(This post first appeared as Issue 1 of my EcoTexan Journey newsletter. You can subscribe to future releases here)
Welcome to the opening issue of the EcoTexan Journey newsletter, a travelog by Stephen Torrence.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
It's been a beautiful hurricane month since I left Austin on June 19th. As I write this, sipping my rooibos tea inside the Community Centre of Findhorn Ecovillage, the damp grasses and flowers swaying in the cool breeze of a lazy Scottish morning, a giddiness wells up within me. I pinch myself, as I do so often these days. This is real. This is my life...
How the hell did I get here?
I’ll spare y’all the version that starts with an earnest young couple meeting in an Austin gym in the late 80’s. ;)
The version I will share begins this past April 3rd, with a Turning deep inside me, a tipping-over that accelerated as I crested one of life’s ridges. I had recently left my startup job, bid my partner farewell to pursue her dream career, and floundered for months seeking a Next Thing in the Real World. I felt myself step back, let go, and a grand Unforeseen opened up before me. I moved out of my apartment, sold or gave away most of my possessions, and said goodbye to family, friends, and home, bound across the ocean for Parts Unknown.
Why? Beats me, but sketches are emerging in hindsight. Through one lens, I’m simply a young lad whose wanderlust kicked in. Through another, I finally grew tired enough of living in the Myth of Separation (beautifully articulated by Charles Eisenstein in his latest book). Through yet another, I felt an embodied longing for community and Right Livelihood, passionately expressed in the Permaculture and Ecovillage movements. And through one more, I had finally cleared away enough cruft around my soul to hear its soft whispers of guidance.
Clearer to me are the Ways and Means of this Journey — Trusting, Listening, Opening, Surrendering, Flowing, Sharing, Inter-Being, Loving… Favoring verbs over nouns. Tools over dogma. Connecting over separating. Drawing on inspiration from Ivan Illich, Iain McGilchrist, the Dao De Jing, and much, much more.
I’ve set a bearing rather than a destination. I intend to follow a range of threads — ecovillages, permaculture, sustainable communities, alternative lifestyles, gift economies, and so forth. I've purposefully left this adventure open-ended. With no return ticket home, I’m out here on the road as long as it feels right, drawn forward day-to-day. With every new friend comes a new opportunity, and this world is full of friends I’m eager to meet.
I'm deeply grateful to all of you for supporting and encouraging me on this Journey so far. Your love fuels me and radiates through me wherever I go, passing on into the people and places I encounter.
I invite you to participate in this Journey with me through this Newsletter. I would love to hear from you if something I share here sparks you. Just hit “Reply”. I hope to also include some of your comments in subsequent Issues, though I’m not yet sure how. And if you'd prefer your reply remain private, just let me know.
Some notes on format — I intend to publish an Issue about once a month. Usually I’ll include summary essays, photos, and links related to my travels over the past month. If I have longer thoughts to share, I’ll link off to my blog(s). I welcome your feedback on this too. More / fewer photos? More / fewer words? Tell me!
You can also follow me on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram between Issues.
That up there is Barton! My plucky armadillo companion. Every Friday I send a photo of Barton to my friends at The Regulars as my way of attending in spirit.
Okay, enough ambiguous preamble! Where have I been this month?
Thanks to Icelandair’s Stopover program, I kicked off my journey with three surreal days in Reykjavík. Unbeknownst to me going in, the Summer Solstice coincided with my visit. With the hostels all booked up in the high season and my Couchsurfing host unavailable until later, I stayed up all the way through the Solstice on my second night, wandering through a dreamworld of lavender lupin and mossy volcanic outcroppings, dusk melting into dawn.
Later that morning I channeled my hipster self, sipping a Reykjavík Roasters pourover, flipping Bob Dylan vinyls on the vintage stereo, as neighborhood cats wandered lazily among the tourists. The next evening, my wonderful host took me to an open-air geothermal pool. Afterward we passed Björk’s house on our way to a jazz jam session downtown. And as if that weren't enough, we caught another breathtaking sunset from beside the Harpa, the latest architectural pride of the town.
Iceland straddles many edges — ice and fire, mountains and ocean, the North American and European tectonic plates, light and darkness, an isolated past and a gregarious future. One might imagine these extremes fostering an ambient tension, yet Reykjavík felt to me like a sleepy small town. The locals I encountered had a laid-back Slacker vibe that would make Linklater nostalgic. Though the seeds of a global tourist overrun are beginning to sprout (the Blue Lagoon used to be free, and now costs about $200), for now most Icelanders seem simply flattered by the attention, remaining justifiably confident in their cultural staying power. After all, they’ve got a thousand-year history and an abundance of gorgeous geology to anchor them.
I opted not to pursue the Golden Circle or other tourist excursions, for lack of time and funding, but also out of an intuitive respect for the island's grandeur. Rather than a frenetic photo grabbing afternoon, Iceland invites languid savoring over unbounded weeks. Without a doubt, I’ll return to this beautiful place someday. I left feeling welcomed by the road, peacefully empowered, and ready to begin.
In stark contrast to the sparse serenity of Reykjavík, I touched down in Glasgow and felt instantly back in city life. There I spent three transitional days, staying with a Couchsurfing host in the Starship Enterprise-esque CitizenM hotel, strolling the bustling bricolage of Sauchiehall Street, and exploring the soggy cobblestone back alleys. Amidst the palpable anxiety of Glasgow’s people I found moments of genuine connection — with the baristas of Riverhill Coffee, with a cheerful retiree named Thomas, and most delightfully with a couple of young brothers who shared their life stories, hopes, and dreams with me as we lounged in a park.
Passing through Glasgow was a valuable experience on multiple levels. Seven years ago, my family landed here on my first trip outside the United States. I'm descended from clan McIntyre on my mother's side, and we were visiting for a global clan reunion. So in a way I was completing a circle, looping back around to notice the similarities and contrasts. On another level, simply being in Glasgow soaked me again in the "Old Story", reminding me vividly how different the world I seek is from our current one. I boarded my northbound bus feeling humility and respect for the scale of what I face.
Findhorn - Experience Week
Straddling June and July, I dove into Findhorn’s “Experience Week.” Many people have asked me to describe what it is, and quite honestly I found that the most difficult part of writing this Issue. Then someone recently asked me to summarize it in a sentence, and this came out…
Over a single week, a small group of strangers become fully present with a place, with each other, and with themselves.
That’s it. That’s really it. I could write novels and songs and poems without end and get no closer to how it felt for me. It is just one of those things that you have to… well… experience.
Findhorn - GEN+20 Summit
When I first started researching the ecovillage movement, the Global Ecovillage Network's 20th annual summit was one of the first things I encountered, and I knew the moment I found it that it would be my starting place.
Founded in 1995 at Findhorn, GEN has connected ecovillages around the world to each other through regional and international networks, provided a "solution library" of ecovillage innovations, and held annual conferences to gather the practitioners of this exciting movement. In 2005 GEN spun off Gaia Education to provide online and in-person design courses in ecovillages and sustainability. They remain to this day the strongest avenue for cross-pollination among this diverse and ever-evolving global movement.
My personal expectations coming into GEN+20 were simple: meet people, listen, and see where I was called to go next. Like Experience Week, what I encountered is incredibly difficult to describe succinctly, and I’m still digesting it. I’ve assembled an album of some photos and first impressions here. I’ll hopefully be writing some more essays with deeper thoughts in the weeks to come, and will include those in my next update.
Read More » "GEN+20 — An EcoTexan's View"
Out here, it doesn’t feel like a Monday, or a Friday, or a holiday, or anything else. Every day just feels like... Today.
A Future is drawing slowly into focus. I'm contemplating visits to ecovillages in Portugal, Spain, and Germany in the Fall, likely interspersed with spontaneous detours. During August, I’ll probably spend some time in Wales and London.
But who knows? The road is strange and wonderful. With open eyes and full heart, I Journey on…
Love and blessings until next time, y’all