Depression–Reach in from the Outside

Wren on February 28th, 2010

I just read online that the death of singer Marie Osmond’s son Michael Blosil was a suicide. This comes on the heels of the suicide of Andrew Koenig, son of Star Trek actor Walter Koenig. Andrew’s body was found in a Vancouver park on February 25, 2010. He’d been missing since Valentine’s Day. I find myself wondering if Blosil was inspired to act on his depression because another celebrity’s offspring did–a copycat.

Heathcote Community, where I live, recently endured a traumatic event, in which a person living here made a half-hearted suicide attempt. Clearly in this case, we could all tell it was a cry for help, not a serious try. And we directed the person into counseling. I was inspired to start a discussion with long-time members of several Communities about how we support each other through tough times and mental illness, and how much an Intentional Community can handle.

Suicide in Community is rare, but it does happen. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues in Community probably parallel the general public. Intentional Community is not Utopia, and although we form close relationships, Community can also be isolating, especially in rural settings. And when we arrive in Community, we bring our chemical makeup and all our baggage with us.

Sadly, I’ve met many seekers of Community who believe living in a tribal, cooperative setting will somehow change this for them, and it won’t. Mental health is personal growth work that must be done by each of us, whether we live in Community or not. In our IC’s, we can ask for support. And each IC has to determine whether it can be a container for what a member needs.

As that ongoing discussion evolves, I find myself realizing that, although I may not be able to dissuade a friend from suicide, if s/he is determined, I can reach out and check in regularly with the people in my life, let them hear from me that I care about them, encourage them to avail themselves of professional help and offer the support I can handle.

This is a little personal. If you search back over the HCD posts, you’ll see a period from September 19, 2009 to January 3, 2010 when I didn’t post. I was in a deep depression. My tendency was to isolate but my friends intervened, inviting me out, getting me traveling and working, telling me how they felt about me, and of course, listening to me whine. If you read posts from January, as I started to write again, you can get a sense that I was pulling myself out. I have also tended to give a clue that I’m down on my Facebook profile. When I replace the profile picture of me with the one of the lonely folding chair in the woods, it’s bad.

But not everyone sends signals. I don’t want to set myself up to believe that I’m going to cure every friend of depression by engaging them. The person who seriously wants to die will succeed, I imagine. But if I reach out, I might learn a friend’s folding-chair-in-the-woods signals.

Celebrity suicides are often followed by a rash of copycats. As these headlines crest and fade, who do you know who’s dealing with depression, anxiety or other stress? I invite you to reach out and make yourself available. Know your limits, of course, and urge her/him to get more experienced help if you’re in over your head. I feel like this post is so Pollyanna, and doesn’t take into account the subtleties of every situation. But I don’t care. Pick up the phone and check in.

Please join our Hippie Chick Diaries fan page on Facebook!

Subscribe to this blog's RSS feed

I’ve practiced my form of simple living at Heathcote Community for nearly fifteen years. Our population has hovered around a dozen adults, dipping down to eight and now climbing to sixteen adults and six kids, with several more interns on the way this year. I can tell a difference in the energy and intimacy between Heathcote at eight and Heathcote at sixteen. I wrote about our dinner cleanup becoming more hectic, and I now have more interactions with more people, thus more processing, and processing delayed more often, as we maintain busy lives. This has made me more curious than ever about larger Intentional Communities, such as Ganas in New York, which has around eighty members, or even Auroville, in India, with over two-thousand members.

In my history with community life, I was never much of a traveler until the last couple of years. I would sometimes get down to Twin Oaks in Louisa, Virginia. And when I was searching for Community I visited Spiral Wimmin (Kentucky) and also Wygelia and Woodburn Hill Farm, both in Maryland. Typically, if I’m going to visit another Intentional Community, it’s on business, such as my trip to The Farm in Tennesee for a Gaia University organizing meeting or to Seven Sisters in Pennsylvania for the School of Living quarterly meeting. But I have never even visited most of the other Communities of the School of Living, Heathcote’s land trust organization. Since the spring meeting is held in my Community, I see my friends then. Heathcote always has wealth in our visitors from all these places and more.

I have friends all over the world and I’m starting to visit them!

I traveled with poly partner Harold to Harbin Hot Springs in California, for the World Polyamory Conference a couple of years ago. Although this was an interest community and not a landed community, I count it as part of my evolution into an Intentional Community networker and traveler. The hot springs were magical. And we did the tourist thing in San Francisco’s Chinatown and the redwood forests!

Near the end of that California trip, my Goodwill suitcase started to disintegrate. It took quite a bit of nudging on Harold’s part to convince me to invest in a new, durable, quality piece of luggage. The moment I did, the universe must have identified me as a traveler because that suitcase and I have been going ever since! It’s taken an adjustment in my self image to make the shift to keeping a travel kit in the bag, rather than completely unpacking after a trip. New paradigm!!!

Last year my then partner, Iuval, I visited Woodfolk House, The Possibility Alliance, Red Earth Farms and Dancing Rabbit in a whirlwind tour to find a Community or land we could agree on. Too bad we didn’t get to add Sandhill and East Wind to our Missouri tour. Some day I’ll make it back, maybe in May if I can attend the new Villages in the Sky festival, a sort of temporary community akin to the Rainbow Gathering and Burning Man.

Some smaller, more off-the-map Intentional Communities I’ve visited include Baltimore’s Red Clover Collective, The Hermitage in Pennsylvania, and Heilbron Springs in Florida, where I interviewed the ever interesting Tipi Frank.

I’ll visit another School of Living Community, Julian Woods, in May. I’ll be there as part of a two-year course in meeting facilitation with Sandhill’s Laird Schaub and his partner, Ma’ikwe Ludwig, a member of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. (We’re looking for other communities in the mid atlantic region to host this course for a weekend. The students will provide free facilitation for your group. You can leave a comment on this post or contact Heathcote at

I attended a temporary Intentional Community this summer, Network for a New Culture’s Summer Camp in West Virginia. That Summer Camp holds reunions. I’ve attended two, at Reed Street in Philadelphia and Chrysalis in Arlington, Virginia, both urban Intentional Communities.

And I visited another kind of temporary Intentional Community recently. Sweeties Jas and Erika scooped me off for a weekend at Gibson Hollow, a cooperatively owned land in Virginia, where about nineteen urban dwelling members share a getaway for weekends and holidays. It backs up to Shenandoah National Park.

Now as Harold and I are furthering our skills as ZEGG-Forum facilitators, we’re planning to deepen ties in his Virginia Beach area tantra community by holding monthly ZEGG-Forums. ZEGG is an Intentional Community in Germany which has developed their forum as a tool for IC’s and other groups to get to the heart of what blocks their relationships and common work. We’ll travel to Ganas again in June and October to complete our certification as facilitators. In the meantime, I’ll start traveling to Virginia Beach once a month to co-lead a forum group with Harold. I’m liking the sight of me on the beach once a month!

I recently visited nearby Liberty Village Cohousing, one of fourteen member groups of Mid Atlantic Cohousing, serving Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC and Virginia. I was at Liberty Village to visit C.T. Butler and attend his consensus workshop. He and sociocracy writer John Buck will be comparing C.T.’s “formal consensus” model with sociocracy in a workshop at Mid Atlantic Cohousing’s Growing Smart Communities Conference, March 20, 2010. Heathcote’s own Karen Stupski and Patty Ceglia will also be there, teaching Permaculture!

I almost squeezed another trip in there—C.T. invited me for a Long Island getaway. I’d never been there, but while I was waffling (the Ganas trip was coming up and I hate spending so much time away from hearth and hound…), we were hit with the double blizzard!

I may find myself and my suitcase in Las Vegas next month! Any poly gals out there want to marry me on the fly? A sister student in the ZEGG-Forum course is inviting me to facilitate or “weave” at her wedding there. I love her concept of weaving the two families together in her ceremony. And although the little math I know is enough that I won’t be gambling in any casinos, I would love to see the Las Vegas Strip and all the lights. Yes, I would probably post about the unsustainability of pumping all that energy into the middle of the desert, but you would nod and forgive me; I know it’s already been said, but not by this hippie chick on the spot!

I see that lists ten Intentional Communities in Nevada, all in the forming stages. They seem to have a range of diets, levels of simplicity, etc., and various unifying values. It would be shiny to visit one while I’m there!

I can tell I’ll have to expand on these many destinations in posts to come! I have sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes from every Community I’ve visited. And the ZEGG-Forum and meeting facilitation courses will keep me on and off the road for another couple of years.

So I’m learning the tricks of traveling. I need to become a lighter packer, certainly. I’m so lucky to have Heathcoters John and Gloria in my dog co-op; they keep Tuatha well hugged and warm when I go away. My house is actually a kind of doggie day care. I have a huge area of woods fenced in behind my house so Heathcote dogs Tuatha, Rochelle and Chance can bolt around, cussing at squirrels all they want, then plow through the doggie door, tracking in all the snow, mud, leaf bits or whatever will stick to them.

Tuatha is not excited about my itinerary. Now he naps in my suitcase, on the off chance that I leave on a trip while he’s snoozing!

Join our Hippie Chick Diaries fanpage on facebook!

From Wren: I’m already way overbooked the weekend of this event, otherwise I’d love to attend this. Heathcote Community has been discussing issues like this as our membership ages. I know of friends at Common Ground Community in Virginia who have buried loved ones in a green way on their land. I forward this information from an email in the hope this post makes it to people who can attend.—WT

Learn how to care for your departed loved ones without the services of a funeral director.

  • how a home vigil can bring meaning, dignity, and healing at the time of a loved one’s passing
  • legal rights and responsibilities at the time of death
  • how to wash, prepare, and “lay out” the body for up to a 3-day vigil at home
  • how to work with a funeral director to get only the services you need
  • how to transport the body to a gravesite or crematorium
  • “green” burial options
  • integrating home funeral care with your religious or spiritual beliefs

This workshop will be taught by Elizabeth Knox, founder of Crossings: Caring for Our Own at Death, a home funeral and green burial resource center in Washington, D.C.

Crossings is dedicated to renewing simplicity and sanctity to death care, and teaching those who wish to know, that home funeral care is completely legal and neither dangerous nor difficult.  Death is inevitable and, like birth, is a passage to be honored. There is a movement nationwide to support people in coming to terms with the death of a loved one and finding meaningful ways to honor the person and the community. In many ways, it is a return to an age-old tradition when death care was a family and community event.


March 19th – 7pm – 9pm

March 20th – full day, 8:45am – 5pm

Where: 420 Dodon Rd. Davidsonville, Maryland 21035


$150, or $100 for students –

$75 deposit payable to “Crossings” due at time of registration

Cost includes workshop, Crossings resource guide, lunch, and snacks


Romey Pittman, or 410-798-6759


Join our Hippie Chick Diaries fanpage on facebook!

My New Travel Agent

Wren on February 24th, 2010

My dog Tuatha has now declared himself my travel agent and approver of all trips. He’s taken up residence in my suitcase. “My plan,” he states, “is to pack myself now that you’re back from Staten Island and remain packed, prepared for the next trip. I know how you feel about all this snow, so I took the liberty of pulling your copy of The Dog Lover’s Companion to Florida off the shelf…Just a suggestion; I live to be helpful…”

Join our Hippie Chick Diaries fanpage on facebook!

From Wren: I’m passing on this early announcement of an exciting new Summer Camp. I was asked to help organize it, but my schedule didn’t sync up this year. Still, I’m very excited by what Teryani Riggs and friends are creating. Please check it out! –WT

Hi folks,

Just wanted to let you know of an amazing event coming up in late August 20th-29th in Floyd, VA.

For those of you who’ve been to other Summer Camps, please notice that this camp is far from a carbon copy of either SC East or West.  We’ll be focusing on much more than human relationships.  At this point our camp not only includes standard Camp fair such as HAI, NVC, Erotic Edge, and daily Forum, but also Rewilding, Elements of Symbiosis, Beyond Patriarchy, Reconnecting with the Earth, World Cafe, Theater of Change, as well as interweaving art, dance, and music throughout the entire camp.  We also have a really strong and talented organizing team, a wonderful site and host community (Anahata), and a HUGE commitment to social change.  Please check out our vision statement and see if it excites you:

Join a dynamic and experimental group of social pioneers as we embrace the opportunity to be the change that facilitates personal and global breakthrough.

We are all aware that the world is at a momentous tipping point at which global ecology and culture will either break down or break through.   At points like these, small groups can have influence far beyond their size. There are no ready recipes for building new ways of living—the inner and outer devastation of the planet and its peoples has become far too pervasive, and the challenges far too complex.  Yet, we must take responsibility for our future—for ourselves, for the Earth, and for the future generations of all beings.

At CulturEvolution Summer Camp, we’ll embark on a 10-day experiment in creating a space for breakthrough in our individual, social, and potentially global dynamics.  Through creative group endeavors, we’ll be exploring

-    Our intrinsic connection to the entire web of life—how to better understand and augment the symbiotic connections among all beings. How can we align our actions to support both ecological and social sustainability?

-    Creativity as “community glue.”  Using art, music, and theater, we’ll dive into the depths of our primal beings and our creative source, and from these depths bring into being the world we want to evolve into.

-    The nature of love, Eros, and conscious human relationships.  What do we need to create true connection, within ourselves and with others?  What skills do we need to build to make relationship choices out of love and joy, rather than fear?

Our intent for Summer Camp is not merely about co-creating a fun, interesting, heartfelt group experience, but also to leave folks with clear direction, skills, hope, and connections for further transformation.  Whether your focus is ecological sustainability, permaculture, community, conscious relationships, alternative economics, spirituality, and/or creating peace, we hope that CulturEvolution camp can be a springboard for your work in the world.

Registration will probably open in late March.  Please note: this year we’re keeping camp to a max of 40 campers (in addition to the 20 or so organizers and presenters) so we may very well sell out.  We’re really committed to going on a deep journey together and are hoping for folks who will commit to the entire time.  At this point we expect to have a “closed” camp (no new campers arriving mid-camp).

Feel free to pass this along to anyone who would be excited by it.  If you’re interested in coming or have any questions, please let me know.


“…to defend and conserve oneself as a human being in the fullest, truest sense, one must defend and conserve many others and much else. What would be the hope of being personally whole in a dis-membered society, or personally healthy in a land scalped, scraped, eroded, and poisoned, or personally free in a land entirely controlled by the government, or personally enlightened in an age illuminated only by TV?”    Wendell Berry

Teryani Riggs
The Living Awareness Institute

Join our Hippie Chick Diaries fanpage on facebook!

Tuatha vs. Autumn

Wren on February 21st, 2010

Many faithful pet pooches honor the tradition of the leaf pile fight. Who knows why they feel compelled to attack flying handfuls of dried leaves, even as the handfuls fall apart in the air?

At least in the case of my dog, Tuatha, I believe that he’s acting on my behalf. He must know, because he’s smart in that creepy way, that fall leaf piles are a sign that winter is not far off. And since he knows I hate winter, again, creepy smart, he takes up arms—or teeth—to prevent summer from giving up the stage.

I have decided this. Don’t correct me; My life is small and I have few entertainments. –WT

Join our Hippie Chick Diaries fanpage on facebook!

Open Classroom: Follow the Learner

Wren on February 20th, 2010

Yippee! I wish I had bet money. I imagine some people thought I would have trouble finding Singing in the Rain coloring pages. How could you doubt my Googling prowess after I came up with coloring pages for our STOMP! unit?

So the fizz is fading on our origami unit and it’s time for the members of Open Classroom to consense on a new unit. Decisions are made by consensus, just as in Heathcote’s adult community. So the kids are brainstorming ideas on lists and then ranking them.

Our origami unit was my idea. The kids had a presentation on paper airplanes in their science club. Suddenly they were making and flying paper airplanes at a rate of about three per second, all over the community. The problem was, they were picking them up at a rate of about one per year. Any piece of paper was a risk of being folded and flung–receipts, committee reports, shopping lists and virgin copier paper–That was the most coveted by paper airplane manufacturers and least tolerated by communal adults who preach “reduce, reuse, recycle.”

Now normally I would be happy to follow the kids where there energy goes. I’m sure they were learning all kinds of useful principles of aerodynamics and gaining fine motor skills. But when they cracked into the very pricey virgin construction paper it was time for some structure, if not redirection.

How about origami? It’s peaceful–you make bird sounds instead of those spitting machine gun noises. And cranes fly–You hold one in your hand and fly it around; You don’t throw it. And because it took you forty-five minutes and two interns to figure out how to make it, you want to keep track of it and admire it for a long time!

Origami, Japanese for “stop tunneling through the expensive paper as if you were trying to get to the Earth’s core and neutralize it before we all explode!”

We also repeated our annual ritual of filling the mill windows with snowflake cutouts. I love this shot of paper snowflakes looking out on all the buildings and cars nearly hidden in snow.

So what unit will we choose? Our intern Gloria brought lots of resources from her job, teaching science and math. We read a story about Harry Houdini and some energy welled up around magic. The kids constantly invent their own board and card games. Some game theory might be interesting. Maybe Spiderman–Our youngest member refuses to answer to any name other than Peter Parker these days.

In any case, I’ll be looking for everyone’s “buy in.” My role is more that of facilitator than teacher. So what are the common values that inform the decision? Our shared love of learning and curiosity, our preference for experiential learning, egalitarianism. So where is the energy flowing? I like C.T. Butler’s point that in consensus, one “consents” to a decision. It’s a decision one allows to go forward, it doesn’t have to be everyone’s first choice. This is people’s first misunderstanding of consensus, I think. Then they mistakenly believe that every member of a group has to be involved equally in every decision. Every member has equal weight in every decision, but the group can empower committees and managers to make certain decisions within their mandate, given by the group.

Open Classroom experiments with this kind of leadership in a horizontal (non-hierarchical) structure by taking turns being the “chooser” for the day. No, not The Decider, shudder to think…The group decides what decisions the chooser may make for the group. Then each member of the group is at choice to follow the chooser’s suggestions or not.

Currently, the group has mandated the chooser to

  • select the talking stick for our opening circle
  • select our lunch, which must follow the food pyramid
  • make up silly challenges for us when it’s time to return to our classroom for quiet time (so we don’t run and act crazy)
  • present a simple workshop during our late afternoon boring time

The chooser learns to consider her/his audience and act creatively but in the interest of the group.

I’m ready for a tropical unit of some kind–parrots of the world, equatorial predators, sewing summer clothes…


Join our Hippie Chick Diaries fanpage on facebook!

Tuatha, Snow Bunny

Wren on February 19th, 2010

Summer Colors: Shadowslo of Murray Valley

Wren on February 18th, 2010

Seasons spiral. Playful, clever kittens become standoffish cats, parsnips become stirfry. People spiral, too. After a year of traversing the wilds of The Ozarks and Kentucky, I came full circle and landed where I started, at Heathcote Community. And Iuval spun out too, landing in Atlanta, answering his son’s call.

In the same, transient way, things come and things go. Shoes become air-conditioned foot coverings, nations become archaeology.

About a month ago, my ex-partner let me know that he gave away his bio-diesel schoolbus, Shadowslo. Just gave it away. In the same moment I felt like someone had died and I was impressed. I was also confused. Didn’t he need the bus for housing at his new Intentional Community? Why give away such a basic resource, just when he was launching his project?

“I’m in this meditation group and we were given an assignment to give away something of value. Most people were giving away rings or things like that. But then I met these people and they said they’d always wanted a veggie bus. It just seemed right.”

Wow. I wonder if I could do that. I also wonder if it’s smart, but mainly, I wonder if I could do it. This gift is no kidney, but it’s certainly on the order of Pay It Forward. I wonder what the people who accepted his gift thought of his act. I notice my shelfishness in wishing I could have seen Shadowslo one last time, to remember our shelf on that mountain in Murray Valley, Arkansas and say goodbye.

When I ponder my relationship to my possessions, I’m fond of saying, “If my house burned down tomorrow and I lost everything in it, as long as the pets got out, my quality of life would be the same.” I don’t know how deeply I mean that or not, now that I realize it’s not the same as saying, “Come on in and take anything you like. I won’t miss it!”

Iuval’s a big Howard Zinn fan and since Zinn’s recent death, I’ve been reading his A People’s History of the United States. Zinn makes a clear point of American Indians’ relationship to possessions, how they gave of them freely and seemed to lack attachment, and how most resources were communally held. He notes also how, although Europeans sometimes wrote of this with admiration, they universally went on to exploit it.

Even so, I believe that simplicity, especially in turning away from material things, is the path to be desired. It’s what will serve us now. If we can lighten the demands we make on the planet and begin to conceive of resources as communal, we might make it.

So, dear readers, I knew the departed well. Shadowslo never traveled when I knew him. He stood firm where Iuval had planted him, on a densely wooded mountain. He got his water from a spring and only took what he needed. Tents  and cars came and went around him. Sometimes he was alone on that mountain for weeks at a time, ready, solar batteries charged, waiting, for Iuval to return.

I heard the stories of Shadowslo’s adventures, trips to the West Coast, rock festivals with Iuval’s son, Zac, tours of Intentional Communities with his previous partner, Christina, Saint Christina to some.

Legend had it that no state trooper could lay eyes upon this organically painted hippie house rolling down the interstate at the speed limit and resist pulling it over.

The mountain folk of Murray Valley will no doubt tell the tales of Shadowslo, driving onto the mountain, on that dirt road laid out using plans designed by a kitten with string. And then, 2 years later, Shadowslo repeated the feat, taking an entire day and several shouting matches to go six miles.

Now there are the Atlanta legends, in which Shadowslo and Iuval, seemingly together to stay, landed in a friend’s yard as the leaves changed, and Iuval’s life changed, bringing one last change to our faithful steed.

Shadowslo could be said to have heart and soul and a kitchenette. He sheltered and carried and rested. He obeyed Iuval’s every command, unless his fuel was rancid or his headlight popped out. He kept out the rain, wind, ice and snow, but not mice.

But despite his motor and mobility, and his fold down solar shower, Shadowslo was an object, a possession, a parcel that could be bartered, sold or given away.

Even more than this, Shadowslo was a gift to those who knew him. And so, let us offer him into his next service, a gift of some randomness and shock value, which is always interesting, maybe even poetic.


Join our Hippie Chick Diaries fanpage on facebook!

While I’m enduring the snow and expecting more to arrive, I am warming myself by looking at camera pictures from the past year–lots of greens and browns, and people in short sleeves!

I’ve been struck by how productive we’ve remained, as individuals and as Heathcote, during the snow. So I want to belatedly post about an event we had here. I posted an announcement/invitation, but I never showed you how fabulous we all looked during our Community Work Action Week!

Facilitator Teryani Riggs led Heathcote members and friends, such as Erika, above, through an intensive week of work projects, ZEGG-Forums, excercizes to build up trust, fun and connection, and, for our non-members, learning about Heathcote Community, our systems, structures and group process.

Work projects included gardening, restoring Mill siding, renovating our bunkroom, and filling a giant dumpster with debris from Polaris construction and random Heathcote trash. Although I plugged in on the dumpster and the bunkroom, my back limited my hard labor. All the better for snapping a few shots!



Join our Hippie Chick Diaries fanpage on facebook!