Early Letters: 1

The old community shelter

In the spring of 1974, four of us moved to an abandoned farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains to co-found a small visionary community called Light Morning. Letters soon started to arrive from people wanting to know what it was like to live in a place like this. Some wanted to visit. Others wanted to cast off their settled lives and move in.

Joyce became our correspondent. Below (and in the following two posts) are brief passages from the letters she wrote to those asking about Light Morning. Her verbal sketches convey the many changes that we were going through during our first year on the land — transitioning from nuclear family to the complexities of consensus and cooperation; from the comfort and conveniences of modern living to wintering in tents, drawing water by hand, and chopping wood for heat; and from the excitement of the initial vision to the slow realization that a long-term commitment would be needed to manifest that vision.

From ice storms, bobcats, and smoking wood stoves to whip-poor-wills and the return of spring, these vignettes (along with Joyce’s pen and ink drawings) offer glimpses into the pioneering way of life we had to adopt in order to adapt to our new circumstances.

December 1974

The early front gate as we found it
(“No Hunting: Animal Sanctuary”)

As to our community — who we are and what we’re about — we’re as yet too young to know that in full. We have been on the land less than a year and are small in number. Yet we share a vision of the needs of these times and are trying to respond as creatively as we can, given the limitations that we each place upon ourselves.

We came together a year ago, focusing on the guidance that was being channeled through one of us and sharing this through writing Season of Changes. We have since learned a great deal about the responses called for in the book: common purpose, self-sufficiency, a communal lifestyle, nature’s gentle wisdom, cooperating with a greater network of nearby communities, and more. It’s been a rich year, sometimes difficult, always vital. Perhaps we are beginning to understand what we came here to do.

* * *

Yes, we have a community; or rather the seeds of a community sprouting. We bought the land in the beginning of 1974. The four of us moved up here almost immediately to get things started, the rest to follow in their time. Now, after almost a year, we have learned a lot, yet we feel as though we have barely begun. We are still a long way from the full expression of our ideals and from the image that a phrase like “spiritual community” brings to mind. We have been shown that, as with a seed, our community has its own rate of growth, not to be hurried, but by Grace.

Meanwhile, we are exploring self-sufficiency. During our first year, the emphasis was on ways to simplify and meet our food needs through gardening, preserving, and foraging. Now our attention is turning toward how to build shelters out of available materials. Living in tents has shown us that we don’t really need the kind of heat to which we had once been accustomed, while other things — like an openness to the stars at night, a closer relationship with the weather, and the sounds of the forest — have become essential. I’m sure that with some experimentation we can learn to build simple, indigenous, open shelters that are warm and dry, and that these will be useful tools in the coming times of transition.

There’s more, of course, like learning to live together in community, which entails a sacrifice, albeit willing, of a fair amount of personal freedom. Nurturing a common vision, which for us is what a leader or guru might be in another situation; giving one to another; overcoming our negativities and forgiving others — these are part of the challenge and opportunity of a communal lifestyle. I sense that in community is the practical, living promise of global harmony. The grade school, so to speak.

* * *

I feel your enthusiasm for community and for a more natural lifestyle. I realize now — after having toyed with the idea for a long time and then finally becoming involved in creating one — that it’s hard to know, except vaguely, what you want ’til you get out there. Yet perhaps you could share some of your thoughts with us. What makes you want to give up what you’ve got, for example, to go off somewhere and work hard and try to learn to love a bunch of people who aren’t always in a good mood and then it rains on all your almost dry laundry?

It’s a good life, but it’s too hard to do unless there’s a reason to do it. One’s purpose, we’ve found, is the bond that keeps it all together and growing. The first step is trying to figure out why you’re getting into this. After that, things will fall into place — the people, the means, the land — and suddenly you’re doing it.

Sometimes we think that the idea our community was put forth long ago and that we four, five, seven, or whatever, were incidental to it. It needed somebody and we happened to fit. If we get off the track, it will find somebody else. So it’s just the willingness to be used that gets it going.

* * *

This year we concentrated on supplying our food needs. Now that the garden’s done and the canned food is in the new root cellar, our attention is shifting to shelter. We have an old 8′ x 10′ granary shed that serves as a heatable kitchen, gathering place, and meditation loft. But as more people arrive, other needs must be met: the “temple” that our guidance urged us to build, for example, and a library, and a comfortable place for visitors…

* * *

We have no jobs because the community, especially now, needs every hand it can get. We also know, from past experience, how difficult it can be to maintain a job and still devote one’s energy toward inner centering and growth. We appreciate that when we began this venture, we had enough capital to buy the land outright. We therefore have no mortgage payments to meet.

We do receive some income from the sale of our book, from donations, and from some work we occasionally do for somebody. But mostly we have very little money, so we do without. We’ve been learning the difference between wants and needs and discovering that our needs are indeed always met.

* * *

We keep no animals, except bees, and we hope to avoid needing them as they add to the work load considerably. We don’t eat meat and have moved pretty much away from dairy products. Our aim is to simplify. It’s the only way we can keep to the balance in our days — mornings for study, dream work, and meditation; afternoons for working; evenings for sharing together.

* * *

Don’t let the so-called hardships deter you from living a sane life. The ones that come to people’s minds — the physical ones like chopping wood for the stove, or doing laundry by hand, or walking a mile to the mailbox — aren’t hardships. I love chopping wood; Marlene doesn’t. Marlene loves canning; I’d rather chop. Ronald loves gardening and Robert loves building.

So we all help Ronald mulch the beans one day and help Robert build a wall the next and somebody cooks supper. Community, combined energy, complementary skills and inclinations. It’s a beautiful way to get a lot done and have some energy left over. What folks don’t realize about walking a mile to the mailbox is that our lifestyle gives us that time to spend walking, with energy to appreciate the beauty, the silence, the rhythm of the walk.

The real hardships are the inner ones, which have to be met anyway. It doesn’t matter where you are, it’s just a little easier out here. Nature offers constant support, inspiration, and — once one learns to read her ways — much guidance and wisdom.

Community is like a hall of mirrors that always points out where growth is needed. It’s not an easy way, because there is no easy way. But it’s good, helpful, healthy. The particulars, such as animals/no animals or electricity/no electricity, are not important. Some do it one way, others another. What counts is the commitment to growth.

* * *

It’s been a week of Christmas cookies, cards from friends, and caroling for some of the old-timers down the road. Tonight’s the New Year’s Eve party at Travianna, another nearby commune. We will have to prepare by napping, as we have taken on the early-to-bed habit that country living seems to invoke.

Meanwhile, it’s 32 degrees and raining. Robert is out clearing a trail on the west ridge. Ron and Marlene are in the kitchen by the fire, pouring over seed catalogs, preparing an order. And I sit in my tent, wrapped in a blanket, raindrops on the roof, with an occasional optimistic bird chirping. There is much peace here.

January 1975

The clothes line

This piece of land came to us out of the blue. Or out of Mother Earth News, actually. It was in the summer of ’73, just as we were getting more involved with the writing of Season of Changes, that we started to think about looking for land. But the guidance said, in effect, “Cool it, concentrate on finishing the book, land will come.” It was hard advice for seven excited people to follow!

But we heeded it, and made plans to go land hunting the following spring. In November, though, an obscure ad in Mother Earth News caught our eye: “An old farm outside Roanoke, Virginia. 150 acres. Remote, but accessible.” We immediately drove out to look at it, arriving at 3 A.M. After camping out for several days, we pooled our money and purchased the land. Last March we moved in. We could never have consciously found anything more suited to our needs and purposes. Just one of those things.

* * *

The acreage is 130 in woods and 20 cleared, of which we use about 5. The rest of it sits, waiting for our purpose to become more clear. Meanwhile, there are trails and several tiny streams and a lot of exploring to do. The beauty of it is humbling.

* * *

We will grow, but slowly. Our initial guidance talked of a small nucleus of permanent residents and many people passing through who would stay for varying lengths of time in order to get a taste of communal living and to pick up some skills, ideas, and inspiration for their own endeavors. This feels right. The four of us here now are caretakers, getting things started.

* * *

The size of the small nucleus is nebulous. Twelve? Twenty? We don’t know. We hold a faith that those whose dharma is to work through this project will be drawn here. There are many ways. Some will find themselves suited to this way; most will find their full expression elsewhere. We believe that after someone lives here for several months, they will have the innate wisdom to know whether or not to commit their energy to Light Morning. It’s not under our control, nor should it be rushed.

* * *

We have much to learn about becoming self-sufficient while at the same time holding the ideal of a balanced day — mornings for study, meditation, and exploring; afternoons for working; evenings for sharing together. This can only be realized by simplifying our needs, which we’re attempting to do. To some people our lifestyle looks rugged. They see what we live without; they don’t see how richly we’re rewarded in terms of the peace and rhythm and order in our lives.

* * *

Our faith must be continually reborn within each of us, our vision renewed. It’s inspiring to remember the wider work of which our endeavor is but a minute part; that it’s a planetary movement.

* * *

As to how to go about finding or creating the particular community or situation that offers you what you seek, that is a complex question. There are many communities springing up all over the country, each somewhat different from the next. The trick is to sort out what you want, in as much detail as possible. You explore questions like diet; electricity vs. no electricity; self-sufficiency as a goal or not; whether you want a teacher or guru; a western, Christian expression or a more Eastern approach, or neither; drugs or no drugs; whether or not you want animals. Then you find or build what you envision. Many of these questions seem insignificant until you explore the implications. Common agreement is essential.

* * *

A misty day, after having been spoiled by the warmth and clarity of a midwinter heat wave. Several 60 degree days. Too hot for sweaters. Lovely for sunbathing, and for sitting around philosophizing on the symbology of the sun.

* * *

I don’t use the word meditation to apply to my times of peace, for the word seems to scare the peace away. An avalanche of things that I’ve read or heard about meditation comes pouring down on me and I stiffen. The mind is strange.

So for me there are times of contemplation, where I have a problem and listen for an answer or suggestion or a clearer understanding to be given. And there are times of centering myself and regaining equilibrium after some negativity has played through me. (“Who are you?” I ask myself. “What do you want to be?”) Then there are times when I stretch to hold on to some particular joy or beauty; to stay alive to it; to answer it, so to speak.

There are times, too, of keeping my attention steady, clearly and deliberately, perhaps while walking or doing dishes. Not letting the mind go rambling. And I’m always rewarded by some heretofore hidden loveliness. Perhaps it’s the colors of sunlight refracted through dancing bubbles of liquid ivory soap. It’s all around us in the everyday — beauty, truth, spirit — but we’re asleep to it; we miss it; we’re too busy within our own shells.

* * *

It’s so simple here that I think you may be amused at all the notions of hardship and ruggedness that most people have in mind when imagining our days. But I speak from a year of having adjusted to it, so I may not see it objectively either. It’s probably something that takes getting used to — first the desire to get used to it — and then it seems easy. I remember once telling my mother that I would never learn to read, that it was just too hard and complicated. I was four then.

* * *

Our community is dual in nature, as we ourselves are. On the one hand, Light Morning is a seed of what will grow into an expression of spirit and goodness; on the other, we are four people living in tents on an old farm with rundown sheds and barns and no way to make more than a handful of guests at a time comfortable, unless they already know about primitive living.

Should it rain at lunchtime, for instance, our usual “dining room” — a circle of logs out under an old apple tree — becomes unusable and we must all crowd into a 12′ x 12′ kitchen/office/library. The logistics get interesting with more people.

Some day it will be different, but for now we’re reluctant to encourage everybody to come all at once. We want to share this experience with as many as we can, and we certainly need all the help we can get from those who come — help with inspiration and ideas, as well help getting things planted or built or harvested. But if we rush it, we will miss the mark.

The outdoor dining room