Rachel Carson and Eels

During her graduate work in Marine Biology at Johns Hopkins, Rachel Carson took particular interest in the migration of eels, writing an article about them for the Baltimore Sun in 1938.  Later in two of her books, Under the Sea Wind and Journey to the Sea, she wrote about their lives in inland fresh waters and tidal estuaries before their final return to ocean waters.  

The first time in history, an adult American eel has been spotted and documented in the Sargasso Sea. A photo of one of the tagged eels shortly after release. Photo by Jose Benchetrit

The life cycle of eels that so fascinated Carson is a mirror opposite to the life cycle of Salmon.  Both American and European eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea, an area of the Atlantic Ocean that lies between ocean currents.  It has a circular rotation and tends to accumulate a kind of brownish seaweed called Sargassum, hence its name.  Eels begin their journey to the land as larvae.  Then, as they approach tidal estuaries, they morph into a transparent form called glass eels and finally take on their long muscular form upon entering the freshwater ponds where they spend their adult lives as carnivores.  Some live as many as 50 years.  But then as their lives near an end, they begin a long migration back to the ocean from which they came, and, during that journey, their bodies transform once again, developing the reproductive organs they need to spawn.  Upon reaching the Sargasso Sea, they spawn and die.

My sources for this article are blogs written by Kendall Jefferys, a Rachel Carson Scholar at Duke University, and another by Jim Kaufmann, a Pennsylvania Forests Projects Coordinator, written for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

Doug Cooper, future resident of Rachel Carson EcoVillage – September 20, 2022

Farewell to Queen Elizabeth

As much as any American citizen can feel a sense of connectedness to Britain’s royalty, to me Queen Elizabeth was my queen.  She ascended to the throne the year I was born, and I’m sure there are many others in our community who have known only Elizabeth as Britain’s queen.  This morning I took time to ‘attend’ the Queen’s service at Westminster Hall.

The pageantry was of course remarkable.  The view of the royal standard draped coffin pulled by the team of black horses along Whitehall accompanied by the entourage of rows and rows of her red-coated honor guard was unforgettable.  And it was striking to see the British royal crown set onto her coffin, which not only didn’t slide off but was in full view of thousands who had gathered along the path of the procession.  It struck me that, as archaic as we might think these 1200 year old traditions are, it was an extraordinary display of civility.  

Of course, we are more likely to have heard about the royal family’s dysfunctions, snobbishness, and downright bigotry.  As a ruling family, they could have been better role models.  But Queen Elizabeth was steadfast in fulfilling her duties to her country for seventy years.  She was respected by millions of British citizens as well as by others around the world.  

We in Pittsburgh have a relationship with Britain’s new king, King Charles III, who visited us as the Honorary Chair of the Remaking Cities Conference in 1988.  In opening the conference with the keynote address, he spoke of his work to create communities in harmony with their human and natural surroundings.  It was an honor to share the stage with him, and I look forward to his continuing influence toward more beautiful, caring, and harmonious community design.

The celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s  life and her reign is a moment to consider the significance of the connections of trust and respect that are the signs of lives well-lived and the marks of a community that shares a commitment to peace and good governance.  I have lots of things that have to get done today, but taking time to pay my small respects to the Queen reminds me of the real reasons we are working so hard to create a good life together.  

– Stefani Danes, future resident of Rachel Carson EcoVillage – September 2022

More from Cid’s year with a nature preserve

For those just joining on the adventure of our member Cid, the offering is divided throughout the seasons and here’s the premise:

I recognize that  the land I occupy was taken from  the Ho-Chunk Nation, who have called the land Teejop (day-JOPE) since time immemorial. I offer this statement as a way to acknowledge native peoples and their histories and relationships with the land. I also acknowledge that I can’t reproduce, nor even understand, the quality of relationships with land that the native peoples had. However, I can build my own understanding and relationship with the local land.

How do I get to know, and develop a relationship with land? Land that doesn’t ‘belong’ to me, but land that is public and shared enough so that I am one of many participants in its space. To try, in 2008-2009 I created a project to spend a year making regular visits to a local nature preserve, which consists of about 300 acres along a lakeshore. 

The Euro-American settlers who came to this area in the mid 1800s found existing land cover systems primarily of oak savannah, forest, wetland, and prairie. The preserve is located within an urban area and now retains, or has recreated, similar landcover of forests, prairies, and wetlands. In addition the land now accommodates a variety of human activities, with recreational trails, fire circles, wood-fired kilns, and community gardens.

For the year, I made weekly visits to the land, to be with it, get to know it, note the variety of uses it held, and to witness the changing seasons. I started by introducing myself and stating my intentions, that I wanted to spend time exploring and getting to know the land and what it held. I brought a camera, to document my experience with place, and capture anything that caught my attention.

This wasn’t a pilgrimage; I had no destination. It was an embodied practice, an ongoing experience between myself and the land. What I learned — there’s a lot to see if I look, and the land is ever changing yet holds traces of the past. 

Summer:
Summer Solstice was the best! I was so enamored with the spring equinox sunrise and being in the line of the first sunlight coming over the water that I wanted to repeat and build on the experience for the solstice. 

I decided to bring the sunrise to more areas of the preserve. I brought a jar of water from the marsh to accompany me with the sunrise, and then I would take the water and walk more of the preserve, pouring small libations of the solstice water as I went. 

From a geographic position, the best spot to catch the light of the summer sun would be from the tip of the peninsula that extended into the lake. I made my way in the dark through the length of the peninsula and down a short steep, rocky hillside to the water’s edge. 

The sunrise was spectacular with shades of reds, oranges, purples, and blues peeking through the clouds and reflecting in the lake. My jar of marsh water was illuminated by the rays as the sun rose. I gave the sun-kissed water back to the land, returning some to the marsh, and distributing the rest as I walked the trails. Summer continued on with growth and greenery.

One of my goals for my year on the land was to observe and feel for when the seasons changed, not only for when the calendar indicated seasons, but for when the land looked and felt different.

By late July, summer on the land felt like a piece of overripe fruit. The vegetation was thick, encroaching over paths in places, and the prairie turned color from greens to greens deeply flecked with yellow. Like the few leaves that were turning brown on the edges, it felt as though summer had turned.

Cid Freitag, future resident of Rachel Carson EcoVillage – August 28, 2022

RCE and Dragon Boat Racing Make a Perfect Match!


Imagine 20 athletes paddling in unison to a drumbeat, spear-headed by the barked commands of a standing steersperson. Now imagine four, five, or even eight long dragon boats poised at the starting line to burst ahead at the sound of the horn! Feel the excitement? Racing in a dragon boat is an unforgettable experience. All the intensity and accomplishment of a runner’s race along with the confidence that you
don’t have to do it on your own!
There’s a lot of exciting things to say about dragon boating, which is one of the oldest and also fastest growing sports in the world. As we look forward to racing at the Pittsburgh Dragon Boat Festival on September 24, I’ve been thinking about the great fit between racing on a dragon boat team and building
our community.

First, it’s for everyone! Paddling, like a community, is a sport for all ages! It takes no credentials or expertise. All that’s needed is a desire to connect and to contribute. Everybody starts as a beginner in dragon boating—after all, who’s even heard of it before? At RCE, we all start with Sociocracy 101. With some experience, we can help newcomers join in. And the differences among us—in age, backgrounds,
chromosomes, and interests—make our team and community stronger and more resilient.
Second, it take a team! It was Dave Geis who gave us the wise saying, “It takes a village to create a village.” Whether it’s 20 paddlers or 4 planning groups, we couldn’t hope to get to the finish line without a great team and a lot of teamwork. And it’s knowing that our bench mate or our buddy is putting their effort into the work that inspires us all to give it just a little bit more. Sharing the challenges–whether it’s the Board of Supervisors or a bad current–and the fun times–the parties and trophies—it all brings us together. And what makes it work for a team or a community is knowing we can trust each other.

Third, it takes practice! Teams and communities both take time to bring into being, and there’s no end to ‘bringing into being’. For all of us, we’re learning as we go–how to ‘move’ the water with our paddle or how to shape a proposal toward consent. There’s a lot of hard work, and sometimes it’s hard to see past the drills in the boat or the decisions that sometimes seem endless! Our commitment to keep practicing—good days and bad—is what gets us there. And while we’re team-building and community-building, we’re fundamentally trust-building, which makes all of our lives better.
Fourth, it’s all about the friends! I have so many great memories of team dinners and end-of-race celebrations, and the beginning of many more–our tree-planting/intention-planting ceremony, our solstice celebrations and summer picnics. Those are moments when we appreciate that while we’ve all been intensely and intentionally focused on ‘the prize’, what we’ve gained is so much more valuable—turning a zoom acquaintance into shared hikes and prospective neighbors into friends we care about, discovering our shared enjoyment of singing or drumming and the best remedies for sore muscles and
blistered fingers, and feeling grateful for the friends who make life better.

-Stefani Danes, future resident of RCE – August 2022

 

On ‘Our Way Of Community August 5, 2022

As the title of the almost-completed and forthcoming Community Handbook for RCE, ‘Our Way Of Community’ will serve as a resource and reference tool to help guide responsibilities, procedures and suggested best practices within the EcoVillage.  Its design and intent is to hopefully enhance the sense of respect, trust, safety, belonging and caring that is so important to the community members.

This enormous project, the ‘baby’ of the Community Life and Governance (CLG) Planning Group,  has required more than a year’s worth of meetings and endless hours of research and thoughtful deliberation in an attempt to distill an abundance of information on a variety of topics down into a workable tool of navigation.

For handbook topics that cross over into more than one clear area of domain, the CLG Planning Group (a resourceful, talented, and ever-mindful group of 8-10 core members) reached across  borders in order to coordinate and collaborate input and assistance with the other appropriate Planning Groups, Subgroups, and Helping Groups.  It has evolved into a multi-group effort.

As the handbook project has gone through various levels of reviews and edits, it is now nearing completion enough to warrant an initial release.  While some topics are of such a nature that they cannot be fully determined until after the community buildings are built and we have moved in, the designation ‘TBD’ (to be determined) will be indicated, with the intent to be addressed at a future date.

The design of the handbook is to be a living digital document with scheduled reviews and applicable edits that will take place with community input.  Additionally, it will contain cross-references and pertinent functioning-links to provide additional reference and resource in a user-friendly way.

As a fellow member of the CLG Planning Group, in my opinion, this project has helped to provide a more tangible overview of our vision of creating a strong sense of community and a culture of inclusiveness, responsibility, and respect.              

-Trish Miller

Junior Pioneer Equity memberships have arrived!

Rachel Carson EcoVillage has established a new equity membership type, Junior Pioneer to make it easier for members to progress to Pioneer.  The advanced deposit required of Junior Pioneers is $22,500, half of the deposit required of Pioneers.  

Now, there are four equity membership types: Pathfinder, Junior Pioneer, Pioneer and Non-owner Resident.  

We currently have 15 Pioneer member households and 6 Pathfinder member households.  Each household counts as one member.  We’re planning to build 35 units.  Three units will be available to users for when the project has no risk with completion so we need 11 more equity members.

Pioneer and Junior Pioneer advance deposits are paying for pre-construction costs such as survey, testing, design and engineering, public agency approvals, and legal and financing costs.  Pioneer advance deposits have been sufficient to cover these costs throughout the project and are projected to be sufficient through August.  Beginning in September, we will need more Pioneer or Junior Pioneer members to continue.  Pioneer and Junior Pioneer advance deposits are at risk if the project does not come to fruition.  Every new Pioneer or Junior Pioneer reduces that risk.

Pathfinder members deposit $15,000.  The Pathfinder’s advance deposit applies to the purchase of the household’s unit.  It is not at risk.  During the development phase which is planned to be complete in the next few months, Pathfinder deposits may be used by the RCE LLC to cover a short-term cash flow shortage, but once construction starts, it will be applied in full to the Pathfinder’s unit or will be refunded in full should the member household need to withdraw from the project or the project is terminated prior to unit selection.  

RCE established the Junior Pioneer membership level to provide a way to become a Pioneer without having to make the full $45,000 deposit.   If a Pathfinder becomes a Junior Pioneer, their risk exposure is half as much as the Pioneers’ risk exposure. The risk of the project not coming to fruition is also reduced as each Pathfinder becomes a Junior Pioneer or Pioneer.  As a Pathfinder gains confidence that the risk is not as much as earlier, it is easy for Pathfinders to become Junior Pioneers or Pioneers.  

The following table compares the salient membership attributes by member type.

TypeExplorerPathfinderJunior PioneerPioneer
Equity memberNoYesYesYes
Member LLC NoNoYesYes
Advance deposit requirementN/A$15,000$22,500$45,000
Advance deposit at riskN/ANoYesYes
Unit selection order in queueNone3rd2nd1st
Planning Group ParticipationFullFullFullFull

A Non-Owner Resident has the same role and responsibilities as other Equity members, with the exception of the financial obligations.  The Non-Owner Resident must have an agreement with the Owner of their shared unit regarding the terms of residency.  Rachel Carson EcoVillage supports house sharing but does not seek to determine in any way the terms of such relationships.

We had planned to begin construction this fall.  The RCE LLC will need a construction loan before construction can begin.  We are anticipating that the banks will require a downpayment of 20-25% of the value of our units.  Pioneers and Junior Pioneers are already members of the RCE LLC.  The Pioneer and Junior Pioneer advance deposits will count as part of their down payments.  

When Pathfinder members become Pioneer or Junior Pioneer members, they will become RCE LLC members.  The LLC will own RCE housing units until purchased by members either with cash or through a mortgage.  If a member needs a mortgage, they will only need a mortgage for the difference between the cost of their unit and what they’ve already invested (their advance deposit plus additional to reach 20-25% of the cost of their unit that the banks require for the construction loan). The following table is an example of what Pioneers, Junior Pioneers or Pathfinders would have to pay for a nominal $400,000 home.

$400,000cost of unit
$100,00025% down payment
PioneerJunior PioneerPathfinder
Advance deposit$45,000$22,500$15,000
Balance of downpayment$55,000$77,500$85,000
Mortgage value$300,000$300,000$300,000

One motivator for becoming a Pioneer early is to get the unit you want.  When it comes to unit selection, Pioneers will have first choice then Junior Pioneers and then Pathfinders.  Within each group, the order of the members in the queue is the order in which they joined that group.   

– RCE Legal and Financial Planning Group, July 30 2022

On planning how to move forward in community

As an Explorer member of RCE (and one that helps to market across our various social media platforms), it’s always a pleasant surprise to get a Google alert email when anything that has Rachel Carson’s name in it pop up somewhere on the internet. In the most recent case, it was to notify me that an article from Trib Live had posted an article on Richland Township approving our plan for moving forward to build the long awaited ecovillage that Chatham University included in their original master plan.

So much of the news surrounding our project has been good and we are grateful for the conversations we’ve had with the surrounding residents of Eden Hall Campus and the relationships that have grown from working with so many different people and businesses that have been involved in helping make our vision that much closer to a reality.

We hope to see more families, individuals, couples and friends of all kinds make their way to RCE over the coming months, in whatever way works for them – ALL are welcome as we are a self selecting community so if you haven’t stopped by an introductory zoom or popped into one of our virtual happy hours or other events PLEASE DO, we’d love to meet you!

In community,

Grace Astraea – Information Manager, Rachel Carson EcoVillage

Notes from RCE’s Governance Group on sociocracy in community

GOVERNANCE MATTERS

Let’s say you find yourself in a new community with 55 other people, many of them unfamiliar to you. Like you, every one of those people has opinions, experiences, hopes, and concerns. How do you coordinate all the different perspectives? How do you get anything done? 

The answer is governance.

Governance is how we make decisions, and sociocracy is our chosen form of governance at RCE because it promotes efficiency and fairness in equal measure. The Governance Group spends a lot of time thinking about sociocracy because it is one of our best tools for building a healthy community.

Here in GOVERNANCE MATTERS we will be sharing the ways sociocracy supports RCE’s vision, and we’ll be telling you about opportunities to discover and practice sociocracy.

Our next offering for the RCE community is a FACILITATOR & SCRIBE GATHERING on August 4th.

This will be a fun and friendly way for RCE role holders – and any RCE member interested in sociocracy – to share stories, advice, and questions about running our sociocratic meetings.

Loosely structured and casual, it’s a great way to connect with fellow RCEers.

Hoping to see you there!

In community, The Governance Group

On working the land at Rachel Carson EcoVillage

It’s hard to beat participating in an activity that both focuses on care of the earth and builds a sense of community among the participants!  An activity that brought twelve individuals together on Saturday, June 4 at the site of the future RCE site did just that.  The stated purpose was to continue to clear invasive plants from a section of the designated RCE space in anticipation of a rather large-scale tree-planting effort that is planned for the weekend of June 11 and 12 and beyond.  The gathering on June 4th was excellent!

Set on what turned out to be a beautiful day weather-wise, the work effort enabled all of the participants to be good stewards of the earth; to learn more about invasive plants from member Becky Lubold, who is an environmental educator and who had helped to coordinate the event on behalf of the Eco Resources planning group; and to enable the area to become healthier and more attractive.  We brought our own tools, worked individually or in small groups at whatever job and whatever pace was comfortable, took plenty of water breaks, and stopped at no later than the appointed time.  

After nearly two years of pretty much a steady diet of gatherings via Zoom, participants welcomed the opportunity to come together in person.  Helped along by friendly banter, it was wonderful to work together to achieve a common goal… and to admire the results!  It’s amazing to realize how well we’ve all gotten to know one another despite not meeting in person; and it was an even better to contemplate a life of in-person interactions of all sorts in the not-too-distant future.  

If you’re wondering what life in the RCE might be like, how you might help the earth, and what it means to build community, try coming out for one of the future work sessions.  There’s lots to do—and you can have fun and feel good doing it with others at RCE!

Jill Brethauer, future resident of Rachel Carson EcoVillage – June 2022

Rachel Carson EcoVillage is dog friendly

Introducing Sagan, our youngest equity dog. Before you ask, he is named after my teenage crush, Carl Sagan. Sagan means “wise one” or ”sage”. He is going to be a genius. I am blind and my goal is to train him to be my guide dog. I know this sounds like a huge project, but the evolving community at Rachel Carson EcoVillage are obviously not afraid of that.


As I write this, he is 10 weeks old. By the time Rachel Carson EcoVillage is built, he will be close to a working guide for me if he does not outsmart me-first. He is a standard poodle which is at the top of the smart dog list second only to the Border Collie. I am counting on my ability to teach him faster than he trains me. When Rachel Carson EcoVillage is an actual community sometime next year, I hope to have the support of the community to help me put the finishing touches on his guide work. He will be the key to my independence on this next journey for my husband , Stu Bush and me.

Mel Scott, future resident of Rachel Carson EcoVillage – May 19, 2022

Following Rachel’s Footsteps: The Big Sippewissett Marsh

While she was still studying at John Hopkins, Rachel Carson spent a summer of study at The Marine Biological Institute in Woods Hole Massachusetts.  This experience was formative in her lifelong study of the biology of the sea.  One of the places that drew her interest in during first and then subsequent visits was Big Sippewisset Marsh, an extensive Cape Cod estuary on the border of Buzzards Bay north of Falmouth.

Thousands of years ago, when sea levels were lower, the area was home to white cedars.  When the sea subsequently rose, a peat swamp developed as the base for the extensive (190 acre) tidal marsh of today.  The name Sippewisset derives from the Wampanoag language and means, “little cove” or “little river.”  The marsh is home to Terns, Laughing Gulls, and Osprey and numerous migratory birds.  Stefani and I have visited it several times, because we have family living nearby, and we’ve paddled in kayaks with our children and their cousins deep into the marsh—the best way to see it.  If you want to read about this marsh, there is an excellent book, Sippewissett or Life on a Salt Marsh by Tim Traver.

Doug Cooper, future resident of Rachel Carson EcoVillage – May 13, 2022

My year with a nature preserve (a 4 part series)

I recognize that the land I occupy was taken from  the Ho-Chunk Nation, who have called the land Teejop (day-JOPE) since time immemorial. I offer this statement as a way to acknowledge native peoples and their histories and relationships with the land. I also acknowledge that I can’t reproduce, nor even understand, the quality of relationships with land that the native peoples had. However, I can build my own understanding and relationship with the local land.

How do I get to know, and develop a relationship with land? Land that doesn’t ‘belong’ to me, but land that is public and shared enough so that I am one of many participants in its space. To try, in 2008-2009 I created a project to spend a year making regular visits to a local nature preserve, which consists of about 300 acres along a lakeshore. 

The Euro-American settlers who came to this area in the mid 1800s found existing land cover systems primarily of oak savannah, forest, wetland, and prairie. The preserve is located within an urban area and now retains, or has recreated, similar landcover of forests, prairies, and wetlands. In addition the land now accommodates a variety of human activities, with recreational trails, fire circles, wood-fired kilns, and community gardens.

For the year, I made weekly visits to the land, to be with it, get to know it, note the variety of uses it held, and to witness the changing seasons. I started by introducing myself and stating my intentions, that I wanted to spend time exploring and getting to know the land and what it held. I brought a camera, to document my experience with place, and capture anything that caught my attention.

This wasn’t a pilgrimage; I had no destination. It was an embodied practice, an ongoing experience between myself and the land. What I learned – there’s a lot to see if I look, and the land is ever changing yet holds traces of the past. 

Spring:
The unofficial spring came quickly; by early March much of the snow had melted and the trails were a combination of mud and icy hard-packed snow. The early waves of migratory birds started to return. To mark the official start of spring I went out early to see the sunrise on the spring equinox. It was cold, to sit at the lakeshore in the dark and wait for the sun to come up. It was worth the effort, the sun came up and sent out a shaft of light across the thin layer of ice as if to promise that the ice would melt and spring would return.

One of my favorite aspects of spring on the preserve is that on May Day, a local group of Morris Dancers gathered before dawn to dance up the sun. The dancing successfully brought up the sun, and was followed by a Maypole. As the pole was being set up, a group of military cadets were out for a morning run, making a U-turn several feet away from the Maypole. It was a meeting of worlds. After the running cadets had passed through we unwound and rewound the Maypole, followed by a fire to drive winter away for the time being.

Spring continued, bringing ephemeral plants — May Apple, Trillium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and small flowers I don’t know by name. I gained an appreciation for prairies and their wide variety of plants. I can identify only a few prairie plants by name, but I could recognize them by sight and watch their progression of growth over the weeks.

Cid Freitag, future resident of Rachel Carson EcoVillage – May 2, 2022

Good Friday wandering at the future site of Rachel Carson EcoVillage

After church on a beautiful Good Friday, it seemed time to wander the grounds of the future site of the ecovillage.  Blue skis, warms temps and a soft breeze…as I hiked the meadows and woods of RCE, I was immersed in peace and beauty and gratitude…. for the beautiful day, for the land and for the opportunity to be part of a new community of amazing folks who care about each other and the environment.


The Eden Hall campus of Chatham University is so close to all the cultural opportunities that Pittsburgh offers but the woodlands and fields make it ideal for folks who love the outdoors.  The meadows are perfect for cross country skiers, and the idea that residents will be able to ski out their back doors is remarkable.  Residents of RCE will also be able to take advantage of campus amenities including a community bread oven, the kitchen lab, and concerts in the campus amphitheater. Community gardens, pool, intellectually stimulating environment-so many interesting and unique offerings unlike any other co-housing community in the country. And it’s here in Pittsburgh! I’m hopeful that next year at this time, RCE will be a reality. A reality that includes caring neighbors, sustainable new homes and a life that is energizing and vibrant. Count me in. – Dawn Tedrow- April 15, 2022

On sharing in the joy of our community resident art

A visit to the Concept Art Gallery on Braddock Ave. in the Regent Square area proved to be a very worthwhile trip. On Saturday, April 16 future Rachel Carson Ecovillage resident, Doug Cooper displayed a number of new pieces of artwork.  Most folks familiar with Doug’s work expecting to see his unique blend of ‘perspective and charcoal’ would have been pleasantly surprised. 

Doug’s display presented for the first time, anywhere (I think), his unique perspective presented in water color.  My first thought when viewing this work was “Hey…Color!  I didn’t know they had red and green charcoal!”  Upon further inspection and with help from a docent, indicated it was water color I was seeing, a new arrow in Doug’s quiver. One room concentrates on Pittsburgh area scenes, while the upper floor of the gallery contains images of New York City.  Doug indicated that he had plenty of photos to assist in this work.  Those of you currently living in the Big Apple will feel a certain `tug’ when viewing these pieces. Not to hurry, the display is on until early June. 

Mark Emerson, future RCE resident – April 18, 2022

COVID-19 Adventures and Beyond!  Hopes, Dreams, Challenges, Blessings, Patience, Resilience and the JOYS of living in community.

     I invite you to sit in a comfortable position, take a few slow, deep breaths and listen to the sound of my voice ….  Hold up! Wait! This isn’t a hypnotic induction!  This is a true story of my “COVID-19 Adventures and Beyond! –  Starting with my first Eden Hall Ecovillage meeting and moving through COVID-19 lockdowns, COVID-19 “social bubbles”, travel bans, “pivots”, Zoom-Zoom-Zoom, social isolation, uncertainty, blessings, travel, COVID-19 again, resilience, reconnection and finally landing in the Rachel Carson EcoVillage  – the community of my dreams– Oh My!

     I’ll get this adventure started by sharing  memories of Saturday, February 29, 2020 – The first Eden Hall EcoVillage meeting that I attended at the Chatham University Eden Hall Campus followed by a tour of the proposed site.  After living alone for 7 years – the last 5 in an apartment in the city of Pittsburgh, I felt hopeful that I finally had an answer to my dream to live in a community with people who value connections and have a desire to live with a “lighter footprint” on this one fragile and irreplaceable planet.   At that first meeting I felt truly welcomed by all attending and by the end of the afternoon, I had connected with the group- with our shared values that strengthened as we worked together on our mission and vision statements.   

     Fast-forward just three weeks later on March 23, 2020 to the start of the Allegheny County “Stay at Home Order” – implemented to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  This was closely followed by a COVID-19 travel ban at the healthcare company where I provide team-based, community-based mental health and substance use disorder service interventions.   With so many unknowns about the details of viral transmission I was advised to stay in a “social bubble” in order to stay healthy, which for me meant I would be isolating alone in my apartment in the city. 

     For the next 18 months, I was blessed to be able to “pivot” to zoom morning team meetings for work, meet with clients outside of their places of residence, spend time with family and friends in outside settings and, with the help of zoom meetings, the newly named Rachel Carson EcoVillage moved steadily through Start-up deep into the Planning and Development phases.   Our membership was steadily growing and we were gradually getting to know each other as we sat in our zoom boxes, gazing straight ahead and repeatedly forgetting to “unmute” ourselves.   We were building a community in the middle of a pandemic!

     During the winter of 2020 -2021, I was definitely tempted to take a “quick break” to visit friends in Florida but resisted this temptation knowing that the pandemic would eventually lift and my accumulated vacation time could end up in a more meaningful opportunity.   My patience paid off when the travel ban was lifted in the summer of 2021 and almost simultaneously that “more meaningful opportunity” landed in my email inbox.  I was invited to attend a “30-day Community Life Campus experience” at Magilla, the spiritual ecocommunity that was part of the Arca Tentyris territory of Damanhur, Italy – a 47-year-old community seated in the foothills of the Alps in Northern Italy.  What a blessing!   

The invitation read:

     “We want to offer you an unforgettable experience to discover new aspects of yourselves, of the others and how precious is becoming “we” through living, working, creating art, listening and sharing our diversity together!”

    Fast-forward to September 15, 2021, on Day 1 of 30 I found myself immersed in an international group of 15 like minded people from Italy, Germany, Belgium, Costa Rica and The Netherlands ready to share an experience of a lifetime. (It’s safe to say that my brain was more than a little “toasty” on that first day and I was wondering how much “work” was ahead and if I were up to the physical labor part of the experience).   Well COVID-19 took care of that need to have my own “COVID-19 pause/reset button” opportunity – Yup! You guessed it – after being “fully vaccinated” and spending 18 months doing everything I was advised to do to stay healthy – I started my dream Ecovillage Experience in “social isolation” with a mild case of COVID-19.    Five days later I tested negative, fully rested, jet lag recovered and ready to immerse myself in the Ecovillage Community Life Campus experience.  

      The next 3 weeks were truly amazing and filled with activities designed to build our own Community Life Campus community, connect with the residents of the Magilla, Dendera, Casa del Lago and Porta della Luna community members  (all part of the Arca Tentyris Territory of Damanhur) and deepen our connection with the beautiful natural mountain environment that was our playground. 

    Our community building activities included group walks through the sacred forests, hikes up steep mountain trails alongside beautiful waterfalls, group discussions about our own spiritual beliefs and practices, group art projects with natural materials (think plants, branches, rocks, flowers used to create your portrait), collective art projects, creating mandalas and sculptures that illustrate your individual gifts that you bring to the whole and fun food preparation and sharing meals which often included vegetables and fruits that we had harvested that morning!  

    We had daily opportunities to get to know our gracious hosts – the local residents of the villages and to learn about their way of life by sharing meals, being a part of their fall community events, sharing spiritual beliefs and practices, assisting with seasonal preparations for the winter including stacking wood, harvesting the potato crop, picking grapes, dates, fall fruits and clearing invasive plants.   We learned about organic farming, aquaponic farming, land restoration, natural water purification and composting as well as learning about their solar and geothermal alternative energy production.   

   We toured bee hives and a honey producing factory, organic farms and extensive greenhouses, learned about their olive oil production factory and toured an amazing soap factory that produced body soap, laundry soap and cleaning products from the plants grown in the areas surrounding the factory (imagine watering your plants with the dirty, soapy water that you just used to mop your floors!)

   Some of my favorite memories include touring the Temples of Humankind (a sacred space open to the world), walking through and just sitting in the sacred forests  (just breathing with the trees and listening to their wisdom) and lying on the ancient Celtic rock formations near Magilla, under a star filled night sky, considering my place in the cosmos and just being…

     Overall, the experience was truly life-changing and while I was immersed in the month long Community Life Campus experience, I felt authentically reconnected with community.  I felt real JOY- a feeling that I hadn’t experienced since the start of the pandemic and which has persisted to this day (sometimes you’ll witness me lifting both arms to the sky and yelling “IT IS JOY!” –a practice I learned from our Damanhur sculpture artist).   

      My JOY stemmed from being a part of the experience of building individual relationships with the members of the Community Life Campus and immersing myself in the process that transformed the “I into We” – creating a community that truly was greater than the sum of the individual parts.  That’s the beauty of building community.   

     Over those 30 days our community building processes mirrored those that created Damanhur 47 years ago when a group of about 20 unrelated individuals shared their ideas, values and unique gifts with each other and started the creation of a truly amazing community that today has members across the planet.  

     I returned to Pittsburgh with so much gratitude for everyone involved in creating the opportunity and for the friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.  I returned with a renewed intention to live more sustainably (and even reciprocally) on this planet and with an even greater desire to live in community –  the Rachel Carson EcoVillage community – the community of my dreams.

I invite you to join us as we continue to create our own Rachel Carson EcoVillage true story of Adventures and Beyond!

For more information on the Federation of Damanhur please visit  https://Damanhur.org

– Brenda Freeman, future resident of Rachel Carson EcoVillage – April 8, 2022

On wind, flowers, snow and sun

March was her usual unpredictable self here in Pittsburgh…March 23-26 for our RCE Explorer members visiting from New York City and Santa Fe NM. From Thursday’s sun and warmth through Saturday’s rain and sleet and Sunday’s snow and wind, our visitors were intrepid!

Local members had the pleasure of their company on Mt. Washington overlooking the city, car tours of various neighborhoods with their unique personalities, and the Spring Flower Show at Phipps Conservatory.  Afternoon tea at Dobra Tea, breakfast at Ritter’s Diner, lunches at Grant’s Bar and Phipps cafe, dinner at The Perch and another at Apteka took us around the world in our dining experiences.  Tours of the Rachel Carson EcoVillage site at Chatham Eden Hall campus gave our out of state members a sense of the beauty of the area and where they will live as members of Rachel Carson Ecovillage community.

The highlight of the weekend for visitors and locals alike was a personal tour provided by Doug Cooper, RCE Pioneer equity member and creator of two murals at Carnegie Mellon University.  The first mural portrays the history of Pittsburgh from 1945 through 1995, and the second is a collaboration with Stefani Danes, Pioneer equity member, quilt maker and project manager for the planning and construction of RCE.  It creatively illustrates the construction and use of a building at the Tepper School of Business on the Carnegie Mellon University campus.

– Dave & Sherry Geis, future residents of Rachel Carson EcoVillage – April 1, 2022

Naming rights

One of the recent developments in our planning the community has been the necessity for naming two “streets” that will be a part of the ecovillage. So we’ve reached out to all our members for ideas and will be deciding (via our own variation of March Madness) between a bevy of suggestions we received over the last few days….wonder what we’ll ultimately decide on!

– March 25, 2022

On forgiveness, rowing and what it means to be in community.

I recently read an article in the New Yorker about Wendell Berry, the writer of numerous novels set in a small rural corner of Kentucky along the Ohio River where he continues to work the family farm where he grew up.  Berry’s novels all contemplate the value of a life that is well-grounded in the land and the people where one lives.  As such, his life and work offer a model for us at Rachel Carson EcoVillage because we aspire to something quite similar.

About Berry, whose views on politics are complex (I’d describe him as a conservative liberal and a liberal conservative), one section of the article stood out as particularly relevant to our use of sociocratic governance at RCE.  It recounts one of Berry’s most difficult works, The Hidden Wound, a book that examines racism with utter honesty as he confronts the past of such controversial figures as Robert E. Lee and of his own family, who as farmers in the South had once owned slaves.  In sum Berry wants readers to “hate the sins but love the sinner”.  He writes of his own experience exchanging civil talk with supporters of Donald Trump at the local farm supply store, which he describes as the kind of tolerance necessary in a small town.  He writes, “If two neighbors know that they seriously disagree, but that either of them, given even a small change of circumstances may desperately need the other, should they not keep between them a kind of pre-paid forgiveness?”  

The article, entitled “Late Harvest” by Dorothy Wickenden, is in the February 28th issue of the New Yorker, and it’s well worth reading.  Sociocracy exists to help govern exactly the kind of mutually dependent society that Berry describes in his books, one in which deep honesty, civility and mutual respect must always be present.  At RCE, sociocracy provides a “safe space” for the exchange of different perspectives, and, as we have already experienced many times, it enables us to put our heads together to arrive at better decisions than any of us would on our own.  We are a stronger community for our differences and political persuasions.  We are, after all, all rowers in a very small boat.

– Doug Cooper, future resident of Rachel Carson EcoVillage – March 18, 2022

Active Hope

Hey folks! It’s been a wild couple of years since Rachel Carson EcoVillage got underway and we’re not showing any signs of slowing down. This is Grace, one of the Explorer members @ RCE and I’m helping one of the planning groups that I’m a part of to get more info about all of us (and what we’re doing!) to you on a more regular basis via this platform.

Each week different members from our various planning groups will contribute a post to share with the rest of the world RIGHT HERE, so if you want to keep up with us be sure to subscribe and you’ll be the first to know when there’s been new content added here!

The most recent development that the Community Life & Governance planning group has undertaken is the 7 week Active Hope course that’s being offered online. Well, ok, we actually start it tomorrow but, close enough! For those of you that haven’t heard about Active Hope (originally a book), the course is designed to strengthen your ability to make a difference in the world. One of the best parts about it is it’s also FREE!

I imagine some of my fellow planning group members will touch on this a bit more as we delve into ways to continue making a difference right here in Pittsburgh. Until next week – with love from RCE ❤️

*Update: If you’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to subscribe to this blog (because there’s no button yet to click on to do so ) I’m working on getting that integration to happen – technology is not kind to the impatient – and it should be here for you soon!

-March 11, 2022