gathering

As an only child, I find it interesting that some of my most memorable and life changing memories have been made while in a communal sort of setting.

The summer I turned 17, I was chosen to participate in the Ontario Ranger Program and was sent to live in a small town called Sioux Lookout with 35 girls from all over Ontario.  I struggled with being away from home and was likely the most homesick girls there, but it changed my life.  I came home with new confidence and warm memories.  We did a 7 day canoe trip and I thought I would die as we carried canoes through swamps up to our chests.  It is powerful to feel like you might die, but finish it anyway. We “cleaned” dumps, we cleared trails and were eaten alive by the bugs.  We were forced, by strict government rules to wear long pants and hard hats while we removed grass and weeds from the park’s beach.

But there were moments of breathtaking beauty, stillness and growth as well.  I will never forget watching the sun set while we ate our supper on the warm rocks or dipping our feet in lakes and rapids.  Nor will I forget the night we arrived at our campsite after a particularly grueling day, stripped down out of our filthy clothes (leaving our work boots on of course) and jumping from our canoes into the cool quiet water.  We were immersed and welcomed into the local Native community and participated in many pow wows and incredible ceremonies.  I felt strong, lean and invincible when it was over and would recommend it to any 17 year old considering a similar program.

I didn’t feel that sense of community again until much later when I took a summer job (payment was in fresh food, good conversation, and learning) at a local organic CSA and market farm.  It was the summer of 2007.  We were just married, I had just graduated from Dental Hygiene school and was looking for something to do while I also looked for a “real” job.  Here is an excerpt from my long ago blog detailing my first experience:

“…Working at the farm was excellent.  I transplanted green pepper plants in my barefeet while chatting about life and attempted to define “hippies”. The sun bronzed my skin and glinted in my newly darkened locks.   I felt beautiful and full.

 It was interesting to learn his background and how he came upon Organic farming.  He was living in Manhatten running some sort of DJ magazine.  His life was all about making money, music, and partying.  His friend inherited this family farm and he came out to visit.  He loved it and offered to run the farm.  Now he farms and only leaves the farm for essentials and to be at the farmer’s market in Lindsay.

He wanders calmly through the fields and randomly smokes a cigar that he then snuffs out and pokes back in his shirt pocket.  A hint of his past life vices perhaps.

He emailed me to ask if I would be interested in working towards a CSA membership in which we would get a box of yummy goodnesses: veggies, herbs and even fresh cut flowers!  He said that he enjoyed working with me and that I had great energy/vibe…”

“…Mom, Mike and I went out to work on the farm (click) again.  It has turned into an imperative ritual of becoming.  We sit in the dusty rows and stain our finger nails with mud and beet juice.  The work seems effortless and the conversation is easy.  We nibbled on trout and potatoes that farmer Mike made up for everyone to try and fresh banana bread that I made to share. We continued discussions on Yurt living and got the full tour of Francis’ store that has made an overdue transition from the stagnant downtown of Lindsay to a small gazebo on the farm property.

After harvest, we fed and visited the goats and Jack the Donkey.  Francis cooked us yet another amazing dinner of  delicious cold cucumber soup, beef, pork, new potatoes, beets, carrots, beans, salad, wine, and beer all set to jazz…of course!

I wish that I could somehow capture the essence of the days and evenings spent on the farm in a mason jar.  Just to open them up and take deep whiffs when we need it most.  Mike and I come away with such a pumped up energy when we leave and let it set the tone for the rest of our weekend…”

It quickly turned into a weekly event and Mike and my mom even began to join us after work for the harvest on Fridays.   After a long afternoon as the sun went down it gently turned into a harvest party.  We moved into the big old farmhouse with dirty hands and overflowing baskets of fresh food, they bought some local meat and beer for us and we all helped Francis and Mike prepare a feast.  We ate, drank, talked, and laughed late into the night and my cheeks feel flush and warm just thinking about those delightful nights.

We continued to help as we could once I found work elsewhere, but when I became pregnant the next year, I felt depressed and sick all the time so we let it go.  It crumbled a bit after that.  We all moved onto different places and projects, but still keep in touch from time to time.  We can’t go back, but we can move forward.

We have, very seriously, considered forming or seeking out an intentional community to live in, but always stop when we consider the details and inconveniences.  I need my own space.  There are a great many things I would love about it as well.  I love the idea of having a shared common space to share while making food, eating, and canning the year’s produce.  I love the idea of a shared garden as well as a small personal garden.  I love the idea of a community raising a child.  I love how well-rounded a community of this kind could be in an ideal world.  Still the details get me every time, so we don’t.

I have been feeling lonely and a little under socialized these days.  I miss the big meals, the communal harvest and celebration.  I was having a quick chat with a dear friend earlier this week and she mentioned she was heading out to pick up two young ladies from Germany who were going to stay with her and her young family for a couple of weeks.  She found them through HelpX.  I had never heard of it before.  I had heard of the WWOFER program, but this is something more for the average person.  A chance to meet new people, learn new cultures and get some projects done around the house in exchange for room and board.  They will be helping her paint her kitchen and take care of the children.

All this to say, we have signed up and will be opening our house to travelers.  Part of me is nervous and wants to step away from the discomfort of sharing my home with strangers, but the other part of me is too excited at the prospect to stop.  We want to do some fun and mundane projects this spring such as tearing down an old shed, creating a larger garden, getting more chickens, painting a mural on our coop, building an outdoor pizza oven, splitting and piling our wood, building a harvest table and maybe extend our deck with some reclaimed wood.  This will be slow going for the two of us and we will need to split up with the kids to get anything done.  That is just where we are.  Someday they will be more help, but right now they prefer darting off into the woods.  Perhaps with the help of some eager travelers we could bring the spontaneity back to our plans.

I mourn the days of old fashioned community and close knit family; my heart aches for it.  I think we instinctively crave a larger group to break bread with and share our joys and work with.  It is something ancient and I think we would be wise to listen to that inner pull.

It is a new world, but this is an old practice and I look forward to what it may bring into our lives.

Have you had similar experiences?  Feel free to share them with us.

go gently + be wonderful

e.

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12 Comments

  1. Posted March 8, 2012 at 3:43 pm by lily boot | Permalink

    :: sigh:: your words really resonated with me this morning. We live in a neighbourhood with a thriving and large Jewish community and are regularly in awe of and delighted by the time, effort and love they put into living and celebrating as a community. Yesterday was Purim and the streets were filled with families in wonderful costumes walking the footpaths, visiting neighbours who had set up tables outside with yummy food and drinks. It was a marvellous street carnival atmosphere. But just their Friday night ritual of lighting the candles and sharing the Sabbath meal is beautiful too. They have so many opportunities built into their daily routine for coming together. This theme is also prominent in Alain De Boton’s new book “Religion for Atheists” – if you’ve not read it, I’m sure you would enjoy it – there’s a chapter on community meals – and he, like you, thinks the community meal feeds some ancient desire in us to come together and share. I’m just not sure how to go about creating this in my wee family’s life – we’ve moved so far away from this rich tradition of living as a community I don’t know where to find it. But I think your idea of travellers is marvellous – I hope it goes really well and you achieve much for your farm and your soul!

    • Posted March 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm by erin | Permalink

      Sounds lovely.
      I have not heard of read that book, but I am intrigued for sure! Will have to check it out.
      Perhaps you could try the traveler thing too 😉
      Thanks so much for writing.
      warmly,
      e.

  2. Posted March 8, 2012 at 4:22 pm by Heather | Permalink

    It is really interesting to think about community. It seems like I constantly crave it, but then I want to be by myself as well. Our little block is very friendly together, constantly getting together during the summer for BBQ’s, but we aren’t really in the same life place as they are, and instead decide to not participate and have some friends over once in a while. I can’t really decide if it is because I am an introvert and am just uncomfortable, or if I am not made for community living. I like my privacy. Great thoughts!

    • Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:04 pm by erin | Permalink

      I struggle with similar issues, but find when I do step out of my comfort zone it is magical.
      It has to be with the right people though. I am too sensitive for anything but kindred souls most of the time 😉
      e.

  3. Posted March 8, 2012 at 11:42 pm by KC | Permalink

    I too am an only child. I think being an only makes the need for community even stronger. We live in a city where we have no family. Luckily after a few years we’ve met enough people that we can go to play dates or have friends over for dinner. When my mom comes to town I feel such an up lift. Having the extra help around the house with cleaning and child care really opens up my day to let me have moments to myself. It really shows me every time how much we has human beings need to live in community. Our days just work so smoothly. Everyones talents or interests really shine. I love to cook, my mom loves to clean. Perfect team!

    This topic is in fact one that I just finished reading about in Radical Homemakers. I’ll be doing a discussion about the book over on my blog. I’ve started a book club as a way to connect more with people.

    • Posted March 9, 2012 at 9:53 am by erin | Permalink

      I kind reader is sending me an extra copy and I am so excited to read it! Perhaps I will join the conversation in your space!
      Thank for your only child thoughts. Many people think we don’t enjoy or can’t be around others for too long…but as we get older we realize how small our circle is and crave family closeness and bigness…we’re lucky in that we get to choose our “families”
      e.

  4. Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:37 am by erica | Permalink

    I have been fortunate to have had two experiences living intentionally in a community. The first was more like vacationing, because it was never going to be permanent, but it fed my desire to try it in my “real” life. I spent six weeks on a farm in the mountains in Equador. It was magical, everyone working very hard throughout the day building infrastructure for this new farm, so many different projects on the go, always lots of energy, and the meal times were priceless. There were no children though, just two permanent residents and travelers staying anywhere from two weeks to several months. When I came home after four months of traveling I craved this sort of life, but it wasn’t until a couple of years later that the opportunity presented itself to start a small CSA with my bestfriend, her partner, and my partner, each of us with a small baby. This situation unfortunately broke down. We were all naive, especially me and my dear friend, thinking that it just had to work because we loved each other the way we did. But the chemistry was off and the stress was high. At the time I remember someone’s mother saying… don’t you just want it to be you and your little family… I thought this was crazy… but now that it is that way it is how I want it (with lots of dinner and work parties to fill the void). Community meal times are the best and certainly what I miss most. I think the idea of opening your home to travelers is amazing.

    • Posted March 9, 2012 at 4:07 pm by erin | Permalink

      Sounds like some pretty incredible experiences! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I find it interesting that you have been on both sides of the argument.
      Community meals and food preparation is most exciting to me as well!
      Thanks so much for sharing :)
      warmly,
      erin

  5. Posted March 9, 2012 at 2:21 pm by laura | Permalink

    We are so interested in hearing how your helpx experience goes.

    We have a basement apartment going in at our city house and my husband is pretty much slugging away at it on his own as well as working from home. Talk about being starved for community, let alone a reason to leave the house. I know he feels like he’s all alone sometimes, even with the world bustling by outside the window.

    Perhaps this exchange experience would work for some wanting to travel to a city as well.

    This post has been amazing and so thoughtfully written! Thanks for your ongoing inspiration.

    • Posted March 9, 2012 at 4:05 pm by erin | Permalink

      I know my friend’s experience with another traveler was positive and seems to be enjoying the experience so I am hoping for a wonderful one as well!
      Hope you try it out. We are meant to be lone creatures I don’t think :)
      Thank you for the kinds words and for taking the time to write :)
      e.

  6. Posted March 27, 2012 at 8:42 pm by judith nailer | Permalink

    We were a host farm for woofers for a few years when we operated a greenhouse and organic flower garden. We hosted young people from Japan, Korea, France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. Such a memorable experience. You will never regret.

    • Posted March 28, 2012 at 2:49 pm by erin | Permalink

      That is great! Thanks for sharing your experiences.
      I remember going to your greenhouse with mom quite often :)
      e.

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