A Magical Equilibrium

Summer fruit
Summer fruit

Every community, I believe, weaves an intricate web of forces that strive to maintain an equilibrium of magic. Over time, a community develops a sense of identity and purpose. Much like an ecosystem’s complex, self-regulating system of checks and balances, it will preserve its core focus, sometimes even in the face of drastic interference.

Though I suspect this is true for other intentional communities as well, my observations grow out of my experiences here at Light Morning. In particular, it has been fascinating to watch how my community has adapted and preserved its unique qualities through a tumultuous influx and exodus of new members over the past couple of years. My hope is that by better understanding the patterns and purposes that flow through this place, we will realize our individual and collective potential more clearly, thereby enhancing the magical environment that sustains us.

It is quite challenging to describe the magic at Light Morning. It sometimes feels as though one is living out the life of a character from a great novel, in which the imagery, symbols, plot, setting, themes, and other literary elements all support and complement the protagonist as he or she grows, changes, and develops, often in the face of personal crises. I used to feel that such novels, though aesthetically pleasing, were ultimately too contrived, since the synchronistic events of the stories seemed too perfect to represent the reality of our chaotic, insignificant lives. Light Morning has shown me otherwise.

Through years of careful effort and attention, an emerging consensual reality has constructed a spiritual oasis here, where the boundaries between the inner and outer worlds, between who we are and what we see, begin to dissolve. It’s not that we use mysterious psychic powers to create lives more steeped with meaning. Rather, I have discovered that we naturally live in a world that is so imbued with interconnectedness that, with but a modest investment of interest and observation, we suddenly realize just how special our lives truly are.

Surrounded by a culture, however, that appears bent upon distracting us from the deep significance of daily life, it takes a concerted effort to stay awake to this subtle, indigenous magic. Indeed, I am still shocked to find how quickly I am swept into the old, sleepy currents and routines whenever I leave Light Morning for any extended period of time. It is always with great relief that I find myself once again entering the beautiful cathedral of trees along our driveway as I return to this haven of awakening.

The beauty is seductive, often overcoming strangers as they round the last bend of the driveway, past the old pear tree, and see our new community shelter, overlooking the blue-green hills on the other side of Free State Creek. The well-kept buildings, lawns, and gardens are a subliminal, reassuring message that visitors, too, will be treated with special care here and that their own beauty, their own sense of purpose and belonging, will likewise emerge at Light Morning.

The more I dwell within this vortex, the more I appreciate how essential visitor flow is to maintaining the magic of my community. Which brings me to the hypothesis that visitors are such an essential component to our purpose here that the universe will contrive to maintain this flow even when external circumstances seem to resist. This phenomenon was strikingly demonstrated several years ago, during the dramatic arrival and subsequent departure of so many new residents.

Over the winter and spring of 1999 Light Morning tripled in size! It went from a community of six adults and one child to, at its peak, a community of fifteen adults and six children. (For a more complete account of what precipitated this sudden transition, see my article, “Adapting to Overnight Change,” in the Winter 1999 issue of “Communities Magazine”.) In short, it was a bold experiment, an attempt to break through a threshold that has historically kept Light Morning’s population at a low level.

Now that we are back down to five adults (our eldest member having passed on and our youngest having flown the nest), one might conclude that the experiment was a failure. While we did not achieve our intended objectives, the learning process was invaluable, revealing more of the mystery that keeps this place alive and humming.

In retrospect, I see that a pivotal point was reached when the community decided to close its doors to any more visitors, once its population had tripled. The founding members, overwhelmed by the sudden influx, had neither the time, the energy, nor the willingness to orient or coach anyone else. Most of the recently arrived residents, meanwhile, had their hands full trying to adapt to their new communal environment and had little or no interest in visitors.

One of them, however, was disturbed by this decision. Alan had been a friend of the community for several years. Significantly, both he and I had visited Light Morning prior to moving in, unlike the other new members who had never spent time here as visitors. Closing the door furthered Alan’s disenchantment, which culminated in his departure the following spring. By then, the rest of the recently arrived residents had either already moved on to other projects and places or were just about to do so.

Having lived in semi-intentional communal situations for the previous eight years I was familiar with such patterns of departure. Almost like a revolving door, one spins out and others follow. So with a painful sense of deja vu I watched as, one by one, all my potential partners left me behind.

How, you might wonder, did I manage to keep my spirits up and continue to stay anchored at Light Morning during this difficult time? Why didn’t I simply follow the rest of them out that revolving door?

What kept me connected was a transformative insight that came when one of the new families started to look elsewhere. I suddenly (and quite gracefully) realized that it was inappropriate for me to view all the new residents as future lifetime members of the community. Regardless of my original hopes and intentions, these people were truly needing to experience Light Morning as visitors, and, as such, they were behaving quite naturally.

They were, moreover, helping Light Morning to fulfill one of its basic missions–assisting people through transitional times by providing a supportive environment in which they can find their “path with heart.” This is precisely what I had signed up for when I chose to live at Light Morning. Once I was able to let go of my expectations and attachments that these particular people would be my long-term communal partners, I was ready and willing to help them find their best next steps.

Naturally, I had more than a few moments of sadness, despair, and regret. But to remain attached only fed my misery, while letting go and honoring these peoples’ emerging dreams and volitions allowed me to play a meaningful role as they envisioned their future. Indeed, I am always pleased and proud to hear of the positive steps my former fellow residents have taken since departing Light Morning, and I choose to believe that in some mysterious way their experiences here have helped inform the current direction of their lives.

In looking back, then, at our decision to cut off the stream of visitors during the flood-tide summer of 1999, it’s as though the intangible inner workings of Light Morning found a way to create visitors out of those already present during that tumultuous season. Perhaps this is a farfetched hypothesis, but of one thing I feel certain–a valuable service was rendered to each of the folks who graced our land, if only for a short while

It took some time for Light Morning to assimilate and recuperate from those two trying years and to clarify and renew its willingness to share the cocoon-like environment we’re spinning here with others. So the visitor door is once again open and is getting steady use. The flow seems just about right, neither too many visitors nor too few.

Ultimately, it’s only by patiently nurturing such a healthy, sustainable visitor flow that the next generation of this community’s core group members will be called to its vision. Those who respond to the calling, moreover, will need their invaluable visitor experiences to refer to as they negotiate the difficult transition to a long-term commitment. Visiting Light Morning, then, is not a stage which can simply be skipped over on the way to residency.

This was certainly true for me. My desire to create a warm, nurturing environment for our guests is a natural and direct outgrowth of the unconditional gift of love, concern, and attention that I received when I first showed up here as a visitor five years ago, with my marriage and life in disarray. The visceral appreciation I have for that gift, and for the magical equilibrium that’s at the heart of Light Morning, moves me to share it with others.

Snowberry Renovation


Step ladder

Now and then we glimpse a world not predicated on duality. In such a world there are no accidents, and the sharp distinction between inner work and outer work is blurred. Even a seemingly mundane project like renovating a fire-scorched cabin can become imbued with unexpected significance. Jonathan wrote this letter to friends and neighbors just before the Winter Solstice.

Last winter I had a small fire in Snowberry, one of the cabins here at Light Morning that I was about to move into. The fire came on New Year’s Day, just prior to a “house warming” party, which of course was then canceled. The universe, it seems, has its own methods and sense of timing, not to mention sense of humor.

Fortunately, I was able to move back into Rivendell (our new community shelter) for the winter. By summer some of the smoke had cleared, so to speak, and I returned to Snowberry. The charred smell had, by then, mostly dissipated.

While the bedroom of Snowberry was untouched, the fire-damaged interior of the living room-the drywall ceiling, much of the interior paneling, and the carpet-all had to be pulled out. I have been using both rooms, but the living room is not very friendly, and I have been procrastinating on renovating this space.

For the next couple of weeks, therefore, during my Christmas break from teaching chess in the Roanoke city schools, I hope to knock out a big chunk of the work needed to make Snowberry a comfortable space again. It feels like an auspicious time for such a project, with the old year coming to a close and a new one about to begin. January 1st will also mark the anniversary of the fire.

While it may not seem, on the surface, like a huge undertaking, the inertial forces involved and the significance of the project to my life story feels important. Lately, I’ve been working on a long-standing pattern of aloofness in my social life, and have been expanding my circle of friends, especially those within my peer group. Creating a place which is inviting to others is a necessary step in drawing in these new friendships.

Having a beautiful, comfortable living space, moreover, is a crucial piece in addressing issues involving my sense of self and worth, both of which are main factors in my confidence with how I interact with my peers.

It’s not surprising, therefore, to feel the weight of inertia working against me as I get this project underway. To lessen the load, I am trying to enlist others to help with the project and also to support and hold me accountable for completing this essential step in my healing path. If anyone feels moved to assist me with Snowberry’s renovation, I would love your help!

I’m not the most experienced carpenter, so I will definitely be leaning on others for their expertise. Nonetheless, I would appreciate anyone’s company and extra hands as I fumble my way through this tricky ground. I suspect that my motivation and morale will be continually challenged as “the saboteur” (waiting patiently behind every crack and seam) tests my determination to move through this stuck place in my life.

There are various components to the job, including drywall and painting, putting up new paneling, fixing the chimney, putting down a hardwood floor, building shelves, refurnishing and interior decorating, and many other surprises along the way. I also can employ help in keeping up with my regular community responsibilities of gardening and cooking.

If you’d like to participate, write back or leave a message on our voice mail. Most of all, you can envision me in my soon-to-be-renovated Snowberry home. I hope to invite you over sometime in the not too distant future.

A Hero’s March


Lauren has been doing computer tutoring at the library recently, teaching people (mostly elders) to get online, to do internet searches, and to use email and instant messaging. This poem grew out of her deep appreciation for the heroic challenge that many old–and not so old!–people face as they confront an often bewildering new technology.

A Hero’s March

In my eyes, she is a hero.
I smell cookies and pumpkin pie
whenever she comes for a lesson,
and always I think how much her
grandchildren must love her.
But hunched at the monitor,
she seems tiny and insecure.
Gentle eyes examine the screen as
she looks out from a face lined with
graceful wrinkles.
Her frail hands touch the keys,
like a child on her first day of school.
Bravely, she types:
And then it’s like watching a sunrise;
because suddenly she is reading me an
email from her daughter in California,
and asking how to print the
“Very Scrumptious Double Chocolate Cake” recipe.
She’s beaming as she collects her papers,
and I grin as she leaves,
because her step is a hero’s march.

Remembering Tom

Thomas Willard Hungerford
April 29, 1916 – May 25, 2000

Dear family and friends,

I’m sending this note to all the folks in Tom’s address book. It’s like taking on his role of ‘grand correspondent’. He loved to write letters and keep in touch, almost on a daily basis, for the 25 years I’ve known him.

Tom offered us his assistance in many, many ways–first and foremost, with his quiet time alone in meditation and prayer… his continued reading of the Joel Goldsmith books (The Infinite Way)… his dream-sharing at mealtimes… and his passion and appreciation for Nature, especially butterflies (be it a real butterfly flying around, or a butterfly pin, or a butterfly sticker, no matter the size or color).

He was a ‘buddy’ to all children, playing and reading and entertaining. He loved the monthly music night sing-a-long gatherings. And it was always a treat to be in the yard and hear the piano music coming from his dear Snowberry [the cabin where Tom lived].

Every week Tom bagged up the trash, loaded Blue (his beloved truck), and was off to the recycle bins in Roanoke. While in town, he would visit the Laundromat (washing the community’s kitchen towels as well as his personal laundry), do some shopping, and perhaps take in a movie. He was also excited and appreciative about being actively involved again with his friends at the local Masonic Lodge.

Tom could often be found in the garden, helping with weeding, planting, and mulching. He would wash jars and cut tomatoes or apples for the big canning days. You also could find him sweeping and picking up odds and ends, boards and sawdust, left by those working on our new community building.

Tom was always on hand to help unload and re-stack lumber from trucks, and would measure and saw boards for others. Last fall he and Ron were a team putting up the exterior siding. And on insulation days he would fill the hopper with dry cellulose for Jonathan, who was at the other end of the hose blowing the stuff into the walls.

Until recently, Tom used to help mow the lawn on the riding John Deere mower and would give me a hand splitting chunks for the community’s wood cook stove. He also helped me peel the grapevines that I use for handles in my basket business.

Over the years, Tom and I shared many hours side by side, washing and wiping the dishes after meals and telling stories and laughing. Anyone who knew him will have many similar stories and memories of Tom-as a friend or correspondent, as a father or grandfather figure, and as our pal.

In loving memory and fondness,


[For more stories about Tom, see the series of articles called Choosing to Age in Community.]

The A.S.U. Students Weekend


Tents of visiting ASU students

On a beautiful fall weekend in early October, we hosted a group of college students from Appalachian State University. This is the fifth year that Harvard Ayers, their professor, has brought his “Human Ecology of the Southern Appalachians” class to Light Morning. On Sunday morning, before pancakes, we had a closing circle, which included the following sharings.

Somewhere in The Little Prince, there’s a wonderful line. “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” I didn’t have an opportunity to talk with many of you in person this weekend. But your energy shines. Your enthusiasm for what you hold dear is not only inspiring; it’s contagious.

That’s why we like to see students from Harvard’s classes come here each fall. We put out a lot of energy to make this place home-like for you, in large part because we get so much out of it ourselves. We’re honored to have you all here.

Kent I do tree work for a living. I hire different people to help me and I see different levels of caring. Some people really care about doing a good job, trying to get it right; other people so-so; and some not at all. I was very aware, while working with many of you this weekend, how much you cared about getting it right, wanting to do a good job. That means a lot to me.

And I know that your attitude carries over into other aspects of your life. You might not even be aware of it. You might take it for granted. But not everybody is that way. It’s heart is what it is; putting your heart into your work. It’s caring about your work. I was deeply impressed with everybody I worked with this weekend. Thank you all!

Richard I find myself coming to Light Morning every October for this event. I, too, enjoy the energy. It makes me wish I were a student again. Specifically, a student in Harvard’s class! I didn’t do field trips like this when I was in school. So thank you, Harvard. Keeping coming back.

Student I want to thank you all for your energy, for preparing all this wonderful food, for sharing your home with us, and for sharing your ideals. Being here meant a lot to me.

Jonathan I want to appreciate Joyce. It gets back to that quote that was mentioned a moment ago: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” Maybe you’ve noticed how clean and comfortable the spaces are here, and all the work that went into setting up the beds. That’s some of Joyce’s invisible work. Joyce is also the architect for this building, and does much of the landscaping and just generally making the environment beautiful.

I know that all of us appreciate having a crowd like this here at Light Morning, because we get to see what it is we’re striving for. A roomful of people really makes this big building come alive. So I want to thank Joyce for creating this space, and all of you for helping to fill it.

Student Thank you for the calmness and the inner peace that I’ve experienced through this weekend. It’s really a blessing that I was able to come here and feel a little bit of what you all feel every day of the year.

Harvard I want to say (from my own personal point of view and from the point of view of A.S.U.) how much we appreciate the Light Morning community. There are all too few places where you can really come and have this kind of experience. This is not a commercial venture. These people throw their hearts and their lives open to us and make themselves available and offer us some hope and some examples and some models.

I also want to thank all you students for what you’ve done this weekend, and for what the students from the past years have done. These weekends have become a tradition now. It’s a very symbiotic experience while we’re here. I like to see that happen.

Being here makes me feel good. It gives me real hope that there are lots of things for our future and for our world that are going to be better than what we mostly see around us in these times. Without something like the experience of this weekend, this course would be bleak. It would be real; but it would be bleak.

Jonathan I appreciate the environmental activism that you practice in your class and in your personal lives and that you share with us when you come here. Your stories about the Arctic Wildlife Refuge last night were very moving. It’s something that we don’t get as involved in here at Light Morning. And yet chip mills, and acid rain, and mountaintop removal are deeply impacting this area.

Both the inner work and the outer work are important in our attempts to help heal this planet. I hope that, in the future, if your environmental activism gets a little too intense at times, you’ll consider returning to Light Morning and re-connecting with this peaceful environment and with the inner depths that help make the outer work sustainable.

Robert That leads directly into how Light Morning might continue to be a resource for you over the years. We’ve been here for a long time now, and we’re not planning on going anywhere. So down the road, when you’re out of school (or maybe still in school), and perhaps you’re actively engaged in learning to cherish the Earth, and you come to a crossroads in your life, or maybe a point of burnout, and you need someplace quiet to seek inner guidance, or you just need to be in the company of people who support you and honor what you’re doing, remember this place.

During the warmer months of the year we are definitely open to having people use Light Morning as a place for renewal, or as somewhere to hang out with friends for a while. We have guest rooms and tent sites. Don’t be shy about letting us know you’d like to use one of them. We’d love to see you again and catch up on some stories.

There’s another way in which Light Morning might be a resource for some of you. We’ve been talking with Harvard about setting up an A.S.U. students reunion weekend sometime just after school gets out next May. The idea is to send invitations out to everyone who has taken this “Human Ecology of the Southern Appalachians” course over the past five years.

Harvard has been an important professor to many of these students, and almost all of them have, like you, spent a weekend here as part of this course. So it would be a rich opportunity for as many students as possible to get together for several days, to work and eat and play together, and to share how their lives are unfolding, what they’ve been doing and learning, and what’s currently stirring their hearts.

Finally, we’re exploring the possibility of one or two students doing an internship here at Light Morning. It’s almost impossible to get any deep impressions of this place from Friday evening through Sunday morning. As we wrote to Harvard recently,

An internship would be an opportunity for one or two of your students to engage in an extended exploration of the multi-dimensional culture that’s been gestating here at Light Morning for the past 25-30 years. It would be an anthropological opportunity to study an emerging culture by considering its core values, which in our case would be:

* Living close to the Earth
* In a new kind of family
* With transformational intent

We believe, in other words, that developing a more sustainable lifestyle is essential for the well-being of this planet and its inhabitants; that developing a sustainable lifestyle is dependent upon evolving sustainable communities; and that a community only becomes sustainable to the degree that it is infused with an indigenous, numinous, shared, and sustainable vision.

We expect that the student(s) would want to participate in the richness of our daily life on as many of these levels as possible: by sharing meals, work, and dreams; by talking with community members about their backgrounds, experiences, hopes, and fears; and by discerning the creative tension between the values that we hold and our ongoing attempts to stretch into a deeper manifestation of those values. We also expect that we would learn quite a bit from the student(s).

Harvard is very responsive to helping any interested students set up such an internship here, for academic credit, probably during the summer months. If you would like to explore this possibility further, talk with him about it.

So these are a few of the ways in which Light Morning might continue to be a resource for you over the coming months and years. Tuck the options away, like seeds, somewhere in your awareness. Then, if you feel one of the seeds nudging at you a bit, trust your heart and follow the impulse. It’s been wonderful sharing our home with you this weekend. We hope to see some of you back here again in the future.

* * *

Those who want to learn more about Appalachian Voices, “a nonprofit, grassroots organization committed to protecting and restoring the fragile and threatened native ecosystems of the Appalachian Mountains from Alabama to Maine,” can do so by visiting http://www.appvoices.org.

The Shop-Keeper’s Assistant


This is about two Germans who lived in the earlier part of the 20th century. While in one way it is like any other love story, in another, it is completely different.

Effie was born on February 6, 1912, to a middle class Bavarian family in Munich, Germany. Her parents, Fritz and Fanny, already had one daughter, Ilse. Three years later, they would have Effie’s younger sister, Gretl. As young girls, they had dancing, art, and music lessons. Later they attended the Tangstrasse secondary school.

Fritz and Fanny were married for 54 years. When Fritz died in 1964, Fanny stayed in Ruhpolding to be close to his tomb. “There was not a single cloud, not even a real quarrel,” Fanny said. “Fritz was the only man in my life; I never kissed another and never had the slightest flirtation. And I am certain that he never took any interest in any woman but me.”

When Effie was 16 she was sent to the Catholic Young Women’s Institute, where she was to complete her education and get the diploma that would help her earn her own living later in life. But she was unhappy there from the first, unused to all the people and the strict discipline. After only one year, instead of the typical two, she wrote her mother, threatening that if she wasn’t allowed to go home, she would run away to Vienna or Berlin and seek her fortune there. So in July of 1929, Effie went back to live with her family in Munich. Since Fritz, though fairly well off, did not provide his daughters with pocket money, she needed to find work.

Under the influence of her older sister Ilse, whom Effie tried to emulate in every way, she quickly transformed from a convent-bred schoolgirl to a sophisticated young woman. She started wearing makeup, her hair was now pinned in thick coils about her ears (she would cut them off altogether a short time later), and she stated that she would rather go barefoot than wear shoes that didn’t match her outfit. Under this surreal mask, however, there was still the young girl who lived in castles in the air, her head filled with fanciful dreams in which she was queen of the land.

* * *

As a young boy, Herr Wolf was quiet and gentle, a favorite of his mother, Klara. He began school at the age of six, learned to play piano at eight, and studied singing for two years with the Benedictines. As he grew older, he became brash and rebellious; yet women still found themselves somehow attracted to him.

He was fairly unsociable. Gustav Kubizek, known as Gustl, may have been his only real childhood friend. They shared the same passion for theater, among other things, and Herr Wolf talked of one day becoming a great architect, for he had already started planning the reconstruction of Linz.

Herr Wolf had dreams of attending the Vienna Academy and studying architecture, but the Academy refused him admission. This made him feel like an outcast; a have-not of society. So instead of returning home to tell his mother, who was dying of cancer, he stayed in Vienna until she finally passed away in December of 1907. For the rest of his life, he would always have a strong fear of cancer, and would insist on frequent physical examinations.

After his mother’s death, Herr Wolf went home to Linz. Soon, however, he returned to Vienna, where he spent five and a half years, mostly in the company of his friend Kubizek, writing novels, poetry, and even an unfinished opera, “The Legend of Wieland.” He continued to be something of a Don Juan and there were frequently women hovering around him.

Then one day Kubizek returned from a trip to Linz to find that Herr Wolf had disappeared without leaving so much as an address. The next time he would see him, Herr Wolf would be a well-known public figure triumphantly returning to Linz.

* * *

It was 1929. Effie worked as bookkeeper at a small establishment on Schellingstrasse, with a sign above the door that read, “Heinrich Hoffman, Art Photographer.” Herr Hoffman liked to employ young girls, partially because it was easier to exploit them economically, and partially with the hopes that they would attract the attention of some of his biggest customers, one of which was Herr Wolf. Effie–young, attractive, and innocent–fit the description perfectly. She was employed on the spot.

It was in October of that year that Effie was first introduced to Herr Wolf, although at the time she was oblivious as to who this strange man was. Herr Wolf was fascinated by her from the very start, a fascination that would continue throughout his entire life. He visited Herr Hoffman’s studio only rarely, but he would always ask to see Fraulein Effie, bowing down to kiss her hand and sometimes bringing her flowers or sweets.

It was not until late in 1930, however, when Effie was 18, that Herr Wolf, who was then 41, really began to take an interest in her, asking her to dinner or to accompany him to the opera. Effie found the opera to be boring and dull, but she always marveled at it whenever Herr Wolf asked.

In September of 1931, Herr Wolf’s niece, whom some say was more than family, committed suicide. This sent him into a deep depression. He cut off almost all contact with Effie, and it was almost a year before she saw him again.

Up until this point, their relationship had been nothing more than casual. Herr Wolf came to Munich only rarely, and Effie was dating other men. But the suicide of Herr Wolf’s niece, and his resulting depression, changed something for Effie. She began to see him as a lonely, unloved man, and this touched something inside her young heart.

She didn’t see him again, however, until 1932, when Hoffman, in an attempt to cheer Herr Wolf up, threw several parties, to which Effie was invited. It was then that she took it upon herself to fill the place left in Herr Wolf’s life that his niece had left vacant. For a short time, they saw each other more. He was in Munich often, and she would visit him at his apartment.

Possibly he still thought of her as a casual flirt, for he stopped coming to Munich, and his messages became few and far between. Then on All Saints Day, 1932, after writing a farewell note to Herr Wolf, Effie took her father’s 6mm pistol and fired it at her heart. Either she was an extremely poor shot or else her attempted suicide was half-hearted, a way of attracting Herr Wolf’s attention rather than of ending her life.

Whatever her motive, he saw it as an act of her devotion to him. From then on, their relationship took on more of a permanent nature. After she attempted suicide a second time in 1935, this time using sleeping pills instead of a pistol, Herr Wolf bought Effie a flat in Munich. The next year, he brought her to live with him in his mansion.

Effie and Herr Wolf spent the rest of their lives together, and died within a few hours of each other.

* * *

Herr Wolf and Eva Braun (affectionately known as Effie) were finally married, just hours before their double suicide in a bunker under Berlin on April 29, 1945, as the Allied forces were closing in. Herr Wolf was the pseudonym for a man that, to the general public, is perhaps better known as Adolph Hitler.