These are the final three letters I wrote when participating in a bioregional seminar in the late 1980s. The first two letters, with a fuller introduction, can be found here.
Letter 3: February 1989
I stayed up late last night, trying unsuccessfully to find a theme for this month’s letter. As I finally went to bed, I asked my dreams for help. But this morning I was unable to recall even a single dream. Joyce, however, who was consciously unaware that I had been puzzling over this letter, awoke with a surprisingly relevant dream. It almost seems as though the dream I needed had come through her.
In the dream world Joyce is attending a workshop on environmental issues. Many of the other participants are castigating the government and/or the big corporations for their unresponsiveness to the critical problems facing the planet. Joyce is moved to say that we have no right to demand significant changes from anyone “out there” if we are unwilling to make comparable changes in our own lives.
“The changes we must turn to first are personal changes,” she says passionately. “And they have to be radical.”
It’s a warm summer evening at Light Morning. I have just settled down to read the newly-arrived Summer 1986 issue of Katuah, the Bioregional Journal of the Southern Appalachians. It’s a homespun publication run by a volunteer crew of artists and activists, poets and homesteaders. Gary Snyder has called it the best bioregional publication in the U.S. Growing out of the mountains of western North Carolina, Katuah Journal comes out quarterly. This is Issue 12. One of the early issues had laid out its guiding theme.
“Here in the southern-most heartland of the Appalachian mountains, the oldest range on our continent (Turtle Island), a small but growing group has begun to take on a sense of responsibility for the implications of that geographical and cultural heritage. This sense of responsibility centers on the concept of living within the natural scale and balance of universal systems and laws. We begin by invoking the Cherokee name Katuah as the old/new name for this area of the mountains and for its journal as well.”
This article first appeared in the Winter 1994 issue of “Communities Magazine.” The core question that Joyce explores here continues to be relevant twenty-five years later. Light Morning found one answer to this question. Other communities and organizations are finding other answers, or have not yet wrestled with the question.
Many of our communities are just now reaching that sobering age when we start to question our immortality. The founders are aging, as are many long-time members. Meanwhile, there’s a surge of interest in the communities movement among younger people who see this lifestyle as a partial solution to the multiple crises facing our world. At the place where these two phenomena meet lies a crucial challenge: how to blend the old and the new.
This is the founders’ dilemma. It’s the creative tension between affirming the original intent of a community, while at the same time being deeply responsive to the need for growth, flexibility, fresh air. New people arrive with strong and good dreams of their own. How can their visions be woven into the original tapestry without obliterating it?
This is the second of two posts containing my application to the School of the Spirit for its program On Being a Spiritual Nurturer. The first post, and a fuller introduction, can be found here.
A well-chosen question can have quite an impact. Several years after moving to the Blue Ridge Mountains, I was gifted with such a question. It was posed by Douglas, the same friend whose birthday would later coincide with the Testing the Water retreat in Roanoke.
It was a sunny afternoon at Light Morning. We were sitting on a grassy knoll called Temple Hill, close to where Douglas now lies buried. High above us, a raven traced a lazy circle in the sky.
“So why did your Virginia Beach guidance,” Doug asked, “say that the Essenes were to serve as a model for your community?”
In March of 2018, I learned about an 18-month program called On Being a Spiritual Nurturer. It was offered by The School of the Spirit, a ministry “rooted in the Quaker contemplative tradition of the living silence.” Feeling ready to explore my Quaker heritage, I requested an application.
“Write a summary of your experience with spiritual nurture ministry,” the application said. “Reflect on how you have been drawn toward or clearly discerned a call to spiritual nurture and its study. We seek to understand how this call has risen out of your personal faith, faith community, life experience, education, and training. We encourage you to offer stories that describe your explorations, wrestling, insights, and lessons learned. Please include your experience of desiring, seeking or receiving support concerning this call.”
What follows is my response to this request.
Spiritual nurture ministry is an unfamiliar phrase, but it stirs deep associations. Good friends nurture each other. They’re responsive to one another’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Quakers, moreover, self-identify as a Religious Society of Friends.
I have a knack for making and keeping friends. I’m a good listener and often ask good questions. People tend to trust and confide in me. I have been with friends who are giving birth and others who are dying. I have helped some friends get married and others get divorced. I’ve been there for friends who have become suddenly and seriously unhinged, just as they, in turn, have been there for me.
This is the third of three posts containing brief passages from letters that Joyce wrote to those becoming interested in Light Morning soon after we moved to the land. The first bouquet of vignettes (and a fuller introduction) can be found here.
Our neighbor, Dan, was over yesterday to plow. There was a last-minute scurrying around to move sawdust piles, transplant favored weeds, rope off the rhubarb, harvest a little doomed catnip for some addicted cat friends, etc. We will soon be tearing down an old house partway to the mailbox. The owner will get half the lumber, we’ll get the rest — flooring for our new kitchen, and maybe a wall or two. The woodshed is begun. Gone is the peace of winter. In its place is the sense of a lively awakening, a new beginning. The seasons complement one another; a gentle succession of moods.
This is the second of three posts containing brief passages from letters that Joyce wrote to those becoming interested in Light Morning soon after we moved to the land. The first bouquet of vignettes (and a fuller introduction) can be found here.
Since picking up my pen here in our small tent, the wind has begun one of its roarings. A strange day, with its own story. An ice storm several days ago left every tree, pine needle, and blade of grass frozen, as though made of glass. Fragile glass mountains. Lovely, yet also a sense of tension: the trees bent down under the weight, the strain on brittle limbs, rigid and vulnerable. But there was no wind to threaten them.
Then earlier today the sun shone for about 20 minutes, just enough to release the branches, to give them back their essential flexibility. Now this raging wind, and those thousands of trees bending and twisting. I can feel their wild, joyful freedom.
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.
[When Light Morning was an active community, those wanting to visit or intern here sometimes asked about our core values. In response, we posted three articles to an earlier version of this website: Living Close to the Earth; A New Kind of Family; and A Transformational Journey.]
How do we learn to live close to the Earth? Paying attention to the needs of our body and stretching toward higher octaves of health is a good place to start. Living close to nature and working close to home is another approach. This necessitates making a slow transition from a cash-intensive to a more labor-intensive economy.
While improving our physical health and meeting our outward needs more directly are helpful, being close to someone also implies emotional intimacy. According to the dictionary, an intimate relationship is “a warm friendship developing through long association.” Might it be possible to nurture such a friendship with the planet we call home?
Shortly before the turn of the millennium, Light Morning experienced an unprecedented population explosion. For twenty-five years we had been a relatively small intentional community. Then, seemingly overnight, our family of six adults and a teenager morphed into a bustling warren of sixteen adults and six children. The transition was chaotic and overwhelming, exhilarating and exhausting.
Almost as soon as it had formed, however, the bubble started to deflate. A few of the recent arrivals packed up and moved on. Others wondered what their next steps were going to be. Still others were trying to discern how their personal values aligned with those of Light Morning.
All of us were deep into the stretch zone. The newcomers were adapting to a place where every meal, most of the work, and much of the money was shared. The old-timers found themselves suddenly outnumbered by those who didn’t understand – and sometimes didn’t want to understand – how or why Light Morning had become what it was. The crucible of community gifted everyone with psychic bruises and blown fuses.
The intensity tested our resilience. It also forced us to wrestle with several essential questions: Why are people drawn to Light Morning? How much do they know, beforehand, about its founding vision and core values? How do visitors become committed members of the community? What systems and values are we willing to change? What remains non-negotiable?
The questions kept gnawing at us. So when four of us left for a 10-day Vipassana meditation course in January of 2000, we took the questions with us. Jonathan, Joyce, and I were fully committed to Light Morning. Kent was a former member of the community and a fellow Vipassana meditator. Little did we realize how insightful and harrowing this midwinter pilgrimage from southwest Virginia to western Massachusetts would turn out to be.