August 1, 2002
At 9:30 at night the phone rings. It is my neighbor Lorie. “Would you mind stepping out onto your porch for a minute?” I think I know what this is about. Up the hill on Tom and Lorie’s porch there are candles burning on tables covered with the scattered remains of dinner. Children are lounging in laps. Someone is strumming a guitar. I don’t know if they can see me, so I shout. Here I am. The guitar gets louder. People begin to sing. It is a birthday serenade.
It is almost exactly two months since my family moved into our new house, clustered with twenty-two others on this hillside. It’s taken six years to get to this house, this community, this moment of neighborliness. I send my daughter back inside to bed, listen to the laughter from the next porch, look around me at the lights in the windows across the way, and give thanks. It has taken more effort than I thought I had to spare to get here. Without question there are hard things ahead — times when we will feel at odds with each other, times when the needs of individual and community will feel out of step. But for one long moment on this hot summer night I count my blessings.
Six years ago we started out as a group of strangers and causal acquaintances, meeting on a farmhouse porch in New Hampshire, talking about what we longed for — community, contribution, a working farm, land to care for, a place for children to grow with a sense of belonging. The farmhouse dogs slept on our feet, the cats climbed up in our laps and the swallows skimmed across the gardens.
Afterwards we sat down to a potluck meal that amazed me with its love and care. I still remember the chive blossoms, arranged just so on a dark green salad. I also remember how astonished I was to discover that these people seemed to want the same things I had been yearning for.
It has taken six years to move from our early enthusiasm for “green design” to these actual houses with their composting toilets and triple-glazed windows and extra insulation but without the constructed wetland gray water treatment system and the photovoltaic panels we once hoped for. We’ve waited (not always patiently) for people to find their way here — from Kentucky, from Michigan, from Florida. Now we are almost all here, and our narrow paths carry children from house to house, clutching croquet mallets or bouquets of wildflowers or each other’s hands. Now we have enough voices for good, loud singing.
It has taken six years to move from discussion of a different relationship with land and food to these two hundred acres with their patchwork of vegetable gardens, hayfields, pasture, sugarbush, and forest. There is enough weeding, watering, mowing mulching, pruning, harvesting, and seeding to fill up years and years of to-do lists.
When we started we assumed we would make graceful decisions, by consensus. Partway along we realized what skill and self-knowledge that will actually take. Now, six years in, I have to smile a little at the magnitude of what we took for granted. And I feel proud of how determined we are to keep on learning the art of listening well and challenging our own individual assumptions. I sense the determination of my neighbors. We will keep on making decisions together and one day we might even find that gracefulness we started out expecting.
Very little here is exactly as I imagined, but it is what it is. And it is beautiful when the mist rises in the morning, when the children run through the tall grass, when we admit that we don’t know what we are doing but hold fast to our knowledge that there must be a better way than what we have learned so far. We carry our fears for the world, and our fears for our children, and our own imperfections and still insist that we know beauty when we see it. I wouldn’t say we’ve arrived at any of those things we all listed on the farmhouse porch six springs ago. But to be here with a group of people who insist that those things are possible and worthy goals is an incredible gift.
I keep waiting to feel as though I have arrived at my destination, or at least that I am beginning on a new path. But moving in hasn’t felt so momentous after all. Things just keep going along. Tomorrow there is a chicken coop to clean, and raspberries to pick. There is a meeting to organize. There are children who would like a grown-up to walk with them in the woods, and the first ripe tomato will be ready to bring home for supper. Slowly I am realizing that this community I am a part of is nothing like a final destination. It is simply a place from which we keep on going, doing the best we can, and savoring what we have been given.