Monday, June 05, 2006

Seaching for Community

Cherice's latest blog entry on Quaker Oats Live made me realize that I've been neglecting "community" on this blog and also in my life lately.

When I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1989, I lived in a very special community of very special people. We all relied on each other for support, both moral support and technical assistance, as we walked 2100 miles through the Appalachian Mountains for several months. For many of us it was the most difficult thing we'd ever done and it's an experience that I always carry with me.

That community in 1989 led me to search for similar "community" in the following years as I tried to reconcile my life on the A.T. with life back in the "civilized" world off the trail. Eventually I was drawn here to Ithaca and found a different kind of community, one with many enlightened progressive people and a diversity of views... with sub-communities of churches, schools, workplaces, farms, interest groups, and social groups. Ithaca has been a great place for me to break out of my isolation and embrace a larger community while being with people who accept lifestyles that are not mainstream American.

At the same time, I was drawn to "intentional community" and had a serious interest in joining or forming a much smaller community of much more like-minded souls who lived closely together as a family, much as we did on the A.T. I visited Birdsfoot Farm in northern New York several times. This intentional community was so attractive to me that I considered moving there, being part of the farm, part of the school, returning to a simpler way of life. Birdsfoot is a small consensus-based agricultural community founded in 1972 that has become surrounded by homesteads of like-minded people to form a larger community. But Birdsfoot was too far north for me and far from the more cultural places I was becoming drawn to.

What I ended up becoming part of were a few different cooperative houses that were an adequate, but temporary, substitute for an ideal community. We tried to support each other and live in harmony together but often our goals and desires were different. It's different from the A.T. where we were always free to go our own way. There is much less freedom in a house full of adults who have dissimilar interests.

So, what is it that I'm trying to find in "community"? Where will my search for community ultimately lead? As I've discovered, there are different sizes and types of communities, but they all involve support. Each layer... family, household, neighborhood, intentional community, village, etc... is important in developing bonds to help us grow and prosper as individuals. Living in isolation we have nowhere to go, nothing to strive for, nobody to support us. We should all be encouraging and energizing each other at each level, not just in any one isolated layer.

For now, I feel the time is right to leave Ithaca behind after about ten years here... not only because I'll be starting grad school this fall in Albany, but also because I've grown beyond what Ithaca has to offer. Paula and I are looking forward to finding whatever Albany has to offer in community experiences. We plan to eventually build our own homestead on the old family farm in Otsego County and develop layers of community there. We don't know exactly what the future will look like but we have great expectations.



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