the bay was spectacular.

October — Bald Rock

Early October is usually peak foliage in Waldo County. Just driving around is wonderful enough, but with the bugs driven underground and lots of clear weather, it is a great month to do some hiking. This might lure me out of the county to nearby Acadia, but there are plenty of great short hikes within fifteen miles of Belfast. Bald Rock in Lincolnville marks the northern end of the Camden Hills and offers unbelievable views of Penobscot Bay in reward for just an hour of mild uphill work.

November — Winter Prep

Like June, November is a month that features a significant amount of prep work for the coming winter. For the last three years this has meant storm window installation and weather-proofing, catching up on my woodpile and moving it close to the house, putting chains and the plow blade on my tractor and finally putting the garden to bed. Looks like I will be able to forget about quite a bit of this in my new home, but I’m sure we will find plenty of other projects to occupy the time.

December — Pond Skating

Some winters on the Maine coast this season will last for several months, but with the relatively snowy winters of the last three years, the season has been a short one. Nevertheless, there are few activities more pleasurable than strapping on a pair hockey skates on a crisp December afternoon with a pond full of black ice in front of you. Throw in a dog or two, perhaps a pick up hockey game and maybe a home built ice boat and you have the makings for a memorable day. When the ice is really good you can skate for miles and miles along the shores of dozens of scenic ponds.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What's in a Name? — Allison Piper

I am a greeter at most of our monthly Open Houses. It’s a great opportunity to meet prospective members and share my enthusiasm about Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage. One of my main duties is to answer questions about our upcoming community, a lot of which start with “Are you allowed to…” have dogs, have a garden, etc. Visitors ask basic questions about the parameters that we plan to live by. Some decisions have already been made, and I answer those questions to the best of my ability. But I really love it when someone asks a question about something we haven’t approached yet, since I get to answer, “Actually, we haven’t figured that out yet. We get to decide that together — it’s our community.”

One of the more interesting decisions we get to make is the name of our road. The City of Belfast isn’t going to pick it for us. That’s certainly not a decision I’ve ever had the opportunity to make before. In a recent general meeting, we brainstormed about all the things we want to consider when choosing a name for our home. It turns out though, when you really think about it, it’s not a super easy decision to make. In fact, it’s actually a pretty tall order. Here’s what we came up with. An optimal road name should meet all of the following criteria:

“Be easily pronounceable, short, convey a sense of place, convey hopes for the future, have a good musical sound, roll off the tongue, be mellifluous, be groovy but not too groovy, meet city approval, not be “cutsie,” have historic resonance, be grounded, not cliché, be something we want to remember or hold precious, have ecological resonance, not sound like just another subdivision.”

So we broke into subgroups and discussed some possibilities. It was actually an interesting exercise and revealed a lot about how different members process and make decisions. Some groups had more straightforward and linear thinkers, some had more creative or humorous personalities. When the groups came back together, here are some of the names we shared: 

Dovetail Road, Shelterwood Road, Keene Road, South Hill Road, Seven Meadows, Treeline Road, Utopian Harmony Road, Right Way, Only Way, Left Way, Green Gold Way, Goosewing Road, Rascal Road, Little River Road, Gathering Way, Keene Farm Road, Fox Road, Coho road. Wild Wood, Buttermilk Hill, Chestnut Hill, Blackberry Hill, Sprout Road, Barberry Lane, Bittersweet Lane, Live Lightly Lane, La La Lane, Raspberry Lane, Back Farm Road, Back 40, Buckthorn Hill.

We had a little bit of discussion about the names, but mostly this was a first group pass intended to get our juices flowing. Shortly afterward we wrapped up the meeting and had our pre-Open House brunch potluck.

Even though I actually volunteered some of the names above (mostly the tongue-in-cheek humorous ones that blatantly flout some of the suggested criteria), none of them quite rang true for me.  I joked that we could auction off the road name to the highest corporate sponsor. Imagine: ‘Odwalla Road’ or ‘Seventh Generation Road’. We could be rich! Rich!! My idea didn’t exactly fly. Though I do actually like the latter.

On our drive back to Boston, though, Lindsey and I made our typical pit stop in Portland. A sign caught my eye, and it occurred to me that it might be a perfect name: Legacy. Legacy Road. That really hit home for me — it encapsulates a lot of the reasons I am so excited to be a part of BC&E. The biggest one is that I am doing this for our future kids.

The least heavy reason we have joined this project is because we want our young kids to be able to run out the door and play as they will — in a safe, beautiful, car-free community. But there are other reasons as well. I am concerned, worried really about the path that we as a society are on both environmentally and socially.  I am such a small part of this world, but I need to do something to reduce my environmental impact. I need to be around people who feel the same and are actively, consciously working for change. People with the skills and compassion that are going to be necessary when the consequences of the way our society has lived in the Industrial Age start really impacting our lives. I don’t want to live isolated from my neighbors and my family any more. I’ve been living that lifestyle for way too long. I need to start thinking in a real and meaningful way about how I want to leave this world. What will be our legacy to our children, to our grandchildren? What will be our legacy? Legacy. Legacy Road. I feel deeply in my heart that living as a part of this community is a big step in the right direction.

So that’s my best shot at a road name. What’s yours?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Brilliant Transformations — Elizabeth Garber

Every year, we line up jars of brilliant dyes, have cartons of white eggs ready, light the candles and empower children, age four and up, to hold a pysanky tool, a wooden stick with a copper funnel, in the flame of a candle. The copper heats, scoops and melts beeswax for making patterns on eggs. How often does an adult ever say to a child, "I'm letting you play with fire and hot wax"!? The children paint the melting wax in patterns, circles, dots, waving lines, and names, and then dye color after color all over the egg. At the end we sit outside and rub paint thinner on the eggs to dissolve the wax, and the miracle of brilliant colors in lines and swirls emerges in the palms of each child.

This was our third year of decorating eggs together, and I intend to decorate eggs with our community until my final season. At age seven, Pia proudly told the younger ones she had been doing this since she was four. In the future, we may also gather in the Common House kitchen night after night to make complex traditional patterns on eggs!

Transforming white eggs into jewels of color and pattern is like the unfolding miracle of our cohousing community. We keep showing up, bringing our gifts of focus and generosity, faith and intention. We put our simple tools into the fire and set to work together. And look! All around us in our meetings and at the Open Houses, there is happiness, depth of connection, and a shared vision of creating home together.

Thank you all for making this community happen, day after day, poster by poster, and sharing with our friends. We are getting so close!!

with gratitude,

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Belfast Poet Laureate — Elizabeth Garber

If you read the local weekly paper carefully, you might see the following want ad that is posted every two years.

Help Wanted: Poet Laureate of Belfast. Qualifications: Be Belfastian, a clever, productive, thoughtful, colorful, and a well worded poet to express and convey a vision of Belfast. This is your chance to combine art with public service. Organize poetry activities. Be prepared to be stopped on the street to answer deep questions about poetry. Serve on the Steering Committee of the annual Belfast Poetry Festival. Maintain a welcoming atmosphere for both emerging and established poets. Be the “public poet” of Belfast, the Biggest Little Poetry Town in Maine.

Belfast takes Poetry seriously with an official post under the auspices of the Belfast City Council. You can find pins at the Chamber of Commerce that condense a great deal of Belfast history in one little phrase: From Poultry to Poetry. Belfast was once famous for the chicken feathers blowing through the streets, a chicken factory on the waterfront that dumped the guts in the bay, and the Broiler Festival with it’s own elected Broiler Queen. Now you can meet the reigning Poet Laureate at the Belfast Poetry Festival, two days in October for poetry and art collaborations and performances all over town. At Belfast’s New Year’s Eve celebration, a popular event is a poetry reading celebrating Belfast poets. Every two years a gold cape is placed on the shoulders of the newly chosen Poet Laureate. Throughout the year, you’ll find a variety of poetry readings and workshops, writing groups and an independent press printing books of poetry. Who knows what poetry you’ll be inspired to write when you move to Belfast!

The previous Three Poet Laureates (Linda Buckmaster, Karin Spitfire and Elizabeth Garber)
in their Church Street Festival Finery. The new Poet Laureate will be celebrated April 15.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Extending Families — Stephen Wallace

Maya Angelou has said that it is important that we all broaden the concept of family.

That is really what cohousing is all about - the ultimate extended family all living close together. I have been exploring cohousing for over a year and had become convinced the caring and happy Belfast group was the best possible place for me and my four year old daughter Elisabeth (aka Scout). I truly believe in the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child. I believe being a single parent makes that concept especially important. I want Scout to live in a safe place where there are supportive and playful adults and other children of all ages as playmates. It is like a close-knit neighborhood on steroids. So for me this was perfect. However I kept encountering obstacles to making the commitment, and the final heart-breaker was one of temporary financial challenges.

Then Coleen, a very creative, think-outside-the-box Equity member came up with a brilliant solution, and Elizabeth called with an offer to house-share if I was interested. I gave it some thought, for about 5 minutes, and then realized the idea was not only the opening of another path to where I was supposed to be, but also perfect in a thousand other ways. This opportunity is simply a widening of the whole concept of cohousing. So, not just cohousing as a community of separate dwellings and a common house, but really living in cohousing.

Sharing the house itself means always having a friendly and supportive face to greet and listen and talk over the day. Sharing a home means continuing to practice consensus building in one's private spaces and modeling that for my daughter. Sharing a house means good company all the time, even when you don't feel like stepping outside. Sharing a house means practicing respect for the other person (and modeling that for my daughter). And finally, sharing a house means walking the walk and demonstrating what can be done in making real community happen.

Maya Angelou was right.

Making the Leap, Part 2 — Elizabeth Garber

First I sold my beautiful home and left my settled life to begin a gypsy existence with my new roommate Coleen, who had also sold her house, to live in winter sublets and summer house-sits for a year or two. Why? Because we are holding a vision of moving into Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage. My twenty year old daughter says, “But Mom, you’re not being rational. You’re living like a twenty year old!” I laugh. I’m traveling lighter, discovering how few clothes, books, and things I need to feel at home.

As we get closer to breaking ground, I’ve been happily envisioning my future home, an adorable 500 square foot energy efficient home with a loft in a triplex. I made decisions on cabinet style, paint colors, and started designing a garden around the house. I thought I knew where I was going. A few weeks ago, a friend asked, “So is it all firmed up which is your new house?” I paused and shook my head, “This journey is filled with surprises, shifts and turns in the path. Who knows what might still change?”

Being part of Belfast Cohousing for over two years has changed me. As we envision, plan, and work together to move our vision into reality, it has become a spiritual exercise practice. I notice how it stretches my mind, loosens my expectations, strengthens my inner balance, and deepens my awareness of what is better for our community instead of thinking of myself first. I watch these shifts happen in my companions as we resolve dilemmas. But still I thought, once I moved into cohousing, at the end of the day I’d be going home to my cozy house. Until Coleen’s brilliant idea pushed me to think again.

At cohousing conferences, they say that cohousing's next step toward becoming more affordable is to have shared households. My son lives in a cooperative house in the Boston area, and with visionary zeal tells me that everyone should be house sharing. Coleen made that leap two months ago when she joined households with John and Denise and their two children, Audrey and Luke. They will be buying a three bedroom house and building on a two room suite on the ground floor for ‘Auntie’ Coleen. This will make it affordable for all of them. I listened to them making plans and wondered. “It’s been great having a roommate; do I really want to go back to living alone?” Then I’d talk myself back into it. I’m an introvert. I need quiet time alone. I need my own house for when my kids come home to visit (even though it’s only about 5 days a year) and someday there will be grandchildren.

Then two weeks ago, Coleen got off the phone from talking to a good friend, one of our Exploring Members. A thoughtful dad with a young daughter, he had a temporary obstacle that prevented him from being able to buy into Cohousing as we move toward breaking ground this Spring. He was devastated, because as an older dad he wanted to raise his daughter with all of us. Coleen looked at me and asked, “How about you buy a house with Stephen?” Without a pause, and with a strange clarity that felt like this was a path my life was meant to take, I said, “I could do that.” The rest has been effortless. Two weeks later, with financial paperwork done and house decisions made, we are proceeding as housemates buying a house in common.

But what happened in that split second, before I spoke? I didn’t think: why would I share a house with someone I hardly know? Why would I start living with a child after raising two children? I didn’t. It was a moment of surrender. I trusted a wisdom greater than my own thinking and planning, to follow a path that appeared. Stephen and I shared a commitment to living in this community, which gave us a common ground of connection. I trusted that was enough of a foundation to start. Of course, my daughter was dismayed! “This is not rational, mom! ” But I said, “Miriam, trust me on this one!”

Now, instead of planning a little nest for one, we are getting to know each other as we talk about cabinets he wants to build for “our” house. Now I’ll have an observant introvert to discuss things with when I come home. I’ll listen to him play his hand-built harpsichord with his daughter, who shares my name, while I cook dinner with produce from our community gardens. Greater richness is coming to my life than I ever imagined, through trust and faith in this amazing crazy Cohousing journey.