A visitor’s-eye view of Acorn
Thanks to Ruth for a wonderful visit, and thanks for letting us share your perspective on the community.
My five-day visit to Acorn:
It’s great to meet a group of people – especially so many young ones – who have opted out of the capitalist rat race and are trying their best to live their values: community, sustainability, kindness. The few ramshackle buildings where people live and work are surrounded by oak, poplar and beech woods. There is both seriousness – they run a seed business that sustains the community – and playful: the path to a dance party last night was lit by a row of Christmas lights. The party took place in the “love shack” just past a collection of diverse and amazing tree houses. People mostly danced in a circle and for a while, four young women were dancing on a bouncy mattress in the corner. Daniel (ah, if I was only 40 years younger!) was walking around with a box of wine, playfully offering little cups of “the blood of Christ” to willing takers. He then put a big pillow under his shirt and asked people if they wanted to punch him, then made another round and offered well-padded hugs.
Although they joke about being a hippie commune, there actually isn’t a lot of public physical affection. People seem contained. One member described himself as being on the cusp of extrovert and introvert: he would not be comfortable talking to random strangers in a bar, but he loved living with people and was friendly with those in the community.
There is a lot of talent here: Delicious meals are routinely prepared by people who sign up ahead of time to make them. Although the booklet titled “READ ME” - which must have been written a long time ago when there were children here – says the commune is vegetarian, that has evolved and there is meat or chicken at almost every supper and often also at lunch. People are on their own for breakfast.
The booklet also describes the members as being a little shy. So a visitor often has to make the effort to initiate conversation, ask questions, and then people are perfectly willing to talk. The biggest age group seems to be in their early to mid twenties with a sprinkling of other ages up to 62. At meetings, many busy hands are either cutting tomatoes for drying or cleaning herbs from the garden or processing the never-ending supply of onion bulbs for the seed business by sorting into small and large, and cleaning them with a toothbrush. During my visit, there were always bushel baskets of onion bulbs waiting to be cleaned in the living room.
What surprised me: that there are no children; no live music, at least during my stay; and most of all, that only one person has been here from the beginning about 20 years ago. I’ve always wanted to visit a commune, I’ve always dreamed of living in an intentional community that had shared values but it never occurred to me that there would be more turnover than not. Ira, one of the founders who still lives here and who came from Twin Oaks, a kind of mother community to Acorn, says Americans move a lot and therefore so do those who want to live in community. People interested in living here come for a three week visit, then leave for 10 days. All decisions, including acceptance of new members, are made by consensus and the community uses the Quaker Clearness Process to discuss each potential member both individually and in a group. If the candidate is accepted, he or she goes through a nine-month provisional membership during which there are additional, regular clearness meetings.
The expectation is that people will work 42 hours a week, or six hours a day. It’s a human and humane work schedule. When you start and finish or how you divide your time is up to you. One member likes to sleep till 10, another is up by 6. People seem hard-working and like their hearts are in what they are doing. There is a lot of talent here: In addition to the good cooks, there are carpenters, writers, farmers, and more. The houses are surrounded by herb and vegetable gardens, some for consumption and some grown for the seed business. Things seem to tick along smoothly with no visible top down hierarchy. Acorn is part of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, which means they share income equally. But there doesn’t appear to be much dogma about it. Cars are shared and there is a shed full of communal bicycles, though some people own their own bikes and almost everyone has a laptop. There are also community as well as privately owned towels and bedding and clothing. The one bathroom in the main building features a charming row of toothbrushes as well as clearly labeled containers: hair products; insect bites and poison ivy medications; ace bandages, etc.
There are twice weekly meetings and a bulletin board with announcements, work that needs to be done, rides wanted, etc. There doesn’t seem to be anyone specifically in charge of visitors and you have to find your way and ask around in order to contribute work-wise, to get information and to know what’s expected (though basic guidelines for visitors are in the READ ME booklet.) It’s hard to know whether you are bugging people when you ask them – and they’ve probably been asked dozens of times — how they got here or why they want to live communally, but on the other hand, everyone seems more than willing to share their stories. Along with the hard work, there is a laid back, relaxed feeling to Acorn.
On our last day, we got a tour of Twin Oaks. It was love at first sight! From the touside, it looks like Paradise. Perhaps because of the physical beauty of the place and the dozens of people I saw who had chosen to live communally. But perhaps also because I was visiting for only an hour as opposed to a few days so my response wasn’t clouded by thoughts of what will it be like and will they like me and other mental/emotional detritus. I leave with a twinge of sadness and longing: had I taken another path in my 20’s, had I listened closely to my heart and followed my dream of living in a rural, intentional community….well, then I wouldn’t have the life I have today, which is also a good one, thank God. But still. I didn’t live my dream. Of course it’s hard as a committed Jew to live in a setting without others to share Shabbat, holidays, etc. Why is there still no Jewish commune in the U.S? And of course the thought: Is it too late in life to find an appropriate intentional community in Israel? And even if I did, could I drag Bob there?
I want to thank everyone at Acorn for hosting us and specifically: Thomas for making it possible; Ira for so generously taking hours out of her busy day to take us to Twin Oaks and back and arranging for a tour – and, like everyone, being willing to share her story; Nicole for early morning connections – I hope you find your way of making the impact you want on the world; Fiver for your great smile, willingness to endlessly chauffeur, unending helpfulness in getting me out of Richmond post-Hurricane Irene; Kevin for being so easy to work and talk with; Irena and Fox for tolerating question after question as I was making lunch (I’m happy to share recipes if anyone wants); McGuyver for offering last minute help when we were late getting lunch on the table; Daniel and Nicole for taking the time to ask how I was doing; Jacqueline for being so friendly to us and for always having a little song going; everyone for being willing to answer all my curious questions and to share their stories. I wish you all luck and blessings in this amazing endeavor! And again, you are all welcome to stay with us if your path ever takes you to Jerusalem. I highly recommend it! – Ruth