‘Community”. It’s a provocative word and we encounter it often these days. Why? Because we’re waking up to its significance. Community suggests a state of existing in some form of relationship with others rather than carrying on our lives as isolated individuals, couples, or solitary nuclear families.
I’m 12 years old and awarded a “campership”- two weeks at Camp Bonnie Brae, an historic Girl Scout retreat in New England’s Berkshire Hills. I’m one of 16 campers to brave a wetland trail to the Enchanted Forest, where 4-bunk tents are sheltered by an enveloping pine canopy deep in the woods. Together we build campfires, sing, hike, swim, cook, and braid our requisite share of lanyards. We experience the simple pleasure of setting tables in a rustic dining hall, and joining voices with 150 others chanting grace before meals. Order, discipline and good times prevail, along with caring adults and ample opportunity for mischief in a tribe of peers. Every minute of those two weeks I’m on cloud 9- experiencing a first immersion in Community.
In the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire, the Unitarian Church operates a seasonal conference center. Encouraged by a former “shoaler” I register for the coveted week-long arts program on Star Island. It’s June, 1989 and 75 strangers are housed in a traditional 19th century, oceanfront inn on a rockbound promontory in the Atlantic. We’ve come to share music, theater, poetry, movement and our lives. Enduring friendships develop over communal meals, clean-up chores, nocturnal conversations and the intimacy that comes of making art together. On our final Sunday we board the return ferry knowing something extraordinary transpired on Star. The alchemy is simply Community,
Fast forward to 2009. Late afternoon. Toasty mid-winter sun streams across an expanse of butcher block in a spacious Commons House kitchen at Ithaca Ecovillage, an award-winning intentional community in upstate New York, consisting of 3 neighborhoods with a total of 56 households. Five residents and I are preparing a 4-course meal for about 50 neighbors who will descend on the dining room in less than two hours. I’m a guest and I’m assigned to garlic. Never in my life have I confronted this much garlic. Roll, crush, peel, chop. A freshly sharpened Sabatier flies through the task, barely keeping up with orders from the chef. Multiple conversations blend over mounds of veggies, marinated tofu, salad fixings, someone’s infamous tahini dressing and a half acre of fragrant apple crisp calculated with leftovers in mind. This is more fun than working solo in my own kitchen plus I’m learning how to feed an army with new recipes. Never mind that I can’t lift institutional-sized pots. Shared chores make work a social occasion and before long an aromatic banquet appears on the serving counter to the delight of fellow diners. In a neighborhood of 28 households, where communal meals are planned three times a week, taking turns on a cooking team means working perhaps 2 x a month and being cooked for the other ten times. I’ll take those odds.
The weekend as a guest of Ithaca is one of many forays into the world of intentional community I’ve enjoyed in thirty years of exploring alternative housing, accumulating layers in a vision of the ideal environment in which to enjoy healthy, non-institutional aging in my elder years, preferably with caring friends and companions. My goal is to make the vision a reality on Cape Ann by assembling a core group of potential residents for a shared community housing venture. To join the conversation: email@example.com