Week two of being snowed in. A little over a week ago we decided to brave a blizzard in my tiny little car in spite of the warnings and it ended up being a 23 hour trip rather than the 13 or so we’d bargained on. We had to abandon the car a kilometer away from home and then trudge back and forth from the car to the house and back again unloading groceries. The next day, we shoveled a path for the car and pushed it home. Ah, Canadian winters- can’t beat ‘em.
Anyway- in my last blog, I spoke about borrowing property as an alternative to buying. There are other options. Intentional communities for instance. An intentional community is any group of people owning, or sharing, property together. There are many kinds of intentional communities. Some are set up with the sole intention of sharing the cost of the property. I came across one in Calgary, Alberta that is a group of townhouses- the owners purchased the block and a couple of vehicles for sharing among them. They share property but are otherwise completely autonomous.
Other communities share a common vision, or goals, whether the link be religious, environmental or a more encompassing set of beliefs and way of life. Many of these have a communal kitchen and shared chores. Oftentimes, a community will have an application process and sometimes a ‘trial period’ for newer members during which a decision is made whether the person ‘fits well’ with the existing community. Some communities require that you “buy in”, others require no financial input.
I’ve never been much interested in communal living. Some of you may have deduced from my previous articles that I’m not really a people-person. The thought of lively closely with others, well… Let’s just say I’ve spent most of my life moving away from, rather than towards that. Shane is very much the same and I’m eternally grateful for that. I don’t think that I could handle trying to balance my life with a social extrovert. (Actually, I know that I couldn’t- I’ve tried.)
I was very much surprised then, at how remarkably comfortable I was (we both were) with the whole thing when we visited Oregon to take a couple of courses. We shared not only work and living space with others, but meals, and evenings. We had many late night discussions with Donkey, and Brian, and Fabien, among others, down at the smoking spot. We discussed everything from politics, to philosophy, to building practices, and books. It was all very interesting to me, not just in the topics we covered but in the fact that I could spend that much time with people without feeling the urge to run.
Ianto and his wife Linda, who run the property and courses, stressed the importance of community throughout. Ianto even had us go through the uncomfortable exercise of sitting closely, no further than elbow width apart, to help assimilate participants to communal living. “We’ve been socialized to build walls,” he asserted, and to work alone, and as such we are destined to fail. Interesting concept. At one time, I would have dismissed the whole thing as hippy-drivel but spending some time watching and living in that kind of environment left me with a completely different mindset.
In a relatively short amount of time, we did a tremendous amount of work. We built an addition to a building- complete with roof, built several rocket stoves including a water heater, wandered through the forest collecting deadfall suitable for building, discussed building specifications, plastered a small home and a good section of a courtyard wall. Our meals were shared and always timely, the dishes were always done, and the property in perfect order at the end of the day. And yet at any given time there were people off wandering by themselves or in small groups, meditating or simply enjoying the weather.
I don’t know about you, but when I take time off to wander the property or read for leisure or am otherwise ‘unproductive’ the chores quickly stack up. I could easily be busy every waking moment and still not get everything that ‘needs’ to be done completed. The expression “many hands make light work” suddenly took on new meaning for me.
So did the notion of equality for that matter. While I did overhear a couple of complaints from people about others who weren’t ‘doing as much’, for the most part people accepted that everyone had something of value to contribute. Those contributions might not be directly measurable against each other, but added to the overall well being of the community in some fashion or other so were equally valuable.
Of course, common ground is essential to communal living. There’s no way that Shane and I would be able to spend any amount of time with people we had nothing in common with, let alone share the same property. I think more important than having common characteristics though is having a common goal. All sorts of people from different backgrounds and with different ideas and interests can come together and work quite well if their goals align.
Eventually, Shane and I will probably welcome others to share our property. We intend to produce more than we can consume ourselves and will have plenty to share. But with several large gardens to tend, and the animals that we plan on keeping, as well as bees- well, the days will be quite full. I personally enjoy manual labour, especially that which takes me outdoors, but I can see how having a few extra hands might free up the days. So at some point we’ll search out some friends who are also interested in abandoning the cash economy and are willing to pitch in with a few chores in return for a home on the property and a share in the food produced. Free us all up to spend more time enjoying the day and less time ‘working’.
In the meantime, for those of our readers who are struggling for options- consider an intentional community. There are as many types of communities as there are personalities. Take the time to do some research and you just may find your perfect fit.