Ecotopia, Revisited

by Jamie Lee, July 27, 2011

The main story behind Ernest Calenbach’s 1975 novel “Ecotopia” was about what had been created 20 years after America’s Northwest (Northern California, Oregon and Washington) seceded from the rest of the United States and was left alone to fend for themselves.

The premise was that secessionists had planted nukes in major cities in the East and would detonate them if anyone East of the Sierras and Cascades Mountains tried to enter their newly declared territory. The story is about what these people were able to create using new visions of a much better way.

Fast forward to this past weekend at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds where those fortunate enough to attend were treated to workshops, lectures, demonstrations and communities of people localizing and returning to an more-or-less agrarian lifestyle, where the needs of the community are blended with the local craftsman of the same community using their wits and the lands they live on.

The event was kicked off Friday night with 50 to 100 young and still thinking-young but not so young revelers in a drum circle and music jamboree led by Heir Gunther’s Cavalcade of Burning Man ready vehicles.

Saturday’s agenda included workshops on blacksmithing, native seed propagation, watershed restoration, compost making, seaweed harvesting, animal butchering, beekeeping, plant medicine, biodynamic farming, alcohol gas for cars, tortilla making — and a conversation café with chat rooms on everything from localizing the currencies to home birthing and home schooling.

Probably the largest attended lecture and demonstration was put on by the Pomo Indian ladies. They showed us how they have used nature’s native flora for medicine and food for thousands of years and how abundant Nature can be to us all if we know how to use what Nature has to offer, as long as we showed her the respect and reverence due.

Saturday night’s potluck featured local roasted pig and lamb as well as music under the stars with Pura Vida. Sunday brought more workshops like from the good folks of the Emerald Earth Sanctuary on natural home building techniques, Bill Taylor’s Salad University, Canning with the incomparable Marty Johnson, Sheep Dog Training, cheesemaking, simple herb making as well as much more self-sufficient ways that we all can learn to take care of ourselves and our community.

What was most impressive about the whole weekend is how almost the entire cast who put on the event (led by the persistently positive Captain Rainbow and young Ms. Sophia Bates, outfitted in a lovely buckskin dress she made herself), as well as all the presenters and demonstrators had all volunteered their time and services for the cause.

Where a country that is severely lacking in solutions for how we are going to adjust to a power-downed, resource depleted, weather-weirding, water-limited, food-polluted, economically-unviable future — it is refreshing and empowering to see these local folks, once again, taking the lead to envision a much better future for us all to access and learn from in these wonderfully wacky changing times.

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