By Renée Tillotson
Entering the Heartwood Ranch community last week with our daughter, Sandhya, our hearts swelled. Here was a place with 24 cozy homes in the midst of several hundred gorgeous acres of lightly forested land about a 30 minute drive outside Durango, Colorado. We knew we were in for a magical time when we saw wild deer on our way into the community!
After we parked, Sandhya carted our luggage to their home along the people-only path that connects everyone’s houses.
As I’ve written before, we raised our children in a communal living structure in which we co-owned our property and our business with another family. Single adults and couples of various ages lived in other buildings on the property and served as important role models to our youngsters. All of us met with one another regularly for the gift of conversation together on inspiring topics.
After leaving our family’s commune for college, Sandhya never lived completely alone, but never found a communal structure in which to live until she and her new husband Dylan moved into the Heartwood community. There, people rent or buy their own homes and hold their own jobs, yet share the common space and responsibilities.
When I think about the words “commune”, “communicate”, and “community” I see the prefix “com”, which means with or together and the root “mun”, which means gift or service. Isn’t it marvelous to think of community as a place where folks share their gifts and services with each other?!? Please watch Elisabet Sahtouris’ brilliant, related video below on human coexistence.
We live in a world where many people experience so much loneliness. I think that doesn’t need to be the case. I loved meeting Nancy, a single woman who had been living in Oakland, California and recently moved a thousand miles to Heartwood to be with folks who intentionally live and contribute to each other’s and the land’s wellbeing. She seems to be thriving in a context where she can share her gifts with others.
As we spent the next four days with Sandhya and Dylan in this co-housing community, we saw how the well-organized group of neighbors can all contribute to the care and enjoyment of shared resources.
We loved watching Sandhya’s husband Dylan make his drop-dead delicious sourdough bread from scratch at home, then bake it in the Community House kitchen for Potluck night, at which we got to meet many of their neighbors. Connor, an autistic son of one family, represents the neuro-diversity that is happily supported by this kind of community. Just his offbeat, zany presence – whether grinning or concentrated – is a gift to everyone else.
Sandhya represents the first adult to move to Heartwood Ranch who was raised in an intentional community. The original founders of Heartwood consider her the first “second generation” resident, which essentially confirms the value of growing up in a community like that.
Those founders – Mac and Sandy Thomson – spent many years as a young couple searching across the country for an intentional community in which to raise the children they planned to have. Unsatisfied, they decided to create their own community… but not without finding a number of other couples with the same desire.
The 24 homes at Heartwood used to hold over two dozen growing children. Sandy and Mac fondly remember an onsite school for all of the kids, where many of the parents and other elders taught the various subjects.
Since that time, most of those kids have grown up and left Heartwood. So, young couples like Sandhya and Dylan, with their energy and enthusiasm for contributing to the community, shine the light of the future. With that perspective, Heartwood plans to build an additional 14 homes on the property, whose residents will help to absorb some of the tremendous service together necessary for up-keeping such a big ranch. You can contact them here if you are interested: https://www.heartwoodcohousing.com/
One of the wonderful things about Heartwood is the space for individual initiative. I had a great response to my spontaneous offer to give a Nia class the next morning. 6 people showed up, happy to try something new!
One family owns mammoth donkeys that they plan to train as pack animals for trail hiking.
Another family decided to ranch cows on the land, but became so attached to them, they keep them now as pets!
In the four short days we were there, we got to meet most of the Heartwood residents and participate in some of the tasks that Sandhya and Dylan have signed up for. Dylan left too early in the morning for us to help him clean up the chicken poop, but I was on hand to help collect eggs from the coop later that day.
We toured the hoop house garden, which needs its shelter cloth to be reattached – a big project for the community to take on.
Sandhya and I spent a day in service together weeding, watering and planting in and around Heartwood’s geodesic dome greenhouse. It was remarkably satisfying, especially getting to harvest enough lettuce and arugula for our dinner as well as for many other families’ meals.
Happily, everything isn’t just about work. One morning I attended a Wisdom Circle with Sandhya and other Heartwood women. Cliff and Dylan spend several days preparing a 9-hole disc golf course. Well, digging the holes for the posts WAS a lot of work, but the end result will be a lot of fun, leisure and camaraderie for many folks, for many years to come. The guys didn’t totally finish the project because – per the co-housing’s way of operating – they need to get consensus from the group in charge of such things, in this case the Land Stewardship Team. (How’s that name for service together?) Although reaching consensus is not always an easy task, it’s certainly a valuable character-building skill!
Cliff and Dylan did the disc golf’s sign construction in Heartwood’s shared workshop, which gives residents access to a great collection of tools and workspace that they don’t have to own personally.
We loved being in a remote spot that had no noise of traffic, sirens, or any other city sounds. The pace of life seemed to slow down, along with our nervous systems settling. It’s important to note, however, that most co-housing projects in America exist in cities, which still provide many of the same social and financial benefits as Heartwood does out in the country.
By the time Cliff, my mom and I left Heartwood, we departed with the renewed feeling that living in intentional community conduces to a life that feels warm, worthwhile and supported.
I do want to mention, however, we all have lots of little ways to create community wherever we are, all of the time. Kindly consider the wise advice on the sign that I found on the back of a green door at a co-op market in Durango: “How to Build Community”.
Remember, too, that when we are alone, we can gaze up at the heavens at night and feel as if we are communing with the moon, the planets, the stars, the galaxies. It’s as if they are giving something of themselves to us – in the form of light or a message or a silent song, and we are giving some of our essence – in the form of attention.
Sometimes we feel lonely in the midst of lots of people, yet we can always set down our cellphone and give our attention to another human being who might very much welcome our company, a small complement, or a hand with their groceries or suitcase.
We can all live at the heart of community.
Renée Tillotson, Director, founded Still & Moving Center to share mindful movement arts from around the globe. Her inspiration comes from the Joy and moving meditation she experiences in the practice of Nia, and from the lifelong learning she’s gained at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, California. Engaged in a life-long spiritual quest, Renée assembles the Still & Moving Center Almanac each year, filled with inspirational quotes by everyone from the Dalai Lama to Dolly Parton. Still & Moving Center aspires to serve the community, support the Earth and its creatures, and always be filled with laughter and friendship!
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