Saturday, July 16, 2011

Goodbye to the Oil Man — Steve Chiasson

I just wrote a check for $469.77 to the oil delivery man. This strikes me as hugely ironic. First of all, it’s the middle of July, for crying out loud! And secondly, we don’t even heat with oil! Well, maybe I should qualify that…

We heat primarily with wood, but use some oil in the “shoulder” seasons, when firing up the wood boiler (we have a forced hot water heating system) is hugely inefficient. Our domestic hot water is also connected to the same system, so we wind up using oil there as well when the wood boiler is inactive. On the whole, I’d guess that wood supplies probably 75% of our heating and hot water. And since the wood is cut right on our property, there’s no trucking involved and I get to make some choices about which particular trees are harvested. Let’s call it a “green-ish” or “sort-of-sustainable” approach to supplying our heating needs.

Still, there is that matter of the oil man. $469.77 for 127 gallons of fuel. My mom, who lives on a meager fixed income in a big drafty house, cringes when she hears the furnace fire up on those cold winter nights. Dollar bills fly out the window. Does anybody see this getting any better?

Images of plumes of oil billowing from a blown out well into the Gulf of Mexico and vast tracts of boreal forests in Canada being leveled to mine the tar sands of Alberta make it clear that the oil companies intend to extract every last drop, wherever it’s found, whatever the cost. There are even plans afoot to drill areas of the Arctic now made accessible by receding sea ice. Hello?!

When I look for places to lay the blame, I don’t have to look any further than the mirror. In my younger days, I was just naïve. Lately, it’s more a matter of lifestyle momentum — choices I’ve made (such as living ten miles from the nearest store) that dictate many of the terms of my “agreement” with the oil producers. Still, I have to believe that it’s never too late to make course corrections. And though I may not be able to cut that cord just yet, throwing my lot in with the other members of Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage is a significant step towards that goal.

I’ll live in a house that requires 90% less energy than a conventional home. I’ll be located just two miles from town. I’ll have much of my food supply growing just outside my door. I’ll be sharing a multitude of resources with my neighbors. I’ll be part of a group that has made sustainability a guiding principle, and not just a buzz-word. I’ll be making a difference in the world. And seeing a whole lot less of the oil man.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Cohousing as Art

Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage is the featured "artist" for the month of July at the Belfast CoOp! Members have put together a show entitled "A Child's Day in Cohousing," a visual depiction of 24 hours in the life of a child reared in an intentional community. Such communities are designed so that generations mingle, grass replaces asphalt and neighbors watch out for each other's children as they roam the outdoors. Complementing this visual essay is a series of precocious photographic portraits of families in the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage by one of its youngest members, 7-year-old Pia McKim-Gibson.

Friday, July 1st is the official "opening" of the show, accompanied by the CoOp's free monthly wine tasting. It should be a fantastic event to meet and mingle, enjoy some tasty snacks and see cohousing from a child's point of view.

We hope you will join us!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Who's in Charge? — Jon Ippolito

"Who's in charge?" is a question that comes up occasionally when people ask me about Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised; in my life, I've had my share of bosses. Explicitly, or implicitly, I've handed over to landlords, CEOs, and presidents the power to decide for me what color my walls should be, which computer programs to use, and whether to go to war.

These days a lot of people seem to think such hierarchies are natural. Children have grown used to their parents telling them what they can and cannot do. Even tenured professors at my college expect a president to give them a vision and tell them how to achieve it.

But I don't think that's the way it has to be. Nature knows few hierarchies; geese switch off leading a migrating flock, while the behavior of bees, bacteria, and boletes emerges from a complicated set of interactions with no single creature leading the others. In soil, sand, and surf, networks abound. The largest creatures on the planet are not elephants or blue whales, but interconnected colonies of the Great Coral Reef or the subsoil mycelium that takes up 2000 acres in Oregon.

Nor does every successful human enterprise involve a powerful executive that others follow. The Wabanaki people of the northeast, whose ecovillages predate ours by millennia, shared power in a way that lessened the higher up the ladder: decisions of the tribal confederacy could be overruled at lower levels by the elders of a village, which could in turn be overruled by the clan mothers of a family. And today the single resource that is arguably the most concentrated repository of human knowledge ever, Wikipedia, is maintained almost entirely by volunteers with no bosses — by ordinary people like you and me.

No matter how natural it seems to me, the fact that Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage has chosen a self-developed, consensus-based model of governance has caught some people's attention lately. At the 2010 ESTIA conference "Ecovillages Redefined" on 22 October, Equity Member Joline Blais talked about this at a discussion she led on the role ecovillages might play in a sustainable future. Also presenting at the conference were Roger Kelly of the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales and Daniel Greenberg of Living Routes at the University of Massachusetts. Local luminaries featured at the conference included small farming advocate Mark Fulford, LongGreenHouse veteran gkisedtanamoogk, and Belfast Cohousing Equity Member Jeffrey Mabee.

Joline and I also presented on bottom-up governance at the William S. Cohen Forum on The Promise & Problems of Transparency on 12 November at the University of Maine. Representatives from the Maine governor's office and Senator Susan Collins spoke mostly about sunshine laws in the era of Wikileaks, worrying about how to reconcile the need for privacy with the danger that some leader will hide information that should be shared. In contrast, Joline presented Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage as an example of built-in transparency. When decisions are made by everyone sitting in a circle coming to consensus, everyone who needs to know automatically does, and all are invested in the process of decision-making.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Meeting cohousers

We're on the road a lot these days, giving presentations in Portland, Boston and elsewhere about our project as we race towards breaking ground. Recently, we gave a talk about the project in the Portland Public Library. Many of the folks who came were already familiar with cohousing, and it was exciting to be amidst a group of people who were already committed to the idea of creating sustainable community.

We meet so many new friends (and neighbors) on these trips, and in the midst of all the troubles and woes in the world, it's exciting to meet people who are committed to improving their communities and the world around them. Everyone has different reasons for wanting to join cohousing - families looking for an old-fashioned neighborhood to raise their kids, older folks looking to find a community to age in place, the environmentally conscious trying to find a way to live more sustainably... the list goes on. This is one of the beauties of cohousing: a varied group of individuals and families coming together with intention to create something better than they had before.

If you'd like to come see us "on the road", you'll be able to find us in Salem, MA this Saturday, at the Living Green Festival. It looks like it'll be a great time, and who knows - you might bump into some new, like-minded friends!

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.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Coho Member Coleen to speak at the New England Aquarium!

On Monday, March 28th, Belfast Cohousing member Coleen O'Connell will be speaking on ecological education at the New England Aquarium in Boston. It'll be an informative and interesting evening, so come join us!

Ecological Education:  A New Code for Education
Instilling in children the confidence and capacities to tackle the complex issues that are hurtling toward them is Coleen O'Connell's mission.  O'Connell is on the faculty of the Environmental Studies Divsion at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA.  She designed and has been the lead faculty member in the Ecological Teaching and Learning MS Program.  This is a first of its kind program in the country
working with educators both formal and informal to make complex systems thinking and ecological principles the foundation of their teaching practices.  As an ecological educator for the past 25 years she has traveled extensively with the Audubon Expedition Institute and Living Routes program exploring the elements of sustainable living.  She has been active in the New England Environmental Education community and cofounded the Ravenwood Sustainability education program with colleagues on 170 acres in midcoast Maine.  She is now on the Development team for the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage being designed and about to break ground in Belfast, Maine. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Upcoming presentations in Boston, Portland

We're excited to share our spring calendar with everyone - we have a lot of great events coming up, including several in the Boston area! We hope you'll join us for some meet & greet Q&As, our monthly Open House, and informational sessions on our project. Email for more information!

Thursday, March 31st, 7-9pm @ Cambridge Cohousing (Boston)
Tuesday, April 5th, 6:30-8:30 @ Greenward (Boston)
Thursday, April 21st, time/location TBA in Portland, ME
Tuesday, May 3rd, 7-9pm @ Life Alive Cafe (Boston)
Thursday, May 5th, 6-9pm @ On Centre in Jamaica Plan (Boston)

Spread the word, invite your friends, come along and learn more about cohousing, ecovillages and Belfast!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Prototype Home on cover of Maine Home + Design

If you haven't seen it already, this month's Maine Home + Design magazine has the prototype home for our cohousing project on the cover! Kudos go to GO Logic, the build/design team behind this passive house beauty.

"Imagine that, instead of building just a custom home for your family, you could build a custom neighborhood. Shoulder to shoulder with your future neighbors, you would come up with ideas and designs. Once it was built, you would have your own private home, but also access to shared resources, common spaces, and a supportive living environment. Imagine raising your children in this close-knit neighborhood, which comes with built-in playmates and backyard gardens in which they learn to grow vegetables and compost. “It takes a village,” after all, but what if the modern-day equivalent is “It takes an ecovillage”?"
- Passive Impressive, by Rebecca Falzano | Photography Trent Bell | Styling Meagan Gilpatrick

You can pick up a copy at the newsstands and it's also live on the Maine Home + Design website. Share it with your friends!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Enter the New Country — Coleen O’Connell

Coleen helps Cat with her costume.
Recently Joline Blais, another BC&E member and I were having an engaged conversation on the phone about the stresses of the life we are living as we long for our vision of being together as a community on the property we own collectively in Belfast. Kids, two jobs, household tasks, wood heat, tough winter, isolated country living – no one around to take up the slack or lend a hand. Yet people live this way all over Maine- all over the world. In cohousing there is a solid vision, and we are slowly working our way toward it, and yet at times it is easy to get scared that it won’t really be what we hope it will be. Or we worry that it won’t happen and we pull back in fear.

Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage is a true social, ecological experiment that we are all planning together. Though there are over 130 built cohousing communities in America that have accomplished their mission, each developing community is still its own organism with its own personality. That would be true for us. The metaphor I shared with Joline that day on the telephone is one of having my foot on one bank of a rushing stream with the other foot on the other side – straddling the rushing water, hoping not to fall in, and trying to get up the momentum to jump to the other side. I want to be on the other side, working with a group of people to be an example of how to live elegantly, simply, off oil, raising food sustainably, having fun with one another, while the whole village raises our children. But the independent, isolated life I know is so familiar. Why would I throw my time and energy into a bunch of people I don’t know that well? How will we ever work it out together? Humans are so testy. Can we really do this? Will we really do the hard work of sustainability or will this all be green wash? I worry about these things.

The following reflection has soothed my worries on many occasions. I sent it to Joline after our phone conversation and her response was positive - that we all need this wisdom to get us through these difficult times in our earth history and to move into the world that is possible... the world that will sustain our children and their many ancestors to follow. The work of social transformation is not easy.

Enter the New Country

You have no idea of what the new country looks like. Still, you are very much at home, although not truly at peace, in the old country. You know the ways of the old country, its joys and pains, its happy and sad moments. You have spent most of your days there. Even though you know that you have not found there what your heart most desires, you remain quite attached to it. It has become part of your very bones. Now you have come to realize that you must leave it and enter the new country, where your Beloved dwells. You know that what helped and guided you in the old country no longer works, but what else do you have to go by? You are being asked to trust that you will find what you need in the new country. That requires the death of what has become so precious to you: influence, success, yes, even affection and praise.

Trust is so hard since you have nothing to fall back on. Still, trust is what is essential. The new country is where you are called to go and the only way to go there is naked and vulnerable.

It seems that you keep crossing and recrossing the border. For a while you experience a real joy in the new country. But then you feel afraid and start longing again for all you left behind, so you go back to the old country. To your dismay, you discover that the old country has lost its charm. Risk a few more steps into the new country, trusting that each time you enter it, you will feel more comfortable and be able to stay longer.

From The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey through Anguish to Freedom 
by Henri J. M. Nouwen p. 21. NY: NY: Random House

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Snow Days — Susie

As a teacher, I love snow days - I get to sleep in, grade papers in my pajamas, watch television, shovel out the driveway at my leisure, and enjoy the winter wonderland without worrying about having to drive in it. The downside to snow days (aside from having to go to school later and later in June) is the isolation. Not driving means spending most of the day by myself, and it gets old. Luckily, since we live in town, I can trudge up to the co-op or the library if I get lonely, but most of my friends and future coho neighbors live out a ways and don't have that option. Even though it pales in comparison to face-to-face contact, at least the internet allows us to stay connected during those stormy afternoons.

The last snow day we had, a bunch of us were posting on facebook about the weather in our various towns. One mom asked for suggestions of activities to do with her toddlers while the storm raged outside, and several people were commenting on what we *could* be doing if our cohousing neighborhood - and common house - was built already. We daydreamed about craft activities and storytelling in front of the common house wood stove, snow fort building and snowshoeing on the land, finding easy babysitting for folks who still had to work or run errands, watching our kids sledding in the back field...

In honor of that exciting, wintry daydream (which may be a reality by next winter!), I'm sharing my recipe for hot cocoa - a perfect winter treat, to be made in a big pot sitting on a wood stove, or in smaller amounts to be shared among a few friends (or hoarded all for yourself). This uses a classic Maine sweetener - maple syrup - instead of cane sugar. Share it with your friends and neighbors, and perhaps this time next winter, you can stop by our common house and have a cup before going sledding or snow hiking with us.

Susie's Maple Hot Chocolate
Ingredients for 8-10 servings

1/2 C unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 C hot water

2 T butter or margarine (optional if you're aiming for vegan cocoa)

1/3 - 1/2 C (real!) maple syrup - use more if you like it sweeter!

3/4 tsp vanilla extract

6-8 C milk or milk-equivalent (I use soymilk and it tastes great)

In a decently sized pot or saucepan with a wide bottom (easier for whisking), whisk the cocoa powder and salt together. Add the hot water and whisk until ingredients are combined, then add the butter, vanilla and the maple syrup. Whisk until smooth, with the burner on simmer. Add the milk, whisking until combined and fully warm.

Now comes an important step – the pre-taste-test. Taste a bit of it to see how sweet it is. You can always add more sugar or maple syrup if you want it sweeter, and more milk if you don’t. You can adjust the cocoa amount, too, if you want. It's very flexible. Just keep tasting until you have it the way you like it. If you’re going to double the recipe, just keep tasting it as you go to make sure proportions are right.

Garnish with marshmallow or whipped cream if that’s your thing, but it's good straight up with no distractions.


Friday, February 18, 2011

A Valentine Blessing — Elizabeth Garber

I realize what made our Valentines Open House so special yesterday was that we were so relaxed, like an extended family on a winter Sunday afternoon, hanging around the house. It wasn't an exciting hubbub where we were on our best behavior for guests, we were just comfortable, and our visiting families settled in with us. The musicians didn't perform for an event, they just gathered round and sang and played for each other. Their joy rippled throughout the room. A creative camaraderie grew around the scatter of lacy red heart doilies, glue sticks, cupid stickers, and ribbons. Our bonfire makers stoked the fire, the cocoa makers stirred the brew, and we were at home in good company.  

What a perfect way for someone to see if this is how they might want to live.  
What an affirmation that this is how we are choosing to live in community, already.

I thank each of you for what you brought to the day. 


Here is the quote that I put on my Valentines this year:

"Happiness is the result of inner maturity. It depends on us alone, and requires patient work, carried out from day to day. Happiness must be built, and this requires time and effort. In the long term, happiness and unhappiness are therefore a way of being, or a life skill." — Matthieu Ricard

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Raking the Roof — Steve Chiasson

When I moved to Maine back in the 70’s, I bought a place the realtor euphemistically called a “handyman’s special.” The price was right, and I considered myself something of a handyman, so I jumped right in. I learned much of what I know about building from remodeling (and sometimes rebuilding) that little house. That includes mistakes made…

As the snow began to pile up on my roof that first winter, I thought the icicles forming on the edge of the roof were pretty cool —  a Currier & Ives print come to life. Then my kitchen ceiling started leaking. I was mystified until one of the old Mainers I worked with explained the physics of ice dams.

On any roof that’s inadequately insulated or ventilated, some heat from the house will escape through it. When there’s snow on the roof, that heat melts the layer of snow in contact with it, which then runs down the (warm-ish) roof until it reaches the eaves. At that point, being beyond the area of the roof where escaping heat keeps it liquefied, it re-freezes and forms a little dam made of ice.

Drop by drop, this dam thickens and works its way backward up the roof until it reaches a point where it can seep beneath the roofing material and make its way into the house. Depending on the pitch of the roof and how far the water has to go before reaching that point, you might wind up with an ice dam six to ten inches thick. Assuming you don’t want to climb up on the roof with a shovel, there are two ways of dealing with this: install electric de-icing cables on the edge of the roof (expensive and not very green), or get a roof rake.

A roof rake is basically a long pole with a plastic or metal scraper blade attached to the end. Instead of lifting and tossing the snow, as you would do with a shovel, you just muckle on to a clump with the scraper and use the pole to pull it off the edge of the roof. If your house isn’t too tall, you might be able to do this standing on the ground (safe). In my case, I get to do part of it standing on a ladder, and part of it standing on the roof of my woodshed (not safe). If you rake your roof immedialtely after the snow falls, you won’t have any problems. Wait a day, and you’ve got the start of a dam. Now, besides raking the roof, you’ve got to break the dam apart. I use a small hand axe, and try really hard not to chop holes in my roof.

In certain circumstances it can be a sort of meditative process. Most of the time it’s ulcer-inducing. And hard on the roof. Metal roofs are less problematic than shingles because they’re slipperier, and any ice dams that form are more likely to break loose on their own. Better still are roofs that are properly insulated and ventilated. You know you’re looking at such a roof when you see a load of snow atop it and no icicles whatsoever along the edges. It’s a beautiful thing.

When I drive by the prototype house on Crocker road and see fresh snow just sitting there like a white cap, I smile. I want a house like that. Hey, wait a sec… I’m getting a house like that! WAHOO! Want one? We’ve still got a few left. Otherwise, I’ve got an 18’ roof rake in pretty good shape that I’ll sell you, cheap…

Yoga! — Mary O'Herin

My yoga studies started over twenty-six years ago, jeez maybe around thirty. My very first yoga class was at an urban studio in St. Louis near Washington University. It was bare bones zen grunge decor. I was the youngest person there and we took cold showers halfway through the asanas. When I ask myself what inspired me to first go to yoga class I think it may have been Lilias, the woman who did yoga on the PBS channel. Even though as teenager I made fun of her reflexively to bolster my own wobbly sense of social status as a young female primate, I simultaneously wondered if she got her courage to appear in tights and leotard on TV from doing yoga. I remember liking it immediately. It was weird, but it was also both challenging and phat in a sensory way. What I mean by that is that it absorbed me completely while I was doing it. And my body and brain were equally absorbed. No part of me felt left out just watching, or already anticipating what came next. It put me in the zone.

Over three decades my practice has lapsed many times, for months, even a year once or twice. But I kept returning because no other do-anywhere, solo activity so consistently gave me that indescribably sweet feeling of being at home again in my own body. A feeling similar to my experience as a kid of running and playing outside all day, finally coming inside fabulously relaxed and happy, full of sunshine, chlorophyll vapors and oxygen. I know few adults who can afford to spend several days a week climbing trees, playing kickball, wrestling in the grass, riding bicycles, etc. to their hearts' content. Yoga class 1+ times per week and 15 to 45 minutes on my own daily give me that feeling many days.

Although my body has gained flexibility over the years, that seems inconsequential beside the expanded sense of intimacy with my body and my mind. I am proprioceptively bigger: that means athletically introverted. Yoga practice also gives me a deeply cared for sense of well-being.

It is difficult to write about something that is necessarily experiential. Yoga must be experienced to be understood and then after 6 to 9 months of going to class with a teacher you like and trust, you realize one day that a little light has gone on somewhere. But where? In your mind? Your heart? Your no longer stiff hips? Your SOUL?! What?!! It is a very curious awareness of self, but at the same time not self. Because it is awareness of breath, empty space inside, and internal geography that feels more Micro-Intra-Galactic Wild than SELF. I have become more Mary O'Herin, the fiery, sensitive, spontaneous, watery nature. At the same time I have become less attached to being Mary as I sink deeper into the being I call myself. Just be-ing is the greatest expression of my true nature, knowing by feeling it that I am a tiny part of something much bigger: the Micro-Intra-Galactic Wilderness Alliance.

You see it starts to sound so, so... mystical and OUT there, but my experience and what I am trying to describe is distinctly clear and defined by measurable parameters of flesh and oxygen in gaseous and liquid form. I understand all the weird tricks yogis are known for: they were attempting to advertise the fantastic results of yoga. Advertising savvy is not a benefit of yoga, by the way. I do not think yoga is the only way to enter the Micro-Intra-Galactic wilderness within. There are many paths. A yogi from Chicago cited yoga as one of the Healing Salves which are loosely: singing, dancing, laughing, exercise (enjoyed), diet, nature, silence, and story-telling. His recommendation was to have some personal recipe of them all in one's life. That, my friend, is my best attempt for now to explain why I am so devoted to yoga. The word Yoga means union: the mind is calmed, the body is enlivened, and they meet one another in the spaciousness of the soul as their electro-magnetic currents blend smoothly. I added that last bit. Namaste! I bow to the Divine Flame within You.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Refuge From The Storm — Coleen O'Connell

The snowstorm last week during the holidays, with advertised winds at 45 to 60 mph and 10-12 inches of snow, was a huge wake up call for me. Since I sold my house in November and moved to a rental in anticipation of breaking ground for cohousing, I realized I am now living in a house without a wood burning stove for the first time in 35 years. I started to stress. All alone in an abandoned summer home neighborhood on the water, what will I do if the power goes out? How will I cook, get water, keep warm? Always the wood pile and my stash of candles reassured me. I don’t even think I have a candle with me in this house. Yikes. What to do?

Tap into that future cohousing neighborhood! I called John and Denise Lightner, fellow cohousers and soon to be my house mates in a home we are buying together. I dialed their number and asked if I could take refuge as we did a trial run of living together during the storm. Packing my knitting, a few good books, a jigsaw puzzle, and my cat – I headed out before the storm started.

For two days we holed up watching the winds swirl the snow in multiple directions. The wood stove hummed as we kept feeding it while a kettle of water bubbled away on top. John placed a pile of 12 inch square soap stones on the stove; each night he would wrap them in a coverlet then tuck them into our beds at our feet. Wow! This is an old Maine remedy for staying warm at night and it was great – except the cat curled up on top of it and wouldn’t let me near. The electricity never went out so movies kept the kids entertained at night. We ate great food, laughed a lot, started on the puzzle which was way over the top in terms of size and complexity, and generally enjoyed the storm. We talked about our future life together in cohousing and the excitement we were feeling for living without using fossil fuels to heat our houses. What will our houses feel like during a snowstorm we wondered aloud? We had only to look across John and Denise’s field to the prototype house build by GO-Logic to see that it was snuggled right into the landscape and doing well. And the kids pondered whose house they would run to for hanging out during a storm.

As I returned two days later to my rental house on the ocean, I was grateful for our trial run at combining our households. Life is truly one big experiment and in cohousing we are taking the next steps in building the village that will raise our children. I look forward to more snow storms with the Lightners.

An Introvert and an Extrovert Choose Cohousing — Susie

A lot of people who know me say I'm an extrovert. My husband, on the other hand, is often perceived as an introvert. He's pretty quiet in social gatherings, prefers small groups or one-on-one interactions, and can work happily by himself for hours. Me, I need to have regular contact with people, and frequent inter-personal interaction. It's not always that clear cut, however. Dan's more willing to launch himself into new situations, but it can take me a lot of effort to overcome my reticence about meeting new people. We don't clearly draw the line between extroverted or introverted, and it can be a challenge to find a community that understands that. Cohousing is providing us the perfect solution.

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. 

Rules? Trust The Process, Trust The People — Denise Pendleton

Recently, as I talked to an acquaintance about my adventure in cohousing, I got a response of, “Cohousing sounds great and I’d love to have such an energy efficient home, but I couldn’t stand to live with all those rules. ” Umm…I’ve been thinking a lot about this perspective and why I, someone not terribly fond of rules myself, find myself three years into developing a cohousing community. Overwhelmingly, what I realize is that it’s the people that make the difference. From the outside, not knowing anyone, it certainly could seem like just a bunch of rules to hamper my freedoms. Yet because I know, like and admire the people creating the rules, I trust that differences can be worked out with honesty, humor, compassion and a commitment to healthy community.

As I continue to reflect on that comment, I remembered when I joined Belfast Cohousing three years ago and the reasons why. I had been on the sidelines of another cohousing community in development about ten years earlier and as I heard of their meetings and the rules that were emerging, I shook my head and thought it sounded pretty crazy. So I entered this community with my ears and eyes open for what might seem similarly unappealing. Instead, I found a high level of positive energy, competence and lots of laughter among visionaries who knew when to compromise and how to keep their eyes on the goal. New members coming in over the past few years have made similar observations after attending their first General Meeting.

Of course, this isn’t to say we don’t have conflicts. They’re inevitable in a project of this scope, and some have taken significant effort to resolve. But these challenges also present opportunities for self-growth through change. When some of us feel stuck, there are others able to step in and introduce a solution, a fresh perspective and help us move forward. This is the beauty of community and group work.

Perhaps I sound like I’m patting myself on the back as I talk of this great group of community members that I’m a part of, when honestly I just feel lucky to be here. All I bring to the group is my early years as a middle child in a family of five kids! What do others bring? We have a strong core of Audubon Expeditionary Institute alumni, which has brought us the dedication and experience of those who have lived on a bus travelling cross country to study sustainable living. We have a diversity of ages and lifestyles. We have teachers, farmers, and social workers. Many of us have had lots of experience with committee work. We have members who have lived in other educational, intentional or cohousing communities. Among this range of life experience, there is a capacity for bringing significant wisdom to the process of making decisions, sharing hopes and fears and guiding healthy group dynamics.

At a recent meeting, we reviewed Land Use Guidelines and I thought to myself, “Is this just another bunch of rules? ” Then a member noted how lucky we are to have this opportunity to set out intentional guidelines, instead of just living with the often misinterpreted or misunderstood implied rules that exist among neighbors and within neighborhoods. Here, we have an explicit process for sharing our hopes, dreams and fears in ways that honor and enlighten us all. As we shared our ideas about how the land could be a part of our lives, I grew excited in anticipation of the chance I will have to learn more about permaculture, farming, landscaping, and gardening best practices.

Once we enter into any relationship — be it marriage, friendship, or society — there are rules spoken and unspoken. What we get in return meets many of our deepest needs as social beings. I’ve just been reading about the En’owkin decision-making practice of the Okanagen Indian people, based on a belief that their entire community must be engaged to achieve sustainability. This practice follows a process, i.e. has its “rules” as it recognizes our interconnectedness and includes the perspective of the land and human relations. When decisions are made following this practice, “Material things and all the worrying about matters such as money start to lose their power. When people realize that the community is there to sustain them, they have the most secure feeling in the world. The fear starts to leave, and they are imbued with hope. ” (From an essay written by Okanagen Jeannette Armstrong, “En’owkin: Decision-Making as if Sustainability Mattered”) What I have been learning in my several years of forming Belfast Cohousing is that community steps in to transform fear into unexpected pleasures and gifts.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Surviving Winter — Elizabeth Garber

This poem helps answer that perennial fear
people worry about when they move to Maine.
How will we make it through the winter?

What It Takes to Get Through the Winter in Maine

We probably wouldn't choose it, staying here all winter,
if we weren't so rooted in like the indigo mussel shells
grasping onto the ledges as the daily tides of winter
wrap and batter and wear us smooth.

The winter is a series of heartaches and reprieves.

It begins with the first cold days that crash in so fast
the last week of August, like a slap to the side of the face,
leaving us bereft, grieving the softly warm luminous days.
Suddenly sobered, we are left facing
what it will take
to get through the winter.

That summer, so sweet, so short, the blue washed light
over the shimmering sea, the blissful handful of days
the waves were warm enough to enter.
Skin alive and radiant, sun filled, granite sparkles illuminating eyes
shining over campfires on evenings that stretch out so long.
Those days when some tender place in us relaxes and trusts
that we are held and supported in this warmth,
as the sea holds us so buoyantly.

Then the spell is broken.
The first cold warning softens soon enough,
but nothing is the same again.
We feel older, wearied, humbled.
This is what winter brings us,
again and again,
tide after tide,
wearing away at us,
teaching us to surrender
to the darkness, the cold, the fear.

Now is the time to gather up what we need
for getting through the winter, and
I don't mean getting the wood in and the house banked,
the windows sealed, the doors muffled.

The winter is a series of heartaches and reprieves,
and each one hits harder than the last,
shearing us as bare as the trees.

We need to stock the root cellar
with enough Ball jars of canned ripe peaches
to open the remembrance of sunlight into dark winter nights.
We need to stock up enough captivating books to draw us
expectantly under our deep covers for the long cold night.
We need to know enough warm kitchens we can step into
where arms will embrace us
and warm voices will rise to surround us.
We need to engage in enough good work that will grasp us strongly
and work us hard and well on days we can't bear another storm.
We need enough music so songs will rise up out of our bellies
and take us singing out into the long icy drive home.
We need enough points of contact that our hold
in the storm will be enough to make it through.

Winter's work is to take us to our greatest fears,
to break us down, and work us hard.
We have to strengthen that muscle
that anchors us to the rock of the winter sea,
holding us steady.

We don’t know if we will be enough to make it through the winter.

This may seem like a warning,
but really, it's winter’s challenge,
an invitation.

Years after writing this poem, it seems the list of what we need
— captivating friends around the kitchen table, playing and singing music,
good food canned for the winter — all of this is what we are gathering
together for our life in Belfast Cohousing.