Last spring, for the first time in my 43 years of life, I noticed when a bird returned from his winter migration and started singing to establish his territory. I was ecstatic! It was the Pacific-Slope Flycatcher, but it wasn’t that I am in some way partial to the Pacific-Slope Flycatcher. It was that I NOTICED.
And here’s where I get sad. How is that I, with my “eco-girl” persona, always outside doing something—playing, working, hiking, biking, climbing—never noticed what any young indigenous child would have found obvious? How is it that I just learned that there is information that humans can understand in the language of the birds—the pleasant “elevator music” that was rarely noticed in the background of my life? Why? Because no one around me noticed, either.
I’ve logged some time and miles on this big blue spinning ball, and I’ve got stories, let me tell you! Places I’ve lived. Trails I’ve hiked. Mountains I’ve climbed. Continents I’ve traversed. Communities I’ve visited. It’s been fun and exciting.
Yet, in all that exploring, what I found was that the people I admired most were the ones who were connected and committed to their homes and their lands. Adivasi villagers in India fighting the government to protect their homes from being flooded by big dam projects. Quechua Indians of Peru maintaining their ancient system of trade, festivals, and work-exchange from the alpaca farmers on the top of the mountain, to the citrus farmers in the valleys, and all the villages in between. Dancers in Swaziland carrying the reeds they harvested for building in a celebration dance.
These people knew where they were from, and I was jealous. I always struggled to answer that question,” Where are you from?” Growing up we moved about every four-five years to follow my dad’s work. Am I from Utah? Kentucky? Michigan? Virginia? It was always new. Always interesting. And in our time off from school, we’d load in the car and drive far away for a family vacation, somewhere different and exciting every year.
You may recognize yourself in parts of this story. Cheap oil has made ours the most mobile human culture in history. Moving can be a very valuable step forward in your life. And it’s important to travel and be exposed to different cultures, new ideas, other ways of doing things. But we’ve kinda over-done it, and it’s destroying our ecosystems and our communities.
Probably around three-quarters of the inquiries we get from people interested in community are from folks in their 60s. A regular statement I get from folks in their 30s and 40s who come through this land—many of whom consider themselves very eco-conscious—is “I would love to be a part of this community, but I need to travel and not feel tied down.”
How can we care for a place if we’re not there, day after day, month after month, year after year, paying attention? Who will notice the changes—be it the early return of the Pacific-Slope Flycatcher or the slow creep of box stores and parking lots? “Wasn’t that Walmart always on that corner? Doesn’t anyone remember the forest? No, none of us are actually from around here.”
Even setting aside nature, how can we develop deep human community connections if it’s always so easy to move on to “greener pastures”? Our lack of commitment to place is mirrored in our lack of commitment to each other. I know, I’ve lived in and left three intentional communities now. I’m a great Facebook friend and all, but those pictures of your kids don’t really amount to a relationship with them.
If you, like I was, are part of some “ecovillage” in a foreign country (for me it was Costa Rica), knowing that you’ll need to come back to the States to visit family and make money every year, then I have some sad news for you. That’s not “eco.” And that’s not a “village.” Sorry.
One of the most radical forms of resistance we can perform right now is the act of being content in one place, despite its being mundane and inadequate. Staying put and paying attention. Being there for the land and each other. And what’s really cool is, that it IS exciting, interesting, and fun. Each year that I witness the same cycles in the same place, I go deeper, notice changes and nuances, and get excited about what I know is coming, like an old friend.
I’ve lived here at Emerald Earth Sanctuary for nine short years now. Longer than anywhere I’ve ever lived in my life. What’s to keep me here in this, my fourth intentional community, when the world is so full of options and this place is such a headache sometimes? Maybe it’s my relationship to the Pacific-Slope Flycatcher.
For reasons still mysterious to her, Abeja Judy Hummel has spent 17 of the last 21 years living in intentional communities in Virginia, Costa Rica, and California. You’ll now find her well-ensconced at Emerald Earth Sanctuary in Boonville, California with her husband Tom, 10-year-old son Garnet, a rotating band of community members, a herd of wily goats, some fat chickens, and a Pacific-Slope Flycatcher family in her eaves. Abeja has been fascinated with bird language since learning of its existence several years ago. See www.birdlanguage.com or www.8shields.com for more information.