Elk Ridge

It was late afternoon. Two long skinny forms holding hands walked slowly up from the cluster of houses that was the developed part of Elk Ridge. Pia Rosen’s curly hair was hennaed and her partner Raven’s was long straight black (of course), but both had elaborate feathered earrings dangling over tie-dyed shirts and clashing batiked harem pants. Both wore a lot of jewelry, most of it with sacred associations for them of one sort or another. Their three-legged black mutt Yew danced beside them. Downhill children’s voices chittered like birds as Fern directed daughter Anise and friends picking what might be the last of the peas in their common garden. Someone was playing a Native American flute at Zimmer’s or was it a Carlos Nakai recording? They noted Alex taking his turn feeding the goats and chickens they all shared.

The pair stopped for a minute where the road forked on the ridge itself and looked back at their neighborhood. From this vantage point, the shingled houses were particularly beautiful as they spread down the hill, their differently painted window frames providing a separate character to each façade. One had window boxes of scarlet geraniums and another flew an earth flag from the upstairs window. Fences between the houses served to keep elk and deer out of the large inner terraced commons that was the main garden as well as a grassy play and cookout area. The fences had finely carved or painted gates and were covered variously with grape vines, wisteria, native honeysuckle and sunflowers. The latter glowed in August but were on their last legs now.

A couple of garages punctuated this upper side of the built area, but most were unseen down along Alder Street. Not that everyone had cars in those garages. Raven’s trash art studio occupied theirs (he also had space at ReBound where he kept most of his gleanings) and the Zimmer’s was still stuffed from their downsizing move into the neighborhood. Pia and Raven had a car they parked on the road but others relied on the two local RCar vehicles – a pick-up and an elderly sedan. Or they walked. Fern taught at Head Start just down the hill and another woman waitressed at Angel’s Restaurant a few blocks away. The flexible configurations of the houses made it easy to have home businesses – web work and telecommuting jobs of one sort or another, even a massage therapist.

Looking out over the houses and alder trees, Pia and Raven could see the town of Nekelew itself straddling the river of the same name. Nekelew – Place of the Salmon. Across the River were dairy farms that were increasingly being converted to organic veggies, sheep, goats and other animals. Out past the fields rose the mountains that bounded the whole valley to the East.

“Look at the two eagles soaring down by the river….”

“One of them is catching a fish!”

“Oh lovely.”

“Gotta love this bird’s eye view,” said Raven. “There’s the folks from the yoga class coming out of the community center. I hear young Jay Goodwin-Brown is starting a new basketball program for kids at the gym there. I was thinking I might join them next week.”

“And aren’t we lucky to have their indoor pool remodel finally finished.”

“Though now I don’t have any excuses not to go to the early morning lap swims. Wonder if I will.”

“I keep hearing folks raving about the therapy pool.”

“I hope someone starts a Watsu practice soon,” said Pia. “I love that Thai massage-yoga-watery blend. Just relaxing in someone’s arms as they swirl you in the water.”

“You would, you watery Scorpio and Pisces, you.”

Pia and Raven always savored this walk looking out over the hum of the neighborhood. They had been some of the founders of Elk Ridge, working hard on the process of making it all happen, including helping deal with local politics since not everyone in the broader community had been excited by the prospect of what was often called “that hippie haven up on the hill.” The hill part was important due to the ever present threat of a major earthquake and subsequent tsunami, as well as long predicted climate change making the sea levels rise. Being on high ground gave them a sense of security that made it worth putting their whole hearts into. They liked knowing it could be a refuge if (when?) the challenging times came.

The land itself was owned by the Housing Trust they’d set up so that it would stay perpetually in common ownership. They’d started with the garden – Pia and Raven and then teen-age Arlo along with Fern, Chloe & Johan, and a couple who had since moved away. They’d put up the original elk fence with the faith that if they built it, others would come. It wasn’t long before Alex Coulter and his partner Lloyd bought the house right next to the land and joined in on the garden work, including toiling to create terraces and paths on the slope.

The garden had indeed acted as a kind of beacon and the rest of the development had followed gradually over a couple of years. Local architects Crystal and Lindsey had collaborated to design zero-energy cottages that were partially built by occupants and volunteers. Funding came from a grant from a major national foundation set up to encourage innovative co-housing. As had been the plan, some of the houses were still owned by the Trust and rented affordably, while others were occupant-owned and could only be sold to other lower income folks. A large house across the street, bought recently with funds from local investors, had been turned into one of a growing number of Elder Homes – this one named Filbert House.

The first house built had been Pia and Raven’s own.

“Thank goodness we had the communications practice group going back then,” mused Pia. “Remember that brouhaha when someone donated pressure treated wood for the deck after we’d agreed we wouldn’t use it because of the possible chemical poisoning? I felt so furious and betrayed.”

“I’ll never forget the kids all vanishing into the woods as we started to wrangle. It was great that a few people knew how to really listen and mediate. Alex could assure you that it was just a mistake and then somebody – who was it?”

“Johan, bless his heart, remembered that there was another more innocuous way to use the wood at ReBound.”

“It’s always meant so much to me that we got even the little kids helping. I know it made a big difference to Arlo to have that meaningful work during his late teens when he was pretty adrift.”

“Thank goodness we were able to add the extra acres to the original ten we all invested in,” observed Pia. Raven finished her sentence. “So we don’t have to worry any more about big fancy houses intruding on our little Shangri La.”

“Shangri La makes it sound so exclusive and hidden. We’re smack dab under the town’s eagle eye.”

“Tell me about it,” Raven moaned. ”I can’t believe I’ve nested in a place where I have to be so careful to follow the rules. We aren’t hidden away like some clusters I could mention. At least it’s good for pushing the edges of what’s possible within the law. As we get more credibility we’re beginning to make some creative stretches though, especially now that Alex is on the planning commission. If Lindsey wins the election for City Council we’ll get a lot more traction.”

Yes, the process had been epic and Raven and Pia had worked hard to bring this all to fruition. They still worked hard. There were always improvements and repairs to be made and the on-going dynamics of a collaborative, co-creative, co-housing community to be maintained. Pia actually got paid a stipend for some of the detail work. There was talk now of trying to get dispensation to build “gypsy” trailers and tiny houses tucked into second growth forest around the original “settlement.” And Raven had always dreamed of a cob sauna…. Maybe dragon shaped….

Where to now? If they went up towards the top of the ridge they’d be able to see out over the Logan’s forestry preserve to the Mountain gracing the north. They’d also have to confront the Public Utility substation that was still rather a thorn in their side. Although everyone living there had managed to come to terms with the steady hum on that west side of the ridge (luckily not audible from their houses or garden), some even declared that they thrived on the subtle electrical energy in the air and suspected it was a beacon for the occasional UFO activity on the ridge.

Instead of heading that way though, Pia and Raven turned towards the path that led into The Ravine, the tiny old growth forest area that had, of course, been left undeveloped on the property. Once through Johan’s finely crafted wrought-iron archway, they stopped to give thanks again. The giant Sitka, cedar and hemlock seemed to beckon them to pick their way down the gentle slope. Huge ferns, as well as salal, elderberry and huckleberry lined the main path that was barely two people wide. In the spring the area was dotted with fern lilies, trillium and oxalis. Occasional little side paths created by the animals and exploring children veered off into the underbrush, the children no doubt attracted by the ancient stumps they could play in and the trickle of the tiny stream at the bottom of the ravine, as well as things no one else could see.

“I do so love the red elderberry,” Pia broke the silence of their stroll. “I love it that they’re so hard to kill off. It always feels to me like the old stalks are the great-grandparents with the newer generations growing up out of them, year by year. It gives me shivers that our micro-community encompasses the different generations the same way the elderberry does. It’s more like olden times than the segregated patterns of our culture. Oooh, not to rush the seasons, but I can’t wait ’til the blossoms come in the spring. Remember that flower essence Owen made last year that tasted so sweet?”

“It was delicious,” agreed Raven. “Maybe next spring I’ll finally get around to experimenting with cooking up these guys’ red berries and do that wine making too. Though I’m glad the folks at the Locavore Center planted both the black and the blue varieties so we can have medicinal syrups and such. Sambucus. It is such a powerful plant.”

“Yum, look. The huckleberries are still bearing over there,” said Pia. “Maybe we can inspire the kids to come pick some if we promise pancakes at the next communal Sunday breakfast.”

“Hey, Yew,” Raven called for his dog who had headed off into the bushes. “Shall we follow the path through to the Conservancy Trust wetlands?”

“I don’t feel like going that far. If we go up this path I can pick up the dryer load from the laundry room at Fern’s house. I’m glad I remembered.”

“Did I tell you that the Combined Medicine Circle will be held at Fern’s next week?”

“Oh good. All the men and women together. I love it when we can be out on the deck overlooking these woods. Maybe the weather will hold…. Or not.”

“It seems like the Zimmer’s mother is adjusting well to her move into their granny flat,” said Raven.

“Maybe it was her playing the flute just now. It’s good that we have space for her to live here. I hope she comes to the next potluck, though I heard she’s been ill.”

They headed up the steep path which involved clambering over the roots of some rather large roots and making their way past gigantic sword ferns. If it had been morning they would have gotten wet.

Yew bounded before them up the path but stopped abruptly, forcing the party to halt at a little flat place just before the way opened out past the bushes to the road and houses on the other side. She nosed her humans’ hands as if to say, “Look. Feel. Sense.” Pia felt the call and passionately flung her arms wide.

“Oh Spirits of this place. Hear me now. It is time for the temple commons area we’ve been imagining to enter this reality! We know it has a plank floor and windows opening onto a wide deck hanging out over this magical ravine. We know it has the feel of a miniature Kiomizu-Dera in Kyoto. We know it has a beach stone fireplace and an altar niche and room for costume trunks and other paraphernalia. We know it has a sauna and hot tubs….”  Pia paused to take a breath and Raven took up the challenge.

“Grant us this boon, oh Spirits. Help us fulfill our dreams with abundant funds and energy to create a sacred space that we may honor you and this place and each other. HO!”

“Phew,” said Pia. “That snuck up on me. I just suddenly felt it so strongly. It’s time, Raven.”

“Yes, it is indeed time. Yew knew it. Notice how she stopped us?”

Yew nosed their hands already smelling the cedar shakes and hemlock boards. She even knew where there was a large downed hemlock deep in the bushes that could be a support pole. It seemed right to have at least one piece from this spot itself.

As they neared the top of the hill Pia and Raven chuckled together to hear drums start up, a rather cacophonous din that was probably Orca and Summer Lev with some other teens blowing off steam.

“It does my heart good to hear those kids go at it. Let’s remember to ask Arlo to give them a little instruction,” said Pia thinking proudly of her son’s touring success up and down the coast with his African drumming troupe.”

“And Gabe to add some Middle Eastern rhythms to their repertoire.”

“It’s all good,” they said in unison with a long hug to celebrate their good fortune for having landed in this place and then finding each other and working together to create an idyllic situation that suited them.