Monday, March 30, 2009

If You Seek a Pleasant Community, Look About You!

This is Laura’s third Lauratorial, which appeared in Earth Quarterly #3, January 1999.

I used to think lots of things. I used to think that if I could only become perfect, then I would be able to go about the world happily, interacting with people in a healthy way. I used to think that I had to be perfect before I could even try to build relationships. I used to think that if I could only find the perfect mate, then we could be by ourselves, being perfect together. I have been thoroughly disabused of these thinkings over the years.

What if what Shakespeare said is true, that all the world is a stage and we are all actors? That really grabs my attention, because then all I am is the part I am playing, which I can’t do alone, even if it is a soliloquy. Even if I appear to be on stage alone, gushing out my emotions, I must still believe that there is an audience out there for me to perform for. Which brings me to my point, that we are not solitary creatures—we have an innate desire/need to be with others.

Community is something that I have been hearing a lot about lately. On our recent travels to promote and find material for Earth Quarterly, I will bet I talked with at least twenty individuals who shared their vision/dream/plan for creating their own community. Each one had a spot, or a possible spot in mind—Dripping Springs, Cascabel, Paradise, Crestone, Cloudcroft. Most of them had acreage—40 to 1200—as part of the plan. These communities were at various stages of development, from merely an idea to actually owning and working the land and advertising for members to join. Most incorporated some form of gardening/orcharding, husbandry of the land, sharing of dining facilities, and meaningful ceremonies. Some had specific rules or regulations in their ideal communities, such as eating only vegan food or no alcohol or drugs on the property. The one thing that they all seemed to share is that they want to be safe places for like-minded folks to grow together and to support each other and be supported in their growth. The theme seems to be: THERE HAS GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY TO LIVE.

I confess that I have also been yearning for my community. This Thanksgiving was the happiest that I ever remember since my childhood. I grew up in a family of women. My mother divorced when I was tiny and as a personal blessing to me, took my sister and me to live in my Grandma’s house with my Grandma. For a long time I didn’t realize that I had no father. I was well supplied and thoroughly loved by my two parents—Mother and Grandma. Grandma was truly well named—a grand lady, the matriarch of our family. The rest of our extended family all came and gathered at Grandma’s house on weekends and holidays. This was cool because I already lived there! Thanksgiving with all the leaves in the table and at least one extra card table was a given. Practically every Sunday of my childhood, I gathered with people who had known me since forever. Every holiday meant playing with my cousins and listening to my Aunts and Aunties "palavering" with my mother and grandma. It was a foundation for me to grow in. I knew who my group was, and I had a clear picture of who we were. When I moved away in my twenties and my grandma died, that support system changed.

I have lived here in Radium Springs with Gordon for ten years. There are two other families that we have known all that time. All three families have one son apiece—ages 7, 9, and 11. One of the families bought our neighbor’s house about five years ago and moved in a third of a mile north of us. Their property adjoins ours, with an overgrown "river walk" for the kids to walk safely back and forth between the two houses, away from the road. The other family lives too far away for our preference. They are on the other side of Las Cruces from us, probably as far from town in their direction as we are in our direction. Available land around here is quite expensive and they have other dreams and callings, but they are willing to drive out here and we sometimes go to their house to see them. It all sounds quite lovely and perfect. It is. It is also a lot of just plain hard work, from the relationship perspective. (Every other perspective too, but that’s another piece of writing!)

We just very probably love these six people. (And several others besides that I haven’t described here.) But love is a process. It is, I am discovering, a way of behaving. Let me explain. We’ve gone through lots of trials, tribulations and snits with these dear folks. Like the "three boy" phenomenon that we have dealt with for years. (Remember the time line—we’ve known them for ten years, and the boys are now 7,9 and 11) Two of the boys at one time can manage to get along, but add the third and it automatically becomes like three testosterone baby roosters with hands (fists). We’ve moderated their mini-wars for many years. The boys do better now, sometimes...

Anyway, we have come together many times over the years for different reasons. We started "Full Moon Drumming" three years ago last October. The three families and various other neat/cool/friendly folks meet in our pasture or in the above mentioned neighbors’ back yard or sandbar (we are both right on the Rio Grande) on the Saturday closest to full moon and engage in some degree of drumming, dancing, and howling. It’s been a very mixed bag over the years: everything from major drumming and wild ecstatic dancing to quiet chats by the bonfire. Lots of marshmallows, popcorn, boys with "fire sticks," dogs, dog fights, guitars, dulcimer, penny whistle solos, and starry nights where I fall asleep stinking of smoke. There were times when we despaired of ever being able to modify the boys’ behavior. But we continued to do Full Moon Drumming, and we just printed up the schedule for 1999, so I reckon we will be continuing.

Another thing that we did together several years ago was dubbed "Dirt Group" (because many of us enjoy digging in the dirt). We met once a month at somebody’s house for a potluck and a discussion about some "permaculture-related" topic. We advertised it in the local newspapers and met some swell new folks, several of whom have remained welcome members of our "group." Dirt Group sort of fell apart (remember the "trials, tribulations and snits" bit) (I take full responsibility for the "snits"), but our core group of co-supporters did not fall apart.

Thanksgiving this year we decided to get together in spite of "family obligations," so we organized a Day After Thanksgiving Festival and Potluck. It was so successful that it went on for two days and included a wonderful new family from Pinos Altos that we recently met. It became an overnighter! We liked that so much we did a Second Day of the New Year Extravaganza Potluck and Orchard Clean-up combined with Full Moon Drumming. It was just as good, a smaller group, but with the same spirit-sustaining sense about it. I baked cupcakes and scalloped potatoes that morning knowing that I would be feeding them to some of the people who help to feed my soul. This could be big. We’re on to something here!

Okay, so what does this all mean? Well, I guess it means that we (generic humanity) might probably have the potential for a community wherever we might be, unless we are not around any other people at all. I suppose there are people who could make a community with just trees and animals. I know I couldn’t—I know I like having people in my life with whom I can talk, dance, wrangle, explore, eat, share, and grow. After all, it would be tough to convince a deer or a squirrel to write a book review for EQ!

Gordon and I have been looking for our community for many years, searching for "our people," which is one reason for starting Dry Country News and Earth Quarterly. The motto for the state of Michigan can be altered to describe what we have found out—"If you seek a pleasant community, look about you!" The Michigan motto refers to a "pleasant peninsula," but the point is the same to me. I am probably where I am to learn something, and if I were living somewhere else I would still have me there creating my world. My life and my world are my own outpicturing, the result of my own personal growth, a mirroring of my own inner consciousness, my own access to the Infinite. My community exists within me first; then it appears to happen out there. If I am unhappy with my surroundings, I can go within myself for the lesson, and ask for information about the stumbling block. My "pleasant peninsula" is available to me by surrendering to that which lies beyond the reach of my mind, in the silence of my own inner being. We all make our own community by continuing to open ourselves to All That Is.

Thank you Owen, Katia, David, Daniel, Amber, Jeremiah, Theresa, Howard, Mike, Melissa, and all you ever-lovin’, full moon drummin’, strummin’, subscribin’ friends out there! Also I would like to say a special thanks to my mother, who taught me about unconditional love and acceptance by the way she has always lived her life. Thanks too to my mom-in-law for her unfaltering support. Please stay in touch, everybody!


Anonymous Jacques Conejo said...


10 years ago... Seems like a view into a reality quite different from today, while on some levels, remaining somehow curiously, almost eerily unchanged...

Looking back from the present, our vision narrows, as in a painting a city street narrows toward the vanishing point of perspective.
The details become smaller, less defined less tactile. The details become mere suggestions and the mind is free to fill in or assume the details...

Reading this, makes me feel like I've hopped into a painting of a a vibrant marketplace in an ancient city. As I walk the dusty street toward the "vanishing point" (of space and time perspective), with each stepthe street opens and expands and fills with shops and people and smells... The life and color and sound of an ancient market.
I grow smaller on the painting, until I too am just a dot, a suggestion ... walking toward the vanishing point, away from the foreground, inside the painting.

The wonder and delight is that as the reader moves ostensibly away from the present and toward the past... the details become rich, full and real.

Reading this gives breadth and depth to your personal experience as a human becoming, and of the lives and histories of the events and people who've been part of the "Homestead" experience.

Thank you for writing this Laura. Thank you for bringing this painting out, that we might hop into it and visit the lushness of what was...


7:18 AM  

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