The appearance of geese high in the northern sky after they've left their summer breeding ground in the Artic and head for over-wintering pastures signals a turning point in the year.
It is one that ties us in with the natural rhythms of this place and within the ecovillage where I live, Findhorn, we make every effort to reconnect with the patterns and flows of the natural world and with the traditions of our ancestors who lived here. Full moons are marked with meditations. We celebrate the old Celtic festivals – Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasa and Samhain – as well as the equinoxes and solstices with bonfires, songs and dances. But nothing we can concoct ties us in so magically and so surely with the web of life that surrounds us as these moments of the year when the geese arrive, and then depart again in spring.
To me at least it is unsurprising a blog aimed at exploring life in an ecovillage should begin with geese. For sure, the visitor to Findhorn is greeted with much of the conventional hardware that might be expected in an ecovillage. The first sight of the community from most angles is the four wind turbines, standing proud and tall, that make us net exporters of electricity. In the settlement itself, housing designed according to ecological principles is progressively replacing the caravans that housed the community pioneers who first settled here in the early 1960s; we have now built 51 eco-houses. A biological waste-water treatment plant – a 'Living Machine' – treats our sewage. A large amount of organic food is grown in our community-supported agriculture system, EarthShare. We have a community currency and bank.
Yet, at the heart of our lives is something less tangible. When visitors ask me 'Where can I find the ecovillage?', expecting to be shown the eco-technology or the houses, my favourite response is to whisper conspiratorially, 'It is invisible'. By this I mean that at the heart of what we are about is the creation of healthy and loving relationships – with ourselves, with each other and with the world around us. Our ambitions are much greater than merely reducing our resource consumption. (Although this is hugely important here. We recently received the results of an ecological footprint study of the community conducted over the last year which suggests that our footprint is one half of the national average – the lowest footprint ever recorded, as far as we are aware, for any population in the industrialised world.)
The core aim, however, is altogether more visionary and utopian: to facilitate a transformation in consciousness and to create a model of a happy and healthy community that is sustainable on all levels. This noble task is not without its paradoxes. The greatest of these is that, as a community built around a training centre, we are dependent on air miles. Lots of air miles. Around 3,000 people a year come here to do courses. A second is that while Findhorn has won admirers and partners in the United Nations, among universities in the United States (which send under-graduates to study as part of their degree programmes) and among activist populations as far afield as Japan, Brazil and California, it has had a harder time landing the impulse in its own Scottish backyard.
Over the coming weeks and months, I hope to explore further these are other dilemmas and to introduce you to some of the people wrestling with them. Two of the core metaphors of the ecovillage movement are the lighting of candles in the darkness and 'being the change you want to see in the world'. I hope that the stories I am able to share with you may generate some light and inspiration.