TOPAZ Issue 9 / 2004
Welcome
Likes And Dislikes
North American Template Homestead
Balanced nutritional habits
In the Quest of the Man
The Honour between Men
Understandings about the xx and xy gender
Success: An end result or a way of life?
Gender and Singing - a Musical Exploration

The Pioneering Spirit of the North American Template Homestead

Written by Paul Edwards and Beth Simpson. Photos compiled by Karina Edwards.

On the table sits a plate upon which several candles are flickering warmly. Overhead an oil lantern hangs from a hook in the ceiling, casting an orange-yellow light about the room. To my left is a kerosene heater, the house’s only source of heat as the night temperature dips below freezing. Our house has no modern amenities... it is more like camping within four walls than anything else. The grounds outside are wild and unruly looking after a full season of unhindered growth, a situation that will be rectified in the spring. There are no street lights, no noisy refrigerators, no loud music... the stars at night are crisp and clear, the night sounds sing a lullaby. We find our way home along wooded paths by the light of the moon. These are good days, not easy, certainly not comfortable, but deeply satisfying. There is a feeling in the air of possibility, of hope, of willingness and enthusiasm, and beneath it all is the presence of a firm determination that holds it all together. This is the North American Template Homestead. The Homestead is a rural residential facility being pioneered by a small, but growing group of people from the North American Template.

Located near Athens, in south-eastern Tennessee, a largely agricultural area, the Homestead lies snug between the Tennessee river and the Smokey Mountains. The land, previously owned by an Amish community, was purchased August 8th, 2003. These 129 acres of pasture, field, and forest hold 11 structures, a meeting hall, 2 large workshops, several barns and other smaller buildings... none of which had been built with heating, electricity or plumbing. Many of the houses were partially constructed with wood taken from the property and milled right here on-site by the Amish’s horse-driven lumber mill. Black Ankle Creek flows down the middle of the property, a dip in the stream’s cool water is a welcome relief from the sun on hot summer days.

The Homestead is a place where stories are born. The way the place came to be is itself a wonderful story, inside of which many other stories could be told. Less than a year ago the Homestead was nothing more than an idea in the minds of six soon-to-be pioneers. Their vision was to found a community wherein people could live inside a mutuality of purpose and intention, and from within this enhancing mutuality to grow and nurture the seeds of human brilliance.

Our story begins January 10th, 2003. The original team of 3 families had already been meeting for 18 months in Seattle when a pivotal shift occurred. That night’s meeting was like many others, weighing the points of one impossible situation against another. At about midnight, following a full meeting, as the team was about to call it a night, one lady turned around her laptop to reveal photos of a property in rural Tennessee... over 3000 miles (4800km) away! The team was immediately caught by the place, by its beauty and its clean, natural feeling. It met all of the criteria but one, that the location for this residential facility be no more than an hour drive from their current homes in north-western America. This property is located on the other side of the continent! Nonetheless an enthusiasm began to spread through them about this distant piece of land. This enthusiasm culminated in the eventual purchase of the property a mere eight months later, an amount of time unheard of for transactions of this kind.

What is significant about this night is that it marks the point at which a fundamental change in attitude occurred in the six people. At this point began the very real and potent dance of meeting the requirements of the project as opposed to the requirements of their own desire. It was the first, strong declaration of the can-do stance that would allow this endeavour to take root. This stance would require each of them to make a committed decision... the kind of decision that would move six people in directions they had never anticipated. Often times during the following months there was uncertainty as to how it could be made to work, where to find the money, how to work with the local authorities, and so on, yet there remained in place the willingness and versatility to find the way.

What followed this magical evening was 8 months of near frantic activity as the lightning cascade of events began to unfold. One of the founders describes his feeling during this time as, “Getting very little sleep, and yet feeling more energised than I had in years.” There are many little stories within the bigger story of how this came to be. For example, during the first visit to the site, George, the man who lives next door to the property, declared that he was selling the land to our group as a matter of self-defense. He had valued his relationship with the previous Amish community, and had purchased the land from them at great personal risk to ensure that it wouldn‘t be sold off in 10-acre lots. He wanted a community to move in, for he hoped to continue engaging with families and people who were clean and decent. He met with several of the founders, and requested a letter outlining what our vision for the future of the land was. Although he had offers on the land from several groups, he specifically chose the North American Template. This was just the beginning of a mutually enhancing relationship that continues to deepen daily.

In June the first Template member moved onto the property. The land hadn’t officially been purchased yet, however, in anticipation of the purchase and in the spirit of getting a head start on things he parachuted in to prepare the way and get started on the work. Imagine what it must have been like for a person who had been living in urban Seattle to find himself dropped into the middle of an uninhabited piece of land in the middle of rural Tennessee... even the sounds were foreign! The nighttime noises in the south are something that has to be experienced. Imagine every frog you have ever heard croaking all at once. Then add in the sound of an army of peepers, and the incessant drone of the cicadas rising and falling. Now imagine the sound of an owl hooting and occasionally screeching in an unearthly, drawn out way. Above all this is the dog phone system, where one dog begins a message in a long howl punctuated by several barks. Then another dog on the next hill takes up the call, and so on as it is passed across the land. You can feel the land breathe through these night sounds. It is like music.

On August 8th, 2003, the founders signed the papers to finalise the purchase of the property. In order to get this far they had to perform outrageous logistical feats, including creating a business, getting zoning laws altered to suit their site plan, finding lawyers, tax consultants, surveyors, banks and loans... and all of this from the opposite side of the continent! It was a great easement that the local authorities were eager to help us in this process. One local official was fond of saying, “Well, we’re here to help ya!“ in his thick southern accent. If it hadn’t been for the simple fact of this support and encouragement from the locals it is not likely that the Homestead would have found its home here. Soon after the signing more families began to move to the Homestead and the surrounding area. There are currently 15 residents in the Tennessee community.

These days the land is full of activity. There are construction crews working every day to fix up houses with electricity, heat and plumbing. We have a garden, kept alive through most of the winter by a cold tunnel… a kind of temporary greenhouse made of plastic sheeting stretched over a frame. Occasionally the wind rips the plastic sheeting away from its lashings and we have to go out and tie it down again, even in the dark. If the plastic is left off overnight the low night temperatures will kill the plants. There are work parties on the weekends, where everyone rides around in big trucks and on tractors cleaning up garbage, old machinery and scrap materials left behind by the previous owners or the construction crews. Or perhaps we are having a pot-luck dinner in our community meeting hall to celebrate the latest wave of friends who have come to lend a hand. The new woodstove there makes this one of our favourite places to be! To look around you would not appreciate the kind of sacrifice each family and individual has made to be here. Though we have all made many changes in our lives in getting here, we all did it out of choice. It was our dream to have a chance to build something like the Homestead, and we are joyful to have this opportunity.

Here’s an attempt to paint a picture of what we see the community life to be in 5 to 7 years’ time. When you come upon the land, it physically will look similar to how it looks today. The homes and the land will be swelling with life... children and adults of all ages, farm animals, dogs and cats. Electricity underground and water will have been brought onto the land and many of the homes will have been retrofitted with plumbing, county electricity or solar and phones.

One of the buildings will be a common house where somewhere in the front as you walk in through the doors, you’ll see a layout of the rooms and a posting of the activities going on in them. The rooms will include a music room, arts and crafts room, library, children’s rooms, large kitchen and multi-purpose rooms for meetings and classes. The music room will house many different kinds of instruments for music research, practice, and lessons. For children there will be storytelling, nature classes, cooking classes, perhaps a pre-school. For adults there will be classes and workshops focusing on wellness, prenatal education and parenting skills, meditation, esoteric gardening. All of these classes and workshops will be beginning to be offered to people from the surrounding area. The kitchen will be able to seat the whole community so that we can gather once a week to enjoy a meal together.

Another building will be set up as a guesthouse for housing small groups of people who come to take part in weekend workshops. The roadside stand will attract folks looking for organic fruits and vegetables, flowers, herbs, home-made goods, arts and crafts and good conversation. As you walk the land it will feel like home, it will feel safe. Everything in you will slow down a notch or two to allow something deeper in you to begin to stir. How and what you will feel will make you want to stay. As you walk around you will notice that it’s very clean, vibrant with activity, yet with little if any clutter. There’s a natural beauty aglow. A place where the life of the land, animals, plants, children, adults and elders are all of great importance on their own and to one another. Every day life is occurring here in abundance. On the land there will also be some special places, such as healing gardens and hopefully the layout of a cemetery. There will be a wall in the common house showing future plans for more homes, so possibly up to 25 families can live here. Some homes will be specifically designed for elders, there will be a group family home, a hospice, a retreat centre, and plans for gardens, cash crops and forest management. What you will notice is that the place is a sanctuary. A place where people feel a sense of freedom and opportunity, which exists within agreed to ways of interacting with respect and kindness. It is a place where the people support the best in one another and come out from the belief that every human has a unique God given purpose. There is a lack of pettiness because there is a foundational understanding that the way a person thinks affects everything around... people, animals, plants. You feel refreshed.

We hope you have got a sense of this new adventure called the North American Template Homestead. For us it is one of the best places to be on Earth. We would like to extend a special note of gratitude to Leo Armin and his family for their belief and ever-consistent support. It is through their life’s work and inspiration that this project has been able to come about.

If you would like more information about the place or would want to contribute to the North American Template Homestead vision, please visit our website at www.templatehomestead.org.

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