The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Failed community-building experiment

Hanging laundryNearly a decade ago, I got bitten by a dog.  I was helping a friend of a friend move tables out of the cultural center she helped run, and her dog was napping in the corner.  The dog seemed nice, and I assumed the friend of a friend would have warned me if it had a tendency otherwise, so I ignored it and started hauling.  But on my third or fourth trip, the stars aligned wrong and the dog turned its head just as my foot went in its direction, and I bumped the dog's chin with my knee.

The seemingly-friendly dog went nuts, snarled, and bit a big gash into my hand.  My initial reaction (after the usual surprise and terror that a dog bite brings) was to reassure the friend of a friend that it wasn't the dog's fault.  After all, I knocked its chin.  Sure, a dog like Lucy would turn the other cheek in that scenario, but who knows what had happened in the dog's past to put it on such a short fuse?  My motto is: if in doubt, take responsibility.

Meandering creek

And now, ten years later, Mark and I sustained the human equivalent of that dog bite.  It was even more painful this time around, and will probably make me twice as people-shy as that dog bite made me dog-shy.  But it's over now (and, no, I don't plan to hash the issue out in a public forum, although I may write about what I learned in a decade once everyone has moved on).  The upshot is, you won't be seeing B.J. on our blog any more, but you will be seeing the returned truck doing hauling for us without its former master.

Tough nut to crack

Even though our first impulse was to give up on community-building experiments, Mark and I have determined that the issue is a tough nut to crack, but is still worth pursuing.  If it were easy, everyone would be doing it, right?

More on our next experiment in a later post.  Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these photos from my cheer-up visit to my mom --- the first one is a painting she made as a child of her mother doing laundry, the second is the creek I grew up beside, and the last is a tough nut to crack.  We'll just keep gnawing away like that squirrel until we get it right.

Our chicken waterer makes care of our flock easier so we can try more in-depth experiments like this one.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Just like that dog, you never really know the sum of experiences that might make a person react like they do.
I cant comment on the circumstances, since I dont know them, but I do see the hurt it caused, and sure do understand the feeling of never wanting to risk a repeat. In the moral sense, we attempt to do good because its the right thing to do. Successful or not. And sometimes, no matter how thoroughly we think we have hashed out all the expectations on both sides of an agreement, it still goes wrong. Life happens. People are selfish, or, maybe, just human.

I am an old grandma, and wish I were close enough to just invite you over for a cup of tea and some cookies, and a big hug.

Comment by Deb Sun May 5 09:39:48 2013

Chalk it up as a learning experience and move on.

However, given your basic nature (introvert and people-shy) I wonder if you are the right people do to community building? Speaking as somene more or less struck from the same mould, and without meaning to give offense, I would say it takes a different kind of skill set.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun May 5 09:58:55 2013
We're also trying to start an intentional community based around homesteading and we just had to ask one of our oldest friends to leave because of sorts of complicated issues. It's a shame, but you won't get anywhere by working with people that aren't right for the group. My husband and I decided it'd be better for just the two of us to do what we need to do (and see who shows up to help us naturally) than to try and pull someone along that isn't putting in even 50% of what we're doing. You're not the only ones having to choose your plans over accepting others at any cost.
Comment by L. Bird Sun May 5 11:11:02 2013
P.S. i love the painting. I has a great simple charm and shows remarkable insight into composition. I am a professional artist, so i can tell. :-)
Comment by Deb Sun May 5 11:35:19 2013

Hi miss Anna,

Sorry I haven't been by your page too much lately, that whole moving thing is just eating my time alive. I just wanted to remind you that you have friends all over that care if you succeed. I know it's not the same as having someone right there, but it's better than being alone. In fact, some of those friends will be about 1500 miles closer to you in a few weeks.

I will try to lurk more often.

Have a good Sunday.


Comment by Ashaldaron Sun May 5 13:01:41 2013
Sorry, guys, that sucks! You two give so much -- it makes me mad to think of someone taking advantage of that. I'm sure you'll find a way to integrate community building into your life plans without risking disappointment again. I, too, find that painting exquisite! Very telling...
Comment by mitsy Sun May 5 14:07:54 2013

Thank you all for your kind words (and virtual tea and cookies). It does cheer me up to think of all of the good people out there reading (and moving closer to us --- my evil plan is working!).

Roland --- I know what you mean, but I think that introverts do have to be involved in community-building. After all, in certain ways we're better suited to it than extraverts are because we're always agonizing over the interpersonal stuff, meaning we put more effort into making it all end up right. If we have a few more failures like this, though, feel free to say you told us so. :-)

Comment by anna Sun May 5 16:58:46 2013

I'm sorry to hear that things didn't turn out well with the first internship. If it was anything other than the first attempt, maybe it would have been a bit easier to handle. I hope you're able to heal quickly and move forward with your community building in a way that works for both of you (and any potential community members.)

My dad lived with us about 3 years ago and it was rough. It was a learning experience if nothing else. I was hesitant to invite my brother here because of how tough it was with my dad, but now he (my bro) has been here for almost a month and we're making some progress. Granted, a lot of the work right now is just adapting to personalities/habits.

It definitely takes a lot to bring someone to a place that you treasure. You make yourself vulnerable, and that's hard. It's hard for me every single time. I've turned down a lot of potential visitors for this reason, and I've lost a few local permie friends just because of personality differences. I think that's just how it is.

As others have said, you have a whole community online that supports what you are doing. I think you guys are awesome and your work is steady and inspiring.


Comment by Sara Sun May 5 17:06:08 2013
I'm sorry to hear about this. I hope it doesn't make you too much more people shy though. If you know what you want you'll get there. It is only a matter of time. Good luck and much love.
Comment by Everett Sun May 5 20:28:08 2013
so sad to hear that it did not work out. but like with the dog bite it will pass. all the best for the next project!
Comment by cat Mon May 6 01:10:09 2013

I was bitten by a relatives dog in the face when I was 10 years old. Long story short, my older sister was petting him, so I said hey, she can pet him, I can to, as I approached he just lunged forward and bite me in the face, some stitches, plastic surgery, and 2 years of special cream on the scar, and its gone. Come to find out, neighbors kids my size at the time used to throw rocks and tease the poor dog. So it wasn't his fault at all. I am far from dog shy, but I don't care what dog or cat or animal it is, it is still an animal and anything can happen at any time.

As far as people, they suck. But don't give up, finding good help is extremely tough. 3 laborers in 2 weeks and a run away mechanic with my spare key and some $$$ with incomplete work is enough for that short of period. I trust myself, my wife and my lessons learned with help. I still use help, but change my rules on people I choose, how they are paid/when, and always put into the equation "if they screw me, how to limit the damage." For example, I purchased a small front end loader 5 years ago. I may have to still do some laboring here or there, but its cheaper, quicker, and 100% in my control when I'm behind my machine getting the work done. I skipped around a bit but I'm sure you get the point, or points haha.

Comment by Marco Mon May 6 08:10:30 2013

Hi Anna,

Ran a company for many years.

All my employees were 2 year people??!!

Still haven't figured why, but I'm still here.

And so are YOU and Mark :).

warm regards to all, John

Comment by john Mon May 6 09:17:57 2013

I Love! your mom's painting.

As for community building, I sincerely believe that most people are crazy, and that complicates intentionial community building to a great degree. Particularly in our society, which is so fragmented.

Unintentional community building, on the other hand, works quite well. People that you have learned to trust over time are your community. For example, I have been going to a particular church (a very special and wonderful church - the best church I have ever attended) for four or five years. Over that time, I have slowly become a part of our Appalachian community, something that I never expected to happen. It wasn't anything miraculous or fast; it grew slowly, like a tree, not fast, like kudzu.

The thing to do is take it slow. Exchange little gifts; offer assistance in small ways; eventually ask small favors. Spend time, hang out, and give people space. All of the happy little villages and peaceful little tribes that well-meaning communalists refer to are long-running networks of neighbors and families, not newly-created flocks of creative idealists. And even sweet little villages have a dark side. The difference is that they've all known one another long enough to sort of get used to one another's quirks and allow for them.

Truly implementing an intention takes time, and cannot be forced. Hang in there, and remember that you are obviously surrounded by an excellent family and good neighbors.

Comment by Faith T Mon May 6 10:11:27 2013

Guys: you are the greatest.!! I own a business and the one thing I have learned is that your employees never care as much as you do. No matter what you do for them.!! Hard to understand but it always comes done to money. I love your blog. I have been on many blogs and you guys are the real thing. I continue to work through the weekend homesteader. Your blog and your book are keeping me sane during this tough economic time. I know that God always provides. So I believe he but you guys out there to help us survive. Oh by the way, do you have trouble with shrews or moles? They are having a good time eating my peas.!!! sheeh And how about ground hogs. I have declared all out war.!!!


Comment by Donna Mon May 6 11:04:05 2013

Donna --- We have moderate vole trouble, although no problem with moles or shrews (which are insectivores and unlikely to bother plants). Luckily, between our dog and our cats, the population seems to be kept at low enough levels to still make mulch worthwhile in our garden, but I know some gardeners who have completely ditched mulch to keep the small mammals away. For groundhogs, a good dog or an intense fence seems to be the only solution. Good luck!

(And thank you to everyone who commented with your thoughts and suggestions since I thanked the last batch yesterday!)

Comment by anna Mon May 6 12:22:14 2013

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