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  • [This is a short story with multiple episodes. The seed of this one is That Industrious Sound.]

    As fate would have it, our family had been invited to spend the night at Wellconomy, an intentional community of 100 of farmers and artisans embedded in the forest, and had gratefully accepted. Now we were about to meet their elder stateswoman.

    Two female figures approached, faces blotted out by the setting sun behind. When they came near, I saw that the older one was the woman who had run off to summon Marjorie, so the younger one was probably the leader, a blonde wrapped in an orange and purple batik sarong. Though not an elder, she had a wise and confident look about her.

    Approaching us, she said, "Welcome to Wellconomy! I'm Marjorie. Whom do I have the pleasure of meeting?"

    By now about twenty folks had gathered 'round. I told Marjorie my name, where we had just come from, where we were headed, and introduced Annie and Iris. Annie must have noticed how tongue-tied I was because she started to chat.

    "What a lovely village!' Annie exclaimed in her warmest tones. "Thank you so much for so warmly receiving us weary wanderers."

    Marjorie replied, "I'm very pleased to meet you. We do take pride in what we are doing here. And we're in a receptive mood from anticipating the arrival of some new members."

    Annie wanted to know whether as surrogate guests we might be an inconvenience. "Heavens, no," Marjorie replied. "Think of this as a dress rehearsal for Douglas's friends. Do you know Douglas, by the way?" Annie looked at me, her eyes saying "You go, guy."

    "We don't know Douglas ourselves," I managed to say, "but Nathan told us he helps people understand how the money machine eats them alive. We already got that message. The house we lived in for eight years was foreclosed on just two weeks ago for the shoddiest of reasons. Now we are economic refugees living in a borrowed cabin far from home."

    Just then, a fellow in the crowd spoke up. "Yep, that's my story too. After that credit card company seized my bank account and garnished my wages, I decided I was done with the pirates and hitchhiked up here to join Wellconomy. It was the best decision I ever made."

    Marjorie swept her hand across the crowd. "All of us here are opening a new chapter of our lives. Unlike in earlier ones, in this chapter we not alone – or powerless. There are thousands of communities like ours that give people agency, a stake in what they produce, and hope for a sustainable future. We all work together to make the world whole again."

    She ushered us to follow her to their common house, a large structure fronted by a broad porch full of rockers, lounges and side tables, like a resort hotel. We settled down there with her and others. Someone brought out iced tea and cookies to refresh us, a welcome treat.

    "Tonight we'll have a community supper here," announced Marjorie. "We do that on the first and third Wednesday of each month, which is when we have our town meetings. The food increases the turnout. You are welcome to attend!"

    "What's on the agenda?" asked Annie. Myself, I was more interested in what was on the menu, which my nose was hinting was chicken and roasted potatoes.

    "We need to make some decisions about the wind project. A supplier we worked closely with had to close his business. We need to find other sources and we'll miss his expertise."

    "You, know," said Annie, "an old classmate of mine is now a green energy consultant. He might know someone who could step in. If my cell phone wasn't useless I would call him right up."

    Marjorie smiled. "Thanks. We might take you up on your offer. We do have telephones here – two satellite phones that also let us reach the Internet. And we're digging a trench to lay a fiber cable along our access road. By summer's end we should be connected to telephone lines out on the highway, if the phone company cooperates. After that, we'll be able to call and email anywhere, write our blogs, raise awareness, and manage our Web site right from here."

    It seemed incredible to me. "Wow, that's pretty high-tech. How can you afford it all from selling fruits, vegetables and wood chips?"

    Sitting back, Marjorie smiled and said "One of our members got a MacArthur Award for her work in social media technology. She established our Web site, With it, we brought in new members and did much of the planning for this village. She donated most of her fellowship money to the community to upgrade our infrastructure."

    A temple gong rang out. "That's the call to supper," aid Marjorie. "Let's eat! You must be pretty hungry after such a long day."

    We filed into the lodge, entering a large room with a fireplace on one end and a beamed ceiling, with about 20 dining tables scattered around. We joined the queue at the serving station anticipating piling our plates high with grilled chicken, beans, potatoes and corn on the cob. Once we did, we followed Marjorie to a table, got seated, and were just about to lift our forks when she stood up to make an announcement over the din of diners.

    "Please join me in welcoming the Davidsons – Brad, Annie and Iris. They came to us unexpectedly today by canoe after tough times and a long journey. They will be staying with us this evening – and perhaps for many more.

    Murmurs and applause followed. As famished as I was, I almost dropped my fork. Was this destiny?

    Continued in That Plangent Sound

    [The original seed of this series is On Sustainable Power, May 31, 2012.
    To identify all the stories in the series, click the tag That Sound beneath the map.]

    Cheesecake Cohousing common house by Fernau & Hartman architects
    @audio: People talking in a lounge, from Sound Jay
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