Missouri and The Possibility Alliance

On my way to the Possibility Alliance from Ulinawi in Tennessee I did some camping and hiking in Southern Missouri.  I camped out for three nights on the way all at different places and all were very different experiences.  The first night I just found a state park campground off of the highway and got in late and then left really early in the morning.  I found a campsite that was more secluded than most and a little bit further into the forest than the main campsite area.  I gathered some firewood and pine needles and made a fire, which turned out to be a pretty good thing even though I didn’t cook anything because the mosquitos came out in force and the smoke helped out a lot with keeping them away from me.  I set up my tent under some cedars in a little clearing and figured that I’d harvest some cedar bark to make some tinder so that maybe the next night I could make fire with my friction fire set instead of a lighter.  As I was driving along further into Missouri the next day I kept a look out for a good patch of mullein on the side of the road so I could try to experiment with using the stalks for making a hand drill friction fire set.  Mullein is a very useful plant.  The leaves make great toilet paper and are almost as soft as charmin, the stalks can be used for spindles for hand drill friction fire making, the leaves can be smoked and actually act as a lung and respiratory system cleanser, and I’m sure there are many more uses that I don’t know or haven’t thought of yet.  I saw a huge cluster of mullein plants just off the side of the road so I stopped there and cut 4 of the stalks and put them in the back of my car, which I later found out was not the greatest idea.  The seeds were fully mature, are very small and there were LOTS of them so I guess if it gets wet in my trunk, mullein seeds may start sprouting, haha.  I stopped a couple of times and looked at the map to see if any place popped out to me as a good place to do a little hiking and I found out that there is a pretty nice hiking trail through a good portion of Missouri called the Ozark Trail so I found a good spot to start from headed out from there.  I took with me on this short excursion a combination of modern conveniences such as my tent, backpack, a little food, two metal water bottles, some cooking gear, and I also took my primitive bow drill friction fire set.  I started out on the trail in the early afternoon and hiked until almost dark and found a campground that was closed for some reason, but I figured that either nobody would care if I camped there or they just would never know that I camped there.  The area that I hiked through was very beautiful, it was a nice day, and there were lots of really cool looking rocks that I kept picking up and examining as I hiked.  The only thing that wasn’t all that great was the deer flies.  It seemed like there was almost always one deer fly that was buzzing by my head every so often.  I think it only landed on me a couple of times, but it was really annoying and actually a little frustrating that the fly or flies (I couldn’t tell if it was more than one) wouldn’t leave me alone for very long.  Anyway, the first thing I did to set up camp after I was done hiking was to start gathering fire wood.  I got my tinder bundle ready and set up a small teepee out of small dry sticks and twigs so it would be ready after I got a good coal from my friction fire set.  I got all set up and then started working the set to warm it up and to get my positioning and technique right before I really went at it.  When I was all set, I went at it hard and started pushing the bow drill back and forth and got more and more smoke.  After about 30 seconds to a minute of going at it, I started to get tired and then the spindle came loose so I took a look at the accumulated pile of charred wood and there was still smoke coming from it, so I picked it up and nurtured it carefully for a minute and when I saw a good coal in the middle I carefully placed it into my tinder bundle and carefully blew on it until it burst into flames and then I placed the burning tinder bundle under the stick and twig teepee and I had a good fire going in a total of less than 5 minutes after I had gathered the wood.  I was really impressed and happy that it all worked so well because I have had varying results with it since then as it has sometimes been really easy to get a fire going and a couple of times I haven’t been able to get anything.  I cooked up some lentils and rice and had a nice meal and then cleaned up and went to sleep.  I woke up in the morning with the sun and felt very refreshed, so I packed up my stuff and then hiked back through the woods and headed back out on the road.

I wasn’t supposed to arrive at the Possibility Alliance until the next day so I found a campground about a half hour south of Laplata and stayed the night there.  This time I didn’t feel like using the bow drill to start a fire, so I just used a lighter and cooked up some pasta for dinner in my cast iron pot over the fire, it was excellent.  I woke up early and was really excited to go visit the Possibility Alliance, so I packed up my stuff and headed on over there.  The place was about 6 miles outside of the nearest town and it was just off of a dirt/gravel road.  I pulled into the driveway and mine was the only car there, which was weird at first, but then I remembered that it is an electricity and petroleum free community so they don’t have any cars there.  When I got there, they were in the middle of their morning work, part of which was processing apples and pressing cider so I hopped right in and started helping.  I gradually met everyone as they either started helping or walked by doing something else and immediately engaged in good conversation learning people’s backgrounds and what they were up to, why they were there, where else they had been, and all sorts of other stuff.  They were all very interesting people and I got along well with all of them.  I found out that there are 4 permanent members of the community: Ethan, his wife Sarah, their daughter Eda, and another woman named Blen.  Ethan and Sarah looked like they were in their mid to late 30s, Eda was 3 or 4 I think, and Blen looked to be in her early 30s.  The other people that were at the community were either visitors or apprentices.  Visitors stay anywhere from a couple hours to 3 weeks.  The apprentices live in the community for a whole growing season, or from March through October and a couple of the apprentices had been apprentices before so they were back for another season and were considering joining the community.  A short while after we had worked on the apples for a while, one of the apprentices, Will, showed me around the place a little bit to show me the basics such as where I would be sleeping, where to get water, where to make deposits into the composting toilet, where the outdoor and indoor kitchens were, and some other basic things.  He also answered the few questions that I had at that point and kept insisting that he thought he should be doing a better job of explaining things to me.  I thought he did great job and I guess it was good that he was concerned about doing whatever he could to provide good hospitality to visitors.  Later that day after the other visitors that were arriving that day, we got a tour from Ethan.  The tour was great.  Ethan showed us around and explained the things that they were doing really well and also explained why they were doing them in a really great way.  I was very inspired by the thought and care that he and the rest of the folks put into that place and into their lives.  Everything that they did and all the decisions that they make are looked at with strong regard for the impact that the action or decision has on the world.  In all things, they seek to make a more positive impact in the world.

So, as far as the electricity free and petroleum free thing goes in the community, they don’t use electricity at their place other than a land line phone and I’m not sure about their water system.  They had pressurized water in the kitchen and several spigots around the place so either they got city water or had a well pump or had something else that I either missed or just didn’t think to ask about while I was there.  They personally don’t use petroleum in their daily lives in that they cook and heat with wood that they cut, break, or split with hand tools, they use candles at night, the ride bikes for local transportation of themselves and their stuff with some cool trailers that they have, they use horses to do work on the land and for some transportation and they get neighbors and friends to sometimes run errands or pick up things with their motor vehicles.  They grow a lot of their food in their gardens and the rest of it they get from local farmers.  They have a couple of goats that give them milk, which brings me to the interesting topic of food preservation without refrigeration.  The things that I learned that they have and do for this are that they have a root cellar for keeping things cool, they cook only what food they will eat soon, they ferment the goat milk into keifer or cheese, they do some vegetable fermentation, they do a good bit of canning, and basically just don’t keep things around in perishable form for very long.  They also had chickens from which they got eggs and occasionally meat.

They have around 80 acres in total with an old farm house, a barn, some outbuildings, an outdoor kitchen that they built, an awesome pond, 20 acres of woodland that they are not going to disturb at all, 20 to 40 acres of woodland that they are going to manage and harvest from, and 20 to 40 acres of more open land that they hope to utilize more of in the future to provide for more of their needs.

They are a spiritual community with some shared spiritual practices and some shared beliefs and values.  They are not exclusively any specific religion, but all seek to embody the core values of love, service, sharing, compassion and mindfulness.  The day started with breakfast at about 7:30 and a morning meeting during breakfast.  They had a rotating schedule of the person in charge of facilitating the meeting and sharing something inspirational or challenging or educational from a book or something like that.  After breakfast was what they called “bread labor”, which was basically just the work for the day until lunch and then more until dinner.  The had a rotating schedule for cooking and each person, except visitors, was rotated through the schedule and did all the cooking for a whole day.  During the day, someone was in charge of ringing the bell every hour on the hour, which they called the “Bell of Mindfulness” to encourage everyone to stop for a moment and be mindful.  For me, it was mostly a time to briefly stop and reflect on what I was doing, why I was doing it, how I was interacting with those around me, how I was feeling, what I might need in the moment, etc.  I really enjoyed the bell of mindfulness thing, it helped so much to be more present and aware while I was doing stuff and interacting with people.  Several nights a week there were planned activities.  One night was a music night, where everyone came together and made some joyful noise together.  Another night Ethan led the interested folks through a little book study and personal reflection.  Another night, Blen led a group of us through reading a portion of a book that meant a lot to her and we discussed it after reading parts.  Other nights I hung out with various folks and had some good conversations while floating around in the pond.  It gets rather hot in the summer in Missouri and without electricity, there is no air conditioning, so the pond that is about 100 yards from the farm house is the way that they cool off.  I jumped in the pond about 2 to 4 times everyday while I was there.

As far as “bread labor” goes, I didn’t do anything all that special while I was there, I helped do some painting on the farm house and helped out with various other things in the garden and around the place.  However, pretty much all other parts of being at the Possibility Alliance were very special.  That group of people and what they are doing together is one of the most inspirational things that I have ever come across.  I resonated very deeply with and felt a deep connection with the people there and a deep connection with what they are doing and why they are doing it.  The people were full of life and were passionate and loving and fun.  It was so refreshing and invigorating to be around such joyful and passionate people that had made the choice to live in such a way that is drastically different than mainstream society, and to live in a way that is ever more in alignment with their values.  Of all the places that I’ve been, and all the communities that I’ve visited, this one is the closest to what I feel called to.  There is a strong possibility that I may become a part of the Possibility Alliance someday.  I am planning to go back for a longer visit sometime in the near future.  I am well aware of the transitions and changes that will need to happen in my life to live in the way that they do, but I feel ready to try it.

I probably haven’t mentioned everything that I could about the Possibility Alliance, but I feel like this is enough for now.  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me.

I was listening to a really good song the other day and thought that I would end this post with saying a line from that song:  “This is your life, are you who you want to be?”

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