What’s your name and where are we today?
My name is Mana and we are in an eco-village called Earthaven in the United States of America on a lovely spring day.
Is there a place you consider you home of origin?
My home of origin is Holland, the Netherlands. That’s where I was born and where I lived the first 27 years of my life, in a small farming town about 20 minutes outside of Amsterdam. I feel like I had a rural and a city upbringing.When I went to high school in Amsterdam, the kids there thought I was a farm girl, but back in my town, I was more like a town girl.
When you think of that home, what are sights, sounds, smells that come to mind?
The sights and smells and sounds are very much of the fields around my house. My parents moved in to a new neighborhood of row houses when I was a baby. It was all very straight, but right outside my neighborhood was still fields of green where they farmed. Now that I’m 40, they’re also neighborhoods, unfortunately. Back then it was still fields that birds inhabited. There are smells of manure — there’s actually a Dutch verb for it, but it’s misting cow poop on the field, which is just a delicious smell to me. One of my mom’s friends said she wanted perfume of that because she liked it so much. The sounds are definitely birds. Me and my friends used to go field tripping in all those fields and go on big adventures and try to find bird eggs and we were full of amazement about all those sounds. The spring in Holland is explosive. It goes from nasty gray to sudden full life like a Disney movie. Everything just starts to come alive, like tiny little baby ducks and baby geese and baby fish and baby lambs and cows. It’s the best season of the year in Holland. Those sounds and smells of everything coming alive is home.
What ways have homes that you’ve visited, made, or been a part of — how has that resembled your home of origin in feeling or physical quality?
Looking at my life, being a grown up, traveling, and visiting lots of different places, there’s always a similar thread to how I was raised — there needed to be strong connection to nature.
I traveled to New Zealand and Australia and Spain and other European countries and the United States and there was always this feeling: I want to hear and smell nature as much as possible. I love visiting cities — the honks and cracks and sirens — but it doesn’t make me feel at home at all. The home part is always like, let me hear the birds, let me wake up with the sun in my face. The things I remember from living in Australia for a couple years are the sound of the kookaburra, the jungle, the roar of the ocean, and the smells of the trees. That’s always been the link to feeling really at ease in my soul, and feeling at home in places.
You said when you’re in a city that it doesn’t feel like being at home. So when you do feel at home, how does that feel in your mind, body, soul?
There’s the feeling and connection to nature, but there’s also the people. I feel like I could create a home on this planet wherever but I have to have a group of people with me that I can depend on and work with and share support with and have a life together. I have a family now, two kids and a husband, and the four of us couldn’t do it on a lonely street. I feel incredibly that my home is my neighbors and my friends and my community. I can also see that those people can be interchanged with a different group of other people. Not my family though. I don’t want any other kids or a different husband necessarily (laughs).
Home is intertwined with a combination of feelings inside me, like, I wanna feel free to explore nature right outside my door, and I wanna feel super connected to my people on a daily basis. When I walk outside my door and I sit and have a cup of coffee with my next door neighbor, that’s home to me. Just immediate and approachable and really… there.
Can you tell me a little bit about Earthaven, your current geographical home?
I’ve lived here for nine years, and I think I’ll live here another nine years. This is an eco-village in the mountains in the Blue Ridge mountains of the Appalachia of the East Coast of the United States. It’s a rural village of many homes, about 70 people or so — we all live pretty close together on a plot of 325 acres. We believe in dense population, and leave a bunch of untouched nature. We farm some, but only on the flatlands, and we leave the steep hills for birds and foxes and whatever else roams here. Actually we don’t like foxes too much cos they steal our chickens… (laughs)
I see a lot of my neighbors’ buildings, and I usually can hear their conversations, and I can hear their kids. I can hear the dinner bell of a community co-op kitchen close by, where about five members always eat together. My kids run into my neighbors’ house all the time and vice versa. There’s a constant mix of people. Right now it’s very quiet and I can hear the birds. It’s morning where the sun’s really warm and there’s trees everywhere. We live in the forest. There’s a big mountain behind me where my house is burrowed into the mountain, so that feels very cozy.
I feel like when some people choose to live rurally, they’re intentionally seeking isolation. It seems like that’s very much not the point of being here in this community.
For sure. The importance of being together out in the woods is that element of, we’re all together, way the F out there. (laughs) If it was just one family way out in the boonies, we’d be incredibly isolated. We’re doing this together. Together we make a life. There’s cookouts, and dances, and morning market, and scrabble night, and singing night, if you want to, or you can be totally by yourself if you’re not into all that.
What I really appreciate about living together is being supportive when something goes wrong in a crisis or health situation. I’ve had two babies born in my house here on the land, and then the support that comes through that is just such wealth, and that makes me feel so at home. I didn’t have to cook a single meal for three weeks straight after I had a baby. Everybody took care of everything.
My best friend in Holland was in the process of dying so I had to fly back and forth between here and there. Usually you can’t just up and leave your kids and your husband behind and go travel to Holland that many times. But I could because we had such a strong support network of friends and neighbors who jumped in and took care of my kids and some financial issues, not just once, but three times. So the wealth is very spread out.
That’s amazing. You touched on a couple things I was interested in asking you about, in terms of how they impact your relationship to home. One was coming from Holland to the US. I am also curious about having the boys.
It’s definitely been very hard to say goodbye to my homeland. It’s funny how I became so much more nationalistic. I appreciated Holland when I lived there, but then I moved away and I was like maaaan, I miss it! And Holland is so awesome and where’s my licorice and where’s my liberal views! That got amplified. Missing home has definitely been an element that I’ve lived with more and more. When I first moved away, if I would talk about going home, that would mean going back to the Netherlands. Over time, when I now say I’m going home, I mean this house and this place. So that’s shifted. It comes with some grief. I still feel I have two homes, and that my homeland will never change.
My home, though, is where my heart is now. I’ve invested for nine years in this place, and I’ve created a home here. I wouldn’t feel too comfortable moving away from here back to the Netherlands; I don’t know what my life would look like. I think that ties in a lot with having kids. To see them experience this place as home amplifies my sense of home. I love for them to run out of the house and run to the creek, and go find crawdads, and throw rocks at a bird, or be interested in bugs. Nature is so direct for them and they’re so safe here. They can run and be gone for eight hours a day and I feel safe and that they’re not in any peril. I know not a lot of people in the entire world have this special way to raise their kids and that this is an incredibly special privilege for us.
I get the picture from some of your stories that you used to be more nomadic. I’m wondering how that has changed as you’ve put roots down here, and if having a family has impacted that.
I was a convicted traveler. I wasn’t gonna settle down or have a family at all. That was not part of the plan. For a good 15 years it was my philosophy to be a nomad and have no children and support the planet in its growth of whatever kind. I was more of an activist. I made my home where I was, in my truck, or in a tent. For the first four years in the united states, me and my husband were living out of a truck. We had our routine down. It was very satisfying and I didn’t want anything else.
I lost my dad at 30, and that started rattling the cage a little bit, and then at 32 I was starting to feel something. I’m like, what is this feeling? Is it a wanting-to-settle feeling? It was pretty scary. I remember having a recurring dream of a front door I wanted to close. I needed more privacy, because I was couch surfing, and always on somebody else’s turf, and always enjoying other people’s hospitality. I would volunteer for years on somebody’s farm through this organization called WWOOF — willing workers on organic farms. I was always on other people’s land and I was wanting to be on the other side. What would it be like to have people come visit me and have coffee at my table? I couldn’t really talk about it. I was way too scared; I was never gonna settle.
I couldn’t change very radically at first. Baby steps. I’m a carpenter, so I built a yurt for us that had a really pretty, very small front door. It was 21 foot across, which was a huge space for us. We knew we wanted to live with other people and so we had this plan of visiting five northeastern communities. We went to go investigate and we never left the first one we visited, which is this one — I’m still here, at Earthaven! We just stopped looking, ‘cos it was such a good fit.
Sounds like you went with your gut.
Yeah. We put up our yurt at a spot here at Earthaven, where we lived for a good three seasons, then we got chased out by mold. We eventually bought this house that was for sale and had no running water at the time. Then the thought of kiddos came up. We thought, if we do home births, we better get some running water. We might even want hot running water, whoa! So we renovated. Two weeks before I gave birth in my own home, we had the first hot running water coming out of our kitchen. That was exactly on time.
I was forced into settling for sure. Having a child creates a whole new experience of what it means to choose to settle down. It’s challenging for me because I’m a nomad still, but I’m dealing with it gracefully. Still learning. We always have the dream to bring the boys on the road with us and do some service work. We’re homeschooling them, so we don’t have to take them out of school. That would be my dream.
I’d love to hear more about what it was like to give birth in your home.
Home birthing is nuts, don’t try this at home. (laughs) Sounds incredibly romantic with candles and homemade soup and stuff, but it is crazy. I didn’t do it once, I did it twice. The thought behind it was hey, women have been doing this for thousands of years, so why the heck do I need a hospital? I got this. So I got a midwife. In North Carolina, it’s slightly illegal to do home births, so we had to lie to the authorities and say we were doing an unassisted birth. It felt nicely radical, trying something slightly under the radar. The first birth was a regular 12 hours, but the last two hours my babe got stuck. In the hospital they would have cut the baby out, no doubt about it, but in this case, I got a lot of praying and support from my midwife. Everybody was like: you got this, you can do this. My midwife said that for two hours straight and I believed her, and I pushed him out, and I thought I was dying and my baby was dying. It’s crazy to think we did it again, knowing full well that was a slightly dangerous situation, and realizing also, we’re willing to take a risk. We’re 45 minutes away form a hospital so that’s too far away for irregulaations. But also we were trusting that there’s been slightly dangerous situations for thousands of years and women can do this. It is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but you just need to have a coach who coaches you through it.
The second one took an hour and a half and he fell out of me, so that was great. I barely got dinner in my mouth when I had a baby. I was like ohhh, whoa, this is how you can have a baby also? It doesn’t have to be just horrible! It can just be excruciating and hard, which of course giving birth always is. That first experience of giving birth and being so humbled by the experience of being close to dying… I’ve never ever ever been this close to another realm. That experience put a definite twist on life. Like a change from one day to the next into somebody completely different who then needed to be settled. It helped me become more humble.
Wow, thank you for sharing. I’m gonna ask you the one question I’m asking everyone: in what ways are you seeking and making home, and in what ways have you found home?
How I’m seeking home is strengthening my relationships — being available to my friends and seeking help when I need it. Understanding that my social network is the most important part of a home. That’s what I strive for, to feed those relationships as much as I can.
It’s the same answer in how have I found home — in relationships. I’m so blessed to be in all these really intimate relationships. We have a good friend who comes over for Sunday morning breakfast — she’s my chosen sister, aunt to my kids, and part of the family. She introduced this rule — she said, please don’t ever host me when I come into your home, don’t ever think you have to put on a smile for me. Come as you are, and if it’s in a shitstorm, then still show up. You never have to entertain me or be anybody else than you are. I’m there, you’re there, and together we’ll just eat some bacon. You do not have to be in a good mood to be in relationship. That was so strengthening and that’s been my motto for a lot of relationships here and that’s been different from the friendship I used to create — which was like, I go see my friend over dinner with a bottle of wine, and we talk about each other’s lives and have a good time, and then it ends, and then I go home. That’s been different for nine years here. It’s absolutely not able even, to be like that with my neighbors. They see me in absolute misery, they see me in absolute joy, they see me in mediocre, they see me when I’m grumpy, and vice versa. I see them in all their moods ,and that’s what I want. That’s what I feel is the most precious about being at home.
I’m definitely aware of wanting to also have special private space, so I chose not to create a home in a co-op where you’re surrounded be a lot of other families or people at all times. I’ve lived like that before. That was great for the time I was in it, but raising children, I need some breaks. I need some times to be totally alone. I still have enough co-parents out there that are the parents of my boys’ friends. We do raise each others’ kids, but not to the point that we wake up together in the same house. I think that’s where I drew the line, that’s where I want my privacy, so I get to be in my nuclear family within a community, which is about as ideal as it gets for me. I get as much social touching and interaction as I want and then I can retreat in my own home. There’s so many co-decisions in a consensus-based ecovillage, where you’re making decisions all the time together, which I’m very passionate about. But I want to also say, and now I’m done, and this is my rule, and this is the only thing that goes, and I’m gonna go to bed now.
And you’re the mom.
I love that— you don’t have to be in a good mood to be in relationship. That’s such a succinct way of putting it. Is anything else coming up for you in the course of this conversation?
Since I’m a carpenter, I can forever build on my house. That’s the dream come true. to actually have this building to fiddle with, and it being, I’m not in debt to a bank, and it’s all just an incredible blessing. I’ve never wanted to rent a house ‘cos I wanna take walls out and that doesn’t really fly. The actual building of the home is within this building is really important to me. I don’t know what I’ll do with myself when I’m actually done building this building. I’ll start over.
You think you’ll be done?
Never. Because probably by the time I’m done with the addition, it all needs maintenance, cos owning a home also comes with having to constantly having to maintain it all. Refresh the beams, and the rafters, and put new gutters on. No, we’ll never be done. That’s definitely this yummy aspect of living off the grid on your own turf. I can do whatever I want with my house!