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 Truth To Power: Location, Location, Re-Location

TravelBy Carolyn Baker

For approximately ten days last month I traveled across the United States from my former home in New Mexico to my new home in Vermont. My journey has been the culmination of years of researching and soul searching in response to the odyssey of my species and the earth community which has now entered an irreversible trajectory of collapse.

At the completion of this transition, I feel compelled to clarify a number of issues around my relocation and relocation in general. Obviously, for the past two years on this website I have been talking about relocation as one piece in the complex tapestry of collapse preparation. Therefore, I feel that I owe it to regular readers and subscribers of Truth To Power to let you know that I've taken this enormous step since many of you have relocated long before I did, and many more of you are contemplating doing so. I believe that where we choose to stay or move to is monumentally important in terms of how we prepare or do not prepare for collapse. I do not believe that everyone should relocate, and I certainly do not believe that everyone should relocate in Vermont since relocation is a highly individual decision encompassing myriad factors, and one size definitely does not fit all.

I hasten to add that I just arrived in Vermont a few days ago and that I do not have elaborate plans for making a seamless transition into some groovy ecovillage where I intend to live happily ever after in harmonious community with other collapse watchers. ...

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I'm taking this process one step at a time and may be settling in at some point in shared living space with friends where a process will be implemented for addressing conflict and the logistics of inhabiting our common dwelling places together. Should such a group coalesce, there will be formidable challenges and hopefully, extraordinary moments of celebration as people come together and confront the demons we have all introjected from empire, not to mention the fundamentals of survival. As a seasoned Buddhist might say, I have a plan, but plans from moment to moment must be open to change. Relocation and living in community as collapse exacerbates will be a long, demanding, arduous process, but I have taken the first step, as have many of you.

Relocation involves much more than logically choosing a geographical area inside or outside the U.S., taking into consideration the climate, access to arable land, water, wood, and other resources for living sustainably-a decision requiring most individuals to carefully weigh the assets and liabilities of any given place and then acquiring the financial resources necessary to make the transition. Just deciding where one wants to live is challenging enough; equally stressful for most people is finding the means to relocate, and as the price of gas and just about everything else soars, it feels as if the sands of time are running out and against those who have not yet made their move.

What seems to get less attention when the topic of relocation is discussed is the emotional factor-that is, the goodbyes, the myriad feelings that surface as one leaves a place and people-perhaps even immediate family members, in order to relocate in an unfamiliar venue. What is already an emotionally challenging experience may become more agonizing as family and friends living in denial of collapse perceive one's decision to relocate as extreme, bizarre, or dangerous. But the emotions associated with leaving are usually rivaled by those one experiences when arriving at the new destination-feelings of unfamiliarity, disorientation, ungroundedness, anxiety, paranoia, and disconnection. None of us is an expert in relocation even if we have moved many times in our lives. After all, relocation engendered by one's awareness of collapse is not the same as simply moving to another state or country under pre-collapse circumstances.

In other words, other relocations in one's life may have been motivated by job change, the end or beginning of a relationship, the desire to be closer to family, or a hundred other conventional reasons. In those instances, moving is less emotionally complicated. One simply takes care of the business of moving, experiences the typical emotions around saying goodbyes, and then moves on. Relocation needs to happen, so we relocate. Done.

Because the prime motivating factor for many individuals in current time is preparation for the demise of empire, one is almost certain to feel passionate about the decision, but the quality of feeling about relocating will be experienced differently than with respect to prior moves. Typically, when people relocate in anticipation of collapse, many second thoughts and pejorative inner voices, as well as some skeptical external voices from well-meaning friends or family, are likely to scream things like: "What the hell are you doing? Are you crazy? Don't you think this is a little extreme? What if you're wrong, and after a few years of crisis, the world just goes on as it was? Won't you regret your move?"

After relocating, even if the new setting is structured and one's living arrangements are already well in place, a plethora of other thoughts and feelings may surface-as stated above: a sense of disorientation, ungroundedness, fear, anxiety, ambivalence. These emotions will vary in intensity and frequency depending on how different the new setting is from the old, but because the intention of relocation is to settle into a very different milieu, they are likely to be ubiquitous. What will invariably come to the forefront of consciousness is the need to trust oneself and one's decision about relocating. It will be important to mentally return to the months or years of preparation one has put into the relocation and remind oneself of all the reasons for making the transition-and reach out to fellow relocaters and friends who support ones' decision.

At this point, relocation becomes a highly emotional and, dare I say, spiritual issue. Any time I am faced with trusting myself or others, I'm in the territory of mystery, and mystery is about something greater than my own human ego. The more experience one has in consciously living beyond the parameters of one's ego and intentionally inhabiting the domain of one's life purpose, the less stressful the transition is apt to be because the "muscles" of trust have been sufficiently exercised in the context of other issues. Relocation is never easy, but it can be made easier by trusting the process that brought one to make the decision, trusting allies who have already earned one's trust, taking action, and finally waking up in the new location with all the attendant emotions and challenges and feeling, not denying them.

Having allies and a structure in place in the new setting is important, but in any event, unforeseen challenges will arise. Such is the nature of the journey of relocation. The toxicity of the culture of empire is a prime motivator for most of us as we relocate, and one aspect of that toxicity is the need for certainty and predictability. When we step out of empire and into our journey, into a new way of thinking and living, we invariably sign up for uncertainty and anxiety and guarantee that our survival and well being depend on trust as much as strategy.

For me, collapse is about far more than survival. In fact, survival may be the least important issue. What matters much more for me is the possibility of creating a new way of being in the world that rejects empire and its values and offers the opportunity for creating and maintaining community based on serving the earth community.

Well, if you're now thinking, "All right, already, enough of the spiritual babble, what about the logistics?" I will tell you why I chose Vermont as my destination; my understanding of the state based on my research suggests the following*: First, Vermont is sparsely populated with about 630,000 residents. It has abundant water and arable land with ample access to firewood which of course will be critical for woodstove and pellet stove heating as home heating oil, the predominant means of heating in the Northeast, becomes increasingly unaffordable. The state has no billboards, and residents must pay for any trash they do not recycle. In addition, Vermont is currently fine-tuning its own state healthcare system, Catamount, which provides reimbursement for anyone making less than $2600 a month. Residents can also buy health insurance through Catamount on a sliding scale. Just this past week, Vermont was rated second only to Iowa in the quality of its healthcare for children. The state also has an abundance of small farms, a thriving organic dairy industry, and a strong emphasis on eating and buying local. Most notably, Vermont is an incredibly rural state with only three towns of 15,000 or more: Burlington, Rutland, and the state's capital, Montpelier. When traveling throughout the state one has the feeling that one has left the U.S. and is inhabiting some other country because rural Vermont bears little resemblance to "McAmerica". Furthermore, Vermont is third in the nation for the amount of money it spends per capita on education, and small private and state-funded colleges are ubiquitous. Also, an Amtrak line runs from Montreal to New York City, and trains can be boarded daily from Rutland to the Big Apple.

Perhaps most enticing about Vermont is the remarkable environmental consciousness of the majority of its citizens and the sense of community and mutual support they demonstrate. In fact, I have never known a state, and I have lived in many, where cooperation is as valued as it is in Vermont. A great deal of focus is now being placed by Vermonters on renewable energy with widespread Peak Oil awareness and preparation. As for the arts, Vermont is an oasis of music and visual arts, and some have said that one cannot throw a stone in Vermont without hitting a writer.

Politically, the state tends to balance conservatism-that is fiscal restraint, balanced budgets and a "live and let live" sensibility and neighbor helping neighbor, with a long history of support for progressive causes-from support for abolition in the 19th century to support for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered persons in the 21st. Seen from opposite ends of the political spectrum, Vermont is the most radical state in the nation-the only state where one does not need a permit to carry a handgun and at the same time, a state where LGBT individuals feel safely able to become an integral part of community life. Vermont has a rich history of supporting human rights and was the first state to outlaw slavery.

In addition, a strong movement for Vermont independence, yes secession, is the passion of a significant number of Vermonters. Familiarity with Vermont's history reveals a long-standing tradition of independence modeled on the democratic republic template of the Founders of the United States. In-depth information about the "once and future Republic of Vermont" can be obtained at the Vermont Commons website where Truth To Power has a regular blogspot and where authors promoting independence offer a treasure-trove of information and support for their cause. Many supporters of Vermont independence believe that it will become an increasingly viable option as the collapse of empire intensifies and globalization is supplanted by localization.

However, as with any venue, Vermont has daunting challenges, not the least of which is its winters. Home heating oil costs this coming winter will be astronomical, and renewable energy for heating will be a critical necessity. Because of its long winters, newcomers quickly discover that they must participate in seasonal outdoor activities such as downhill or cross country skiing or snow shoeing in order to prevent "cabin fever" and to assist them in emotionally adapting to the season's length. The pay-off for those long winters, however, is lush summers and resplendent autumn foliage that bolster the state's tourism and fine arts enterprises. Because of Vermont's low population and its de-emphasis on growth, finding gainful employment is challenging. Public transportation is still inadequate in Vermont as it is in most regions of the nation which means that unless Vermonters work at home, they are required to drive fairly long distances to their jobs. At this writing, a few stores are selling gas at $3.89 in Vermont, but most Vermonters anticipate rising gas prices very soon. Culturally, Vermont is mono, rather than multi-cultural, the predominant ethnicity being Anglo-American. In addition, LGBT individuals in the state are working hard to get legislation passed that would make civil marriages legal.

As for my own rationale for leaving the Southwestern U.S., I have been researching the issue for several years, and in the light of what are certain to be lethal water shortages and climate changes that are likely to make that region uninhabitable, especially as energy blackouts become more frequent, I felt compelled to move north. Through a series of connections with friends in the Northeast, I chose Vermont for many of the reasons stated above, but also because it felt like the best option for me. I have also carefully considered relocating outside the U.S., but as the Terminal Triangle that I have written about so often-Peak Oil, climate change, and global economic meltdown exacerbate and engulf the entire planet, the assertion that leaving the U.S. is absolutely necessary for one's survival has felt increasingly spurious to me.

If you feel motivated to relocate, be advised: the sooner the better. Time is running out. Also, it is important to understand that no place is perfectly safe, no place offers one all of the attributes that make for sustainable living, and certainly no place is without challenges. Most importantly, the emotional and spiritual aspects of collapse must be attended to with as much ardor as the logistical aspects because they loom at least as large, if not larger, than the fundamental process of continuing to breathe air, eat food, drink water, and maintain one's basic creature comforts.

During my transition to Vermont I was able to offer more postings on the site than I had anticipated. I suppose I expected more disruption of daily postings than actually occurred, and for the fact that I was able to continue postings most days during the transition, I'm grateful. Truth To Power now has a new home as well as many subscribers in the Green Mountain State. I look forward to posting news regarding local political and sustainability projects in Vermont which may be useful to all Truth To Power readers everywhere, and I support all of you who are considering relocation. Choose the place that is best for you, and go there soon.


*With special thanks to Rob Williams, Professor of History at Champlain College and Editor of VT Commons, for fact-checking information about Vermont in this article


Carolyn Baker, Ph.D. is author of a forthcoming book, COMING OUT FROM CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALISM: Affirming Life, Love and The Sacred. Her recent book, U.S. HISTORY UNCENSORED: What Your High School Textbook Didn't Tell You, is available at her website: http://www.carolynbaker.net
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[03 June 2008]

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