User:Jan Steinman/Jan's vision

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As my personal vision, of course the following does not represent
consensus views of future villagers, but I hope it comes close!

This essay won First Prize in the Beyond Peak Scenario Contest!



"Aw man, who's chopping wood at..." I glance at the wind-up clock beside the bed. It's nearly 10AM. I guess we stayed up too late last night, playing music in the Great Hall. When I used to watch TV, it seems I always got in bed when the news came on, but now...

I don't remember her tucking me into bed, but she isn't here now. I hear the "ding" of the mechanically-timed microwave oven (electronic ones have phantom loads that suck away at precious renewable energy), and know that, in seconds, she'll be bringing me green tea with home-grown stevia.

It's still chilly this early in the spring, and the heated tile floor feels great on my feet as I stumble down the hall to the shared washroom, where the composting toilet awaits.

"Hey Jan!" I hear a tiny voice, "my light won't work! Can you fix it?" The six year old trails behind, holding an efficient LED flashlight in front of her.

"Sure, Sienna! Head down to the lab, and I'll be there in a bit." She takes off at a run.

Boy, George Bernard Shaw really called it when he said, "Youth is wasted on the young!" But what he didn't realize is that contact with youth keeps the spring in the step of the old -- while imparting wisdom in the other direction that you can't get from a classroom! Recent studies also show that residents of mixed-age communities live longer and are healthier.

I head down the hill to the engineering complex. It's situated in a small coppice a bit away from the residence complex, to help control the noise of engines, saws, and welding. An alcove off the main building houses the electronics lab, where Sienna sits at a workbench, gazing at the knobs and dials of equipment while she waits.

"So, what makes a flashlight work?" I ask the child.

"BATTERIES!" she shouts in glee, happy to be consulted instead of having adults just do things for her.

"Okay, let's take them out and check them. Here's the battery tester," I say to get her started. She successfully removes the batteries, and matches the "+" on the battery with the "+" on the tester. The needle barely moves, so we pull a five watt solar panel and a charger off a shelf. "Okay, Sienna -- you know what to do now!"

She plugs the panel into the charger, plops the batteries in, and runs out to find a sunny spot.


I wander into the hall to see what's cookin'. Everyone is encouraged to get together on Thursday evenings, at least -- after all, a group that eats together, stays together -- but in reality, most people eat together at least a half-dozen or more times a week. For any given meal, there's generally at least a third of the villagers in the Hall. And this was no exception.

A nice soup is almost always on the stove, and people help themselves, cleaning up after themselves as well. Today, a rich lentil stew fills the air with the aroma of sage and rosemary. Most people eat little or no meat, and those who, for dietary or philosophical reasons, do eat meat, respect the wishes of the majority that it not be terribly blatant, or end up mixing inadvertently with vegetarian or vegan food.

"What's happening?" I say as I sit down at a table with a half-dozen people in earnest conversation in between mouthfuls of stew.

"We're working on a solar crucible," one person explained, "so we can do some forging without fossil fuels. We've got this fresnel lens and a tracker to put together, then it should work."

"Cool!" I remark, knowing better than to get involved in something already started, unless my advice was sought. I have enough to do!

She comes up and asks me, "Whacha got going today?"

"Well, I was going to get my weeding in before it got too hot, then go up to the swamp to see how the algae are doing." Although few of us are full-time agronomists, everyone takes part in common labor. I had enough farm work between 0 and 19 to last the rest of my life, but willingly put in an hour a day (plus or minus) of farm work to keep the place running.

Today was easy -- vegetable garden weeding. It's sort of a mindless activity that gives you time to think about other things -- a rare gift of time in today's too-fast world.

After the weeding, I go back to the Hall and log my time. When I left the factory, I swore I'd never punch a time clock again, but this is different. Our time bank is a way of keeping us honest with ourselves, just as written agreements make for good friends. Also, if you aren't measuring a thing, you can't manage that thing, so these records allow us to see how efficient we are -- and the data also is useful for applying for grants and other funding. People are more willing to give you money when you can document how you spend your time! Such data is also useful for the classes we teach and a growing body of articles and other publications we've been producing.

Once a fortnight, we "roast and toast" those who put in the most time. And these records have also been handy for tactfully suggesting that a friend may be approaching burn-out. "Back off and take a break!" is sometimes needed with this group!

The algae has taken over a sequestered area of the pond. We successfully replaced almost all our petroleum use with home-grown rapeseed oil and waste cooking oil over the past five years, but in the drive to become even more efficient, we've been experimenting with algea for food and fuel oil.

After five years of "hard fun", we are about 80% self-sufficient, in both food and energy production. (Which we wouldn't even know, without the careful records we keep.) We are able to feed ourselves and provide our own modest energy needs, but we still trade with "the world" for things like clothing, machinery, books, etc.

While a minority of us still have "day jobs" outside the village, most make their livelihood endogenously, using various skills to produce goods and services. We willingly give our time to each other in the village, without expectation of recompense, but most of us do have cash income of some sort from outside the village.


According to the calendar in the large communal kitchen, I'm on "KP" tonight. Outside of a couple specialties, cooking is not my thing, so I'm content to peel potatoes and chop salad, and continuously lobby for more spices. It's the camaraderie of kitchen work that is the pleasurable part for me, not the actual cooking!

"How's the orchard doing?" I ask one of my fellow kitchen workers, who has been stewarding a grove of mixed fruit trees in the northeast corner that we had started our first year.

"I think we're going to have peaches this year," she said, "Y'know, five years growing, five years bearing, and five years dying."

"Great!" I replied, "I guess it will be a few more years before we have cherries and apples." Thank goodness staples, like grain and vegetables, don't grow as slowly as fruit trees!

After dinner, I prepare for the class I'm teaching on alternative energy. This is an ongoing evening class, targeted to the greater island community, many of whom have started to "get it" since gasoline went over $2 a liter. The ferry schedules have been reduced, and not so many tourists have been arriving, and some islanders are starting to panic, and many are leaving for city jobs. But many who have been here a long time are starting to think about "toughing it out" in the future, and are making preparations. Property values have been softening, and there is talk of starting the island's second ecovillage.

We also have more intensive seminars and internships, with guests staying as long as several months. Most of these folk come from relatively far away, and the locals have day jobs, so we have evening classes so that our fellow islanders can learn sustainable practices.

As people begin to shuffle into the small space in an alcove off the main hall, I see other alcoves gathering evening activity -- a class on permaculture here, a jam session there, a small group playing some board game over there, a committee of some sort meeting in the far corner. The hall is our primary social space, with alcoves all around the perimeter, separated from the main hall with bookcases and dividers that can be moved around to accommodate groups of various sizes.

We had agreed early on to get away from traditional "box full of boxes" modern architecture, and to build something open and flexible. Sometimes, one group gets a bit too loud for others nearby, but generally, that results in cross-pollenization of ideas, and often the dividers get moved and two groups combine for the evening.

"So, that's the theory; you've got your notes; you've got your homework -- next week, we meet in the tech center and brew some biodiesel!" I say as the class breaks up for the evening. The technical center was the second common building we made, and serves as a combination garage, wood shop, metal shop, electronics lab, and general inventors' corner. We maintain nearly all our artifacts, bartering with outside experts for things that require specialized knowledge and equipment.


"What have you been up to?" I ask her as we walk back to our comfy, tiny quarters.

"I've been over in the arts center, making beads," she explains. The arts center and retail center were the most recent additions to our common buildings, and have given us a boost in outside income, while reducing the need to travel -- now, our customers can come to us! Although the continuing escalation of gasoline has cut the sheer number of tourists, the "quality factor" has gone up, and those who do venture to the island are more prepared to spend money.

We take a detour, and stroll down to the stream, hand in hand. There is a pagoda there, and it is nice to get away from the other villagers for a bit, to meditate or just to be alone for a while. The water rushes over a small waterfall into the gorge, not quite drowning out the "bzzzt!" of a Nightjar and the hoot of a Great Horned Owl.

We hug and gaze into each other's souls like teen-agers. "I'm so happy here with you and everyone else," she says. "Yes, me too!" I reply, and we stroll back to our quarters.

I was tired a while ago, but it seems my brain starts churning as soon as my head hits the psyllium husk pillow. I think back over the five years we've been here -- the joys and sorrows, the triumphs and the setbacks, the people who have been around the whole time and those who have come and gone, the stuff you enjoyed doing and the stuff you know just had to get done.

But underlying it all is one thread that makes it all worth while, one thing that means I couldn't think of doing anything else: we are building a new world, even as the old one crumbles around us. And as the old ways slowly self-destruct, more and more thoughtful people are seeing that this new way of life is necessary, attainable, and right. Ecovillages are beginning to pop up everywhere, like jonquils in the spring, providing hope for a new balance with nature.

To be continued, in real life!
But long term? See Jan's vision, 50 years later.

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