Day 14

I have the feeling that I’ve escaped reality again. Two summers ago, I first experienced the Biological Station as a student taking classes during their summer session. Earlier today, I stumbled upon my parting words to the station after my initial stay: “Thank you for teaching me how to love fully and accept love, for showing me that safe spaces still exist, and for helping me be fully present for the first time in my life.” Returning to the station two years later has swept me back into a feeling of complete presentness with my surroundings and the people I live with. It’s an alternate reality in which time as we know it is nonexistent. Our days are marked by early, cold mornings, sunny afternoons, the time we share building together between meals, and sitting around the fire with guitars attempting to decipher Joe’s riddles. When we first got here, my friend told me that my energy is different here, up north. I feel different. Aside from the exhaustion of working for nine and a half hours everyday, I feel present and whole. I was nervous coming here with a group of people I didn’t know – with a group I had nothing in common with aside from the desire to construct a straw bale building. Specifically, I was nervous about leaving my intentional living community back in Ann Arbor, Vail Cooperative House. Living in a coop this year changed my view of what it means to coexist, support others and myself in all of our complex needs, and create caring, equitable living spaces. I had become so comfortable, loved, and supported in Vail that I was anxious about moving away. However, although I miss Vail dearly and I wonder when I’ll find a place that feels as much like home as it did, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to feel supported and comfortable with a group of people I didn’t know just two weeks ago. This goofy, kind, and dedicated bunch makes me laugh everyday as we celebrate ice cream and pizza night, mix adobe in kiddie pools, and celebrate one another as we accomplish a task on the site, however big or small.

Feeling so comfortable and supported in this group with the common cause of building a strawbale house is causing me to revisit what it means to live cooperatively. Over the course of the past year, cooperation, along with staying present in my current reality have become central parts of who I am. In the future, I want to support and create cooperatives that promote self and community care and honor our relationship with the Earth. When contemplating the cooperative side of my identity, this group and project resonate deeply with me. At its most basic, twenty-four of us have come together to co-create a sustainable building. More deeply, we are exploring how we can use our minds and bodies to create physical spaces that don’t disrespect our nature and harm Earth. We are empowering ourselves and one another to turn our ideas into tangible creations. We are pushing ourselves to try things that are unfamiliar, make us feel insecure, and even terrified (hello, power tools). And, most importantly, in the midst of these new endeavors, we are respecting and communicating with one another. We all come from different places, fields of study, and personal experience, yet we are creating a building together that, as of right now, is still standing. For me, this experience of cooperation is redefining what it means to create intentional communities to include the physical act of building. Working with my hands has been incredibly empowering and being supported in my moments of self-doubt and frustration has allowed me to continue waking up at six in the morning everyday. In my future endeavors in cooperative living, I will value designing and building the physical space much more than I had before this experience.

The other central part of my identity – my sense of presentness – has been more complex for me to understand here. I feel very present in every moment here, as my feet move across the gravel road near the lake to the dining hall at sunrise. I feel present when I walk up the seemingly endless flight of stairs to the build site everyday, breathless. I am present singing around the fire with my friends. I haven’t been using Facebook or Instagram regularly and my phone is in my room all day while we’re building. I feel whole and I think it’s a result of my lack of exposure to outside media, combined with the calming, eerie energy of being in a rural area. Although I feel healthy and happy here, often the creeping feeling of guilt and disconnectedness overtakes me and I worry that I’m betraying my activism and tuning out of our country’s present reality. I’m having trouble understanding what balance I need to strike between feeling present here, continuing to stay connected to my activism, and contributing to an organizing community while being so far removed from Ann Arbor. However, when I take time to reflect deeply, I realize that this experience is enhancing my activism in ways I hadn’t anticipated. I’m learning how to design structures that I can recreate in the future and recognizing that one of the most tangible forms of creating alternative communities is building it yourself with your own hands and accessible materials outside of the capitalist norm. I’ve also been having meaningful conversations about what this work means to my peers and how it will contribute to their personal and political lives. I hadn’t fully appreciated this before I signed up for the experience, but I now realize that gaining tangible skills of construction, design, and co-creating intentional spaces are crucial to a just transition, an effective revolution of thought, and coexistence.

I’m grateful to be in this space again, learning very different things from the first time I was here and transforming the way I think about creating intentional communities. I’m grateful to Joe for teaching by doing and to everyone else for their trust and for undertaking this unique endeavor with me. Although my questions about how to stay connected to struggles for justice and contribute to them wherever I am will continue, I will also try to wake everyday and thank the fire, air, earth, and water around me. It may be an act of resistance in itself to honor your immediate surroundings and feel the instinctual, unquestionable connection you have to the rest of existence.


“Let the fires burn tonight, let the jugs of wine get drunk

Let the truth be known tonight, don’t go let yourself hide.

Go and sing to the mountain, go and sing to the moon

Go and sing to just about everything, ‘cause everything is you

Listen to the rhythm of your heart play like a drum

Listen to the night-call singing songs from all around

Go and sing to the mountain, go and sing to the moon

Go and sing to just about everything, ‘cause everything is you

And let your voice go

Let it pierce through your soul.”


Sing to the Mountain by Elephant Revival (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCYUDBYpv0g)


-Katey Carey


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