Monday, May 16, 2011

Welcome to Earthaven Ecovillage!

After a year of anticipation, a bittersweet farewell from friends and family in Champaign-Urbana, and a dangerously insufficient night of sleep, I departed for Black Mountain, North Carolina yesterday around 6:30AM, an hour of the day at which public radio is still broadcasting British news. It was probably the combination of excitement, sleep deprivation, and the droning voice of a British radio announcer that resulted in me driving west out of town, toward Springfield, Illinois, instead of east toward my destination, Earthaven Ecovillage. “No way to start a long road trip, let alone the summer…” I thought to myself. I turned around. Fortunately, I would reverse course only one other time the entire road trip, literally yards away from my destination, when I accidentally pulled into the driveway of a private residence and the bellicose glare of a man that indicated to me—in no uncertain terms—that I didn’t belong…

My twelve-hour drive started in perhaps the most boring landscape of the United States and progressed into one of the most beautiful. I probably could have finished the trip in under eleven hours had I not stopped to take several short naps—again, I don’t recommend barely sleeping the night before a day-long road trip. The flat grade of Illinois/Indiana transitions to rolling hills in Kentucky, which grow into a mountain vista in Tennessee. By the time I entered North Carolina, I was driving through that mountain vista, and the road was immersed in a vertical landscape of trees and granite. For a flat-lander like myself, such a scene is distracting and, at times, enough to induce salivation.

I hoped to arrive at Earthaven before dark, and I pulled in just short of 7PM, with light to spare. After winding up and down hills, I arrived at a wide-open entrance gate and a gravel path that meanders through a narrow canopy of trees, past several homes, twice across a narrow creek, a small play field, and finally to a gravel parking lot and a visitor’s kiosk. If you’ve driven in to Camp Agawak (my sister’s summer camp) in Northern Wisconsin, you’ve experienced a similar scene.

Unfortunately, my host and I hadn’t made detailed plans about where and when to meet, so I escaped my car for a moment to look around. Immediately, I noticed the relative silence of the place. Were it not so neat and beautifully well maintained, I’d have thought the place was abandoned. My short walk revealed plants I’m not used to seeing, including a small patch of bamboo, and other species I known I’ve never seen in the Midwest. I encountered several small clusters of homes, and what appeared to be the community “center”: a circular, white plaster complex, the large windows of which revealed a circle of chairs on an open wooden floor. This is where meetings happen…

When I finally encountered another human and enquired into the whereabouts of my host, they revealed to me that, in fact, my host lived just outside the community gates I had entered and that I should exit the gates, turn a corner, and climb up a hill. Following these directions, I arrived at my home for the summer: a three-story, off-white plastered house that overlooks an accompanying guesthouse, barn, and field of (recently shorn) sheep. The property and pasture is surrounded on four sides by trees, and a small stream cuts through the southern edge, effectively forming the edge of the sheep pasture.

My host still missing from the scene, I was greeted by one of the other four tenants with whom I’ll be sharing the house. After a brief introduction I inquired: “Where’s the bathroom?” The bathroom, which I found, is absolutely gorgeous and unlike any ecovillage bathroom I’ve ever seen. The entrance is filled with indoor plants, a granite countertop, a shower enclosed in stone and glass, and a toilet like any I’ve seen in the suburbs of Chicago. As far as I can tell, the water is pumped from the stream that descends from the surrounding mountains.

The house itself is equally impressive. A foyer, sitting room, full kitchen and dinning area, three guest bedrooms, a master bedroom with a full bathroom, and patio off the master bedroom. I’m sleeping in the attic, which was chilly last night, but I anticipate it will become ridiculously hot by the end of the summer. I have a small porch of my own which overlooks the barn and pasture. The construction of the home is timber frame (still not sure what’s insulting the place, but it’s not straw bale), and apparently all the wood was harvested from the property when the land was cleared for grazing. My host is quite the builder. He and a friend were able to clear the land, complete the house, the barn, and the guest house in about five years.

Electricity? You bet. All solar photovoltaics, and it’s enough to power a flat-screen television and my computer just about whenever. Today is cloudy day, and the power meter currently reads “91” out of 100. Internet? Yep- Ethernet connections throughout the house. Cooking? Primarily an alcohol stove with a wood stove backup which my host tries to avoid using in the summer.

Thanks for reading. Things are bound to get very exciting here. More blog posts later—pictures to follow.

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