Well, it’s more than any one story. It’s three, even four stories. There’s the story of Jacob, the story of Julia, and the story of Arthur. And there is the story of the family.
Let’s first address the gap. Living in an ecovillage generally means that there is a focus on the community. When we visited for two weeks in May 2018, it was clear that we could find places where we could fit into the community. What wasn’t clear was just how much time out of our life might be allocated to the community. It turned out, all of our time wasn’t enough!
Both Julia and I entered with different perspectives and different expectations. This leads to our first divergent.
For Julia, working from home meant not leaving the community. It meant that there were people knocking on her door, causing interruptions at times. It meant that the social networks were very much limited to the community. This wasn’t what she had expected, and it made for her feeling disconnected and cut off from relationships. There were a handful of relationships in the community she nurtured, but needed more. She tried to reach out into the larger Orangeville/Alton community, but there were challenges there. She did everything she could to be as involved as possible with the community as well, contributing with her skill sets. It was overwhelming.
For me, it took awhile for the new job to start paying. Getting a license to drive a school bus took far longer than anticipated. Our family Christmas vacation to Virginia in December was cut short for me to be at a training session at Parkview, but when I arrived, the gate was shut and no one answered when I called. When it did start, training was four hours a day and took a good two months for it to be complete between the classroom time, road test, snow days and waiting for a route. It was mid-March before I saw the first paycheck. This was stressful. Midday time largely went towards digital projects and moving things forwards with information technology at Whole Village. I focused on building Whole Village’s website, which was finished in May. During the summer I was primary caregiver, and the employment insurance that is supposed to be given to school bus drivers didn’t go through due to not having enough hours with Parkview. So financially, things were stretched thin.
Arthur’s experience with community was also not as expected. The families that we had moved there to be close to in November had unexpectedly moved by March break of the following year. He wasn’t completely alone, as he had friends at school and at his karate practice once a week. And it’s not like people in the community ignored him, they loved him! But his primary playmates in the community were Mom, Dad and when she wasn’t working, a wonderful neighbor named Jenna. He enjoyed visiting the pigs, chickens, cows, gardens and neighbors. He would even contribute and work during community work bees! He had a great time during the summer swimming in the pond, visits from Ceilidgh (a neighbor’s labradoodle), and playing board games. These were halcyon days for him.
The lack of community help with parenting was one factor that led us away from the community in the end. It’s real difficult to juggle different commitments to different spheres when not everyone understands the collaborative needs of being a parent in today’s world. Not only were we doing things for the community, but also caring for a young child. Trying to make the two mesh was difficult because everyone else had their own lives, and weren’t in the same parenting headspace. We greatly missed other families, parents and time for our own projects.
At one point during the late summer, we received word that a farm in Manitoba had become available. It was close to family in the Interlake, and we were very interested in this. It gave us a possible direction and sparked some post-Whole Village thinking in terms of where to go if it didn’t work out. It would give us some much-needed support networks and arable land to work with. There were many things attractive about this, and we began to reorient.
We found a real dichotomy in the community when it came to expectations of individual capacity. People who are retired or who are financially independent of needing to work a 9-5 have different understandings of time commitments from those who do work those in order to live on the community. It was one of the biggest weird things for me; having to leave the community to earn a living in order to stay in the community. Making an income inside the community was just not possible, unless you were able to do it entirely from the internet, and while Julia could, I wasn’t there yet. The fulfillment of GEN’s definition of an ecovillage as ‘fully-featured’ was not exactly as I had anticipated.
A big part of an ecovillage is to employ a conscious human effort towards environmental stewardship. That said, there’s also a limit to what is reasonable for an individual’s capacity. And without knowing what one’s limits are and being unable to set and maintain clear boundaries on this, community expectations can be and were overwhelming. It’s the sort of thing that can’t be identified within even a two week stay, but takes several months to figure out what the new normal is of life inside the community. It was very good that accommodations for this sort of adjustment was written into the membership process, indicating six month and one year points of contact with our mentor about how things were going. We did start to feel some burn out towards the end.
Towards the end of our stay there, we grew to be more mindful of this work/life balance and the demands the community was placing on us. We began to question more deeply if the culture was one we could continue to contribute to, as we weren’t getting back those crucial elements that we needed. Most of this wouldn’t have been visible from the outside looking in, especially at that earlier point in time when there were other families. We found other key points of question centered around human wellness.
Specific questions that arise upon reflection include; What does the culture truly promote? Visions and missions are fundamental, but how is it practiced in the cultural gestalt? Is it healing for the individuals? Is it celebrating what it means to be human? Or perhaps is it taking people away from each other? If humans are the cause of anthropogenic climate change, how can a village move towards environmental visions if it’s not also valuing and helping it’s villagers to recognize their wounds and heal? Someone said on a conference call I was on recently that mainstream culture is deeply traumatic. How can ecovillages be a soft place to land and help people along the path of healing?
Not all of this was the case with Whole Village. As we look back on our time spent in Greenhaven, there is a deep sense of missing that small community. It’s unfortunate that we had to make such a hard decision to leave, and there were so many positives. I know I miss running into random kind, interesting strangers in a shared home. I miss the morning fog in my walk to the school bus and clucking at the chickens. The family misses the community, the shared meals, the large projects that brought everyone together. At least in our move to Manitoba we managed to stay rural.