~ DESTINATION ONE: STRATHALBYN ~

Community can come in small packages.

In our planning leading up to this little adventure of ours we’ve gone and chosen some communities to visit solely based on a paragraph or two of information via the ic.org website, our WWOOFing book or a brief phone call. Reducing the decision to a small set of “highlights” based on some preconceived ideas of what community is all about will undoubtedly reveal some surprising realities once we arrive, but I’m beginning to believe that this will be the joy of the experience – if we allow it to be that way. Our first community experience has already been that way: before arriving, I had conjured an image of what sort of “true” community could possibly exist between two people, but it has already proven to be an unexpected learning experience.

Heidi, Di and Mike

Heidi, Di and Mike

The baby steps of our 2-month trip took us to the homes of Heidi’s spiritual director Di and her friend Ruth. From the start, Di was comfortable using the term community to describe her and Ruth’s setup: conjoined properties consisting of two houses with no dividing fence and a shared backyard. Ruth and Di, who have been friends for 40 years, move between the two buildings freely but that divide is enough to provide some individual expression and some personal space to be able to retire to whenever they each want it.

So, looking at the way I perceive “community” to mean, I see it as:

  • a group of people sharing resources to reduce their collective environmental impact and save some redundant expenses;
  • living in close proximity with one another so that regular interactions are encouraged;
  • some common interests that connect everyone;
  • an overall care for one another’s well-being;
  • having shared experiences with like-minded people that enhance life’s journey

In this context, Di and Ruth are easily covering many of these points, but are simply doing it (at the moment) between the two of them. Their focus might not be so much on environmental concerns, plus having only two people to do everything can have its downsides, but their positive outlook, ease of lifestyle and welcoming hospitality definitely made it feel like they were creating a larger community than just the two of them. I definitely felt like a big warm hug was embracing us while we were there 😀

In planning this trip, we had broken it into roughly two parts: intentional communities and WWOOFing stops. However, I’m now beginning to think that the line is blurred with solid community likely existing in the WWOOFing stops as well. If Di and Ruth are an example of how it can be with just a small community then the places we are looking at who are often connecting with families, other like-minded individuals or the wider community will possibly have a similar feel. In other words, I will try to not place everyone in a tidy box before I experience what their version of community has to offer!

Go forth with an open mind.

Our preconceptions of what we expect to encounter on this trip will certainly colour how we actually experience it, as it was pointed out to us by Michael, a guest at dinner the other night at Di’s home. Michael had traveled extensively through Australia and abroad living communally and was a valuable addition to the conversation. His arrival at this meal was particularly fortuitous as our host Di had happened to bump into him the day that we were visiting and so we could pick his brain a bit regarding our own travels.

The advice Michael provided was useful but was one of the few things he actually told us (as not to contradict his own advice) was: the less we impose our own biases onto an upcoming visit to a community, the more we’ll get out of it. Upon arrival, it’s too easy to initially judge the way things are done by others if they don’t sync with our own methods, but if we wait, listen, learn and absorb, in due time we’ll get a more authentic view of how the community ticks. That’s not to say that our own perspective isn’t valid but it’s easy to arrive somewhere and think “why would they do that like this?” or “this community is broken here and here and I could do it better”.

Saying this, I think I’d like to experiment with my own bias and I plan to write a short paragraph before my forthcoming community visits in which I explain my own expectations and predictions of what the place will be like. I will be basing it solely on what I have read about the place, the vibe I get from any contact I’ve had with them, and my own biases like judgments about animal rearing/eating or lifestyle decisions. Hopefully this will help me examine my own reasons for thinking the way I do and see if I am putting too much emphasis on what’s in my head rather than what I am experiencing with an open mind! More to come…! 🙂

PS. Sorry for the analytical ramble: at this stage things are less about experiences and more about theory!

You can also view Heidi’s take on this visit to Di and Ruth in her blog at Miss Roo’s Adventures

 

Strathalbyn

The beautiful town centre of Strathalbyn

 

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