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. 

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