(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.