Two weeks at Lost Valley

It’s been three weeks, and I finally feel ready to post this. It’s been a long time in coming, but I hope the time and effort shows. About Lost Valley

Wow. What can happen in the span of two weeks. Let’s start at the end, since it’s freshest in my mind. Lost Valley runs this workshop called the Heart of Now. It goes from Friday night to Monday afternoon. In one sense, it is about being present with yourself - being consciously aware of your body sensations and reactions, your emotions and emotional reactions, and your thoughts and mental reactions. As we become more aware of how our body, heart and mind reacts to certain situations, we are able to discover “automatic” reactions or patterned behavior which may or may not be serving us. One of the central themes of the workshop is choices - being conscious of our choices, and realizing we have made certain choices in the past because they served us at that time (sometimes to protect us). Once we are aware of those choices, we can make different choices, if we want to, if we decide that the old choices are no longer serving us. By looking at each person’s actions as a series of choices like this, we can remove the judgement of a choice being good or bad (and by extension, the person being good or bad), and look simply at the effects of those choices. The implicit understanding is that people are human, and they do what human beings do.

The environment created at Heart of Now is one of the key components. There are more “assistants” than “students.” Assistants are people who have already completed the course as students and are returning to help in supporting roles. The assistants are there to offer whatever support may be needed - a hand to hold or just someone to listen. People work through a lot of emotional things during the weekend; sometimes things they have been carrying around for a while, sometimes things they didn’t even know they had. It’s a place that you can cry or yell or do whatever it is you need to do to work through your baggage, to try and come to a more complete place. Heart of Now shares a lot of intention with the Re-evaluation Counseling (RC) that April and I took a class for. In RC, the goal is to allow each person to come up with a novel, accurate response to every situation. “Accurate” in this sense means a response based on the factors in the current situation, and not an automatic or defensive reaction based on past emotional experiences or associations.

One of the refreshing elements is the tenant that touch is a normal human need, and does not have to be tied to sexuality. This allows people to ask for and receive touch without shame and without association. Hugs, hands to hold, and cuddles are always within arm’s reach.
I will share my own experience with Heart of Now in another post. I want to keep this one focused on Lost Valley.

Heart of Now is very much a basis for interpersonal relationships at Lost Valley - everyone’s taken it, or does soon after they arrive (it happens several times a year). People will often break off from the main group to talk through issues. Whatever support you need will be there if only you ask for it. In business meetings, they have a time keeper, and a vibes keeper. The time keeper keeps track of how long each issue is discussed so that the meeting doesn’t run too long. The vibes keeper monitors the “vibe” of the meeting and if anyone is getting emotionally charged over an issue, they call it out so that the emotional issue can be worked through, along with the business issue.

We got to see the “vibes” keeper in action during one of the business meetings. The community was deciding whether or not to host a conference by a particular group. While discussing the issue, the vibes keeper noticed two people reacting emotionally. Once “vibes” were called, the facilitator asked the two members to work through their emotional reactions before proceeding with the business issue. One influential member of the community had personal ties to the group. Because of this, another community member felt pressured to accommodate the group in spite of apparent financial concerns. People had expectations and understandings based on miscommunications and false assumptions. Once these factors were identified and discussed, the business issue could be discussed without anyone feeling personally attacked. Everyone stayed focused on their own emotional feelings & reactions. By the next day, the two members were communicating without tension, working out what had led to the situation the night before and how it could be resolved.

On Wednesday afternoon from 4:30 to 6:00, the community gathers for a Purpose Circle. This serves as their weekly business meeting. People can write up proposals to submit to the community. There is a smaller “Core” group which meets on Tuesday morning to review all the proposals and filter out the simpler ones, so the whole community doesn’t have to discuss every proposal. The Core Group members also participate in the Purpose Circle and new members are selected on a volunteer basis when they are needed. The Core Group’s recommendations are read at the beginning of the purpose circle, and if any community member wants to discuss an issue further, it will be bumped to the agenda for the meeting. The Purpose Circle includes announcements, a financial review, upcoming conferences, housing issues, kitchen issues, and other proposals. Decisions are made through consensus, so proposals are discussed until everyone is satisfied. They can be approved by a thumbs-up from all community members, or a sub-committee can be created with the power to make a decision.
Examples of proposals we heard were:
* reimburse Alex $30 or half of her utility bill, whichever is greater, for the time that community members and guests of LV stayed there while she was traveling.
* use LV funds to purchase meat and cheese - develop guidelines for meat to be purchased with personal funds and served on the community table (the LV kitchen is legally vegetarian).

Each person within the community has a regular job/role that they serve - kitchen coordinator, garden coordinator, financial officer, land steward, etc. Some of those positions are full-time (30 hours/week), and some are half-time, based on the community’s need. So some members have two half-time jobs. In addition, each community member must put in 10 hours a week in community chores, which will include either one cooking or two cleaning shifts (after meals). The Lost Valley Educational Center non-profit organization owns the land, employs the staff, and rents housing facilities to each member. One of LVEC’s goals is to create a separate non-profit entity which will allow community members to accrue equity through their rent payments and labor efforts.

As work traders, April and I were required to work 6 hours a day, or 5 hours and $5, in exchange for room and board. Any community meetings we attended and community chores like cooking and cleaning all counted towards that requirement. The work we did varied quite a bit, depending on current needs. At breakfast every morning, we asked people who needed help and planned our day accordingly. We spent some time most days scrubbing and painting rebar to be used for signs on nature trails. We took care of kids and helped with various permaculture / landscaping projects, like clearing branches from trails between the cabins and dorms, or trimming sword-ferns for use in decorative centerpieces and for mulch. We each did some cooking and cleaning shifts. We also participated in the weekly “cleansing and creation” work party on Thursday mornings. In the work party, people divide up into small groups for 2 hours and help clean the common areas and do other odd jobs. The last week we were there, I got up every day at 6am. One of my jobs was to start a fire in the yurt where the Community Experience Week group met for presentations, so that it would be warm(er) by the time they got there at 9am. Getting up early for something I loved doing was so different from getting up early (even at 9) to do something I didn’t care about (i.e. going to work). It was so easy.

Everyone has their own space at Lost Valley. Larger families with kids live in the Solplex, which has six individual apartments, each with it’s own plumbing. In addition, there are half a dozen cabins scattered around the grounds and several yurts have been installed. Most of these buildings were already present on the land at the time it was purchased, so they are not green/naturally built. The efficiency of the existing buildings is being improved, and all new construction will be of a more green/natural variety. As far as I know, all the buildings had electricity, and for buildings without plumbing there were several options for bathrooms/showers.

Many nights after dinner, people would jam out with guitars and/or hand drums, singing on the couches in the lodge next to the wood stove. They also had quite a library of board games, and chess matches were not uncommon. There were also VHS/DVD facilities available for general use and in some private cabins. We were lucky enough to be able to take advantage of the open-air hot tub, heated by a wood-burning stove. Hot-tubbing in the cool night air, serenaded by crickets and frogs. Awesome. There is a stereo in the lodge which can play different music in the lodge and in the kitchen. It provides great motivation when cleaning up after a meal. One night, we had an impromptu dance party in the kitchen. We even came up with appropriate dance moves like “sweeping the floor,” “hanging the pot,” and “wiping the table.” Some people have cars, so activities in Eugene (20 miles away) are not uncommon, including restaurants and movies. Some community members also have significant others in Eugene or Portland. However, off-grounds entertainment is the exception rather than the norm.

Every meal was like eating at Casa de Luz (warning: music) - mostly organic, mostly vegan, beautiful, lovingly prepared by real people, and delicious! Many times I noticed enticing smells wafting out of the kitchen. Throughout the week, most meals are prepared for the community to eat together. Everyone is on their own for breakfast in terms of food preparation and cleanup, but many people take turns cooking for each other. Friday night, Saturday and Sunday meals are usually not prepared just for the community. If there is a group coming in for a weekend retreat or a conference, then community members can eat after the (paying) conference attendees have gone through the line. It has now been 3 weeks since we ate at Lost Valley and while I miss the awesome stews, greens and whole grains, the thing I miss most is having salad with every meal (and fixins!).

Everyone was really helpful and welcoming. I felt very accepted and didn’t feel judged at all. People seemed to be grateful to have our help. One person mentioned a lesson she learned living at Lost Valley - not to get attached to people. With all the conferences, interns, work-traders and other people who stay at LVEC on a temporary basis, it’s difficult not to get attached. In spite of this, I felt very welcomed by everyone. We hung out with the interns a lot, because they were closer to our age range (20’s) - Madison, Susan, Polly and Cynthia. Karen helped us get out to LVEC in the first place (and shook her booty at the dance party in the kitchen!). Kaseja officially sponsored our two-weeks of work-trade and she and Ming-San made an extra effort to be available and help us with any questions or difficulties we had. I want to give shout-outs to the whole crew at LVEC - Dianne, Chris’s G. and R., Joe, Caroline, Alex, Keli, Dave, Gennevive, Stuart, Kim, Scott, Sam, Marc, Rick, Beth, Marty, Ming-San, all the young-uns and the kids, and anyone else who I’ve forgotten to include here. Thank you all for letting us share your home.

In the two weeks that we spent at Lost Valley Educational Center, I saw the amazing integration of a business, housing co-op, and land management project. The efforts are focused by a common mission statement, which provides a clear guiding vision. Planning and visioning happens every year in the fall, to prepare for the next year. We saw a grid they had created last year which listed all the “departments” along the left side, and a calendar along the top - to plot goals & timeframes for various areas at different times of the year. We also saw an “energy flow” diagram which showed how the different departments interrelate & services they provide to each other. Without this, one might tend to think of a department as separate and allocate resources accordingly, but if it affects others areas and contributes to many facets of life and work, it may be worth a greater investment.
The three next-step goals that LVEC has are:
1) Create a land trust so that the 87 acres that LVEC sits on will be protected into the future, regardless of the fate of LVEC itself.
2) Create a separate legal entity for the housing co-op which will encourage other income/business opportunities not strictly outlined by the LVEC charter, and allow community members to gain equity or security in exchange for their efforts and inputs at Lost Valley.
3) Create a site plan for future construction of housing and community areas.

I asked Rick, the land development coordinator, what his proudest permaculture accomplishment was. I was expecting him to describe some intense construction which combined land use, benefit for people, wildlife habitat, and other permaculture principles. Maybe a wetland construction, or the solar-heated showers. His answer surprised me: “survival.” I asked him to explain and he said “look at those trees - when I started working here, they were half as high. That garden over there wasn’t planted yet, this wasn’t here,” etc. And as I thought about it - I realized that he was right. It has been 17 years since the Lost Valley Educational Center was started, and they are still here. They are more than just “here,” they are a strongly-knit community of people who are working together, living more sustainably every day, and sharing their knowledge and love with the world. Don’t discount continuation. For a place like this, it doesn’t just happen on it’s own.

Lost Valley felt like a place I could call home. Just knowing that a place like that exists is enough to inspire hope in me. It is definitely a place I want to come back to at some point. I could easily see myself living there for several years, although maybe not as a permanent residence (not while it’s in the U.S.!). During our stay, several people said things like “you guys fit in here so well,” which gives me a warm tingly sensation in my belly. In some ways, it feels like part of this trip is for them. Lost Valley has set the bar high for other communities in our future. We could not have chosen a better community for our first visit.

I encourage any Lost Valley community members to add comments (you’ll need to create a logon account first) to this post with any additional information they want to add, or to contact me directly if I have any errors.

One Response to “Two weeks at Lost Valley”

  1. Dad Says:

    A great narrative!
    You writing is lucid and informative.
    Thank you for sharing.

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