Finding my way to the island (a time line)
July 19th, 2009: I left my team in Mississippi to join my family in Kentucky.
July 19th, 2009-August 1st, 2009: In Kentucky, I took a few days to just recuperate. The trip to Mississippi left me physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. Seriously, seriously, seriously exhausted. I couldn’t form sentences. I couldn’t read. I could barely think.
For three weeks, I had lived and breathed my Mississippi kids, and that didn’t stop when I boarded the plane for Kentucky. I was completely used up and I had poured out all I had to give, and didn’t have anything left. The team challenged me and pushed me beyond my limits.
Where I had drawn boundaries in the sands of my comfort and sanity, the young Mississippites had trotted boldly across, kicking the sands beyond any point of recognition, and leaving me floating completely lost without them. In this state, I did very little. I floated around trying to find the sense of peace I had before going to Mississippi.
During this time, and in such a state of internal chaos, I knew I couldn’t return to the city for school. I started thinking about alternative plans. Dreaming of creating a future village for orphans, I wanted to search the world for a good location. Instead, I stumbled upon COA’s website. COA quickly informed me that if I hurried, I might be accepted for the fall term. Skeptical, I sent my references and forwarded my transcript.
August 26th, 2009: The admissions team let me know that I was accepted.
August 27th-August 30th, 2009: I decided to go.
September 2nd, 2009- I found someone on Craig’s list with a room to rent. When I googled the address, I found this description,
“We envision a community that nurtures the individuality of each member. We envision a community that practices a way of living that is sustainable for generations to come, a way of living that defines by practice and direction the meaning of human ecology. We envision a community that strives to work out our personal difficulties between members through its own ingenuity.Established in 1978 as a collective working to create a whole-grain bakery, the community has evolved into a group of artists and human ecologists. Located in town, we have been a source of housing and support for College of the Atlantic people for 15 years. Some of our members are actively involved in protecting the environment of Maine through grassroots and legislative involvement.In practice, we are economically independent with an individual contribution toward upkeep and taxes of the building, phone, electric, and recycled paper products. Physically, our community consists of one large commercial building, one large organic garden, and one large shed. We have a complete woodworking shop and dream of a pottery studio.
We have recently purchased 19 acres of woods and blueberries to give the community a larger garden and a retreat in the country. This could possibly lead us to relocate in the future if the way opens.”
September 4th, 2009: Chelsea, Greg, and I drove from NY to ME and moved into the Downeast Friends Community. Chelsea and Greg stayed to check out my living situation and to make sure it’s not a cult, or, as my mom puts it, a bunch of “naval-gazers”—people who sit around looking at their belly buttons in amazement all day. It’s not, although belly buttons are pretty cool, if you really think about it. 😉
The Downeast Friends Community
My vocabulary is not wide enough to explain this place in all its fullness, so for now, you will have to suffer with cliche’s. I live in a hippie commune, or, as one of my teachers described it today, a “peace community.” I’m here to reclaim the word “hippie” and direct you in a specific direction as I describe my community. Otherwise, I’m doing everyone an injustice by summing it up with a word so quickly stereotyped.
I tend to stay away from the term because of its connotation with drug use and free love, but I’m learning that there are so many other kinds of hippies and it’s not a dirty word. The word hippie originally began to describe those living counter to popular culture. Today’s hippies are different because today’s culture is different. The hippies here are not running around naked, getting high, or doing the whole free love thing (or at least are not doing those things in the house.. and at least not all the time). They (we?) are just living counter to popular culture. We eat organically, try to grow some of our own food, or at least be conscious of everything we eat, are nonviolent, and try to live intentionally. Many are artists and musicians, but some are scientists and mathematicians. Many are vegans or vegetarians, and almost all are working towards a better world. That describes College of the Atlantic too.
Joining Downeast Friends
Chelsea, Greg, and I arrived to meet James, the craiglist guy, and Robert, the owner of the house, late Friday afternoon. James gave us a tour of the house. The house looks like it’s two houses that have been connected in the middle. James described one side of the house as the “old person side” and the other side as the “young side.” One side belongs to the couple who rent out the rooms. The other side has room for 10-14 tenants spread out over three floors. There is also a large living room and kitchen. My room is on the top floor, and it’s simple, but perfect.
The other members of the family (because we are a family) have rooms through out the house. Ian and Christian, however, prefer to sleep outside under the stars, and they have hammocks set up in the garden that they retreat to at night.
When Chelsea and Greg and I arrived, Robert informed us that we were to be guests of the house for two nights to see how it works, and to give us two days to find alternative housing. Sweet deal. If I decide to stay, all the housemembers will “come to consensus” in mid-September and decide that we all want to live together. If we are all “in consensus” we will sign the contract.
The contract is not a normal contract.
Instead, it’s a comprehensive guide telling you to cover the TV with a blanket when you are not using it and to let others know before you do use it so they can leave the house if they so desire, and which plants in the garden are for communal use, and how the definition of “sustainable” is NO WASTE.
The contract stresses harmony between human beings and the environment. Material goods and work is shared among all members of the community. This desire to live in harmony with each other and the environment is the glue that holds us together.
Explore the Reality of that idea
The others who live here are very interesting characters. One short conversation with any of them leaves you wanting to hear their life story. Maybe with time, those will come. For now, I only have my stories of how things are much more free and flowy here. Structure is loose. For example, when explaining to Robert how Greg could sleep on the floor, Robert put his hand up and slowly said, “well…… why…… don’t you…… explore…… the reality….. of that…… and then… see where that….. takes you……. and just…… go…… from there.” Maybe it wasn’t that slow, and I’m just used to people talking faster. I don’t know.
The next morning at breakfast, we sat out on the porch and ate blue sticky rice with granola and blueberries and talked about the garden, and the imbalance between omega 3’s and omega 6’s in the American diet. At one point, Ian, barefoot (I’ve never seen him wear shoes), wearing overalls, a plaid flannel shirt, and his usual dreads, came out of his hammock to tell us he had found glasses.
When he learned someone had left them behind, he put them on and said, “Wow. The trees have actual leaves! I can see how people become addicted to these!” Addicted to glasses? I never thought of it that way. Despite his appearance, which I must admit, initially had me wary (my prejudice labeled Ian a drifter doing nothing with his life). I was SO wrong. Ian is brilliant. He never graduated from COA, but he seems to know everything about food and plants and their interactions with each other and the body. I just want to follow him around with a camera and record everything he says.
I am perched here in my room on the top floor, looking out over the rest of the town, and enjoying the sun streaming in. In the coming days, I hope I will describe more of the characters and conversations here. But for now, world, I just want to announce that I am here, and this place already feels like home.
Yes, I am here with this small faimly of Downeast Friends, living in this big house in this small community on this island off the coast of Maine– I’m here, I’m here, I’m here!