Sunday morning, crisp, bright. Ah! September! One of the glory months!
Bugs are gone, nights are cool, approaching freezing but no frost yet, days are warm but not too hot to work. Just a hint of the tree colors to come. The flood tide of food from the garden is beginning to abate — the melons and corn are over, the tomatoes are almost over. But the stored food is piled high. We just put 35 gallons of fresh-pressed cider in the freezer. Stephen and Kerry have covered the floor of the Hunt barn with curing squash. Jim hasn’t yet harvested the tons of squash ready in his garden, but I think he plans to today, and to work with Kerry to can up another batch of tomatoes. The basement is full of potatoes. On the back porch are onions drying and dry beans waiting to be shucked — Kentucky Wonder, Maine Yelloweye, Soldier, Jacob’s Cattle, Vermont Cranberry, Black Turtle, Rattlesnake, Wren’s Egg. Libby loves the names.
I’d better introduce Libby and her parents Amanda and Michael Walden, who will be living here till we move in November, and we hope will live around close after that. They appeared, in the mysterious way that people appear here, having heard about Cobb Hill at Hawthorne Valley, the biodynamic farm in New York State where Stephen and Kerry met and did their farming internship. Like S&K, Michael and Amanda are seasoned farmers with the right attitude. Amanda has also been a Waldorf School teacher and a ski instructor. Libby is a pigtailed ten-year-old with brown eyes, a cheerful curiosity about everything, and a great love for animals, particularly dogs and horses.
Just as I wrote that, Libby and Emmett dashed joyfully past the window on their way to some excursion.. Nothing better for a dog than to have a kid around, and vice versa.
The new family seems to have fit right in, helping S&K with the harvest, helping with cooking and cleaning and general farm hijinks. This is no small matter, especially the farming part, because Stephen and Kerry work to high standards with great seriousness and don’t easily welcome the help of amateurs. But Michael and Amanda are no amateurs, so there was a meeting of minds from the beginning.
None of us know how this relationship will work out, even after November, much less the long term. It will be as impossible for Michael and Amanda to buy into Cobb Hill as it will be for Stephen and Kerry — even assuming that’s what Michael and Amanda will want to do. But, like S&K, they seem to be willing to run on faith, waiting to see how things will turn out. For the moment, we’re enjoying each other’s company, and the quality of life around here has gone up another notch with the addition of three more good workers. Just this morning, I was in the kitchen kneading up sourdough bread, Amanda was making blueberry pancakes for everyone, Kerry and Libby were cleaning out the refrigerator.
(“Oh, boy, thousand-year-old tomato sauce!” says Kerry. “Oh gross, what’s this fuzzy stuff?” says Libby.)
Last time I made bread (I make it twice a week), Libby not only helped me knead, she taught me a chant to make the work go better — we NEED to KNEAD this bread to FEED the people of the WORLD who EAT the BREAD we KNEAD. Works great. Try it sometime.
Gee, it’s nice to have a kid back in the house again!
Well, last I wrote we were still agonizing in drought, but two hurricanes have taken care of that problem. The day I left for Balaton Dennis (the hurricane — Dennis the ex- who is also a hurricane of sorts was heading for Hungary with me) was moving in with an inch and a half of rain — the most we’ve seen at one time since May. That greened the grass back up and pleased the cows and horses, but it wasn’t enough to restore the ponds and streams, which were still, when I returned a week later, at an all-time low.
The very next day, though, Floyd came through and delivered in one night all the missing rain from the whole summer — six and a half inches. That’s the second biggest one-day rain I’ve ever recorded here. The power went off. The phone line went staticky. The pond rose and turned Daniels Road into a lake. The brook rose and turned S&K’s garden into a river. They missed a CSA delivery and a farmers market, because there was no way they could pick anything. After the water receded, seven hundred newly planted lettuces were buried by brook silt. But Kerry says they’ve dug them back out and most will probably survive.
So the drought is now a memory, though we’re all developing a great dislike for the strange weather patterns of global warming. And, as Stephen said as he surveyed his flooded floodplain garden, “I’m glad we’re moving.” At Cobb Hill we may have problems with too much dryness, but we won’t have floods.
(Kerry and Stephen just walked past the window leading the five cows to the barn, bells tinkling. I see the nicest things out my window! The cows are now a year old, and we’re thinking of having an annual September Cow Birthday Party, just as we have a Dog Birthday Party every May. We serve hot dogs at the dog birthday. We had a vigorous debate this morning about what to serve for cow birthday. The winning suggestion was apples.)
Well, whew, in the middle of this hectic harvest season I went off to the 18th annual Balaton meeting — kind of like wafting off to another, totally absorbing planet for a week. Wrenching away from the intense farm activity is always a challenge, and then wrenching away from the intense Balaton activity is even more of a challenge.
We thought it would be our last meeting. We are out of money, and I am so overloaded with funding the Sustainability Institute and Cobb Hill that I just had to step down from being the Balaton fund-raiser (or funder, which I could be while I had my MacArthur fellowship). But the group refused to die. It was a turbulent, tough meeting, but by the end of it, two wonderful things had happened.
First, the value of the network, most especially for the young folks and the folks from developing countries, was affirmed beyond my wildest dreams. Person after person spoke so movingly about the importance of international links and international encouragement for their work in Ecuador or Thailand or Kenya or whatever, and the warmth of the deep friendships that have formed radiated so clearly, and the depth of the intellectual capital this group has painstakingly built together was so obvious, that even I, who had just dropped the ball so resoundingly, was thinking, “how can I let this all go?”
But second, others were picking up the ball. We now have a fundraising committee, a Balaton Bulletin committee, a program committee, and a newly reconstituted steering committee — and I’m not on any of them! Next year our meeting will be in India, and we have stong bids for future years from Costa Rica, Scotland, and France. We would like to come back to Hungary, where we have met in the same place for 18 years, but the Hotel Petrol is about to be sold to a Dutch hotel chain, so coming there will not feel so much like coming home in the future, especially because the staff that feels like family will probably lose their jobs. I have long wanted to move Balaton meetings around the world — I think it would educate us all to do that — but I’ve never felt we could afford it. So now that we have no money, we’ve decided to do it.
Well, after all, the theme of the meeting was the power of envisioning what you really want!
Vision never becomes reality without real money and real work, and pledges made in the inspirational atmosphere of a Balaton meeting may not be kept, so we will have to see whether the network actually survives. But I left the meeting in total peace (though totally exhausted). We have already done wonderful things together. The human ties we have made will never break. The whole group has been empowered to dream and to work to make the dream come true. After a few years, when the Sustainability Institute is running smoothly and Cobb Hill is built, I can put my energies back into international networking, if I’m still needed. In the meantime, it will be wonderful to let other people’s ideas come forth.
Of course I saw at the meeting Dennis and Joan and Niels and Chirapol, and Aro and Gerardo and Alan and Nanda, and many other friends from around the world who often show up in this newsletter. We had good plenary presentations about visions for sustainable energy and forest and water and transport and trade systems and such. I have been writing them up this week for the last Balaton Bulletin I will have to put out. The good news is, it’s not hard to imagine how the world could work sustainably and equitably. Most of the knowledge and technologies are already here. A sustainable world would cost less and be nicer to live in than today’s world. I really think the only things preventing us from getting there are the clear articulation of the vision and the confidence that it can be realized. The major obstacle to the confidence, I believe, especially after listening to my colleagues at this meeting, is that we have swallowed the assumption of our own powerlessness. We convince ourselves that the politicians or the multinational companies or the terrorists or whatever will never let us have a humane, sustainable world, and that gives us a logic-tight reason for not trying.
Well, so, back on this side of the planet Cobb Hill is about to welcome its thirteenth and probably fourteenth family — that makes just eight more units to fill, with I’d guess three or four more households on the brink of filling them. We are still in the throes of Permits,starting into the throes of Bylaws, with the throes of Financing just ahead. Our general contractor is preparing a new, more detailed cost estimate for our October 9 meeting. We’re bracing ourselves. Every cost estimate goes up, and we’re already at the point of pricing out even middle-class families.
I’m scrabbling around for any grant, subsidy, cost-cutting idea, or other lead I can find to make at least some of our units, and preferably most of them, accessible to ordinary and lower-income households. That’s the only part of this project that I am despairing about. There’s no doubt that we could have a nice, green,convivial cohousing community for upper-income folks. But our farmers, and several other possible members, are never going to be upper-income. I don’t want income to be the main criterion for deciding who can join us. So I’m scrabbling. Federal grants, state grants, sale of development rights, special energy grants, setting up our own mortgage fund, internal subsidies from some households to others — we’re trying to figure out all these possibilities.
It’s very time-consuming.
I wish I had nothing else to do but help Cobb Hill and the Institute and the new farm come to fruition. That’s where my heart is. It’s all I want to do. But of course it doesn’t pay. And it doesn’t complete my obligation to finish that damn book, which was maybe two-thirds done when I left for Balaton but has now not been even glanced at for the last two weeks.
I’m in deep trouble.
I will start thinking about it very hard tomorrow. How I am going to finish that damn book, and write the fall Bulletin, and get ready for my winter term course, and move the farm, and keep the Institute funded and the Institute work going forward, and get the Cobb Hill bylaws straightened out and the permits completed and the construction loan arranged and some of the units somehow affordable to plain folks. And keep writing columns.
But right now I’m going to bake bread, freeze beans, pick what might be the last bouquets before frost, and drink in the September sunshine.