Archive for October, 2009

have just returned from the Tenth Continental Bioregional Congress at The Farm in Summertown, TN.

The Farm is an intentional living community which began in 1971 as an experiment in communal living when over 300 hippies, members of Stephen Gaskin’s Monday Night classes in San Francisco, formed a caravan and traveled across the country to settle in Southern Tennessee. You can read a fascinating history of The Farm here.

The Farm today is home to such organizations as the Ecovillage Training Center, Gaia University and Plenty International. It was a natural fit to locate the Tenth Continental Bioregional Congress there, since the Farm shares myriad goals and values with bioregionalism.

New Society Publishers’ roots are deep in the Bioregional Movement, and this was an exciting opportunity to meet old friends and new. I was especially thrilled to connect with a couple of our authors there. Albert Bates is the author of The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook and the director of the Ecovillage Training Center at the Farm, where he has lived since 1972. Albert has a formidable grasp of all things renewable and sustainable, and the distinction of having one of the friendliest smiles it has ever been my pleasure to encounter. Lately he has been focusing on biochar – watch this space next week for his article on using biochar in carbon farming which was recently published in Southern Tennessee’s Green Living Journal.

I was also very excited to finally meet Stephanie Mills in person – Stephanie wrote Whatever Happened to Ecology? and Turning Away from Technology, and is also the author of an upcoming biography of Bob Swann which we will be publishing in our Spring season. Stephanie was an incredible pleasure to spend time with – she is one of those people that feels like an old friend even though you’ve only just met. She recently received an honorary PhD from her Alma Mater in recognition of her lifetime body of work in the service of the environment and bioregionalism – exciting news!

The Congress itself was a cauldron of inspiration and ideas – people talking about permaculture, renewable energy, carbon farming, square foot gardening, foraging, wild farming, education, transportation, living in community, living in place, political revolution – a rich and vibrant tapestry of knowledge against a backdrop of song and celebration.

Interested? Bioregional events are regularly organized at the local and regional level. Check out the Congress Outreach Page and Links Page for ideas about contacting like-minded individuals or creating events in your area.

– Heather Nicholas, reprinted from New Society Publishers blog

Hello everyone,IMG_5021

Getting set up in coffee shops to do my normal Goddard and workshops and readings and other arranging work, I can barely imagine what to say to friends about where I’ve been except, “in a parallel universe.” The congress itself is something out of oIMG_6127ur mainstream American, or even alternative American construct of time and space. What happened there? I’m not sure although I have some hope that telling you about it will help me know more. Where were we? In some place constant and occasional, ancient and ahead of its time, ceremonial and ordinary, Tennessee and beyond Tennessee. In many ways, the road trip to the congress — all 10 hours of driving plus numerous stops — meant tIMG_6182unneling into the world in the center of the earth, and now we’re out again, back to the surface, and I have to say I’m just a little heartbroken to be apart from the congress and all of you who were there (as well as all of you who have been there and simply must be there next time and haven’t yet been there but will be there in the future).

There were all the normal congress rhythms and patterns: the plenaries that delighted some and make others want to jump from their skins; the workshops some loved and found the highlight of their time andIMG_6135 others found took us away from our time together; the dancing and singing; the food, which was tasty, but jeez, I seriously missed butter; the long talks heart to heart; the smiles across the circles; the sitting
together, knee to knee, to resolve conflicts and speak from the soul, dropping all defenses; the new friends who felt like old family; the old friends who felt like twin or triple souls; the weather with its too-much rain at times and too-seldom sunshine. Having now been to eight of the ten congresses, I kept more keenly attuned to the patterns — the way no one knows what we’re doing so much at first, and how it takes
several times to really arrive at congress together; the anxieties and what-am-I-doing-here moments; the nights it’s hard to sleep because of all the thrill until exhaustion overtakes excitement; and the collective
happiness that settles on us, or grabs us wildly to leap out of our chairs and salsa dance even if we don’t know how.

The congress is my home — I knIMG_6180ow it when I’m there, and especially when I’m not anymore. The circle if the room where I live best. Hearing each person speak — whether in the opening circle when we crowded into the big room, lopsided and earnest, saying our names and where we were from, or later in the spiral of the women’s circle, when we spoke about being a woman, living as a woman’s body at this age — shows me who we really are together, and who I am apart: a part of the circle.

The highlights, which our carload of Ken, me, Natalie (17), Gesa (German student living with us now, 16) and Forest (14), named while driving across Missouri, are what you might expect:IMG_6203

* Latin Night with the amazing dancing and treats, the music and pulse, the beauty and vitality. Arnold, Roberto and Maria doing a salsa dance skit with finesse and beauty until Juan-Tomas tangoed in to steal away Maria.

* The party on the last night with the driving music, and also the gang of fairies who descended upon us IMG_6204from some place two hours away, complete with accordion and tutus, to sing, dance, and slip down the
slide of the playground (part of where the dance was) in full-beards and layers of white tull.

* The men’s and women’s circles: the men’s circle, around the fire, that went on for hours; the women’s circle, inside, with our chairs in a circle, oldest on the eIMG_6220nd and youngest in the center; both circles
making for the kind of connection that for days afterwards, I kept grabbing the younger women who blew my mind with their articulate hearts and heavy load of passion and possibility, asking them to tell me their
names again, hugging them and telling them to come stay with us sometime when they’re were traveling through Kansas.

* Some of the plenaries when everyone laughed IMG_6161together, when we crossed over to some common and complex understanding as one, when barriers dissolved and we saw ourselves as being in congress together continually, this meeting a continuation of one that began in ‘84 and will never end, I hope.

* A circle of those of us who served on the coordinating council — the congress between the congresses — for the last four years, early evening, our chairs and bodies as close as possible, tears and joy, pride and release, and when we stood up, holding each other close, and could barely stop kissing each other. Thank you, Bob, Liora, Mary, Richard, Ken, Laura, Juan-Tomas.IMG_6187

* Late nights in the house we rented with our extended family, speaking English, Spanish, German (although most of us only understood English), and laughing over something that happened or would happen.

* Cultural Sharing night when Natalie sang “Bewitched” and — what was his name? — played the most amazing finger-piano-type instruments and sang hauntingly piercing tunes — and then Alberto presented a dazzling — for its scope and depth — slide show on LaCaravana (nomadic guerilla theater troupe that IMG_6153spent 13 years spreading bioregionalism through the arts througout Central and South America).

* The close moments with new and old loved ones — I put my hand on so many people’s chests, it seemed, to feel their hearts — in the rain or by the fire, in the midst of drumming or in the wind that poured through the trees.

* Hanging out often with Stephen Gaskin who kept reappearing because, as he said, he “wanted to soak in the IMG_6190energy of the Mexicans,” and who kept reminding Laura Kuri and me that we were his Ninja Muses because when he first arrived, looking just a little confused, Laura and I leapt up and hugged him, and stood — one of us on each side of him — during the opening circle, telling him we would protect him as Ninja Muses.

* The moment we arrived, and there was Curtis in apron and big smile. The moment we left, and there was Leonora — incredible Venezuelan singer and activist, coming to the car window to kiss us goodbye in the
still-dark morning light.IMG_6168

* Gary’s healing hands and voice, and how many of us did he work on throughout the congress? I hardly saw him not doing massage, energy healing or prayer for/with someone.

* Bea’s artful presentation about Thomas Berry at the memorial service held one afternoon. David Haenke throwing his head back and belting out the most gorgeous song for Thomas Berry, and soon IMG_6192after, David and Alberto pressing their foreheads together, crying over the loss of this great and enduring spirit, our own dream of the earth.

* Alberto telling the story of how LaCaravana went for 13 years all over South America, and instead of money, they used art because, as Alberto said, sometimes there’s no ATM machine, but there’s always art, and art works as a credit card wherever you go.

* Biko drumming us in parade to begin the arts and education day of the bioregional curriculum session, and at the end, drumming us outside to dance among the trees while Odin drummed alongside him. When the first song was done, and Odin started to walk back to the building, Biko called out, “Where do you think you’re going?” while we watched, laughing. Odin came back, and they played more of the most astonishing drumming, grabbing our heart beats and making us dance and pulse with life.IMG_6139

* Walking back to the house one afternoon, the whitish horse watching me as I watched him, the sky still damp and beginning to lighten in orange at its edges, the air delicious.

* Natalie returning from a day walking trails with the girls and young women, telling me that she tried to just take it all in — the breathing earth — and it amazed her to see what she had never seen before. Pat,
the physician’s assistant who helped run the kitchen, making a house call to help Forest, who was sick much of the congress, and then spending ample time helping us find an open pharmacy. Gesa laughing –
her whole face glowing — at the dinner table with Alberto, Laura and Fabio.

IMG_6195* The beautiful site committee and how much they did to make it all work: Greg, Jennifer, Susan, Alayne, Biko, Roberta, and (forgive me, I can’t remember all the names) so many others: THANK YOU!

* Long talks with Patricia, Stephanie, Laura, Fabio, Greg, Stephen, Bea, David in the road, Alberto on the fly, Juan-Tomas as we walked in the dark with Natalie one night, and so many others. I miss and love you — and really everyone — now so much.

Back from the congress, I’m still at the congress. We carry this with us, a kind of birthright, a dance as old as our breath; a body full of contradictions and questions, naive then seasIMG_6129oned understandings, misunderstandings and eventual clearings, old hurts and new healings, and above all, something that transcends how we live in the non-ceremonial world and shows us how to bring the village we make
together — even just a fraction more — into wherever we land. Wherever we are next — in the Northwest or Canada or Ohio or wherever else — I can barely wait.

love to all,
Caryn (Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Wakarusa Watershed of Kansas Area Watershed Council)

Pictures (from top): the congress; the woods at the Farm; IMG_6171Juan-Tomas, Bob, Stephanie, Andy, Albert; Natalie and Nyela (Sadie’s baby); Laura and Helen (from Mexico); Natalie as cat; the fairies arrive on All Species Night; more All Species (note the porcupine); Bea and me; Gesa; Mark, Richard and the bioregional quilt (started in ‘84, quilted by the men); Fabio and Laura with Stephen Gaskin; Ken, Curtis and others; David and Alberto; Leonor from Venezuela; Stephanie and me; the welcome tent; Gary working on Alberto.