Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Snow, Darkness, and Fire

I am in the midst of my final week at Twin Oaks.  Much of the last few days has been spent recovering from the events of last week.

Last Wednesday it snowed here.  I had been wondering if I'd see any snow while I was in Virginia.  Well, we got six inches.  In the Boston area, that wouldn't mean much.  But here there aren't sidewalks or even paved roads.  (At least not within Twin Oaks.)  Everything is dirt roads and paths.  So the experience was quite different from six inches in the city.  To make things worse, it was a wet snow that brought down a lot of power lines.  We were without power for four days.

At first it was fun.  The first night without power, I walked to the far end of Twin Oaks--a place they call Emerald City.  But unlike the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz, the road there wasn't paved with yellow bricks.  That night the road was a muddy, slushy mess.

But the stars here are beautiful at night--and the stars and snow kept things from getting too dark.  Four days later, though, the charm was wearing off.  Fortunately, there is a nice woodstove in the visitor's cottage, so we kept warm at night.  And there were lots of candlelight dinners.  And even with all the inconveniences we were very lucky.

Acorn, the community that I stayed at last September and seven miles down the road from here, was not so lucky.  They got their power back much sooner.  However, when the power went out, someone ran into one building to rescue some baby chicks that were being kept warm by an electric heater and apparently moved the heater to the wrong place. When the power came back on it started a fire that turned into an inferno that destroyed the whole building.  Very fortunately, this wasn't a building anyone lived in and no one was hurt--but there was thousands of dollars of damage, including their communal clothes supply and there was at least one automobile nearby that the heat of the fire literally melted the bumper.

Last Saturday, I did what I'm calling a communal trifecta.  A small group of us went over to Acorn briefly (so I got to see the damage firsthand and talk with some of the folks there) before we went on to Living Energy Farm for a work day there.  By Saturday much of the snow had melted, but Living Energy Farm (most of which isn't built yet) was a mud pit.  I was able to help with putting up a fence for an orchard there, but I returned a muddy mess.  Still, it was good to see some of what's going on in the other communities around here.

This Friday, I'll be leaving Twin Oaks and going to stay with a couple of my cousins (and their large and loving family) who live near Richmond.  Then next Monday I'll be off to Pennsylvania, for my next community adventures.

Quote of the Day: "To enter the courtyard at Twin Oaks is--sooner or later--to come face-to-face with the profundity of the utopian question.  Although that same question is everywhere, including wherever you are now, it is perhaps clearer on this commune in Virginia only because in our time several hundred of our contemporaries have totally committed a portion of their lives to wrestling with it in the context of these four-hundred and eighty-three acres." - Ingrid Komar

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Issues in Community: Task and Morale Functions

Back in 2008 I wrote a post (Equality and Leadership, 10/2/08) that mentioned a pamphlet which influenced my thinking.  'Leadership for Change' was focused on creating a 'feminist model' of leadership and, among other things, talked about two kinds of group functions that they saw leadership focused on.  The first, which they called task functions is defined as working toward 'group achievement'; the second, which they call morale functions (and I've also heard referred to as process functions) works toward 'group maintenance'.

The authors (Bruce Kokopeli and George Lakey) go on to list ten task functions (information and opinion-giving, information and opinion-seeking, proposing goals and initiating action, direction-giving, summarizing, coordinating, diagnosing/figuring out group difficulties and blocks, energizing, reality-testing, and evaluating) and ten morale functions (encouraging participation, harmonizing and compromising, relieving tension, helping communication, evaluating the emotional climate, observing process, setting standards, active listening, building trust, and solving interpersonal problems).  Their point is that groups need both of these type of functions.  I've heard it said that groups that focus only on tasks either fall apart before they complete their first task--or right afterwards, and groups that focus solely on morale often end up drifting and eventually falling apart because members get frustrated about not accomplishing anything.

I'm convinced that communities need both.  Unfortunately, many communities end up focusing on only one of these, since they may be stacked with either people who joined to get things done or people who joined because of the supportive atmosphere.  The result is that I read complaints about these groups, either that they spend all their time 'processing' and never get anything done, or that they burn out their members with overly ambitious schemes.

I think that one reason Twin Oaks has lasted so long is that they do a good job of both: they have thriving businesses, abundant gardens, and wonderful meals, and they have parties and support members social lives and find many ways of taking care of each other.  So my advice to people forming communities is to look at both of these functions.  Ask yourself (and each other) two questions: What do you want to accomplish as a community?  (Also known as, what's your goal or mission?) And how do you plan to take care of your members?  How can you support each other?

In a good community, members enjoy themselves and feel cared for and get things done.

Quote of the Day: "Understanding these functions can make the difference between a group that flounders and a group that moves... Shared leadership... values the morale functions highly and sees that the power of the group in the long run is as dependent on the nurturance of its members as on its efficiency in particular tasks." - Bruce Kokopeli and George Lakey

Friday, March 1, 2013


The Carbon-Free Home by Stephen & Rebekah Hren is a step by step blueprint for how to reduce your use of fossil fuels bit by bit until you are basically 'carbon-free'.

This is a book of projects, although it includes lots of little bits of their story of how they have weaned themselves free, and lots of explanations of what's going on and ways to think about it.  The authors have chosen to focus on eleven specific areas: energy use, renewable electrical systems, appliances and lighting, cooking, refrigeration, hot water, heating and cooling the house, rainwater, waste, food and landscaping, and transportation. 

Each chapter contains a bunch of projects clearly labeled with the time involved, cost, energy saved, ease of use, maintenance level, and materials and tools needed.  The skill level involved is there as well, and it varies.  Some of these projects anyone could do and for others, some skill with carpentry or plumbing or electrical work is needed.  Still, for the DIY person who wants to begin to work their way out of the system, this book is a gold mine.  And even if you don't have the skills, you will learn a lot about how things work and still find a few projects to get you started on radically reducing your carbon footprint.

I like that their stories include the mistakes that they made--in the hopes that you won't repeat them.  For those who want to live beyond fossil fuels but aren't ready to move to that country commune, this is a good place to start the journey.

Quote of the Day:  "We ... are convinced that as day turns to dusk for fossil fuels, we must take a good look at our surroundings and learn to live with what we have already built, what we've spent our free fossil currency on: the infrastructure, especially the housing, that already exists in our towns and cities.  For us it was time to learn from our mistakes and move back to the city, a city that had oodles of existing and abandoned houses just waiting for a good retrofit..."  - Stephen & Rebekah Hren