Villages in the Sky: DIY World Change

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The dream dies October 13, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — paxus @ 6:21 am

(sara) we’ve been quiet for a really long time.  no posts, no updates.  and still it seems, while browsing our history, that there are some people still paying attention, waiting for our next announcement.  i only wish it were some good news.

more than a month ago i got a call from a girlfriend of mine, telling me that our host community had voted us out.  the proposal to extend our timeline a year was not accepted and suddenly VIS was without a home.  and the blow came unexpectedly as our advisors had reassured us they thought the plan would be palatable to a community that had acknowledged that the timing was poor for a big festival.

immediately after the vote i was on the phone with one of our board members in missouri, spiraling through a series of emotions: anger, pain, resilience and hope.  she had me convinced that moving on without east wind was the only true path.  and while i still savor that conversation and appreciate the intention, it seems that the energy to push this project to completion is spent.

after a year of hard work spread amongst too few core organizers, the momentum and the dedication to launch VIS doesn’t seem to be manifesting itself.  and we are officially abandoning the project with mixed emotional responses of sadness and relief.

it’s true, the decision was made awhile ago and it’s been a bit too painful to make public just yet.  we have been lucky to work with some amazing people and still it wasn’t enough.  i hope that the work we’ve started will inspire others and that some thread of this vision will come to fruition in the near future.  until then, we’ll keep dancing in other circles, singing up the spirits of new and brilliant projects.


the best part of fundraising June 21, 2010

(sara)  a couple of days ago, i was stressing out.  fundraising has been the biggest challenge for me since we started this adventure more than a year ago.  i’ve done non profit energy organizing, but never from the position of executive director and to jump straight into non profit management from scratch has been a huge growth experience.  and i relish bringing a bit of my “green-ness” to the position.

there’s no easy way to keep track of the leading projects competing for the “G4C” and i was going through project by project checking vote counts only to discover that we’d been bumped out of 5th place by a project that hadn’t previously registered in my tracking efforts and had jumped all the way to 1st place.  we need to hold onto at least 5th place to stay in the competition after july 6th.

i’ve been a lot of places in the last year, fallen in love with a lot of people as i’ve worked to hussle this festival.  and before that i was working closely with young activists across south carolina and the southeast, where i’d formed a tight kint family of climate activists defending the south against dirty energy.  it’s one of my greatest sadnesses, that i fall in love so often, form deep relationships and then move on only to lose touch because of the sheer number of people i want to hold in my life.  so when i saw that we were down in votes, i hesitated.  as a youth activist i learned to harness the power of facebook for event promotion, network strengthening, etc.  but i hadn’t been in touch in so long, and now, when i needed help i would pop back into the lives of so many of the people i’d lost touch with.

but i bit my lip, swallowed my guilt and hunkered down at my computer for a blitz of facebook wall posts to old friends.  after a couple of hours, i re-emerged from the realm of computer thin connections and hoped for the best, still feeling a little cheap.  but my friends rose to the occassion and took my breath away.  not only did we move into third place, but i’ve written a dozen love letters, reconnected with more friends, and am now making plans to see many of my southeastern family while i’m in south carolina for the next couple months.

just a part of the family i'm rediscovering

nothing about this project is normal.  and even if we don’t get the 10,000 dollar grant, this has been an exercise in reconnection and has reaffirmed my commitment to making this project happen in raucous style.  it’s not that i forget how much i love the idea of a festival that changes the world, it’s that i get so blinded by the stresses and challenges that i am not always connected to the thrill of what we’re doing.  and any project that allows me to strengthen old and new relationships under the guise of fundraising is a project i want to be a big part of.


if you haven’t voted yet, or made all of your friends vote, it’s pretty simple.  just go to: and follow the instructions for voting.  thanks so much!


Help us win the G4C May 14, 2010

Filed under: Fundraising,getting involved — villagesinthesky @ 9:58 pm

(Sara) It seems like deciding to delay has been rather fateful for the festival.  A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by a representative of the Grant 4 Change.  The G4C is an online granting program run by Nau clothing company.  They seek organizations and individuals creating change within the scope of their own mission statement and this year that means sustainable design.  Anyone can be nominated and submit their project, but the G4C courts five “seed” nominees–projects they are particularly impressed or excited by and showcase them on their website before the application process is open.  And this year, we are one of their seed nominees.

Which means we need to mobilize all of our friends and supporters–and their friends and second cousins–to vote for VIS by June 20th.  You can go right now to: and click on the “vote/share” tab to support our nomination for the 10,000$ grant.

This is an important opportunity not only to raise money, but to promote what we’re doing with the festival.  While we’re outreaching for votes, we will be exposing new people to the project and our vision.  Who knows what could come of this: maybe 10,000 dollars to support our work, maybe five new awesome allies, maybe new people who want to attend in 2011.  You can help us find out!

is an online granting program run by Nau clothing company.  They seek organizations and individuals creating change within the scope of their mission statement: this year that means sustainable design.  Anyone can be nominated and submit their project, but the G4C courts five “seed” nominees–organizations they are particularly impressed or excited by, and have them apply early and showcased on their website before the application process is open.  This year Villages in the Sky is one of their seed nominees.

Pressure Drop – Delaying the festival May 9, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — villagesinthesky @ 11:01 am

(Paxus)  “Realistic” is a curse word in my house.  It is what is used to stop people from following their dreams, from opposing things which seem unstoppable (like nuclear power plants) and to get people to conform to restrictive social norms.

This is an ambitious project, but there are lines which are too far.  When we start  burning out our people or the goals become more important than the spirit, it is time to step back and re-assess.  When we looked at where we were and where we wanted to be by June 1st, we decided we needed to change the plans, it was too much too soon.

In a series of charged meetings with our advisors and a bunch of phone calls we decided to delay the start of the festival, til at least the fall.  [Summer events on this site are simply too hot to consider].  We made this choice just before Sara’s birthday and it was one of the better presents we could give her i think.

One of the factors was that we had not raised enuf money to buy the minimal number of things we needed.  And almost miraculously, right after we decided to slow down, te first real outside money came in.  But we did not second guess our choice.

A smaller crew will continue to work on the site, and we are still planning on getting up the dance floor in the next couple of weeks (the pole barn and first zip line are basically completed now).

For those who were planning on coming in a month, our apologies and request to keep watching this space as the new evolved project shapes itself.

For those who want to come to build up camp, do be in touch we will be working thru May on construction and organizing and we still need your help.

We are not being realistic, we are just shifting gears.

almost completed Pole barn


The Amazing Mr Parrott April 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — paxus @ 4:26 pm

When Ish first told me about his friend, i was skeptical. He described a simple electrolysis device which Charles Parrott had developed and added to his car which dramatically increased his gas millage. i studied enuf classical economics to believe that any inexpensive millage enhancing device would be embraced by Detroit as a way to stave off the need to retool assembly lines due to federally mandated millage requirements.

When i talked with Charles, my perceptions began to shift. An unassuming man, he was clearly an inspired tinkerer and capable inventor. When i asked him why he did not take his hydrogen generator into business he said “Business would be boring.” It was also clear that he appeared to be more interested in new projects, growing algae for energy and zip lines and tree houses (which is why he was interested in meeting me).

He gave me an early version of his hydrogen generator, which is pictured below. The theory is simple enuf, the device breaks down water using electricity the car produces while driving but can not store because the battery is full (this device likely would not work as well on hybrids which are more clever about energy use and conservation). Water becomes hydrogen and oxygen gas which is then feed into the carburetor where it burns hotter and more efficiently than the nitrogen rich air which generally inhabits that space.

i called my old engineering friend Rez to ask him about the physics of the proposition. Rez pointed out that electrolysis is not an especially efficient operation but that neither is internal combustion, despite decades of refinement. That the equation for the increased energy was

Enew = (Egas + EH2 – Eelectrolysis) * Fnew

Enew = Energy with combined gasoline and H2 fuels with enriched O2 (oxygen is the oxidizer)
Egas = Energy running just on gasoline
EH2 = Energy from burning the hydrogen
Eelectrolysis = Energy to run the electrolysis (this is not free, when the battery is full the alternator doesn’t have to work)
Fnew = Efficiency factor for the engine running gasoline/hydrogen/oxygen-enriched fuel.

Average gasoline engines are ~20% efficient, wasting 80% of the energy in the gasoline. The real gain will be in Fnew jumping due to improve flame propagation speeding the combustion and making it more complete.

Rez took some exception to my calling the surplus energy from the over charged car battery being called “waste energy” and in the end concluded that the only way that the physics would work would be for the burning of these gases to increase the actual efficiency of the car engine, which he held was possible and a bit tricky to measure. Rez also scanned the internet, found many studies in the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) publications finding that efficiency improvements of 12% (a study at MIT) and vastly reduced emissions [ see abstracts at half way down the page]. Interesting design of a electrolysis unit that uses the waste exhaust heat (which does nothing else useful) to make the H2 and O2.

Were  i not obsessed with this festival i might dive into this device and do some testing.  Charles says he drove it from Springfield MO to San Diego and got 60 mpg while an identical vehicle (owned by a friend) got 48 mpg – both Geo Metros.

[Pictures to come]


Building and breaking and emboldening April 12, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — villagesinthesky @ 2:08 pm

(Sara) It isn’t easy, this game of culture creation.  In fact this post comes late and is being written in Virginia, because I was told I was going on vacation and nearly forced into the car.  The stresses of the project have been overwhelming and nearly too demanding, but give me a good book, a couple of days hiding out and I will recover.

Seed camp has started and is motivating me forward and westward.  What we’re building at seed camp is more than pole barns and dirt ovens, we’re building a family, a foundation for the festival.  The people we’re working with are brilliant, bold and deeply compassionate.  Fifteen people moved onto a piece of land in the middle of the foothills with no electricity and no running water.  Some of the first things we had to address were practical: waste management, food storage.  So our friends at East Wind built us a composting toilet for the site and trained us in human waste management.  Shiloh, who came out to cook, had read about earth boxes on the internet and started digging an angled box into the ground, lined it with large rocks from around the site for insulation, and packed it all in for refrigeration.  Jason built the camp some furniture out of salvaged slab wood and brush piles for burning.  And more projects carry on as I hide away in Virginia: a dirt oven for baking bread and such, a sweat lodge, solar showers.  This is exactly what we want to be inspiring people towards with the festival: inventive, creative and simplistic solutions to living in this world more cooperatively, more symbiotically.

But the physical infrastructure doesn’t even touch the depth of the emotional and human infrastructure we’re building.  It’s hard to avoid each other in our small space with limited creature comforts.  At night we gravitate towards the campfire, because it is the most compelling source of light (the only other being one propane powered lantern).  During the day we work and play with each other.  And already we’ve tested the capacity of our small village to hold each other and support each other and challenge each other to grow.  It came right as we were about to drive the 1,000 miles back east.  We were thrown by the request and almost unanimous support of camp to take one of our volunteers back with us, unexpectedly.  It was true, he was tricky–easily distracted, not working as much as he could be, socially awkward and just beginning to grow up.  There was a series of conversations about it: checking in with different camp members, getting the advice of those who are and would be living with him, speaking with him personally.  And when he heard the decision of the camp, he was shaken, it wasn’t an easy decision, and he wanted one chance to speak with everyone himself before riding back with us.

I sped away along the soggy and potholed roads to negotiate our parking lease with the next door neighbors and talk about trucks.  While I was gone something unexpected and profoundly inspiring happened.  The unwanted camp member spoke with the others at camp and everyone met without him to make their decision together, without the interference of some pesky “lead organizers.”  The unanimous decision:   let him stay, we will help him grow, keep him on task and pick up slack where he is sure to drop it from time to time.

With the good news, I got back in the car, my heart breaking.  I knew I needed to leave, or I would be nearly useless to the project, but I was leaving behind something so thrilling.  We had gone through hell together, with tensions building between the project and our host community.  But they’d broken just the day before and we were stronger for it, more determined.  If nothing else comes of this wild project and this last year of my life, I will owe it the experience and learned wisdom of building community, being taught by others the strength of cooperation and the true meaning of “it takes a village.”

The ommission from this story is that I was so exhausted and spread thin that last day, that I didn’t care what happened with this camp member.  I would have made the more callous and less challenging decision.  And I’m humbled to be part of a group, of a family, that will remind me what the right decisions are when we’re creating our own culture.  It was a challenge to my own growth and I don’t think they know it yet.  It will have to wait until I get back to camp.  I can’t wait.


April Fools Party and Progress April 4, 2010

Filed under: build up camp,Project Personalities,Salvage — villagesinthesky @ 4:56 pm
(Sara and Paxus) It is late after a long day and we are preparing to go to sleep in the back of the Subaru on the couch cushions which Deborah brought up.  She also brought up a dozen cheery East Winders for a sing along and some beers after a beautiful warm day.  We had said we wanted to have a party after our first full day of seed camp and then we kind of forgot about it.  One of the nice things about having a community as a neighbor is that you can whip up a party pretty quickly.
Today is April Fools and an appropriate start date for such an unlikely project.  And over the post couple of days a lot has come together.
  • we have nearly finished the demo of the yellow house and salvage of siding and 2 by boards (lots of de-nailing).
  • Teo built us the cutest little comptoil outhouse from a giant peanut sack
  • Jason and Shiloh banged out some nice benches (photos to come)
  • Sara and Shiloh and others completed the root cellar
  • zeke brought in some shelving for the kitchen
  • Ish and Matthew put a bunch of rocks in the potholes, which desperately needed attention.
Pilgrim and Paxus discussed volunteers and how to keep them happy.  Pilgrim wanted them to be on the site during the daylight hours and taking off to the river or other events after the day was over.  Paxus took a more summer camp perspective, thinking that volunteers needed to be happy and able to run off to adventures during the day some days.
We will fight and we will discuss and we will make sure that we’re creating an experience that is the best parts of work on a short timeline and play on a big scale.  That’s what we’re all about.  And we’ll take care of each other.  It’s a culture more than a festival, that we’re creating, and if we can’t go swimming at the end of the day, in the middle of the day, at the beginning of the day, then what’s the point?
Yellow House Frame
Yellow House Gone