In Praise of Inefficiency

by Kimchi Rylander

Unplugging from consumer culture, living simply and building community . . . it’s not an easy path! As I review my past ten years here at Earthaven, I’ve discovered that letting go of efficiency may be a shortcut to village togetherness and happiness.

I owe so much gratitude to the Tribal Condo, one of the earliest timber framed, hand built structures at Earthaven and a place that I call home. While the original builders gained much needed skill, building with lumber hand harvested from the land, the house has minimal plumbing, salvaged leaky windows, and no inside insulation between floors. In essence, it’s a house that needs constant maintenance and care. In 2001, I took a leap of faith and bought into the 1000 sq ft “apartment” house.

In the early years, I wondered if I had made a poor decision. Clearly, this house was inefficient and likely to decay sooner than other homes. However, as Suchi (my house partner) and I began to maintain and repair it, we noticed how each episode offered a tremendous opportunity to connect and relate within the village.

One year, our roof blew off when a strong wind funneled down the mountain and pulled out purlins that had only been nailed (not screwed) in. Torrents of rain came down, and all the residents of our home crawled out on the roof at two o’clock in the morning to pull the tin back on. The next day, villagers offered to provide lodging for us and repair the damage. It was awesome how the community helped us through our “disaster!”

While efficiency offers a way to make the most of the available energy, time, and money we have on hand, it doesn’t always maximize opportunities for relationships in a community. Take a look at Nature: at one level it’s very inefficient, but at another level, it provides myriad opportunities to weave a tapestry of dense interdependency within a locale.

“If a house is built too well, so efficiently that it is permanent and refuses to fall apart, then people do not have a reason to come together. Though the house stays together, the people fall apart and nothing gets renewed. Coming together … to do communal tasks gracefully—tasks that a machine could do in an instant anonymously—or to repair rickety houses ensures the very smiley togetherness so missing in the pre-planned, alienated lives of modern civilization.” (Secrets of the Talking Jaguar: Memoirs From the Living Heart of a Mayan Village, by Martín Pretchel.)

Suchi and I chuckled after discovering yet another item to be fixed in the house. “Please pass the bottle of inefficiency,” I decided. “I’d like to sprinkle some more of that on my plate of life.”

Kimchi Rylander is co-Firekeeper, and longtime member of Earthaven Ecovillage. An artist, deep ecologist, and permaculture activist, she is currently building delicious new cultural topsoil beginning in “her own backyard.”

Pumpkin Carvin’

 

 

A cold and rainy day didn’t keep the pumpkin carvers away. There is a full week of activities at Earthaven Ecovillage to celebrate Halloween and one of my favorites is the annual pumpkin carving.

I went over to the Council Hall with my eight-month-old, Oakley, inside my rain jacket. I wasn’t sure how much I would be able to participate with him there but wanted to hang out anyway. I always loved pumpkin carving as a kid and was excited to introduce the tradition to him on his very first Halloween.

Before I even got in the building I noticed a small group of musicians standing in the middle of the room. It hadn’t been pre-planned, but what a treat to have live bluegrass music at this event.

A happy group of kids and their parents, along with a few witches, were already elbow deep in pumpkin guts when I got there. Some people were also hollowing out huge turnips and I learned that turnips where the original jack-o-lanterns. Legend has it that there was once a man named Jack who was so bad that when he died even the devil wouldn’t take him into the underworld and he was left to eternally wander the earth with his lantern. When European people came to America they brought their vegetable lantern carving tradition with them. I can only imagine how excited they were to learn about pumpkins, which I can tell you from direct observation, are a lot easier to carve than turnips. The challenge, however, did not stop Earthaveners from giving it a try and several beautiful turnip jack-o-lanterns sat next to the pumpkin ones decorating our Council Hall for the Samhian Ancestor Feast a few days later.

I saw a pumpkin getting carved with a pretty intricate face, one with a moon and stars, and one being cut into many curved ring layers. There were still pumpkins available so I thought I would give it a try and see how far I could get on a carving project of my own. I put Oakley on the floor and to my surprise he was perfectly happy playing with and tasting the pumpkin guts while I cut out super basic, classic triangle features.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Founding Day Parade 2011

On Sunday, September 11, I heard music and drumming in the distance on Another Way, the road in front of our house.

The Founding Day parade was marching down the road from the direction of our front gate. Banners, flags, drums, people smiling and waving.

Every year we celebrate our birthday — September 11, 1994 — with a parade. This is the day Earthaven’s 12 original founders pledged money at an afternoon tea party to buy our 320 acres.


Shangri-Laundry

The Shangri-Laundry is located in the basement of this building

In June 2011 the Forest Garden Neighborhood welcomed Shangri-Laundry, a self-service laundromat that is convenient, green, and clean. Parking is available just past the building. There is one double-load washer and one double-load propane dryer, so you can reserve time online for hassle-free scheduling. The primary source of electricity is the photovoltaic array pictured to the left of the building.

    My neighborhood (Village Terraces) has a shared washer, but I like to use Shangri-Laundry when the weather is too rainy for outdoor drying. And, I often sleep too late to get my wash hung on the line in time to dry. 🙂

 

Diana Leafe Christian organized the laundry coop and the system was designed by Greg Geis. It is easy to use. When you walk into the nice, cool basement, this motion-sensor light comes on, so you can see to put your laundry in the washer before inserting money that starts your timed access to electricity: lights, washer, dryer, and DSL broadband Internet.

First you insert bills ($5 or $1)

Then start the on-demand hot water heater (unless you are doing a cold wash)

Then you add soap (supplied for you) and start the washer

 

The laundry supplies environmentally friendly laundry soap and booster for you to use at no extra charge, as well as about eco-cleaners you can buy at Shangri-Laundry.

While the washer is running, you can hang out on the sofa and go online or read magazines that are provided. You can lock yourself in for privacy (and there are toilet facilities). There are plans to install a bathtub later, so you will be able to relax in a hot bath while the machines spin!

 

Here is Greg moving his laundry from the washer up to the dryer. Both the washer and dryer are energy-efficient and have multiple settings from heavy-duty to delicate. The front-loading washer is gentle on your clothes. It senses the size of the load and adjusts the amount of water accordingly. The dryer can be set for a timed cycle or to sense when your clothes are dry. The length of washer and dryer cycles can vary based on the load size and the options you select.

 

 

When you are down to your last 15 minutes (a dollar’s worth of time), a constant beeping will start and this blue light will blink. You can press the blue button to stop the beeping if you don’t need any more time. Insert another dollar as needed to keep the electricity going until you are done.

 

There are many helpful signs to guide you through the steps. The Shangri-Laundry is available for Earthaven residents, visitors, and neighbors. We hope it will help make our lives more sustainable by letting folks avoid a trip into town to do laundry. We are interested in feedback to make the laundry meet your needs–please “like” us and stay in touch on our Facebook Page.

Video Portraits of Two Earthaven Members

Here are two portrait videos made by Jacki Huntington, a UNC journalism student who spent a month here last summer, then returned for a weekend this spring to wrap up her project. One focuses on Michaeljon and the other on redmoonsong.


and

Hut Hamlet Trampoline

A video by Will Rogers:

hht from will rogers on Vimeo.

It Never Snows in NC

Group of mostly adults sledding after a snowstorm this week.

It never snows in North Carolina. “Or so I was told,” said Tanya Carwyn, who moved to Earthaven from Colorado two years ago. “So I sold my skis before I left.”

The other common thing you’ll hear people say about this area is that we have the “mildest temperatures on the East Coast.” While that’s probably true on a scale of averages, at least historically, the last two winters have been colder and snowier than many places much farther north.

LC the cow drinking water. We manually crack the ice on her water several times a day during cold weather.

Last year, the winter of 09/10, we had three major snowstorms of well over a foot of snow each time. This year we’re on our third snowstorm already and it’s just the middle of January.

For those of us working or tending animals in the snow, our jobs are harder. And for some, like Art Myers “being snowed in at Earthaven is tough–sledding all day and sauna all night.”

Liz Diaz

On snowy days, villagers of all ages have been gathering together to sled down the upper pasture at Village Terraces Cohousing Neighborhood.

“It’s an excuse to hoot and holler,” says Liz Diaz, a resident at Earthaven. We 12 to 15 people get together that don’t normally see each other, it’s an opportunity to connect and share in some fun.

Chai Tea at the Hut Hamlet Kitchen after a hard day of sledding.

This week, after the sledding, there was hot chocolate at Art and Karen’s and on another occasion Chai tea at the Hut Hamlet Kitchen.

Families from afar sometimes worry about us stuck here in our holler. Karen’s mom called, worried about their family. But because we are seasoned homesteaders we often survive these storms better than city people. We have stacked firewood, generate our own power, and grow and store enough of our own

Art Meyers - always ready to have fun.

food that most of us could be snowed in for weeks without worry. “I told my mother-in-law that I could even find fresh green vegetables by digging out some collards from under the snow.”

Impromptu Middle-of-the-Night Lunar Eclipse Party

Being and on-and-off-again insomniac, it is not unusual for me to wander down into our common kitchen at 3:00 am for a snack.

My insomnia is worse around the full moon or if there’s too much on my mind. And it’s almost always accompanied by hunger, which won’t let me sleep again until satisfied. So off I go, often full-on naked (trusting that the kitchen will be deserted) to search out a snack.

Before last week (and I have lived here 9 years) I can only remember one other time where someone else was awake and in the kitchen when I ventured down (and that was recently when, at 4:00 am or so, I ran into my pregnant housemate who has taken to being in the kitchen at night due to her own pregnancy-related insomnia) and I can tell you she got quite a chuckle out of my naked self foraging in the fridge.

Last week, Winter Solstice (December 21st) provided a scene that I can safely say from many middle-of-the-night wanderings was an exceptionally rare occurrence.

First though, let me say that Winter Solstice is a big deal around Earthaven. On it we celebrate the darkest night of the year, usually with a meal, ceremony, and a sunrise walk to celebrate the “return of the sun.” From Winter Solstice forward, the days will begin to lengthen. As our ancestors before us, we welcome back the sun for its warmth and heat. Unlike our ancestors, we welcome back the sun to fill our batteries via our solar panels, much needed after such short days.

This particular Winter Solstice was highly unusual in that it was a full moon as well as a lunar eclipse. This has only happened one other time in the last 2000 years (in 1638). Talk about rare!

When we realized this historical astronomical event was to take place we all agreed to meet up at 2:30 am on the deck of the 3rd floor to view the beginning of the eclipse which was set to peak at about 3:17. We’ll knock on each others doors, we offered, as a wake-up and reminder to meet and view this magnificent event.

At about 3:20 or so I heard some scurrying about and realized that no one had woken me. It also sounded quiet out there. I dragged myself up and went out to a fully cloud-covered sky and no house mates to be seen. With some guilty relief I ran back into bed. But alas, it was too late. Fully awake was I. After about a half hour of lying still and trying to sleep I wandered down to the kitchen (thankfully not naked this time) only to find five other people, not only awake, but eating, talking, rolling candles, and just having general merriment.

There they were at 4:00 am having an impromptu, middle-of-the-night eclipse get together. Every few minutes someone popped outside to see if the cloud cover had cleared yet (it never did.)

Shortly after discovering this spectacle, which was as surprising as the unseen moon, I returned to bed, only to hear some neighbors wander over with guitars and soft voices, singing in the next room. For some time, doors would open, people would wander around the deck or up and down the stairs, and sing or talk some more.

While I didn’t actually get back to sleep until 5:30, it was such a special time that I didn’t mind. I imagine it as a sort of sober, reverent, and spiritual college dorm sort of experience that can only happen in community.

3 Women & a Sugar Baby


And Other Village Terraces Cohousing Neighborhood News

Jenna, Marie, and Liz enjoy Sugar Baby Watermelon from the Village Terraces Cohousing Neighborhood garden.

 

“I never even liked watermelon before now” says Liz Diaz.

 

 

Small and sweet with a green rind, red flesh, and small seeds, Sugar Baby is a heritage variety and did well in our hot, dry, summer conditions.

 

“We must have gotten 40 watermelons from this 10’x75′ patch of garden” says Jonathan Swiftcreek, one of the neighborhood gardeners.

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Firewood Workday NOT canceled due to rain!

In other news, our firewood workday had lots of rain, which didn’t seem to stop us or the dancing. We filled our firewood shed with wood from our 2008 agricultural clearing. Our boiler system heats our hot water as well as our homes.

Pictured above: Carmen, Bob, & Steve on the top level. Matthew, Lee, & Debbie on the ground.

Pictured right: Carmen and Steve dancing in the rain.

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Creativity at Harvest-Time

In other news, our basil is going gangbusters and we’re trying to keep up with the pesto making.

And we’re able to incorporate blueberries into our lives on as many occasions as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a busy summer it has been! How did it get to be September? Now we’re into cool nights and changes afoot.

Forest Garden Neighborhood, July 20

Chioke, Amakiasu, & Ayo in Forest Garden Neighborhood

On her next-to-last day at Earthaven, our Forest Children’s Collective tutor Amakiasu (center), and her kids Chioke, 17 (left) and Ayo, 13 (right), sheet-mulched the slope between Greg’s homesite and our place with cardboard and straw. You can also see one of our water-catchment tanks, the greenhouse (with a shower inside for lodgers and neighbors), and in the far left, Greg’s apartment and workshop, and his solar panels.

Chioke near the greenhouse

Another view of our cleaned-up slope. Our lodging units and greenhouse are at the top, and our row of compost bins below. Thanks to the sheet-mulching, people driving into Earthaven, our lodgers, and Greg won’t have to look at a jungly mass of pokeberries, sumacs, tiny poplar trees, blackberries-on-steroids, horse-thistle (eek!), and other assorted “please-don’t-grow-here!” plants. (For about 6 months anyway.) Someday this slope will grow berries!

Thank you, Amakiasu, Ayo, and Chioke. Goodbye . . . and . . . come back soon!