9 04 2014

written by Martin

Twenty years ago, when I was living in Vermont, a friend of mine moved from there down to middle Tennessee to join a startup permaculture community that was going to be centered around one of the big names in permaculture–honestly, I forget just who.  She returned to Vermont a few months later, saying she had been unable to get along with the guy well enough to stay.  We’re not talking boyfriend/girlfriend here, just being members of the same team/community.  Apparently, she was not the only person who couldn’t make it work with this particular guy, whoever he was, because he is no longer here in middle Tennessee, nor is there a twenty-year old, permaculture-based community in this area, to the best of my knowledge.

While I would love to be proved wrong about this and have members of this community emerge from obscurity and say, “We are here, we have been here, and here are at all the amazing things we’ve done in 20 years,” this apparently failed community is only one of a number of examples I could cite.  It seems that the tricky part of manifesting the long-term vision that permaculture demands isn’t molding the landscape, but forming and keeping together a community of people who can forge a common vision and implement it.  The same holds true for the whole spectrum of groups committed to “paradigm shift,” including, to name the first few that come to mind, political/environmental activism, the Transition Town movement, and healing centers and intentional communities. I have seen such difficulties arise, and disrupt communities and movements, numerous times over the course of my life.  That’s what I’m going to be discussing in this blog post:  what I have learned from my 40+ year involvement with intentional communities.

In college, I joined Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and was one of those who burned his draft card in Central Park in the late 60′s.  I attended enough SDS meetings to become discouraged by its failure to address the egos and emotions of those with a neurotic urge towards leadership and/or martyrdom, and its failure to “be the change it wanted to see.”ghandi Later I moved to San Francisco and witnessed the unravelling of the Haight-Ashbury as a viable community.  (In retrospect, my own neediness and lack of social and material skills probably helped propel that downfall, although I’m sure it all would have come apart just fine without me!)  I joined a small group that aspired to the model Robert Heinlein created in the science fiction novel “Stranger in a Strange Land,” but that succumbed to the neuroses of its founders within a month.  I slept for one night and one night only at a Digger crash pad that had slid so far down the tubes that people were peeing in a sink full of dirty dishes, because the toilets had long ago stopped working.  (OK, that was actually on the Lower East Side of New York, but it was The Diggers.)  I attended what turned to be the last meeting of the San Francisco Diggers, where those who had been in the movement for a while bemoaned the fact that they didn’t own the buildings that they were trying to maintain as The Free Store and the Community Kitchen.  I met several times with a group of people who were getting together to buy land in southern Oregon. That disintegrated in the face of actually coming up with the cash necessary for the deal.  I hung out with the folks from the Harbinger Community, who had the use of a hot spring/resort hotel north of San Francisco.  They lasted a few months before dissolving in a cloud of bad drugs and irresponsible people. Read the rest of this entry »


30 01 2014

When I was a kid/teenager, growing up in a safe, quiet suburb, I loved adventure novels and movies, stories in which the hero/ine had to deal, not so much with evil people, but with the impartial force and majesty of nature. I loved the histories of South Polar expeditions, Robinson Crusoe and similar novels, and the writings of Jack London.

Then I became a hippie and moved to the country, jumping from a small Vermont college to a series of communes in the California foothills to The Farm in Tennessee, and life became an adventure novel.  Vermont got this city kid out into the country, and acquainted me for the first time with weather that could kill me.  California introduced me to horizons I could scan and find no trace of civilization, and my trajectory at The Farm provided me with a life close to the earth, marrying and raising a family while living in a series of school buses and 16′X32′  army surplus squad tents, far from the normal trappings of American culture.  This was back when Tennessee had serious winters, folks.  There would be snow on the ground for weeks, because the temperature would stay below freezing for weeks, and there was nothing between us and that weather but an inch of school bus roof or a fraction of an inch of canvas.  When the ground wasn’t frozen, it was likely to be very muddy. We chopped lots of wood, hauled lots of water, had two home births in those school buses, and helped turn a couple of square miles of Tennessee back woods into a thriving community, as well.

In fact, the community thrived to the point that the adventure of life was no longer so much about surviving the weather as it was about growing the community.  Our family moved into a real house, with wood floors and walls, insulation, and even running hot water and a shower!  The roof no longer flapped in a strong wind, nor did a heavy rain storm  drip from the ceiling, flood in through the door, or drown out conversation.  That happened around 1975, and, for most of the nearly 40 years since then, my dwelling’s ability to withstand the elements has not been much of an issue.

That changed in the Spring of 2013, when we moved back to Rabbit Hole Hollow after the fire.  During the summer, apart from the occasional rainstorm, it was no big deal.  We did our eating and dish washing outside.  During daylight hours, there was plenty of hot water for showers and kitchen cleanup from the two hundred feet of garden hose we ran up onto the roof of what remained of the house.  As the days grew shorter, the availability of hot water diminished, but we didn’t really think much about winter. The last several winters had been ridiculously mild–we are in the early stages of global warming, after all–hey, some winter soon, it might not even frost!  Ooh, the bugs will be really bad the summer after that happens! Read the rest of this entry »


5 01 2014

a post from Cindy and Martin…..


Our situation, living on our land, without normal North American housing, continues to fascinate me. I am intrigued by the adaptations we have to make, how habits created in a more “normal” living situation do (or don’t) continue to make sense, and the responses of friends and new acquaintances to the twist our life took when our house burned down.

Because I am in my mid-fifties and Martin is in his mid-sixties and has had major medical problems, some friends are fearful for us. Others simply want to know what our life is like. I realize that our situation stimulates the imagination of our listeners. They put themselves in our shoes … and all too frequently don’t seem to understand how we experience our daily lives. They focus on how they would resolve the situation and “get back to normal”.

One among many things we are learning is the influence of modern North American culture has on us and our friends.

When I say “culture,” I mean the interwoven interactions between us and our families, neighbourhood, city, region, and of course the natural world. Culture is how we live in context with the natural and man-made environments.

We get asked frequently “Where are you staying?” I have to ask “What do you really want to know?” Where do we sleep? Where do we bathe? Where do we eat? Where do we wash dishes? Where do we do our laundry?  Where do we cook? Where do we use computers? Where do we read? Where do we hang out? Where do we watch TV?

“We don’t watch no stinkin’ TV.  Life is just too interesting.” (Martin interjected that statement!)

A normal North American house is the usual answer for most or all of those questions.  We live on the land indicated by our street address. We sleep in one place, bathe in the back yard during hot, warm, or cool/not cold weather, and at the homes of friends or family when it’s cold. We cook and spend our computer time in one place on our land and sleep in another. We walk to go to the refrigerator or freezer or to get potable water. All those amenities are located in what’s left of our house. We sometimes “understand”   we are living in a huge mansion with great distances between rooms and natural hallways decorated with sunlight and other star light,  weather, plants, trees, and sky.

During Autumn, we were asked  “How are you going to survive the winter?”  or “How are you going to stay warm?” Read the rest of this entry »


16 12 2013


24 11 2013

I don’t have much to add to what’s already on the GoFundMe site….except to ask my readers to spread our story around.  Thank you all!


19 11 2013

written by Martin

I’m feeling pretty happy right now.  Today I put the finishing touches on a support beam in the basement of what’s left of our old house.  The beam frames the doorway from the “old” basement (which used to be the “new” basement) into what will be the new basement, which used to be the “old” basement.  I had to do this because when we built the new bearing walls in what used to be “the great room,” we didn’t realize that one of them was sitting on a floor joist that hung in the middle of that door frame, and thus was essentially unsupported at one end.

That leads into the tangle of all the shoddy work done by the contractor who built “the great room” back in the mid-eighties, but I don’t want to enter that quagmire.  I’m happy with myself for finishing what, for me, was a large and intense carpentry project–sistering the beams under the bearing walls (adding another beam directly beside the existing one, for you non-carpenters), building the support structure I mentioned, and, for good measure, shrouding the south wall of the basement in plastic, to keep it (and our water supply) warmer.  There was the further satisfaction of actually finishing a project–there is so much to do here that, all too often, we find ourselves having to leave something unfinished because something else has become more important.  That gets frustrating!

I had to recall and renew my long-dormant carpentry skills so I could figure out how to slip sixteen-foot 2X8′s into an existing floor system all by myself, and do a good enough job to satisfy Cindy, who, in addition to being an ecstatic mystic, has an engineer’s training and eye for detail and quality.  This stretched not just my sixty-five year old muscles, but my problem-solving ability, my patience, and, at times, our relationship, but I appreciated all that, because, singly and as a couple, we’re not just out for a good time, we’re living our lives, and involved with each other, to find the places where we need to grow, and help each other shed outworn or inappropriate habits.  Whatever happens, it’s all grist for the mill. Read the rest of this entry »


14 10 2013

This was written by Cindy with some input  from Martin.

One of the guiding aims of the Transition Movement is to create resilience.  The dictionary defines “resilience” two ways:

1. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

“nylon is excellent in wearability and resilience”

2. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

“the often remarkable resilience of so many British institutions”

Adding the concept of change, the “back into shape” may well not be the same shape as before the difficulty.

Resilience and us

Why is resilience important? Being resilient means having flexibility, awareness, and the ability to act. If you are flexible and experience stress, you can bear it for a while and then resume your “unstressed” shape when the stress is over. If you are inflexible, stress can break you, maybe even kill you. Read the rest of this entry »


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