I used to long for a community of kindred spirits gathered together in one small, remote, lovely place. When I tried it, I discovered there is a reason such places don’t work “as advertised” — or more fairly, fail to satisfy the pilgrims’ longing. You cannot force community, you cannot create a box of ideals and then try to fit assorted humans into it like Cinderella’s sisters’ feet into her slipper. And if the container is tight, essential truths can no longer be told and the feedback loop falls apart.

Organic communities cannot be planned. They evolve in the midst of Babylon, here and there in the cracks. As Jesus said, the divine kingdom is among us, and within. It’s reachable, here and now. Once a person learns to recognize and ally with cooperators and to avoid defectors (to use the language of Game Theory), the world shifts and aligns itself along the lines of magical bonds. The decisive factor is the quality of the bonds, not the place. When a small place delineates what is possible, the pool of potentially compatible people shrinks significantly.

Most historical and current communities didn’t and don’t work well. I know only of one cluster that ran smoothly and took care of its members well. They were known as the Shakers. They lived in gorgeous places, created beauty for which they are remembered to this day, ran well-oiled farms that fed all the members and earned cash selling medicinal herbs. The living standards compared to those of the day were high, and leadership included women. Yet, the communities died out and the remains have been turned into tourist attractions. Why? No, it was not lack of sex (and therefore children). Most people joined after they had a family, and in any case, the Shakers took in orphans. They never lacked newcomers. But after the Civil War, the young people did not stay. Partly, they were drawn to the cities and their freedom, and partly, I think, the container got too tight. People chafe when their lives are too circumscribed. The Shakers, once known for their weird, noisy and ecstatic dances instituted decorum. Rules and order, rather than creative joy, weighed too heavy on one side of the scales.

Why did I leave Earthaven? I never finished that story, did I?

Pet wars!

I came to Earthaven with two kitties, after carefully arranging with my neighborhood for the permission. I knew Earthaven was not pet friendly, but I was assured that neighborhoods had autonomy in such matters. The situation turned strange as soon as arrived. What had been presented to me as a pet-free neighborhood turned out to have two cats living on its edges while people looked away. These kitties were not happy about my cats, and Earthaveners were quick to blame me for drawing strange cats out of the woods by my porch bowl.

After considerable effort and time, I found that one of them belonged to a long time member who basically let her live there, scrounging, for a year and a half, while he went back to town. The other cat had been abandoned by a former ag volunteer, and had lived off the wildlife in the area for over 3 years. I found homes for both of them.

Nevertheless, I was accused of breaking the rules; the person who had assured me my two cats were ok profusely apologized to the community and threw me under the bus. A special meeting was converged where people felt free to tell me that people who love companion animals have psychological problems, and pets ought to be composted. The only other animal lover at EH was attacked concurrently, because her dog “was not really a working dog.” (She was, and a well-trained one.) A long-time member, the woman left the community soon after.

In the end, I agreed not to leave cat food outside. It was winter, and doable. But by May, endless processions of ants would be marching into my shack again and making my life impossible. I knew then and there that my days at Earthaven were numbered.


Earthaveners had major issues regarding healthy boundaries. People being verbally abusive in meetings were suffered in silence or counterattacked. Even the considerably skilled facilitation failed to clear the toxic fumes. And the problems caused by members who created huge messes on their allotted land — basically leaving collections of aging building materials, unfinished crumbling structures, and assorted heaps of trash — were never successfully addressed.

It’s not that boundaries were not set; people did not seem to have the ability — or the courage? — to defend them against habitual trespassers. Too many topics were swept under the rug. Perhaps because of this, the biweekly meetings were unpleasant to endure, and ignored by most of the younger people.

Lack of kindred souls

Paradoxically, I made my best connections outside the community, among people who lived near Earthaven but were not bound by it. But I came there with the express purpose to live in, not outside, the community, and experience it in depth. And I felt that there were a fair number of folks that were flat-out uncongenial. People were afraid to trust, and to say openly what was on their minds. So in the end, the magic of close connection rarely ever happened.


It did not help that my shack looked directly into the community dump. It had been created to get rid of cardboard boxes, and degenerated into an eye sore which was not only ruining my view and annoying visitors, but also polluting the adjacent creek. In my subsequent visit, I discovered another such dump, more out of sight, and heard of yet another one. The people who disposed of their boxes this way were not required to strip them of plastic tape and labels. The whole issue was strange, because of all the things you can do to behave ecologically, cutting up cardboard boxes seems like a minor nuisance. Particularly since Earthaven had injudiciously invested in a wasteful wood furnace to heat its Council Hall that was consuming the surrounding woods at an alarming rate. The cardboard could have contributed much needed fuel. Apparently, and unannounced to the outside world, certain influential members of the community never bought into the eco part.

Earthaven, when I arrived, was in the middle of a paranoid episode that had been called their worst summer by one of my acquaintances there. A younger member had turned psychopathic, terrorized his neighbors, got into trouble with the law, and occasioned a prolonged period of angst in a community that had always been skirting the law one way or another (mostly, it must be stressed, in ignorance or experimental disregard of building codes and evolving laws about shared communities, and straddling two counties each with different requirements). But this was much more serious. The episode resulted in the formation of a safety committee that followed the individual’s activities and acted as liaison with the police, the psychiatric institution evaluating him, and his family; he eventually left Earthaven, got in trouble in other places, and committed suicide a year later.

As I had no idea for quite some time what was really going on around me, why meetings were being canceled, why people seemed so upset and so loath to converse, why newbies were left to shift for themselves, my sense of being unwelcome and alone was fairly intense. It was unfortunate that my sojourn was so ill timed and so weighed down by a tragedy in the making.

I did like a number of things about Earthaven, of course. The woods and creeks were a delight. I loved working with natural plasters, repairing walls at the Council Hall. It was good to hang out with the neighbors at the weekly cookouts. Often, the visitors to Earthaven turned out to be interesting people eager to swap experiences. I loved walking the forest paths with my cats and praying at the confluence of the creeks in a forest garden appreciated by visitors and members alike. I was drawn to the seasonal Celtic rituals. Perhaps my best memories harken back to night walks illuminated by fireflies, running into random neighbors, and stopping for spontaneous conversations. Earthaven, after all, is a true neighborhood, and I treasured being a part of it.

When I fled Earthaven at the end of that hard winter, well before the ant season, I went back to Colorado, and was suddenly surrounded by warm friends who were not afraid to speak what was on their mind, and openly enjoyed having me in their midst again. I felt then that I had to leave my village at the foot of the Rockies to rediscover it, and to recognize it as the somewhat remote and certainly lovely place, though well within Babylon, but one with true friends.

Sometimes, you have to leave home to find it.