Sister Candace Introcaso Center For Lifelong Learning

Ask any group of Founding Members of the Rachel Carson EcoVillage at Providence Heights (RCE) why they want to move to the EcoVillage, and the responses likely will include one or more of the following:

  • To live in community with a diverse group of interesting people;
  • To help ensure that the earth will support human life for a long time to come; and/or 
  • To participate in courses and other activities that will enrich our lives.

Non-credit continuing education courses have been an essential part of my life ever since my formal schooling days ended.  As a long-time resident of the North Side and North Hills of Pittsburgh, I’ve had the good fortune to pursue continuing education at various institutions and organizations in the area.  Throughout my home and yard, one can see the results of some of those continuing ed courses.  Collectively, all of the continuing ed courses have yielded hours of relaxation, knowledge, practical skills, friendships, and a deeper understanding of the world.  I’ve had the good fortune to attend continuing education programs at La Roche University (LRU) in the past and also to be currently enrolled; and I look forward to participating in additional programs in the future. 

LRU started the Sister Candace Introcaso Center for Lifelong Learning in 2022.  The Center was named in honor of LRU’s seventh president.  The Center had been Sister Candace Introcaso’s vision, and she had worked tirelessly to bring it to reality.  Sister Candace Introcaso died on May 22, 2023.   LRU partners with the Sisters of Divine Providence to offer the programs of the Center.  The Center offers three programs for persons of various ages and interests (https://laroche.edu/CLL/):

  • Adventures in Lifelong Learning (ALL) – Membership-based programs for “adults aged 50 and better”, who “learn for the fun of learning, in a relaxed environment without assignments, exams, or grades”.  For (currently) $200, members can take ALL courses for up to one year.  Each year is divided into 3 terms, and each term consists of 10 weeks, or two 5-class sessions.  During each session, approximately 30 courses are taught by adjunct faculty and community instructors.  The $200 fee allows members to take an unlimited number of academic/enrichment activities and some fitness classes. An additional $100 makes a member a “PLUS member” and entitles that member to take additional swimming and exercise classes.  Follow this link to see the courses that are offered this spring and summer:  https://www.laroche.edu/ALLCourses/
  • NextStep@LRU – Professionals at various career stages earn non-credit credentials, certificates, classes, micro-credentials, and badges. This is earlier in its development than ALL.
  • LRU4U – LRU and the CDP offer to local residents and youth various programs, resources, and assets such as swim classes, academic camps, and community lectures. 

The staff of the Introcaso Center for Lifelong Learning are enthusiastic and approachable; and the programs and the staff reflect LRUs commitment to offer courses, programs, and events that meet the needs of—and appeal to—the local residents.  The staff continually works to develop offerings to add to the scope of the Center.  Recent additions include:

  • Overseas travel opportunities, including a 12-day trip to Italy during the fall of 2023.  A 12-day trip to Greece is planned for the fall of 2024.  The trips are unique because there are educational and social components as part of the program before, during, and after the trip.  In addition, because the trip is just for those affiliated with ALL, it caters and adapts to the ALL participants’ specific needs and wants.
  • Day trips to various local points of interest.  In the last year, they have gone to Clayton at the Frick, the Flight 93 Memorial, Heinz Chapel, Pitt’s Nationality Rooms, Carnegie Museum of Art, and more. Upcoming trips include the Johnstown Flood Museum and Heritage Discovery Center, a Tour of PNC Park, and others.
  • A standing invitation to members to join Center leaders for lunch in the LRU cafeteria once a week.

The Adventures in Lifelong Learning program is a gem and an asset to the Congregation of Divine Providence, to LRU, and to the community at large.  All Members of RCE are encouraged to learn more about the ALL program and other programs that will enhance our lives at RCE.

– Jill Brethauer, Founder and future resident of RCE, April 28, 2024

Daytripping: Sager Mosaics and the Ruins Project

About an hour south of Pittsburgh, along the Great Allegheny Passage Trail in Whitsett, the Ruins project is an extraordinary creation, connecting nature, history, and contemporary art in an outdoor mosaic museum that is part installation, part memorial, part community. Set in the remains of the processing plant of the Banning #2 coal mine, last operational in 1946, the Ruins Project is a living installation, with complex layers of space, time, and place to experience.

Hundreds of artists, local and from dozens of countries, continue to create and collaborate on projects exploring Nature: The Feather Project, Fayette County Fauna; History: The Patch House Project, The Portraits; Geography: The Countries, The Landmarks on the GAP Trail; Industry: The Gears – Hot Metal Wall, The Red Dog Challenge, The Tiny Rings, and countless “uncategorized wonders”.

Words, and even pictures, can’t really do it justice. But you can read more and plan a tour here.

– Julie Burch, Founder and future resident of RCE, April 15, 2024

Considering the cats at RCE

I have two cats, and I learned recently about how future residents who have pet cats are getting ready for ecovillage living They are probably going to attach “catios” to their new houses In a discussion at the designated animal care meeting I heard the word “catio”for the first time, and I am still trying to picture this outdoor kitty area! I imagine the catio (ah, a kitty-sized patio) will greatly help the dilemma of  outdoor cats like mine getting used to a little less outdoor space! I’m sure this catio/patio will in the end please them as a new place to hang! They’ll at least be able to imbibe fresh air whenever they please. However, if anyone has a picture of a cat in/on a catio, I just want to say, I would love to see it. Thanks! Meanwhile here are pics of my two indulging in naps, their most frequent pass time as all cat owners surely know! Top cat is Abu and that big inkspot is Azi…. 

Frances Eubanks – RCE Explorer member, April 10, 2024

Women’s History Month

The environmental and public health movements have been fighting for our safety, diversity, and quality of life for generations. Rachel Carson represented an irresistible clarity about blind industrial methods destroying our own future and everything that gives life meaning in our natural environment. Female writers like Olga Owens Huckins chronicling bird deaths from DDT, scientists like Ellen Swallow Richards and Dr. Alice Hamilton identifying toxins and their effects in waterways and factories, government compatriots like Shirley Briggs continuing Carson’s fight after her death, and the network of women like Marjorie Spock working with Carson all made a difference. They all cleared paths for Carson, or created laboratory areas like Woods Hole where she would work, and ensured her efforts were not in vain by fighting alongside her and after her death.

Perhaps most true of all of them was an unshakable set of priorities and the discipline to persevere, putting the environment and our health above prestige, acclaim, or a private domestic isolation from wider concerns. Their goal was always to communicate clearly, working with whatever power structure or partisan opposition for the best result that could be obtained. Good enough for now, safe to try, for the good of the whole community. A pleasant reminder as we approach 2025 in Rachel Carson EcoVillage at Providence Heights.

– David Clapp, Founding Member and future resident of RCE, March 18, 2024

In Between Times
“Where is home?”, I ask myself. My conditioned mind’s cliched answer says
[editor: actually it is your wife Tink who says] “Home is where the heart is,
honey.” And yet my mind can’t help but look back to what was, and toward what
will be, leaving my heart to feel a bit confused and aching about how to be in the
present. Yes, yes, I know about (and practice) mindfulness and I try to “Be Here
Now”, all as my impetuous inner child part wants what I know will come to Be.
Here. Now!! Ugh!
I softly and compassionately tell my tender inner child part that it will be here
before I know it. I settle in, and become familiar with all that living in a city has to
offer, and try to feel grateful for my little balcony overlooking the offices of Google
(where I imagine AI training and self-driving car scheming and advertising
potentials are being hatched and developed.) More often I walk the short
distance to my favorite coffee shop (Margaux), and in the other direction to the
Northeast entrance of Frick Park.
The hills, open country roads, and our old home & gardens of Western
Massachusetts,

have been replaced by my current urban landscape (and lovely cafes and
spacious parks) of Pittsburgh,

with an eye toward the wooded area of our CoHousing EcoVillage in McCandless.

I’m looking forward to being together living with you all; and in the meanwhile I’ll continue to try to stay present in the In Between.


– Chris Van Camp, Founding Member and future resident of RCE, February 21, 2024

Hygge

It’s winter.  The daylight is limited and the skies are often clouded with shades of grey in Pittsburgh. I find myself celebrating any small bit of a blue sky day and noticing the lengthening moments of daylight during these cold months.  

It is a good time of the year to practice Hygge. Hygge (hoo-gah) is a Danish word that describes a cozy, contented mood evoked by comfort, simplicity and being present. An emphasis on hygge is a core part of Danish culture.  Researchers Smoyer and Miking define hygge as a “restorative practice”. 

My daughter Skyanna and I had a wonderful opportunity recently to spend time with the Sisters of Divine Providence experiencing and learning more about the practice of hygge.

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” is a common phrase in Scandinavia. They embrace getting outside even if the weather is less than ideal.  Spending time outside every day can make a difference in our mood and energy. We started with a winter walk and came prepared with warm layers for the cold day.  The magic of snow flakes began floating all around us just after we began our walk.  We returned inside to the warmth of conversation and hot cocoa.

Barbara Hayden authored the book Hygge: Unlock the Danish Art of Coziness and Happiness

The following are some highlights of the practice of hygge:

Hygge is all about self care. It is about giving yourself permission to set down your stresses and worries and making sure that you are healthy and happy. Only then can you help others be happy and healthy as well. It is taking time to relax and take care of yourself in a balanced, gentle way. It is a philosophy of comfort, togetherness, and well-being.

Sip on a warm drink. Instead of drinking your morning coffee in a travel container on the commute to work, make coffee or tea a special morning comfort routine.

Simplicity! Hygge is all about appreciating the simple pleasures in life: get outdoors, talk with friends, spend time in a cafe, read a good book, stay in the present and appreciate what you have.

Cafe culture is important all over Europe, but it is a huge part of the hygge lifestyle. Cafes are central to the Danish day. The cafe culture is about being with friends, enjoying warm drinks and tasty foods. Connection and community with others is encouraged.

Prepare dinner at home and eat together. Put phones away and be present. Eat warm nourishing healthy local foods. Make each evening a gathering that is worthy of a holiday season as often as possible.

Atmosphere cements the mindset. There is a focus on soft lighting, comforting decor, windows, simplicity of design and a minimum of clutter. Less stuff equals more life. 

There should be comfortable cozy nooks in every home with cushions, blankets and soft lighting.  A cushion in front of a fireplace, a window seat or a rocker can be quiet, peaceful places where you can curl up with a good book, a journal or a mug of hot cocoa and your thoughts.

“Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down. You may be having an endless conversation about the small or big things in life – or just be comfortable in each other’s company – or simply just be by yourself enjoying a cup of tea.”

* The Little Book Of Hygge by Meik Wiking.

An intentional EcoVillage in the woods at Providence Heights sounds like the perfect place that hygge can be practiced and experienced throughout every season!

– Mimi Baker, Founding Member & future resident of RCE,  February 8, 2024

The Perks of Being in Pittsburgh

Pittsburghers have familiarity with the locale and have many opportunities to spend time with the Explorers and Founders who make the trip into Pittsburgh. We also have opportunities for community building at our in person gatherings. Many of these social events are organized on the RCE Facebook page so be sure to join to see what’s happening.

We’ve also started to get to know some of the Sisters of Divine Providence by attending local events that the Sisters are involved with.
Becky Lubold and I met some of the Sisters at the 19th Annual North Hills International Peace Festival held in North Park last September. This uplifting and informative afternoon is organized by area social justice groups and our EcoVillage can support and attend the 20th annual festival next fall.

Photo description – Program cover on left, Som Sharma speaking to attendees on the right.

Photo description – (left) Ajani “AJ” Adegbindin speaking to attendees, check out Becky’s blue peace banner in the background. Right – meet and greet activity “passport” card with EcoVillage stickers.

More recently another local Founder, Judy Robertson made us aware of the 24th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast at La Roche University. Five EcoVillagers attended and listened to speakers from the North Hills Community Outreach, Anchorpoint Counseling Ministry, The Olive Branch and Providence Connections Inc. Alyssa Hunt, a senior at Northgate High School read her Spirit of Unity essay and the keynote speaker was the Honorable Dwayne Woodruff who spoke about his experiences as a judge presiding over juvenile cases in Family Court. Showing up for our new North Hills neighbors speaks volumes about us. Just as we’re investing our savings in building our new ecovillage homes we are also investing in the social economy. Those of us fortunate enough to be local can’t wait until our entire group is on site, settled in and able to join us at all types of in-person events and activities.

– Kristi Karsh, Founding Member & future resident of RCE, February 4, 2024

A simpler, more fulfilling lifestyle

“Perhaps you yearn for a more unencumbered lifestyle that allows you to focus on what you
want to experience and accomplish.”
This was the opening line of a marketing email I recently received. Like most marketing emails, I
don’t know how I got on this list. But those marketers got their targeting right…they were
pitching a new “active adult” community, noting that such communities have emerged to offer a
“simpler, more fulfilling” lifestyle.

How did this marketing message define this promised lifestyle? Here’s a list of features drawn
from the appeal:
– a socially engaged, maintenance-free lifestyle
– easy access to exciting dining, shopping, and entertainment
– walkable social setting
– resort-style amenities, convenient services and opportunities for social engagement
– an active and social lifestyle by organizing events, clubs, and activities that foster social
engagement
– an outdoor social deck with green space, a grilling area, a bocce court and outdoor
entertainment space
– a private dining area, on-site gym, concierge, activities director and lifestyle
programming

Admittedly, the plans for the Rachel Carson EcoVillage don’t include a bocce court (yet!), on-site
gym or concierge…and many of our “resort-style” amenities will be provided by Mother Nature
herself, given our wooded setting. But I’m struck by how the developers of this advertised
lifestyle community are creating many of the same features that we will enjoy at our new
Providence Heights location.
There are important differences too. We’ll have a shared dining area in our Common House that
allows for group meals and activities. Instead of an activities director, we’ll all work together to
develop “lifestyle” programming. Many of our founders are looking forward to working together
on a community garden. We’ll also work together to make shared decisions and meet the needs
of the community. Plus, as an EcoVillage, we’ll share a mission to live more lightly upon this
Earth.
The most significant difference is that instead of buying into a lifestyle community, we are
creating our own. And all of us who are moving to RCE are seeking more than social
engagement, we’re seeking a true community…one united by a shared sense of purpose and
desire to make a positive difference.

Creating that community will take work—and of course, at times it will be challenging too. To
me, this epitomizes what it really means to have an “active adult” lifestyle, one that is both
fulfilling and meaningful—and doesn’t require a concierge!

-Betsy H., Founding Member & future resident of RCE, January 18, 2024

The Mystery of Marcescence: What does Nature Know?
One of my favorite sights on a winter walk is a young beech tree with its pale creamsicle leaves
almost glowing in the largely monochrome forest.

Such trees are displaying marcescence, the somewhat mysterious phenomenon in which Autumn leaves don’t fall. In cultures across northern temperate zones both deciduous and evergreen trees are familiar and symbolic. With a few exceptions, deciduous trees drop their colorful leaves and give us the name of the season, while evergreens keep their green needles, signaling life through the cold and short days of winter. They drop their needles too, but gradually and continuously rather than all at once. The two distinct patterns are so familiar as to seem inevitable, but they point to the intelligence and adaptability of nature.

But a few deciduous trees, especially beeches and oaks, try a middle way, and hold onto their dried leaves through the winter. It’s especially common on young trees and sometimes on the lower branches of mature trees. Some research has shown that when they do drop, marcescent leaves do so in a short interval around the spring equinox. Deciduous trees shed their leaves to survive through the winter by conserving resources through the process of abscission (“cutting away”) that allows the leaves to drop without damaging the branch. First the tree reabsorbs and stores the nutrients contained in the chlorophyll that gives leaves their summer green color. This allows the reds, yellows, and oranges of Autumn to show. Then it creates two layers of specialized cells to seal the branch and separate the leaf stem from it, letting it drop.


Given the protective value of leaf drop and its fundamental place in the change of seasons, why don’t marcescent trees do this? What is the purpose of keeping those leaves? What does
Nature know here? There are several theories about why marcescence happens, but not much formal or conclusive
research, and it seems likely that it may depend on local conditions, environmental factors, and individual species traits.


One common explanation is that by holding onto unpalatable leaves, the trees protect new
buds from deer and other herbivores. Other explanations have to do with nutrients: keeping
the leaves may allow more time for nutrient reabsorption and photosynthesis; and dropping
them later, close to the tree, may positively impact decomposition and nutrient availability in the soil to support spring growth; retained leaves may catch snow and hold water like mulch; or they may provide habitat for birds and small animals that will fertilize the soil with their wastes.

All of these seem like good strategies for a young tree. And maybe they are true. All those possibilities certainly point to the creative power of nature to persist and adapt. But I sometimes like to think of that young beech as a just a spunky, contrarian spirit with a desire to
stand out in a winter crowd.

– Julie Burch, Founding member and future resident of RCE, January 13, 2024

Getting to know Margot….

THEME HOLIDAY TREES

My holiday tree this year is in honor of the ancient Roman holidays of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus. Saturn was a pre Olympic god of the earth and harvest. This spirit was usually depicted as a bearded elder holding a sickle or scythe. He was also connected in Roman culture with the Greek god Chronos, time. This imagery seems to have been adapted for the modern idea of Father Time. One of my decorations is a Halmark figurine of Father Time. The feast day of the Unconquerable sun was Rome’s winter solstice , about December 25. Romans are known to have used green boughs to decorate and candles for Saturnalia. I love unusual theme holiday trees as well as very traditional ones. I have a set of ceramic creche figurines but a didn’t get them out this year. One year I had a Barbie tree: it was tall, white, with pink lights, and filled with about 20 Barbies and Kens. I always have many more ideas for theme trees than I can ever actually do. What about a history of planet earth theme? The tree topper would probably have to be the big bang. I haven’t quite figured out how to do that.

SUGAR PIE CAT

Cats have always been a part of my life but I had been cat-less for about a year when I finally settled down in Pittsburgh. My sister Jane and I went to a place called Rescue and Relax on Swissvale Avenue. It is a comfy storefront with room for about 10 people to sit and play with felines. They also foster cats in a number of private homes. That is how I found the best cat I have ever had. She comes when I wiggle my fingers—sometimes, and she talks all the time. Purrs, chirrups and meows; I just wish I knew what she was saying. I have always wanted a Siamese but this time I held out till I got one. A gentle and amusing companion, I thought I would change her name to something exotic or literary. But she was already tagged as Sugar, and Sugar Pie she became.

MY TWO ARTIST NEPHEWS

My sister Jane has two sons: Aaron aged 40, and Dylan aged 37 and they are both artists. I feel that somehow some part of our father Lee Critchfield is going on in the universe. Dad’s parents wanted him to be something practical: a civil engineer. But he was really an artist at heart. Aaron is a software designer who graduated from Temple University School of Art and Dylan works at the Mattress Factory Museum and graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art. He draws and paints in many media. I have one of his early self portraits hanging in my apartment. Aaron’s work is untouchable in the digital world but I am scheming to acquire a digital wall display of some kind so I can display his work too.

QUILTED CATS

This quilt is hanging in my hallway. The lighting is very bright there and  I can get very close to the quilt. I enjoy looking at it even with my low vision. You can easily guess its appeal for me. I was lucky to encounter it at my church. There a good number of wonderful quilters there. I have had it for about a year but there is another great show of quilts there now. I am not sure I have a wall available though.

-Margot Critchfield, Founding Member & future resident of RCE, December 31, 2023

Last Days of the Year

Well, here it is, the last week of December, and I’m feeling a bit weird about it. Partly because the whole year has zipped past so quickly but mostly because I hit the Big Seven-O on the 30th. 

Seventy is one of those big decade years, but it also means time to look at the incredible changes that can happen in a person’s lifetime.

I was born in the early 1950s, a time of atom bomb tests and “duck and cover,” though to be honest, I don’t remember hiding from an atomic attack by crawling under my desk. We did, however, go out into the hallway of our school and face the walls. Later I learned that wouldn’t save us.

I was born in a time before the civil rights movement (though not by much), the women’s rights movement, the Pill and Roe v Wade. 

I was one of the first children to receive the Sabin polio vaccine. My older sisters were part of the experimental cohort who received the first Salk vaccine. 

I watched the 1969 moon landing on TV with my dad, while I recovered from an appendectomy. It was astounding, but honestly the latest episode of “Star Trek” seemed more real to me. My dad never let me forget that!

When I graduated from college, women had to be twice as accomplished as men to get into vet school. My calculus  and organic chemistry grades kept me out, though I know a few guys with the same grades who got in. Now, women make up two-thirds of vet students.

Forty years ago, we knew about climate change and what was going to happen if the amount of carbon in the atmosphere was not curtailed. Nobody listened to the warnings, though the more tangible ozone hole was addressed by the discontinuing the use of chloro-fluoro hydrocarbons.

I used punch cards to program the big IBM 360 mainframe at CMU in the 1970s, standing in line to hand over my homework assignments and doing it again 24 hours later to pick them up as printouts. 

I used my first MS-DOS personal computer at the Pittsburgh Aviary in 1986. I got my own first Windows computer in 1990.

War was and remains a constant through my life. Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Nicaragua, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Israel, and many others. So much carnage, destruction and grief.

There have been quantum leaps and gains in science, technology, medicine. 

I’ve backpacked and camped and traveled through most of the 48 contiguous states. I saw the Galápagos Islands, Venezuela before Chavez, hiked the Inca Trail, the Annapurna circuit in Nepal, and walked the 150 miles of the GAP trail from Pittsburgh to Cumberland with my Australian Shepherd Laika pulling our gear in the dog wagon.

As I contemplate this birthday, and anticipate my next adventure at Rachel Carson EcoVillage at Providence Heights, it is with excitement and gratitude that I have found this community. I can’t wait to sit on my front porch schmoozing with whomever walks by, pack walks with the Dogs of RCE, cooking, eating and living and growing in community with all of you. 

Here’s to the next 70!

-Paula Strasser, Founding Member & future resident of RCE, December 19, 2023

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

THAT is the mantra for environmental responsibility as an American consumer.
But how much do we focus on recycling, but not the other two? Especially when it’s questionable
whether it’s effective? Plastics especially are deemed recyclable, but the industry really can’t claim to do
a very good job at it. What about reducing the amount of plastics and landfill-bound things we consume? I’ve been using bar soap for years now, instead of body wash sold in plastic bottles. Recently I found that my favorite type of chewing gum now comes in a paper container rather than a plastic one – I snapped it up. Still looking to buy walnuts in a paper bag instead of a clamshell container…

What excites me more of late is the REUSE part of that mantra.
Why buy new, cheaply made goods when you have a wealth of used, often better-quality things to
surround yourself with? As I was looking for some home décor items when I first moved into my place
in Florida, I ventured into a “HomeGoods” store (my first visit) in search of some smaller furnishings. I
was very surprised at the low quality – nothing was actually made of wood, staples were the fasteners of
choice, and fabrics were thin and synthetic.

Instead, I haunted the several area Habitat for Humanity Restore locations, along with a few Salvation Army and Goodwills, and found a cornucopia of interesting and sturdily-made tables, chairs, lamps, desks, and housewares – and some unique wall art. This stuff was made of real wood! Items that had real character! Some were one-of-a-kind!
Plus, it was lots of fun. Next time you are in the market for a piece of furniture, give it a try. You might just find your next well-loved chair/desk/table/bookcase.

-Mariann Davis, Founding Member & future resident of RCE, December 19, 2023

As I write this in Pittsburgh in the early days of December, the days are getting colder as stray snowflakes appear, carols haunt the air as holiday shopping abounds, and Krampus is coming. 

By Unknown author – Historie čertů KrampusUploaded by Kohelet, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27970733

Krampus, for those unfamiliar, is a mythical, anthropomorphic goatlike being from Alpine folklore. The dark counterpart to Saint Nicholas, who leaves small gifts and treats in the shoes children leave out on December 6th, Krampus arrives the night before on December 5th, known as Krampusnacht(Krampus night). Instead of bringing rewards, Krampus carries chains, birch rods to punish misbehaving children, and in some traditions, a sack or basket on his back to drag them away. In Austria, Bavaria, and other parts of Central and Eastern Europe, people would dress up as Krampus and parade through the streets in groups wearing elaborate hand carved masks and costumes, scaring children and unsuspecting onlookers. Places like Salzburg, Austria are still known today for their annual Krampuslauf or Krampus run.

While he serves as a cautionary lesson for children, Krampus is also a way to maintain the balance between light and dark during the festive season. In recent years, the legend of Krampus has gained popularity beyond its traditional regions. Krampus-themed events are becoming more common worldwide, allowing people to celebrate this dark folklore and embrace a counterbalance to the jolly, benevolent, and commercialized figure of Santa Claus.

The author (and her RCE tote bag) meeting Krampus at last year’s festivities.

Hoping to catch a glimpse of Krampus this season? Pittsburgh is one city that’s embraced this devious figure. Market Square’s outdoor Holiday Market has a free, (relatively) family-friendly Krampus parade every December 5th. You can also see him at the Winter Solstice Celebration in the Allentown neighborhood, which boats a holiday art market, a Yule goat petting zoo, and a parade featuring many Krampuses along with some Yule Lads, Jolukotturinn, and Mari Lwyd—but they are characters for a different post.  

-Elizabeth R., Founding Member & future resident of RCE, December 13, 2023

Seasons
When you move to Florida, friends in the North invariably say, “I could never move to
Florida—I would miss the seasons too much.” No matter how often we point out that we do, in fact,
have seasons in northeast Florida, people remain convinced that Florida, top to bottom, is hot and sunny
all year round, and they’re surprised when they come to visit in February and have to borrow a fleece, a
couple of which I keep on hand for this very reason. Florida is a big place! From Georgia to Key West,
it’s around 450 miles, more than the distance between Boston and D.C., and the climate at the southern
end is distinctly different from that at the northern. Last Christmas, it got down into the low twenties
here in St. Augustine.

Roseate spoonbills and friends at the end of my block

But it’s true that the seasons don’t change so distinctly here as they do in the North. I grew up in New Jersey and went to college in Boston in the late seventies, and I remember people in Boston being positively giddy when spring, bright and clear and sparkly, finally made its appearance after a long, cold, snowy winter. Strangers on the street in Back Bay would greet each other with big toothy grins, when only days before they had their heads tucked firmly down, grimacing as they navigated their way
over treacherous icy sidewalks in the bitter wind off the Charles River.

Saw palmetto, Spanish moss, and deciduous trees in December

Here on Anastasia Island, the seasonal changes are far more gradual and subtle, much less dramatic. In the slow passage of fall, the live oaks drop only some of their leaves, while the palms pretty much don’t drop anything, but some of the vines die back: the landscape changes only to a duller green, the grass and hammock more silver and brown. The beach appears largely unchanged, if much more empty of visitors, but the water is too cold for the locals to swim in and the sea is more often rough—I
can hear it roaring from my yard most nights.

There are more grey or rainy days, and everything settles in for a bit of a rest. Still, there are far more sunny days than not, and here now in the first week of December, we have the air conditioning back on, after a few weeks of open windows. Winter creeps in very slowly and hangs around for only a couple of months before the vague metamorphosis of spring begins—and, to this daughter of the Northeast, what feels like summer begins very early in May.

The beach at the end of my street

Lately as I walk around my neighborhood and along the beach, I think a lot about moving away from the coast for the first time in my life, but also about moving back to the cold, moving back to a
shorter summer, and I figure the seasons in Pittsburgh will be a bit more like what I remember from the first twenty-odd years of my life.

The lines from the old Byrds song keep playing on my internal
jukebox. (The lines are drawn from Ecclesiastes, of course, but I am a child of sixties rock more than of the Christian church, despite eight years of Methodist Sunday school.)


To everything turn, turn, turn
There is a season turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under Heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap


As I wait for the season when we can all move in to Rachel Carson Ecovillage together, I find these
lines salutary in negotiating with my impatience—they remind me that everything is, indeed, unfolding
perfectly, that this season of waiting has a purpose: more time for us to get to know one another, more
time to take our leave of what we will give up, more time to downsize, more time to plan our integration
into the forest. Before we know it, it will be time to plant our new gardens, both literal and figurative, in
a community where we will reap the harvests together as the seasons roll by.

-Victoria Clements, Founding Member & future resident of Rachel Carson EcoVillage, December 10, 2023

I’m excited about signing up with Zero Waste Wrangler.

 I signed up after I hit the pause button on the compost tumbler on my tiny backyard patio. It was time to take a break, especially with winter coming. I shouldn’t have been so surprised when I noticed that our household garbage increased!

There are no residential compost collection services in the North Hills area of Pittsburgh, but Zero Waste Wrangler offers a drop-off service that I think will work – at least for the colder months when going outside to empty the bucket into a frozen tumbler is not fun. 

I’m looking forward to composting at the EcoVillage because we’ll be doing it as a community which will be more appealing even during the colder months. 

(Photo description – a green metal tray with colorful paperboard strips decoupaged on the surface. On the tray is a turquoise mug, a pair of glasses with clear frames and a smart speaker placed on a wooden coaster.)

Continuing on the topic of household waste I have a thing for cardboard; and in particular paperboard which is the term for the packaging used to make cereal boxes and the like. I use paperboard in the artwork I make. I cut the paperboard into narrow strips and arrange it in a way that is pleasing to me. The strips of paperboard can remind me of rag rugs, mosaics, and even abstract paintings. Paperboard is just one of the materials I repurpose when I’m making art. I also hang on to lots of plastic produce bags, worn out terry cloth towels and more typical collage materials like vintage recipes. 

Another thing I’m excited about is that TerraCycle is accepting oral care products and packaging for recycling. There’s an empty plastic bird seed container under my bathroom sink now to use as a collection container for toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes. Terracycle advises filling up a decent sized container so that households aren’t shipping small packages. Here’s another effort that will have a greater impact because we’ll be able to combine our collections and ship our recyclables as a community instead of individually. 

Kristi Karsh, Founding Member & future resident of Rachel Carson EcoVillage, December 4, 2023

Harvest

cradling just picked pumpkin

wet from morning rain

not the usual jack-o-lantern orange

but soft butterscotch flecked with green

my hands tingle

in awe of mother earth

grateful for

her creativity.

Judy Trupin, Founding member & future resident of Rachel Carson EcoVillage, November 14, 2023

Sacred Grove

On an early autumn afternoon several weeks ago, I had a chance to visit one of our potential sites, the forest site of the Sisters of Devine Providence.  Walking up the knoll west of the stream bed that cuts through it, I was struck by the quality of the light filtering down through the high canopy above.  It felt like a sacred grove, and I understood why the Sisters have turned down the many commercial offers they have received over the years so they could protect it.

Sacred groves are central in the spiritual lives of most all cultures through the ages world-wide: the peoples of India, the Ancient Greeks, the West Africans, and of course as the Eden of the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic traditions.  I’ve always thought it is the combination of verticals of the trees themselves and the mysterious dappled light that reaches the forest floor below that gives such places the sense that they are sacred apertures.

Sacred groves have played a particularly rich role among the Celts and it is that role that I’m thinking of now.  As a boy, I lived near a forest that began at the edge of our backyard.  My father had given me his copy of The Boy’s King Arthur, with its many illustrations by N.C. Wyeth, and that forest became the landscape in which I could place those stories in my imagination—the magical stories of Merlin, Morgan le Fay, the Lady of the Lake, Lancelot and others.  And I can well imagine, that, if we should end up building our community there in the Sisters’ forest, the children who will live among us will find Tolkien’s Middle Earth and other such places of imagination in the vale by the stream of our sacred grove.

Doug Cooper,  Founding member & future resident of Rachel Carson EcoVillage, November 9, 2023  

In other travel news….

Another of RCE Founding member’s vacationed far away as well this summer…at the famed Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp in Kenya and was happy to learn about what the 100 year old family business has done to support the community that it’s in (the entire camp is staffed by members from the community and has its own farm for raising food to serve to guests to name a few!)

Long-Distance Train travel: An Ecovillage on Wheels

Last month, I took a train trip from New York to San Francisco. For those of you not familiar with the trip, it’s a single overnight to Chicago, where one changes to another train and then has two overnights to San Francisco. It was a beautiful trip – when I close my eyes I can still see images of what passed by out the window – fields of corn shorn off after harvest, an overflowing stream winding through a pine forest, and the amazing natural red rock formations  hat looked like they were the work of a human sculptor. During the trip, I started thinking about how long-distance train travel is like an ecovillage on wheels.

The most obvious connection, of course, is that an ecovillage is a sustainable way of living, and a train is a more sustainable way of traveling. That is certainly true and it is one of the reasons that I travel by train instead of flying. But there are other connections, too. 

Early am somewhere along the way

If you are traveling in a sleeper car, as I did, there’s a similar balance of private time and time spent in community. My sleeper was my personal dwelling where I could read, relax, do morning yoga (you’d be surprised what can be done in a teeny tiny room) and watch the sunrise. The dining car was the common house – a place to share meals and for spontaneous conversation. We spoke of our families, other train trips we’d taken, reasons for this trip and offered each other advice. I often interacted with people with totally different interests and life stories. At one meal, I sat with a man who decorated cartridge pens as a hobby- I didn’t even know that existed! At another, I met 2 college girlfriends who were taking a trip together after not seeing each other for 40 years. And a man from France who was traveling by train to escape the American tourists in Paris. We spoke in a mixture of French and English – I gave him advice about visiting San Francisco, heard from him about Paris today and I shared the story of my great uncle who went to France in World War I and never came home; becoming a renowned violinist and teacher there.

Like in an ecovillage, you may have neighbors whose life seems totally different from yours, but with whom you find commonality. Across the aisle on one leg of my journey, was a couple on their first train trip. They lived in a rural town, I lived in a big city. They were a married couple with kids and grandkids, me single with no kids. This was their first long distance train trip; this was at least my 8th (I’ve lost track; no RR pun intended).  But when the train announcer translated the welcome announcement into German, we discovered that like me, the man of the couple spoke German, albeit mine seriously rusty. I shared stories of my times in Germany as a performer and teaching artist and heard from him about sneaking into the former East Germany as part of a Christian ministry in the early 70’s. He was reading Harry Potter in German, and handed it to me to read. As we talked about reading strategies for reading in a foreign language, I learned that his wife, like me, had taught adults who had never learned to read in their first language. My experience was in the US, hers in Kenya.

Like ecovillage enthusiasts, many train travelers feel a strong connection to the natural world- and like me, can spend hours gazing out at the amazing array of scenery. Sometimes, though, I wished I could get out and walk or hike through some of the areas we passed through. That’s something ecovillagers can do with ease – especially those in a rural setting like RCE.

Of course, there was no composting on the train – and I’m not sure what they did with all the plastic water bottles and plastic plates. Seemed like the NY to Chicago train was separating things for recycling, but the Chicago to California train was not. True confession: I gathered up all my recycling and lugged it off the train to find a place to recycle things.

And finally, like in an ecovillage – nothing is perfect, and one should expect the unexpected! On my train back from San Francisco, we were seriously delayed, arriving in Chicago at 1 am. I missed my connecting train. But we weren’t left stranded in the station. Amtrak put us up in a hotel, and I had until 9:30 pm the following day before the next train. And hence – the unexpected – a beautifully sunny day to walk around Chicago.

 I’m not living in an ecovillage yet but I’m sure there will be bumps in the road there, too. And certainly, we have had some bumps along the way in forming our village. But there have already been — and will also likely be — fortuitous surprises that I can’t even imagine yet. And I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the unexpected unfold in my future as an ecovillager!

Judy Trupin, Founding member & future resident of Rachel Carson EcoVillage, Oct. 2, 2023

Down-sizing! How are you doing??

The furniture isn’t a problem.  We have pretty much decided what pieces we are taking.  It’s the small things like papers, cards, photos and other memorabilia.  We have four children and that is a lot of memories.

I have discovered more places to take some of the bigger things like computers and radios that don’t work. Best Buy will take up to three computers or appliances a trip.

We also found a place to take metal.  We had a barbecue that doesn’t work any more and some miscellaneous pieces of metal. Warhola Metal on Pennsylvania Avenue on the Northside will take them and even give you a few pennies for the effort.  

I have already told some of you about Repurposed on McKnight Road.  They take housewares, books, furniture in good condition, clothes and many other things and the money is used to help women and children who are victims of trafficking.

Then there are two places on Lexington Avenue in Point Breeze. Pittsburgh Center for Creative Use takes allkinds of craft materials including old negatives, and right next to it is a place that takes all kind of building material, Construction Junction. We took some old lights. Habitat for Humanity also takes furniture.

Finally, I am like a turtle but slowly getting there with old photos. I am sorting them by category then will put them in albums. I’m sure many of you did this as you went along, but I was not good about it.

Let us know if you have found other places to recycle!

-Judy Robertson, Founding Member & future resident of RCE, September 25, 2023

Overthinking our unit, Pt. 2: The Inside

Like my body, our home is designed to efficiently maintain a livable temperature. However, both require
reasonable actions on my part, such as limiting extremes and avoiding toxins, to provide optimal service.
A programmable thermostat set at a reasonable low during Fall and Winter and a reasonable high in
Spring and Summer should help reduce HVAC costs. Likewise, what I bring into the house in the form of
VOCs, Ozone, dirt and dust on my feet, and any rug or carpet that absorbs these elements can exceed
the capacity of the excellent filtration in our system. Most everything else involves tradeoffs.


For instance, the optimal environment for my library would be total darkness, a steady temperature of
around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, a dewpoint of around 50, and no atmospheric pollutants. I will never
open the North window in this room, but the programmable thermostat for our home will allow a wider
range of temperatures. There is an excellent .org website (Efficient Window Coverings) where you can
compare the pros and cons of different window treatments. Tight-fitting cellular shades appear to do a
better job with fewer downsides than other options. Hunter Douglas’s Duette Cellular Shades are
designed for windows like ours, attaching directly to the window frame and their Trackglide system
allows either a power-driven or manual system for raising and lowering.


In more typical spaces, a cheap hygrometer identifying the indoor dewpoint can be my best friend in
obtaining maximum value by turning off the HVAC and opening windows. I’m an early morning person
and would be happy to bring the July interior temperature down to the mid-sixties before dawn every
day. If you are not allergic to ragweed or worried about other pollutants and the outdoor dew point is
lower than the indoor dew point, you can safely turn off the HVAC and bring in moderate outdoor air for
that part of the day six months out of the year. We can open windows from May through July, allowing
Sally to avoid the ragweed. If the dew point in the house is lower than the outside temperature and
higher than the outside dew point, a high relative humidity outside will not make our home more
humid.


Otherwise, we can enjoy incremental gains by defaulting to dim lights turned on by motion detectors in
most rooms and all hallways and stairs, turning off automatically after a set time with no motion. If the
system can turn off an undimmed light in an empty room while Sally and I are elsewhere, so much the
better. I can purchase a Glacier Bay Shower Head Push-Button Flow Reducer and shut down the flow of
water for a shower without having to waste water turning the faucet on and off and readjusting the
temperature. For computer and home theater systems, a tier one advanced power strip can fully shut
down other components when the main devices are turned off. We use UPS batteries for some
components that I do not want to go off in a power outage. They can use up 6-10 watts every day just
maintaining their charge. Though we may never have power outages, I’d like to experiment with large
camper batteries utilizing their own solar panels that I could charge outside and use to charge other
rechargeable batteries or operate electric devices inside and outside when other outlets are not
available.

-David Clapp, Founding Member & future resident of RCE, September 19, 2023

Quick – name the Poet Laureate of the United States!

Can’t do it? You’re probably not alone, so I’ll tell you –  It’s Ada Limón, whose deeply moving poems span a variety of contexts, from The Contract Says: We’d Like the Conversation to be Bilingual, which addresses microaggression towards people of Mexican descent, to Mastering, in which a woman dealing with infertility copes with a well-meaning friend’s exaltation of parenthood. Fabulous poet – important themes. But is there a connection to Rachel Carson?  I think so.

Images of nature – both plants and animals – thread through many of  Limón’s pieces, even in poems that one wouldn’t necessarily call “nature poems.”   It is that attention to – and perhaps love of – the natural world that seems to have  inspired  Limón’s project as Poet Laureate. Like her predecessors, Limón has devised a project to focus awareness on poetry and an issue of importance to her. For example, Poet Laureate Billy Collins focused on young people, creating  Poetry 180, a poem a day to be read or heard by high school students around the country. The immediate past Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo, had a very cool project, Living Nations, Living Words, an interactive map of the US featuring the work of 47 Native Nations poets. (check it out here).  Limón has a two part project, You Are Here,  that according to her website “ focuses on how poetry can help connect us to the natural world. “

The first part of her project will be a commissioned anthology of nature-themed poems by 50 contemporary American poets, while the second part will  consist of poetry installations in 7 National Parks from  California to Massachuesets. These installations will each include  a historic poem that in some way connects to the park. According to Limón, the purpose of these installations – each to be inscribed on a picnic table – is to “encourage park visitors to become more deeply connected to their surroundings.” (from  Library of Congress Blog on Ada Limón’s project )

Become “more deeply connected to their surroundings…” sounds very much like a Sense of Wonder to me.  And there you have it, the Rachel Carson connection.  

These installations will have an installation ceremony in 2024 and thereafter, will be on view in the parks. 

Anyone up for planning an RCE field trip to one??? Count me in. 

– Judy Trupin, Founding Member & future resident of RCE, September 11, 2023

Overthinking our unit, Pt. 1: The Outside

The main unit roofs over the second floor, front porch, and shed dormer face East and the back porch
roof faces South. Ideally, our first-year energy use will suggest reaching net zero with very few solar
panels covering only the back porch, the front porch, and little else. Cleaning the soot off panels so close
to the ground should be relatively easy and cheap. The central question, as an aspiring gardener wanting
to experiment, is how to set up our private yard for the 2025 growing season by making the most
effective use of the redeposited soil immediately after construction.


The 70c Pittsburgh Low Plateau ecosystem is generally known for sloping terrain, soil wetness (clayey
sands), and low soil fertility (p. 37. 1996 EPA report) with a relatively short growing season. Spring frosts
can come as late as June and Fall frosts can come mid-September though generally closer to 150 days.
Also concerned about diseases and pests, I chose to center my plans on three of my books. Plant
Partners, by Jessica Walliser (2020) specializes in science-based companion planting, Straw Bale
Gardens, by Joel Karsten (updated edition 2019) offers a sharp contrast to the high-management
standard garden, and The Year-round Vegetable Gardener, by Niki Jabbour (2011) provides a variety of
ways to extend the growing season with cold frames and mini hoop tunnels. We will enclose our back
porch so our indoor cat can see and smell the world and we will have a place for garden tools. With the
porch in mind, I was thinking of putting a straw bale experiment on one side of the porch and a
flowering bush of some kind on the other side.

Sally would like flowers and flowering plants outside her kitchen annex window, and I would like to
create raised garden beds with cedar planks around some permeable pathways, ideally providing a drip
edge along the unit siding. If possible, I’m hoping the cedar planking can be attached to cold frames
when necessary and have a four-foot fence around the perimeter that could fold in half on the South
and East sides, providing access to the fragrant border plants I would use to dissuade deer from being
more than picaresque meadow grazers. Jessica Walliser provides lots of trap plants that attract pests
away from one crop and other plants that effectively hide favored plants from insects that would
otherwise attack them, as well as plants that attract beneficial insects. I’m expecting all I’ll be planting in

2024 is a cover crop. With luck, we will know our move-in date far enough in advance to hire a
landscaper to ensure the drainage plan established for the unit can be maintained with garden drainage
pipes under whatever the landscaper/RCE team can build in the yard.

-David Clapp, Founding Member & future resident of RCE, August 29, 2023

Meadows not Lawns


The other day we were engaged in breakout rooms to discuss ways in which we at
Rachel Carson EcoVillage might honor Rachel Carson’s legacy. I was not alone in
noting the wisdom in a simple comment offered by one of our members, Sarah Vick:
“Meadows, not lawns”. So, I decided to investigate a bit, and a quick internet dive
offered these points. A site I found particularly useful is: WeConservePa, from lawn to
meadow.
It seems the American lawn emerged as a copy of European aristocrats who had
viewed lawns as status symbols: They had such an abundance of land that they could
afford to waste some. In the present-day US, lawns cover more than 63,000 square
miles, an area roughly that of Texas. And wasteful they are indeed! Comprised of non-
native species of turf grass, these “lawns require a staggering amount of water,
fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, gasoline, and labor”.

The Elizabeth Meadows, where RCE will share space

So, what are the benefits that meadows bring to the land?

Here’s a summary according to the site I found:
Meadows absorb storm water. With their deeper root systems and looser, less
compacted soil, they act like sponges and prevent flooding. Further, by offering more
self-shading, they lose less water to evaporation.
Meadows intercept pollutants that lawns do not. Along stream beds and lake sides,
they act as buffers that keep our watersheds free of the fertilizers, pesticides, and
herbicides that nearby farms (and lawns) tend to use.
Meadows need less water. Lawns use too much water because they are not well
adapted to the climate where they are planted. Think of those golf courses in Palm
Springs California.
Meadows increase biodiversity. Because they are mowed less often, they have more
diverse vegetation, which brings a greater variety of insects, which in turn brings more
species of birds and so on up the food-chain. The only bird species that lawns attract is
the American robin.
Meadows are natural pollinators. Bees and butterflies love them!

– Doug Cooper, Founding Member & Future Resident of RCE – August 10, 2023

Sharing my Vision Quest Experience

I was invited to go on “Vision Quest” by my new friend Marza Millar who happens to be an Ojibwe Elder and leads groups on what can be a transformational spiritual experience.

My first thoughts were “wait, isn’t Vision Quest for adolescent indigenous males as a rite of passage into adulthood?” and “not my lineage, isn’t this cultural appropriation?” and many other questions and concerns.    

So, during the discovery zoom call on May 16th (which included more than 50 interested – mainly women of all ages and cultural backgrounds) all of my questions and many more were beautifully answered by Marza,-  Ojibwe Elder, Grandmother Two Clouds. 

I learned that we are all indigenous to some place on this planet and we all have important stages of our lives that we can mark with ceremony or events (think birthday, anniversary celebration events) and if we use a practice from a different culture that is not our own we have an opportunity to implement that practice in a sacred and honoring way.  This can be termed “cultural appreciation”.   The key is to honor the people, their culture, their traditions, learn the history and original intent and sacred meanings of that practice and acknowledge and honor those who came before us and passed this knowledge to future generations and ultimately to the collective good.  And actually do the practice in alignment with the original intent. 

Vision Quest is a set of sacred practices and a spiritual process passed down in indigenous cultures as a way to receive teachings from “the seen and the unseen” With the invitation to experience a Vision Quest,  I was given an opportunity to  “reboot” my life, (think death and rebirth which I term as death from a previous life chapter and rebirth into the next chapter) leaving behind those things that I no longer wish to carry forward.   

My friends commented that my decision to go “all in” with this opportunity was what they expected since people who know me well are aware that my goal in this lifetime is to experience everything I possibly can as a human being living on planet Earth and in the process to learn, grow and evolve to my highest human potential and then use this experience to guide others on their spiritual journey.   

So, for the next 4 weeks the preparation started with me making my “medicine tools”  – my staff, prayer feather, rattle, medicine stones and purchasing the most beautiful medicine blanket created by Pendleton- an American company who makes naturally sustainable heavy wool blankets.  

The blanket I chose was “Circle of Life” honoring the tribal elders of Wisdom Keepers who hand down teachings and spiritual direction to the children.  

The circle represents Tribal Elders teachings that “all things are an equal part of the whole, all Earth’s children share an equal place in the circle.”  

The four sacred colors represent the 4 directions:

  • Yellow represents East direction- birth and the sun’s warmth
  • Red represents South direction, youth and the red vitality of life blood
  • Black represented West direction, maturity and the dark night sky
  • White represents North direction, age’s wisdom and the purity of snow 
  • Blue represent the sky and green the land
  • All colors mixing to create brown, the color of Mother Earth.  

On June 13th I met my Vision Quest Mentor who would be guiding me through the 4 week preparation process and mentoring me for the year following the Vision Quest experience when I will become a mentor to the next “questor”.  

During the 4 weeks of preparation before the Vision Quest experience we had zoom meetings with the 10 women who decided to proceed with the experience and I had zoom meetings with my mentor who guided me through the teachings of sitting with the spirit animals of the directions, calling in the directions and listening to the teachings of Brother Hawk (East), Grandmother Turtle ( South), Brother Bear (West) and Great White Buffalo (North).   I learned a lot from these wise teachers about myself, my spiritual journey and worked through some unresolved personal issues such as unresolved grief and loss that I had experienced during the covid healthcare crisis.   

The day finally arrived  on July 13th when our Eagle Quest group arrived on the 100 acres of half forested, private land of Daniel Allen (Blue Bear) near Gowanda, New York.  We set up  our campsite, set up the community tent/shelter, camp stove and created the sacred fire inside the medicine wheel that had been created on this sacred land many years ago. 

The first night we just slept around the fire, wrapped in our wool blankets, taking turns tending the sacred central fire and the next day received instruction and final preparation (we received a bottle of water, some protein snacks, wooden matches and paper to create a fire and a mini tea light battery operated candle).  We were sent off into the woods with our medicine tools and these few provisions for the next 24 hours to experience the “seen and the unseen” and receive our visions/wisdom.   

After about a 30 minute walk in the midday heat I found my private sacred spot deep in the woods, completely immersed in and connected with nature and my own true nature.   I created my medicine wheel with natural materials in the forest, gathered wood for a small central fire inside my wheel and then closed and sealed my wheel with my staff.  I sat for hours in each direction, calling in the wisdom keepers of the directions, calling the animal spirits and crying for a vision.   

My experience, in summary, was one of co-creating with God, a rebirth into a new place in my life as I transition to my next chapter – living in community in the Rachel Carson EcoVillage and stepping into a private practice centered on guiding others to and supporting them as they experience own spiritual reawakening journey.   

…To Be Continued

– Brenda Freeman, Founding Member and future resident of the Rachel Carson EcoVillage – July 24, 2023.

Pets Are Welcome At Rachel Carson EcoVillage!

We love our animals both wild and domestic at Rachel Carson EcoVillage. With ground breaking just around the corner, Exploring Members ask lots of questions about all the details of living in community and our philosophies. The most common questions is, “What are the pet policies?” I will answer as many questions here as I can. 

Miriam’s dog Rosie & cat Sandy
Mel & Stu’s dog Sagan

First, we welcome all pets that are allowed by law in Pennsylvania. Of course, owners or guardians are responsible for abiding by Rachel Carson EcoVillage pet policies which can be found in Our Way of Community handbook. We ask that there be a limit to 5 pets per household. All pets must be on leash outside the private yard of a single home. Four foot fences will be allowed but not mandatory. Service animals will have all the rights afforded to them as stated by the American Disabilities Act (ADA) Owners and guardians are responsible for cleaning up after their pets all over the 388 acres of land.

Kelly and Melvin’s dog Java looks out the window while sitting on the sofa in their cabin.

We also ask that private yards be kept as clean as possible so we can keep our air fresh where we live. We don’t expect dogs to be silent but the hope is to keep the noise level down within reason. We will be living close together so we want to be respectful of our neighbors. We are very conscious of the bird population so our hope is that residents will consider keeping their cats indoors or under control outside. As with all policies at Rachel Carson EcoVillage, the pet policies will most likely evolve as needs are identified.

Kristi’s cat Moshe & dog Kizzy

I myself am a guide dog handler and I am a crazy dog person as well. I have already started my research on the nearby vets and emergency care. Here is a list of vets that are close. I plan to research these vets more in depth as move in time gets closer. I will keep you updated as to what I find. 

*Emergency Vet (30 minutes away)

PVSEC North Hills Pittsburgh Emergency Vet

807 Camp Horne Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237. 

(412)366-3400

*Holistic Vet

Cranberry Holistic vet (24 minutes away)

20570 US-19 Rear Cranberry Twp, PA 16066

724-742-3200

*Bellacoop Animal Hospital (12 minutes away)

2232 W Hardies Rd Gibsonia, PA 15044

724-939-7062

*Closest Vet 

VCA Bakerstown Animal Hospital (6 minutes)

5814 William Flynn Highway ( route 8) Bakerstown, PA 15007

724-443-8200

*Twinbrook Animal Clinic, Inc., 

1120 Pittsburgh Road (Route 8), Valencia, PA 16059. 

 (724)898-2300

I have asked our current Founding Members of around 25 households, how many pets do they have and what kind. So far, there are more cats than dogs but there are still quite a few dogs. I am hoping my dog Sagan will have a couple of playmates. Several members have already volunteered to be pet sitters. Someone as suggested pet sharing for those who don’t want a pet all the time. I think this is a great solution for those who love animals but like breaks.

-Mel Scott, Founding Member & Future Resident of RCE, July 8, 2023

Discovering a magical glen, and walking in Rachel Carson’s footsteps with wonder

When Brenda invited me to a forest-bathing event, I said “sure.”  When the announcement directed us to a nature area that even Brenda had never heard of, off of Route 8, behind a pizza joint, I was underwhelmed.  When there was a weather delay, though the skies had cleared an hour before, we were puzzled.  Only when we got close to the entrance did we realize we needed to cross a stream to enter the reserve, and the water was still very high.

The Crouse Run Nature Reserve, just 7 miles down the road from Eden Hall, is part of the Pine Creek Land Conservation Trust, listed in the Allegheny County Natural Heritage Inventory, and is part of the Rachel Carson Trail.  About a mile and a half long, and covering 20 acres it is a ‘cold’ ravine, with an unusual range of biological diversity. Once a native American hunting ground, it drew the interest of both O.E. Jennings of the Carnegie Museum, and a young Rachel Carson, who picnicked there with her family and later, as a college student, took the Butler Electric railroad up to study the flora and fauna. 

We were so enchanted by the place that we came back with Becky the following week, on the eve of Rachel Carson’s birthday to explore further.  Alive and green from forest floor, to cliff wall, and pond surface, we saw snakes, and fish, and ducks and tadpoles, along with many kinds of birds, some of which Becky identified by call.  We found jewelweed, and as folk medicine suggests, it cured Brenda’s poison ivy (widespread, along with other invasives).

Plan to get your feet wet, and to be transported.  We’ll be back and we look forward to exploring with more RCE friends.

-Julie Burch, Founding Member & Future Resident of RCE, June 1, 2023

Moving on

 I’ve always been something of a minimalist. When someone walks into my space for the first time, they ‘ll often ask, “Where’s the furniture? Or, “Did you just move in?  When my sister Deborah was asked years ago what to get me as a gift, she told the asker, “Wrap up a concept.” It’s true, I really don’t like clutter. I like open space around me. I think better that way and I’m happier traveling lightly through the world.

 Nonetheless when preparing to move out of my New York City apartment, I still found myself confronting piles of things I’d kept… my picture ID card from Pineapple Dance Studios (defunct since about 1990), 2 flowered mugs given to me by a student, a file filled with letters and cards, and of course, Puppy.  I needed to decide: What to bring? What to let go of?

 I know Marie Kondo said, only keep what sparks joy. Similarly, my sister C – who is more minimalist than me said – if it makes you sad, let go of it. But there’s something else at play for me – I worry that I’ll lose the memory if I lose the object.

First to go was the ID card, I can’t explain why that went because it had survived at least 3 prior moves; it just was time. Snip, snip. I cut it up and threw it out. Did I need to cut it up? Yes – not because of any fear of identity theft, but as a bit of ceremoniously letting go.

The two flowered mugs were part of a set of four. I had gotten rid of two that were chipped several years ago but realized the other 2 could go as well. I no longer really remember the name of the student who gave them to me and I’m really not a flowered cup person. And while I know Marie Kondo said it was cheating to give your sister that grey sweater you didn’t want (I’m paraphrasing – haven’t read her book in years) I knew someone who would enjoy them, and so, I passed them along. 

I do like finding new homes for things. Discovering “Buynothing.org” was a big help. After joining your local group you can post items – big and small. A dresser that wouldn’t be making the trip with me went to someone who was setting up their first apartment. 20 Mason jars found new homes as well. I’ve always had a lot of Mason jars for beans and grains, but I couldn’t imagine packing them in boxes and sending them to storage in Pittsburgh. And I’m willing to bet that another RCE member will have some empty jars to give me when the time comes. 

Stuffed, furry Puppy – just celebrated his 10th birthday. He’s coming along.  The story of Puppy I’ll save for another time, but enough to say he didn’t go to storage. He moved out of the NYC apartment with me, and now resides in my temporary quarters with my sister in Albany. 

The letters and postcards were the hardest. As moving day arrived, I still hadn’t fully sifted through them. They came along to Albany. For two days, I sat on the floor of my room reading and sorting. But eventually got the pile down to half its size. Hard, yes, but giving up some fragments of the past feels like it is leaving space for the future. Clearing a path for me to go forward.

And that, I think, is a good thing.

Judy Trupin, Founding Member & Future Resident of RCE, May 1, 2023

Judy is a yoga teacher, poet, and ESOL teacher/teacher educator.

Chaam, sacred masked dancer – Photo Credit Babasteve

Inspired by Bhutan

After hearing a talk in January by Tshewang Wangchuk, the Executive Director of the Bhutan Foundation, I was interested to learn more – and the more I learn, the more impressed I am.  Learning about Bhutan, I’ve found inspiration for our work as RCE. 

Bhutan has been a pioneer in sustainable living and harmony with the natural world for over 50 years and the initiator of the idea of happiness as a key indicator of progressive development.

Gross National Happiness, or “development with values” was an idea first promulgated by the then teenaged King in the 1970s, later enshrined in the constitution in 2008, and presented to the UN in 2012 where it now shapes ongoing world happiness reporting.

The 4 pillars of GNH are: Conservation of the Environment, Equitable and Sustainable Development, Good Governance, and Preservation of Culture.  Bhutan has pursued those values carefully, consistently, and with inspiring success.

Some examples:  Bhutan is carbon negative, exporting 80% of its hydroelectric energy and where that grid is not accessible, providing a rural electrification program that brought solar power to the most remote citizens to reduce the need for wood burning.

And they use a run-of-the-river system which requires the preservation of watersheds in natural forest.

Forest preservation is guaranteed by their constitution which protects 60% of their land from development and they have worked extensively to protect wildlife and support endangered species.  GNH has helped Bhutan manage conflict between Yak herders whose livelihood can be threatened by predation.  In some cases, disease took a far greater toll on herds than any predator, so they brought veterinary services to the affected communities and with larger, stronger herds, natural predation was a reduced threat.  Further, community-based compensation and herd insurance programs, funded by revenues from eco-tourism and non-timber forest products, are transforming snow leopards into an economic asset for everyone—including herders.

Bhutan’s Flag

In 2021, Bhutan’s Covid response was the envy of the world.  When the first vaccines became available, they vaccinated their eligible population in under 2 weeks, even in the remotest areas.  Equally swiftly they addressed food insecurity with cooperative agriculture and food distribution plans in the face of the sudden loss of income from tourism.

An ancient Buddhist monarchy and a sociocratic co-housing ecovillage near Pittsburgh may be quite different but RCEs Vision of “a world where people value connections with each other and nature, […] human life contributes to the life of the planet,” and “a community [that] embraces ecologically creative living where people and nature thrive” embodies some of those pillars of happiness.  And as we shape our community into the next phases of construction and move in (and work on our OKRs!), we can look at how Bhutan implements its programs with public participation and using metrics that capture the many interrelated factors important for creating the conditions of happiness.  Along with the 4 pillars, they have (at a recent count) 9 domains, 38 subindexes, 72 indicators and 151 variables to describe and analyze the happiness of the Bhutanese people and focus attention where it is needed.

Bhutan shows us some ways that consistent values, moral leadership, and thoughtful implementation informed by good metrics can lead to uncommon creativity, success, and, yes, happiness.

-Julie Burch, Founding Member & Future Resident of RCE, April 17, 2023

Hi! My name is Kristi and I’m a Founding member of the Rachel Carson EcoVillage. I participate in a planning group (our term for committee) that focuses on attracting new members and serving the individuals who make the decision to join the EcoVillage as Explorer members. Our planning group uses the acronym MOPG (membership and outreach planning group) and needless to say MOPG is busy right now and I want to give you an idea of what we’ve been up to. 

MOPG aims to get  the word out about Rachel Carson EcoVillage (RCE). We are reaching people through Facebook, the national US Cohousing website, making presentations to all kinds of groups and talking with local media. We have an ambassador kit for members to use when they are with their friends, family and networks and you’ll see our attractive fliers posted on bulletin boards all over the greater Pittsburgh area. 

Our project manager, Stefani Danes, has hosted an more than 50 introductory sessions on Zoom and there is a video created by students from Chatham University that helps us to envision where we will be living and what the surroundings will look like. 

It’s not hard to promote the EcoVillage because it’s such an exciting and amazing project to be a part of!

Two reasons that come to mind for me are the bucolic location that includes the opportunity to reside on a campus which is wholly focused on sustainability; I also have roots in this area. In fact you’ll pass by the high school that I attended when you turn onto Ridge Road to get to the campus. And although the area has changed a lot since 1976, this part of southwestern Pennsylvania with its natural setting of rolling hills, woodlands, valleys and creeks still grounds me like nowhere else. 

And then there’s the opportunity to be in community with like minded souls. It’s hard to imagine not wanting to live in a community of people who value human connection and want to engage in enriching one another’s lives. In doing so we can come together to learn, to share, to teach and to do right by the planet and carry on the work exemplified by Rachel Carson. 

A few days ago I was in my family room and caught sight of a bald eagle soaring way above the treeline against a beautiful blue sky. I called to my daughter, Molly, so that she could see it too. 

My three kids are used to me stopping conversations to glance skyward because a bird has caught my eye. I come by it naturally – my mother was the same. I grew up listening to bird sound recordings that were always playing in the background as she increased her knowledge base of bird songs. 

Native Pittsburghers are proud, loyal and welcoming and we want you to love our region as much as we do. We also acknowledge that Pittsburgh has had its share of strife and struggle. Pittsburgh is extremely proud of Rachel Carson and her legacy is very apparent in the area. Molly interned at the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale, PA when she was an undergrad at the University of Pittsburgh. And I think Pittsburgh has done a good job of acknowledging and recognizing the work of Rachel Carson. 

If you haven’t visited southwestern PA yet we’d love to show you the land and help you arrange a visit. MOPG can help with accommodations and transportation if you’d like to come and see for yourself where we’ll be living. We have a concierge team that will provide a tour of the university campus, some of the local attractions and amenities and most importantly help you to envision how you might make the transition. We are a creative and resourceful bunch and we’d love to meet you on Zoom and then hopefully in person. 

Come, join us. Let’s continue the work.

– Kristi Karsh, Founding Member & future resident of RCE , April 8, 2023

Creating Your “Blue Zone”—Living a Happy, Healthy Life Past 100

Hello, my name is Dr. Sarah Vick and I’m a Family Medicine Physician and member of Rachel Carson EcoVillage.  Not surprisingly, the biggest driver sending patients to my clinic is poor physical or mental health.  Perhaps their diabetes is out of whack, or they have recurring headaches, or they can’t shake a feeling of loneliness, or there is something preventing them from living the fullest life available to them.  Regardless of why they come to see me, the root question is inevitably, “how do I feel better?”

Historically, the US medical system has focused almost exclusively on the treatment of disease, rather than the maintenance of healthfulness.  But now, after 20 years of practice, I’m finally seeing a fundamental shift in how we consider human health.   Doctors are starting to acknowledge that there is a spectrum of wellness, just like there is a spectrum of sickness.  Starting with your Ideal Self, there are stages that range from “not quite right” to “vulnerable to disease, ” all before an illness like Hypertension or Diabetes or COVID actually affects you.  

So how do we move from the spectrum of illness to the spectrum of wellness, or even to our Ideal Self?  What things can we control that will increase our wellness and resiliency?  And what does co-housing have to do with it?  

Okinawa, Japan

I’ll give you a hint….

“Blue Zone” is a term coined by Dr. Dan Buettner, a physician-scientist fascinated with these questions.  His original research identified five global longevity hotspots whose members disproportionately lived healthfully into their 100’s:  Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy and Nicoya, Costa Rica.  These small towns share many things in common, but one of the most critical is social connection and how members experience their community.  Yes, they have strong social support networks and yes, they are actively involved in the life of their community, but it is more than that.  You could think of the “community” as having an identity of its own, and each member has critical responsibilities that support that community identity.  Americans tend to pride themselves on autonomy and self-sufficiency, but the Blue Zone research shows that interdependency (and the sense of purpose that comes from being depended upon by others) is one of the golden tickets for a long and healthy life for individuals and for the group.  This specific type of social structure has been shown to reduce depression and loneliness, increase happiness and well-being, and even reduce or reverse chronic disease.

Costa Rica

I am drawn to co-housing for many reasons, but one reason is because I recognize similarities between Rachel Carson Ecovillage and the Blue Zones.  Making decisions together for the well-being of the group?  Indoor and outdoor gathering areas for private meetings all the way up to the whole community?  Each person fills a role that benefits the Village?  Those are all characteristics of both Rachel Carson Ecovillage and the Blue Zone communities!

We want to get to know you better.  If you are new to Rachel Carson Ecovillage, please come to one of our information sessions to meet some of us and learn more about our community.  We still have homes available for purchase or rent and we’re groundbreaking this Spring!  Even if now is not your season to make a move, we still want to get to know you.  

Stay tuned for more articles from Rachel Carson Ecovillagers!

– Sarah Vick, Founding Member & future resident of RCE, March 29, 2023

The Book of Eels, Our Enduring Fascination

I was inspired by Rachel Carson’s interest in eels to listen to a fascinating book by the Swedish author Patrik Svensson, The Book of Eels.  Patrik had grown up near what is called Sweden’s “Eel Coast” which borders the Baltic Sea.  Throughout much of his childhood, he fished for them with his father in the streams near their house.  The book has a compelling structure, one that alternates between the story of Patrik’s life fishing for eels with his father and a detailed account of the growth over thousands of years of mankind’s understanding of the mysterious eel.  

Eels arrive in the coastal waters of Europe and America as small nearly transparent finger-length “glass eels”.  Then as they swim inland up streams and into lakes, they become muscular, develop fins and for the first time have color.  These so-called “yellow eels” can spend up to 50 years living in inland waters.  Then for reasons scientists still do not entirely understand, they leave continental waters and journey out to sea. Along the way they become, “silver eels” and develop mature sex organs, but where do they come from and where do they go?

It puzzled Aristotle.  He believed they sprang from mud.  Others have supposed they were hermaphrodite.  Freud’s first scientific study was undertaken to find the eels’ penis.  He failed.   It was only in 1920s after a 20-year-long research by the Danish biologist Johannes Schmidt that the spawning ground of the eel was found in the western Atlantic, the Sargasso Sea. 

I would urge anyone searching for an understanding of what may have inspired Rachel Carson to devote so much of her life to study of the sea to read this book.     

Doug Cooper, Founding member and future resident of RCE,  March 20, 2023  

A Short History of Composting in the United States

I recently joined a composting service where I live in Tennessee. 

Composting is fundamental to sustainability. Organic waste is returned to the soil to nourish plants which in turn produce useful things such as food, clothing, and more organic waste in a continuous cycle.

Composting is as old as agriculture. It would not have taken long for early farmers to realize that manure helped plants grow. The concept first appears in the written historical record around 2300 BCE in the Mesopotamian Valley. Some form of composting was surely practiced by most farming cultures throughout history.

Early settlers in the English territories in America found abundant fertile land for farming. Replenishing the organic matter in the soil was hard work and not considered necessary. Eventually in the eastern states, interest in composting grew as the soil wore out, the urban population increased, and new land was no longer available for clearing. Organic waste was collected from urban areas and turned into fertilizer on local farms.

By the late 19th century, collecting organic waste and transporting it to farms was no longer practical in many areas, and farmers gradually turned to chemical fertilizers. By 1840, scientists in Europe had discovered that plants didn’t need dirt in order to grow—just a few nutrients, primarily nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

During World War I, nitrogen was produced in large quantities for use in weapons. After the war, nitrogen producers found a new market for nitrogen as fertilizer. In the short term, the use of chemical fertilizers alleviated food shortages, but led to damaged soil structure, soil erosion, and contributed to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

In the 1920s, scientists began to seriously study composting as a way to preserve soil and increase yields. They recognized the importance of organic matter to the health of both soil and plants. They began to understand the complexity of soil, its structure, and the organisms that live in it. The concept of organic agriculture was born.

After World War II there was a shift back to chemical fertilizers, along with the increased use of pesticides and herbicides. It is tempting to blame the chemical companies, but the reasons are more complex. Composting was hard work and most attempts at mechanization and large-scale composting had failed. Local governments were not interested in funding a semi-commercial industry. Chemicals were inexpensive. The mechanization of farming and larger, more specialized farms meant that there was less organic matter available for composting.

Today composting services like the one I joined are becoming more common. Landfill space has become more expensive and harder to find so local governments are looking for other options for waste disposal. Some governments are also trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Removing organic matter from landfills, where it produces large amounts of methane, is a good way to meet these goals. Increasing costs of chemical fertilizer and interest in local sustainable agriculture has created a market for compost. 

Figuring out ways to collect organic waste and compost it on a large scale is a complex problem. It is nice to know that some people are trying to figure it out.

For an excellent article on this subject, see, Blum, Barton. “Composting and the Roots of Sustainable Agriculture.” Agricultural History 66.2 (1992): 171–188. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3743852

Sally C. – Founding Member and future resident of RCE, March 12, 2023

Adventures in Foraging 

Lemon soup with foraged violet leaves

My first ventures into foraging—the practice of gathering wild plants that’s becoming more popular as a sustainable (and free) way to source hyperlocal food—were accidental. As a kid spending lazy summers outdoors, my best friend taught us we could eat the flowers from the white clover plants that sprouted in our backyards. My sister and I didn’t believe her, until she popped one in her mouth. Impressed, we followed suit (much to the dismay of our mom who worried we’d get sick). The small flower didn’t taste like much to my elementary-school palate, and I soon forgot about the edible weeds out back. 

While it looks similar to the incredibly edible dandelion, coltsfoot has been used in traditional medicine for sore throats and colds, but may be dangerous in large quantities.

The second foraging experience was less fruitful than the first. I had seen an ad for a free “Mushroom Mania” class in the park promising we’d learn about local mushroom hunting and “taste the end result of some delicious wild mushrooms.” Excited for what I thought would be an indoor presentation and cooking demonstration turned out to be a hike through the steep, muddy hillside forest in pouring rain. We stood shivering while the leader, sporting a long trench coat covered in dozens of pockets, bent over various fungi with a magnifying glass, conferring with the more experienced mycologists in the group and muttering about each mushroom’s identifying characteristics and how exactly you would die if you ate a poisonous variety by mistake. Needless to say, no cooking took place that day and we left cold, wet, and hungry. While it wasn’t the tasty experience I’d anticipated, the beginners like me did depart with the realization that it would take years of careful study before any of us would be able to safely identify and eat any fungus we found.

Some of the likely inedible fungi found during Mushroom Mania

 Fast forward several years to early 2020. It was spring, and like everyone else during the COVID-19 lockdowns, I suddenly found myself grounded for the foreseeable future with no events and places to be, the whole world on pause. I found the time to slow down and observe what was around me; small things like the weather and the slow change of seasons became noticeable. I paid attention to the land. Instead of the usual outings driving miles by car, I walked daily around my neighborhood. Being on foot, I was much closer to nature than I had been since childhood, and that spring I began to notice how many different plants there were in just a small area—and I could identify almost none of them. Around this time, the grocery stores were chaos: empty shelves and fights over TP. I wondered how people lived before supermarkets existed. I loved to garden, but it was too early in the season. 

A basket of hairy bittercress

Somehow, this all led to foraging. I stumbled upon an article about Alexis Nicole Nelson, who goes by the alias Black Forager on social media. Her videos about finding and eating wild edible plants are informative, goofy, and fun (she ends every video with the line “Happy snacking—don’t die!”); the recipes looked delicious; and she showed a real respect and appreciation for the plants and land. I was ready to dive in. Armed with several books on the topic, plant identifying apps, and curiosity, I ventured out. 

Over time I learned the basic precautions—avoid the neighbors’ pesticide-sprayed lawns, make sure you have permission to forage on the land you’re on, don’t eat anything close to a road, and not to trust anything unless you verified it in at least three separate sources (and one of them preferably a more experienced forager). Even after learning about wild edibles from experienced botanists, I still only eat a few plants I am 100% certain of. Most importantly, I learned the golden rule of foraging: not to overharvest, particularly rare or endangered plants. With so much greenspace in decline from human activities, it’s important to leave enough to ensure the native plants are able to sustain themselves. When in doubt, leave it be! Edible invasive species, on the other hand, tend to be fair game to take as many as you please.

Stinging nettle—more nutritious than spinach, but will irritate or “sting” if it’s not properly prepared!

For me, foraging is a nice way to interact with the outdoors, and it’s amazing to know that a free salad is waiting just outside the backdoor, no trip to the grocery store needed. As I write this in the final days of February, I am grateful that I can experience the planet in this new way—and that I was able to hop outside for some hairy bittercress (it’s tastier than it sounds, I promise) when I ran out of bagged spinach midway through cooking. I can’t wait to see what we cook up at RCE!

-Elizabeth R., Founding Member and future resident of RCE, March 3, 2023

Wendell Berry and the Meaning of Work

I have been spending several days with the author, Wendell Berry, by listening to a book about him by Ragan Sutterfield.  It’s entitled Wendell Berry and the Given Life, and it has opened up aspects of Berry’s life I had not previously known.  In his novels I have come to appreciate the strong sense of place that emerges in his characters’ lives set in a fictional Kentucky town he names Port William.  But I was unaware of the depth of Berry’s religious conviction: how much of his writing has scriptural roots. Though not a regular church goer, he keeps the sabbath, and he uses those days to write what he calls “sabbath poems”.    

There is a passage in Chapter 6 that has a particular resonance for me as I imagine our future life at RCE.  The author describes Berry’s admiration for an Amish farmer/bishop named David Kline from Fredericksburg, Ohio.  In that Amish community, whenever a new mechanical device becomes available, say a new thresher, then the community comes together to discuss its usefulness to the community, not in terms of whether it will make their lives as farmers easier, but in view of how it will add to or take away from the meaning of the community’s work together.  For Berry work itself is a shared communal sacrament. 

Doug Cooper, Founding member and future resident of RCE,  February 14, 2023  

“Digging in” to Land Management

An opportunity to live in a community where I can know and be closely connected to my neighbors, as well as to the beauty and wonders of nature? …where we can keep learning, share good times, and work together? …where we will model sustainable design and practices and have a positive influence on our natural and human world…? Count me in! 

 Examining one of the native trees planted, an American holly.

It was inevitable that, as an environmental educator and “nature geek,” I’d want to join a planning group whose focus is on environmental stewardship, including land management. Along with other members of our Eco-Resources group, I have found myself already connecting very tangibly to the land that we will soon live on and care for. 

New York ironweed emerging from knotweed patch 

The Eco-Resources Group has helped to complete our community handbook by writing or reviewing policies related to individual gardens and yards; waste, recycling and composting; toxic chemicals; animals, fences, and lighting. Starting with understanding plans developed by our professional design team, the group is learning about and looking closely at our landscape management goals, strategies for achieving them, and the work that lies ahead. Our Land Management Guide, created in consultation with  Fourth River Workers Guild, provides guidance for making decisions and will be used to record and retrieve information related to caring for the land in the future.

Even before our homes are built, our relationships to the landscape and to one another are being forged and strengthened through learning about our ecological design approach, exploring the meadow and nearby forests, and actively working on management tasks. We’ve already gotten our hands dirty! With shovels, loppers, and hand saws, in April 2022, we tackled the clearing of aggressive vines and shrubs which crowded and threatened the vitality of mature trees near our proposed parking area along the southern border of the ecovillage. In June, with the help of Fourth River Workers Guild staff, member-volunteers planted 49 native trees to enhance the buffer zone in that area. Three additional work sessions during the growing season found us zealously cutting back patches of non-native, invasive, Japanese knotweed. It was heartening in late summer to see native New York ironweed emerge and bloom from an area where we had worked. During the months ahead we will continue to control new growth, prevent further spreading, and get ahead of other invasives.

Teaming up to manage invasives

Are we experts? Nope. Will our decisions and efforts always turn out as we had expected?  Likely not. Will we need to make changes to our habits and our strategies? Yes, as we continue the process of living and growing within our community and our environment, monitoring and evaluating what happens to our landscape as a result of our presence and throughout the seasons. We have begun by learning from the consultants and advisors on our design team. We are committed to careful observation, respectful consideration of ideas, increasing our knowledge with help from science-based resources and from nature herself, adapting our efforts, and “digging in” to work together, as we continue our journey toward living in harmony with the earth and all beings with whom we share it. 

Becky Lubold, founding member and future resident of RCE – February 2, 2023

The Rachel Carson EcoVillage (RCE) is a community whose values implore us to listen. We must listen to the planet, and we must listen to each other. Our identity as an ecovillage commits us to being attentive to the voices of the Earth and to apply regenerative design principles that promote non-extractive regrowth and healing. Sociocracy guides our community’s decision-making and is also a regenerative system. It commits us to ensuring all voices of our members are heard and promotes the healing of our society.

These are the key values that brought Melvin and me to RCE. We have committed ourselves to the healing of our planet and to the healing of the bonds that connect its people. If you’re looking for a community that shares these commitments, then we invite you to join us. If you’re already members, we are delighted that you’re here with us!

It sounds like a simple request, doesn’t it? Just listen. Just let the planet and its people be heard. Just let our community members be heard. Just learn regenerative design and principles of sustainability and apply them. Just learn sociocracy and apply it! 

Of course, it’s not that simple. It takes a tremendous amount of work to learn all of that and apply it. Listening, though, really is the key. A practice as simple as doing rounds can help give a voice to everyone in a circle, but it can take weeks or months to see the value of applying this technique and committing to use it consistently—indeed because it’s the opposite of the behavior exemplified in traditional meetings and in everyday conversations!

It’s important to be intentional about it. We should try to listen mindfully. This means listening for the meaning and feeling in our conversation partner’s words, and even noticing what is not said. It’s about carefully giving space to each other and to the planet. It’s about being active consumers of the data generated by science, which gives voice to the needs of our planet—and, often, this too is the opposite of what we’ve been taught to do. We can no longer just take whatever we think we need from the planet without considering the consequences.

The trauma of the systems we’ve experienced in the past have created much distrust of any new system that promises to fix the world’s problems. Those same traumatic teachings have encouraged us to put efficiency over people. We’re taught that productivity is more valued than allowing feelings to be heard and the needs of people to be met. 

It’s about unlearning those patterns and habits, and one way to do that is to apply structured systems that encourage new patterns and new habits to emerge. On its face, a new practice like doing a round in a meeting can seem inefficient and slow, but, in reality, it leads to faster and more effective decisions because it eliminates the chaos of cross-talk that drowns voices and impedes progress.

We will have to re-teach ourselves to listen with intention. We must undo the violent communication patterns that permeate our society. We have to slow down, be present, and give ourselves the space to allow that re-learning to happen. We have to find the patience to adopt new systems, like non-violent communication and sociocracy, that are designed to help us practice new patterns of behavior that support listening—that intentionally support hearing—hearing both the needs of the planet and the needs of one another.

Kelly L., founding member & future resident of Rachel Carson Ecovillage – January 11, 2023

This piece of my New Year inspiration is shared from the We’Moon 2023 calendar.  

Designing and manifesting a kinder and more mutually supportive community that honors the Land is a challenge we are sharing.  We share the risk.  Taking that risk requires courage.  We recognize that humankind reaches its higher potential through collaboration and cooperation.  We recognize that being good stewards of our precious planet is paramount to our own survival and the ecosystems that define its balance and its resources. 

Given our current divisive culture, our best contribution to change is modeling an alternative path.  Good intentions and Hope is what carry us forward.  Every members’ courage and willingness to take risks is valued toward making this community a reality. Thank you for showing up! Blessings to all.

– Monay Waters, future resident of Rachel Carson EcoVillage – January 11, 2023

Moonrise

Cold winter night
huddled in blankets
we listen to the howling wind
and count the days til Spring. 
But at moonrise
window ice 
transforms itself
into a spidery
network
capturing moonlight 
and the moon itself
in its web.
We stare, transfixed
at the shimmering light
cease our counting
and toss off our blankets
warmed by the season’s magic.
– Poem by member and future resident of RCE Judy Trupin, photo by Deborah Trupin – December 23, 2022

The Holidays and Diversity and Sustainability

Since RCE is a community which values diversity, I thought it would be good to highlight the three major holidays that occur in December: 

Christmas

Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world. A feast central to the Christian liturgical year, it is preceded by the season of Advent or the Nativity Fast and initiates the season of Christmastide, which historically in the West lasts twelve days and culminates on Twelfth Night. Christmas Day is a public holiday in many countries, is celebrated religiously by a majority of Christians, as well as culturally by many non-Christians, and forms an integral part of the holiday season organized around it.

Hanukkah

Hanukkah is a Jewish festival commemorating the recovery of Jerusalem and subsequent rededication of the Second Temple at the beginning of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd century BCE. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which this year occurs from December 18-26,  The festival is observed by lighting the candles of a candelabrum with nine branches, commonly called a menorah or hanukkiah. Other Hanukkah festivities include singing Hanukkah songs, playing the game of dreidel and eating oil-based foods, such as latkes and sufganiyot, and dairy foods.

Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African-American culture from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a communal feast called Karamu, usually on the sixth day. It was created by activist Maulana Karenga, based on African harvest festival traditions from various parts of West and Southeast Africa. Kwanzaa was first celebrated in 1966.

As we are also a community devoted to sustainability, I am listing some places for purchasing gifts.  

Thrift Stores (Pittsburgh has some of the best; there is a Goodwill very close to RCE) Look for Goodwill and Veterans Thrift Stores online.

Some others are:

Repurposed – McKnight Rd. and Cranberry ( your purchases here support efforts to assist individuals who are victims of human trafficking)  They have great holiday decorations, housewares, toys, books, CDs, and clothing – Thursday is Senior Citizen Day – 20% off

Treasure House –  McKnight Rd. has great womens’ clothes and even a bridal gallery

Libraries’ Book Stores –  (I visit these all year long for birthday and Christmas gifts)

Half-Price Books – McKnight Rd. has a large variety of books at half price.

Olive Branch –  Wexford

10,000 Villages – Squirrel Hill

You can also give your leftover ribbons and wrappings and all kinds of other things, ie material ends, to The Center for Creative Reuse on Lexington Ave. in Point Breeze 

– Judy Robertson, future resident of Rachel Carson EcoVillage – December 12, 2022

Gratitude and gifts

As I write this, we are in the month of November in the week leading up to Thanksgiving… a time in our country to reflect on all we are thankful for, a time to count our blessings. As November ends, we head into December, which has become the month of gift-giving, begun I suppose as part of the “Santa Claus” world that grew around Christmas but has expanded to touch nearly all in our country.

Gratitude and gift…they go hand in hand; as we receive gifts we feel gratitude.

How else might we perceive and experience gratitude, for it is said that a strong sense of gratitude leads to greater life satisfaction, a more meaningful life and lower levels of anxiety and depression.

Instruction on gratitude is found in many religions and cultures.

In the Bible the disciple Paul instructs, “in everything give thanks”, meaning that from our limited perspective it is not possible to know the outcome of any event.  What can seem unfortunate at first may turn out to be an unforeseen blessing. Buddha called it “gladdening the heart” to reflect on the series of circumstances that has led to where one is in life, and a Sufi story reminds us to not be too quick to judge events in our lives as negative even when they appear so…

the very old Sufi story tells of a man whose son captured a strong, beautiful, wild horse, and all the neighbors told the man how fortunate he was. The man patiently replied, “We will see.” One day the horse threw the man’s son who broke his leg, and all the neighbors told the man how cursed he was that the son had ever found the horse. Again the man answered, “We will see.”

Soon after the son broke his leg, soldiers came to the village and took away all the able-bodied young men, but the son was spared. When the man’s friends told him how lucky the broken leg was, the man would only say, “We will see.”

Gratitude for participating in the mystery of life is like this. 

– Philip Moffitt, Yoga Journal, “Selfless Gratitude

The practice of gratitude is not in any way a denial of life’s difficulties. Nor does it deny the reality that we will each die. Rather, gratitude practice is useful because it turns the mind in such a way that it enables us to live into life. Having access to the joy and wonderment of life is the antidote to feelings of scarcity and loss. It allows us to meet life’s difficulties with an open heart, to simply meet life in each moment as it rises.

The Indigenous culture of the Anishinabekwe people from which Robin Wall Kimmerer comes is a culture of gratitude and it is gratitude that forms their relationship with the living earth.  In her book, Braiding Sweetgrass  she writes that “One Bowl, One Spoon” is the teaching that all the gifts of the earth are in One Bowl, all to be shared from a single spoon, a culture of abundance and enough for all, unlike the culture of scarcity which is  promoted by the white man’s  economy that destroys the earth to “line the pockets of the greedy”, an economy that she describes as stacked against life not aligned with it.

Robin also describes the stories of her culture that lead her to see all things as “gifts” and to feel gratitude for each. What if we saw all that we have and use and experience in our life as a gift, how expansive would our gratitude be? 

The water we drink, the grain we eat, the sun that shines and the rain that falls…all gifts that we can give thanks and feel gratitude for.  Even the laptop on which I write this is a gift…the metals from the earth that were used to manufacture it, the designing and planning of individuals who created it, the lead and wood in the pencil with which I have written a note….each a gift for which I can feel gratitude.

This attitude of all things being gifts from the earth to us can lead to what she describes as a culture of gratitude, and it is gratitude that forms the relationship of the Anishinabekwe people with the earth. 

How might each of our lives be different and our culture and world be transformed if we saw all things as gifts, experiencing gratitude for everything in all we do?

May you see all in your life as gifts and may gratitude multiply within you…..

– Submitted by Rachel Carson EcoVillage member Sherry Geis, November 28

Rachel Carson on the Biological Sciences

A selection from: LOST WOODS, The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson, edited and with an introduction by Linda Lear, Beacon Press, Boston, 1998. (pages 164-167) 

The following selection is from Carson’s introduction to a bibliography on the biological sciences that she wrote for GOOD READING, a reference book sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English published in 1956.   It helps us to understand her feelings about the biological sciences and man’s place in their study.  Her insights are as relevant and important for today as they were then.

THE SCOPE OF BIOLOGY can be truly defined only in broad terms as the history of the earth and all its life – the past, the present and the future.  Any definition of lesser scope becomes narrow and academic and fails utterly to convey the majestic sweep of the subject in time and space, embracing all that has made man what he is, and holding a foretaste of what he may yet become.  For For it has dawned upon us in these recent years of the maturing of our science that neither man nor any other living creature may be studied or comprehended apart from the world in which he lives; that such restricted studies as the classification of plants and animals or descriptions of their anatomy and physiology (upon which the early biologists necessarily focused their attention) are but one small facet of a subject so many-sided, so rich in beauty and fascination, and so filled with significance that no informed reader can neglect it.  

In the truest sense, there is no separate literature of biology or of any science.  Knowledge of the facts of science is not the prerogative of a small number of men, isolated in their laboratories, but belongs to all men, for the realities of science are the realities of life itself.  We cannot understand the problems that concern us in this, our particular moment of time, unless we first understand our environment and the forces that have made us what we are, physically and mentally.

Biology deals with the living creatures of the living earth.  Pleasure in color, form, and movement, awareness of the amazing diversity of life, and the enjoyment of natural beauty are part of man’s heritage as a living creature.  Our first conscious acquaintance with the subject should come, if possible, through nature – in fields and forests and on the shore; secondarily and by way of amplification and verification we should then explore its laboratory aspects.  Some of the most gifted and imaginative biologists have first approached their subject through the medium of sensory impression and emotional response.  The most memorable writings – though they be addressed to the intellect – are rooted in man’s emotional reaction to that life stream of which he is a part.  The writing of the great naturalists such as Hudson and Thoreau, most easily sampled in some of the excellent anthologies now available, has a valid place in one’s reading in the field of biology.

As the frontiers of science expand, there is inevitably an increasing trend toward specialization, in which all the mental faculties of a man or group of men are brought to bear upon a single aspect of some problem.  But there is fortunately a counter tendency, which brings different specialists together to work in cooperation.  Oceanographic expeditions commonly include biologists, chemists, physicists, geologists, and meteorologists, so diverse are the problems presented by one aspect of the earth’s surface.  Atomic physicists, by discovering that radioactive elements in fossils and minerals disintegrate at a rate that may be determined, have provided biologists with a tool that has already revolutionized our concept of the age of the earth and permits a far more accurate approach than ever before to the problem of the evolution of man himself.  Chemists and geneticists, by joining forces, seem to be solving the riddle of the gene and the actual means by which it produces hereditary characteristics.

Only within the 20th Century has biological thought been focused on ecology, or the relation of the living creature to its environment.  Awareness of ecological relationships is – or should be – the basis of modern conservation programs, for it is useless to attempt to preserve a living species unless the kind of land or water it requires is also preserved.  So delicately interwoven are the relationships that when we disturb one thread of the community fabric we alter it all – perhaps almost imperceptibly, perhaps so drastically that destruction follows.

If we have been slow to develop the general concept of ecology and conservation, we have been even more tardy in recognizing the facts of the ecology and conservation of man himself.  We may hope that this will be the next major phase in the development of biology.  Here and there awareness is growing that man, far from being the overlord of all creation, is himself part of nature, subject to the same cosmic forces that control all other life.  Man’s future welfare and probably even his survival depend upon his learning to live in harmony, rather than in combat, with these forces.

Submitted by Rachel Carson EcoVillage member Joan Schoff – November 22, 2022

Our Way of Community

In any intentional community there is a way in which the members of it design how to live together; most have mission/values statements and governing laws or guidelines to show to prospective members what to expect when considering applying to be a part of the organizations endeavor. At RCE, we have recently completed the first draft of our handbook and invite Inquirer’s (those interested in becoming a part of RCE) to have a look and get a sense of what kind of community we are. Our Way of Community

*Please direct any questions to rachelcarsonecovillage@gmail.com but also note that responses may take a few days to be sent depending on the influx of messages received.

Grace Astraea, Information Manager, Rachel Carson EcoVillage – October 29, 2022

On Sustainability

Here at Rachel Carson Ecovillage we are all about environmental sustainability.  It’s our raison d’etre.  It motivates us, guides us, and in return sustains us.  

Sustainability pertains not only to our physical environment, but also to our effort to build and live in community.  One of the greatest assets we have in doing that successfully is our decision making process, sociocracy .  Sociocracy allows us to act by way of consent.  No one gets outvoted.  Proposals are discussed and evaluated until they are released from any objection, or withdrawn from consideration.  The process that allows that to happen is “rounds”.

When a proposal is being considered for consent, every member of the decision making team, in turn, has an opportunity to have their questions and concerns voiced, their comments and opinions heard, and their consent given or objection made. If objections occur the process of rounds continues until those objections are resolved or the proposal is withdrawn.  Until consent of all is  obtained no action is taken.

A Yellow Warbler sings its song on a summer morning in South-central, Alaska.

The key to the success of that process is not only in its structure, but also in how it is employed.  Non violent communication is the underpinning that allows sociocracy to function effectively.  It’s like cooking with love.  Everything tastes better.  

Essential to communicating nonviolently is the realization and acceptance that the others involved in the conversation are as valuable as you.   Because someone’s thinking different from yours, or doesn’t come to the same conclusions as yours doesn’t mean that they are unworthy, it simply means that they are not you.  Those differences can be resolved when all realize and act with the knowledge that the issue, not the person, is where the focus needs to be.

Here at Rachel Carson Ecovillage we are all about environmental sustainability.  It is our raison d’etre.  It motivates us, guides us, and in return sustains us.

Dave Geis, Pioneer Equity Member of Rachel Carson EcoVillage – October 15, 2022

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