Profile Response: Jacqueline and Crunch Stepp St Augustine FL

 

HWWLT Logo on yellowI have met my totem spirit on this trip: Eskimo, an eight-year-old dog. When Eskimo lived with Jackie and Crunch Stepp on their boat a few years ago, he got hit by a truck on US 1, broke his shoulder and his scapula, had a pin installed, and these days is a mellow soul seemingly unaffected by that trauma. I can relate to the trauma and aspire to the mellowness.

Jackie and Crunch are a young couple from Tennessee who met when living in neighboring communes. They fell in love and lived in an intentional community until a schism led them to leave. For three years they lived on a boat, traveling Florida’s warm waters and the Bahamas, and enjoying the extended community at River’s Edge Marina, their home base in St. Augustine. screen-shot-2016-12-24-at-12-17-38-pmBut they long to return to Tennessee and start their own intentional community. So, they invested in a house and hope to build equity toward purchasing a piece of land in their native state.

“We have notebooks where we each write what we envision. How many people do we want? How will our commune be organized? What is required for membership?” The idea is very present in their lives. In the meantime, they invite all manner of folk, long and short term, to share their home. Jackie’s brother Stephen lives with them more or less full time, a friend Travis was staying for a few weeks, yet they also invited me to sleep on the couch.

screen-shot-2016-12-24-at-12-18-00-pmSix years ago, Jackie and Crunch committed themselves to each other. Crunch’s vows emerged in the spirit of that moment. Last year, mostly to please Jackie’s parents, the couple had a formal wedding. “It felt so fake.” Crunch didn’t like having to write vows in advance, go through prescribed procedures. “I don’t think I’m from planet earth. I don’t get this planet. I’m from somewhere else, sent here as some kind of probation.”

img_8916Crunch works for Roto-Rooter and is weeks away from getting his plumbing license. Jackie was a tour guide in St Augustine and now works in the Old Trolley offices. They see these endeavors as stopgap measures in service of the larger plan. Yet, the spirit of communality drives their daily life. In the morning, everyone moves through their large kitchen, making coffee, fixing lunch, cooking omelets, chatting, listening to wake-up rock’n’roll with an energy far beyond what a solitary couple on a Monday morning.

Eskimo and I sat in the corner and observed the activity. We appreciated the food and drink that came our way, thankful that our broken bones are so well healed.

How will we live tomorrow?

img_8913“I see mass extinction and hard core crazy things you won’t want to publish on your blog. If you’re talking tomorrow, I’m all for one day at a time. If you’re talking tomorrow tomorrow, we’re f@#ked.” – Crunch

“I think it’s a difficult question. There are so many people, how can I create a ‘we’ out of seven billion and growing? Every day we’re accelerating faster and faster than our little monkey brains can handle. We have to get to smaller groups.

“The biggest contributor to climate change is population growth. We have to find a way to work that out. I’m not going to be the one that will figure that out. I want to create my own space, for my own family, sharing space and resources and communication. If I can move toward that with my own family, then it can spread out to others.” – Jackie

Posted in Responses | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Profile Response: Bonne Bernau, Gainesville FL

HWWLT Logo on yellow“Tall women playing volleyball get a lot of attention.” Bone Bernau, Florida State PhD student in Art Education, got plenty of attention back in December of 1994 when she was invited to play a Sunday game in Tallahassee. Alan noticed the statuesque woman, but he didn’t compete with the other guys for her attention. Instead, he rode his bicycle to the post-season party a few weeks later and finagled Bonne to drive him home. “He kissed me on the back of the hand. That’s when it began.” Twenty-two years later the couple is still together, though rarely in the same place. “We’ve only lived together for four years, and three of those were during my cancer.”

Bonne was diagnosed with Stage Three breast cancer shortly after she moved to DC. She attributes her remission to an extraordinary combination of traditional and alternative care. “My eastern healer was with me during my double mastectomy and reconstruction, six hours of surgery. She sat at my head with her hands positioned on either side. In recovery, the anesthesiologist came to tell me he had never seen such even brain waves during surgery. He didn’t need to tell me that; it was my healer.”

imgresIn 1999 Bonne returned to Florida to care for her parents and became an art educator at University of Florida’s Harn Museum or Art. “The arts help us examine who we are as human beings, even when we don’t have the words to express it.” Alan remained in DC until 2014, when he returned to Tallahassee to care for his mother.

images-1After retirement, Bonne decided to stay in Gainesville. “One of the things that keeps me in Gainesville is the energy. A lot of old hippies have stayed. A lot of young people have stayed here and started entrepreneurial ideas. We are doing what we love, making a living at it, and helping people in the process.”

Bonne and Alan are a couple for the long haul, through disease and job change and aging parents. Having the same address is immaterial to their bond.

img_8899-copy

How will we live tomorrow?

img_8900“Being a cancer survivor has changed the way I think about tomorrow. You cannot guarantee that it will arrive.”

 

Posted in Responses | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Profile Response: Amre, Tallahassee FL

HWWLT Logo on yellowOkay, okay, call me shallow. How could I resist requesting an invitation to stay with Amre after reading the opening line of his couchsurfing profile. A bit about me : +-1m71, +-71 kg. Clear brown complexion. Dark hair. Brown eyes. Big rounded nose. Beautiful ears. The most handsome man in the world according to my mom.  I felt a moral duty to verify his mom’s assessment.

Truth be told, Amre’s mom only got it half-right. Amre is indeed handsome, easily among the most handsome in the world. But there is so much curiosity and depth beneath his features, his physical attributes merely support an equally handsome soul.

imgresAmre is French, though few would guess that. His parents fled Syria several Middle East crises ago and landed in Montpelier by happenstance, which is where Amre was born. At age 18 he spent a year in India. “India was my right opposite. It was my rebirth.” He’s lived several other places around the globe, obtained a Master’s in IT Communications in Paris, and married a woman from Venezuela who had permanent resident status in the US. That brought him to Miami.

imgres-1One weekend last winter everything fell apart. “Within 48 hours we decided to divorce, I found a job in Tallahassee, packed up, drove here, and started a completely new life. Amre is appropriately circumspect on the details, but I gather it was not entirely his idea.

images-1Since then Amre has been working hard, staying fit, eating well, and offering his spare room to visitors like me. Though I arrived with a question on tap, Amre made many more queries. What provoked my trip? How had it changed me? What advice would I give my younger self? Amre is a young man half my age in search of himself; he resurfaced the inner questions I searched at that time in my own life. Given Amre’s earnest inquiries, I am confident he will find a good way for himself.

imgres-2Amre works for a private contractor that provides IT services to the Florida State Senate. Like most immigrants I meet, many aspects of our culture flummox him. “I thought everyone here would be very hard-driven. I don’t find that at all.” “Why are people here so out of shape?” “I am the only one who wears a suit to work. It conveys respect. Unfortunately, appearances matter.”

images-2Nevertheless, like most immigrants I meet, Amre hopes to stay here. “I believe America still has the idea of freedom. It still has more opportunity than most of the world, much more than Old Europe. Here, people know I’m not white, but they don’t care beyond that.”

 

How will we live tomorrow?

img_8824“I like the ‘we.’ It implies community. I’ve never thought about the ‘we.’ No one in our social system is asking this.

“Eventually, we will get back to our roots. Now, we are living abnormally. It started with the industrial revolution and become more unsustainable ever since. We can proceed for one more generation, perhaps, but your children and my hopeful children will grasp that we need to change and we will live in balance. Some things will be forced in order to achieve that, but we’ll get to balance. There will still be wars and struggle for power, but we will live with more balance. The Occidental world will ascend and bring their spiritual nature to the fore. I am optimistic. I can see that we will get there.

“I am a big believer in universal income. In purest form, you’re given a basic income to cover your expense just for inhabiting the earth. I do not believe this will make people lazy; they will be energized. If everyone who makes a non-economic choice can be happier, then universal income will lead to greater creativity and happiness.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Profile Response: Michael Cooper, CEO Weems Memorial Hospital, Apalachicola FL

HWWLT Logo on yellowOne of the most unique projects of my architectural career was a replacement facility for Weems Memorial Hospital, a hospital near the mouth of the Apalachicola River at the tip of Florida’s Big Bend. Six years after our initial concept sketches, the project is still nothing more than a drawing on a wall, but Mike Cooper, Weems’ new CEO, is confident construction will begin next year.

“Before I came here, we started with a replacement facility, then developed a conversion and addition scheme, then a smaller addition. All were over budget. The Board of Commissioners set a $10.2 million budget, thinking we would not be able to meet that and they wouldn’t bear the blame. But our latest iteration, which includes renovation and some addition, comes under budget and achieves critical operational changes we need to stay in business.”

img_8797Mike’s review of the process requires clarification. A hospital is point of pride, and safety, and jobs, for any community. Weems is the only hospital in Florida’s Franklin County. In 1997 Congress passed legislation establishing ‘Critical Access’ designation to rural hospitals that are at least 35 miles from another facility, run a 24/7 emergency department, and have 25 beds or less. Critical Access designation provides some financial cushion for small hospitals, but it does not guarantee they will stay in business.

Mike explained the unpleasant reality of Weem’s business model. “Forty percent of our business is indigents or Medicaid. We get fifty cents on the dollar for Medicaid patients, zero for indigent care. When I spend a dollar on direct care, I’m only taking in sixty cents.” What keeps Weems in business is a one percent county sales tax designated for healthcare. The County Board of Commissioners controls that purse; they have established Mike’s $10.2 million capital budget. “There’s enough money to make the project happen; this area has rebounded from the recession pretty well.”

img_8799Mike has worked in rural healthcare in Kentucky, Indiana and Idaho prior to coming to Florida. He appreciates rural life, though doesn’t consider it as unique as local folk imagine. “People say their part of Americana is special, and it is, but all of these places are essentially the same good place.”

From Mike’s perspective, Weems needs this facelift in order to stay alive. The current facility, which hasn’t been updated in over fifty years, requires multiple staff at ED and inpatient areas. The new layout will streamline staffing. “With a patient census in the two to three per day range, and variable ED traffic, we need to have all clinical activities controlled from one point.”

However, Weems’ largest challenge is probably not the location of its nurse station. Twenty-three miles to the west, the Sacred Heart System recently opened a new hospital in Port St. Joe, close enough to lure patients seeking a new facility even though it is in another county.

It is very costly to maintain a full service hospital in a community as small and remote as Apalachicola. If the county wants to keep Weems afloat, and improve the healthcare Weems can provide, it will require subsidies as far as anyone can see.

How will we live tomorrow?

img_8801“I think we are going to be very much defined by technology. Look at education. In Florida and Kentucky you can get a high school diploma and never step foot in a classroom. It is only going to increase as the Millenials have children. Traditional schools will go away and be replaced by a YMCA or Boys’ and Girls’ Club for focused activities.

“From a healthcare perspective, technology will be the order of the day. Small hospitals will go away as we do more with remote procedures and diagnoses. The technology already exists. Right now hospitals would jump on it, but there are no reimbursements for it.

“We’re going to see the demise of the family practitioner. You want a relationship with a doctor, you’ll have a relationship with a mid-level – a nurse practitioner or a PA – who will refer you to specialists. You’re going to see a change in credentialing for nurse practitioners. They’re going to need a doctorate degree. Pharmacists now need a doctorate; physical therapists need a doctorate. Right now, nurse practitioners are the only ones at that level that don’t need a doctorate, and they can prescribe medication.”

 

Posted in Responses | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Profile Response: Adam Collier, Panama City FL

HWWLT Logo on yellowBefore Adam Collier took me out on the town and introduced me to the Bacchanalian delights of Ms. Newby’s bar, we leafed through The Universe, a super-size coffee table book of photos of our galaxy and beyond. Adam purchased the book for $19.99 back in high school and carted it from his hometown of Sarasota, to FIT for degrees in oceanography and engineering management, then on to Groton CT where he worked in nuclear submarine design. “Those projects were going to take thirty years to bring to life. It was my first job. I was not ready to make that commitment.” After six months in Connecticut Adam came to Panama City, where he designs life support systems at NAVSEA for Navy divers. “They tell me it can take two to three years to get the parameters of what we design, but after four months I already like it.”

img_8778Adam’s technical bent is balanced by a counter-cultural, spiritual vibe. He’s mostly vegetarian, practices yoga, campaigns against tossing cigarette butts, intones the didgeridoo he hand crafted, and studies Eastern religions. “People ask me all the time if I’m from California.”

Like all good sons of the South, Adam is well versed in the The Bible, a subject I never tire of discussing with people across our land. He explained how, even though he’s no longer a strict believer, The Bible is still holds a unique position among texts. “Shakespeare may be inspired writing, but it doesn’t have near the scope of The Bible. The Bible tells a great story and it outlines how we are supposed to live and it describes a future. If you believe in it, it includes everything you need to know.”

screen-shot-2016-12-24-at-11-05-24-am screen-shot-2016-12-24-at-11-05-44-am

But even the scope of The Bible falls short of the magnificence Adam and I encounter in The Universe. Humans are simultaneously insignificant among the stars and remarkable in all that we can conceive. As we contemplated bursting nebulae and collapsing galaxies Adam looked beyond Christianity’s primary text. “Ancient Buddhists believed that the sky was filled with gods that expanded and then contracted to sleep. How did they know that?”

How will we live tomorrow?

img_8777“I was just watching Cosmos. We have to have something dramatic to force ourselves to reevaluate how we live. We will have to have a disaster to take us to the fundamentals so we can start from scratch and restructure society from the ground up. By then I hope we will be living on other planets. I’m hoping to be part of that transition. I want to be an astronaut; I am getting there by first being an argonaut. I give us two generations until we live in space.

“Commercialization is powerful. Why do so many people thank we need so much stuff? I haven’t had a TV in six years. I watched too much as a kid. I fear addictions; I was addicted to TV. Someone asked me my biggest fear and I said, ‘dying before I make an impact on the world.’ But really, I’m afraid of an addiction. Actually, my biggest fear is a bar of soap. I figure it’s because my mom put one in my mouth when I was a kid. I cannot stand to touch a bar of soap.”

 

Posted in Responses | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Profile Response: Bethany and Dave Garth Montgomery AL

 

HWWLT Logo on yellowThere’s nothing more rejuvenating than spending time with kindred spirits, folks with whom you don’t have to edit or explain because we’ve had so many common experiences. We can talk in shorthand and find humor in events that leave other people puzzled.

So, it was quite a treat to spend an evening with Bethany and Dave Garth on the day I rolled over 20,000 miles. In 2011-2013, the young couple logged over 22,000 bicycle miles on a worldwide trek that encompassed four continents and too many countries to list. To be sure, their experience – more camping, cross-cultural hijinks, and periods of lingering in favorite places – has different parameters than my journey’s pulse of continuous movement, intentional interactions and couchy creature comfort. Still, the fundamental joys of bicycle touring are the same regardless of terrain or language. As Dave put it, “There’s something profound about showing up in a place on a bicycle.”

east-coast central-america south-america

The couple wanted to travel the world and they wanted to have children, and decided to do it in that order. They quit their jobs, took a train up to Maine, cycled to Niagara Falls and down the Appalachians. They flew to Guatemala, cycled Central America, flew to Patagonia, cycled up the Andes to Peru, flew from Quito to Oslo. “Going from Peru to Norway was a shift in every respect.” They meandered through Europe to Istanbul, flew to Hong Kong, toured Southeast Asia to Singapore, flew to Vancouver, and pedaled back to Alabama.

europe se-asia west-coast

Now Bethany and Dave are on an adventure of a very different sort – raising two young children. Some days the perils of crossing rivers on rickety rafts in Laos or waking up to frozen chains in China seems less daunting. But each has its unique rewards.

How will we live tomorrow?

img_8710“With purpose.” – Dave

“I will do the next right thing. My new position as Director of our non-profit is a little overwhelming. I keep reminding myself to just keep doing the next right thing. I’ve read some of your blog, and no matter how people respond, I come back to, if we all just do the next right thing we’ll be all right.” – Bethany

 

Posted in Responses | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Profile Response: Chip Spencer, Marion Junction AL

HWWLT Logo on yellow‘A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they shall never sit in.’ This Greek proverb is painted on one wall of the greenhouse at Spencer Farm, next to a map of the world illustrating the home countries of WWOOFers who’ve worked there, their signatures and painted handprints.

Chip Spencer has never lived more than fifteen miles from this spot. He explains how the world comes to his door. “We got happy and content living simply, so we started sharing. We began having teenagers stay with us, then had an intern, now we’ve had WWOOFers for three years. Being sustainable farmers, we cannot leave the farm. Through the WWOOF program, the world comes to us. My children wouldn’t be the independent, smart people they are if they weren’t exposed to WWOOFers. They are the reason I am optimistic. What you found out at age 58, and I found out at 45, they are finding out in their 20’s.”

img_8682But I’m getting ahead of the story, just as Chip does when he walks his farm, more interested in describing his latest endeavor than how a measly 160 acres of over farmed and neglected Blackbelt land became a showcase for small-scale, profitable, sustainable agriculture.

Chip had an excavating business in Marion; his wife Laura was a school teacher who liked horses. Business was good so they started looking for twenty acres or so to raise a few horses. Chip heard about a foreclosure; more land than they needed, but at $335 per acre, a bargain they could not resist. “I had the tools and the desire to make this place work.” They wire cut access from the country road, hauled mounds of trash locals had dumped over the years, and nurtured the bald soil. They built fences and pens, eventually a barn and a house. They worked their jobs all day and built their place nights and weekends. Along the way they had a child, then two.

“Fifteen years ago, we had two toddling children, they had some allergies. One night our son almost died. That was a pinnacle experience. Your question was the one we were trying to answer when we changed the way we lived. I was busy working hard to make money for school, for shoes, for food. My kids only wanted my time and attention. Nobody was getting what theyimg_8689 needed or wanted. We decided to focus on our environment and our health. We began to grow our own food. Everyone’s health improved.”

Chip quit his business to focus on the farm, a dubious proposition for a young man with two small children. “My plan was, if we don’t have to spend money, we don’t have to make money.” They started farming for themselves: chickens and pigs and cattle and gardens. They grew enough to sell. “We still need some money; this place can’t give us salt.” They rejuvenated the land, putting more nutrition into the soil than they removed. Planting trees.

Chip’s focus is local, but his perspective is global. “Forty-one percent of the economic input of Perry Country occurs once a month – that’s how much this county receives in direct federal assistance. Once a person swipes their EBT card at Wal-Mart that money has gone to Arkansas. If we can help people spend that money here, it will stay in the local economy.

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-6-42-38-pm“The average family of four in the United States will contribute the comparable amount of greenhouse gas as 2500 tress will absorb. So we planted 5,000. There are trees all over the farm. As they planted, and prospered, and appreciated their relationship to the earth, Chip decided to celebrate and give thanks by planting the world’s largest peace sign. “We are twelve miles from Selma, we need to show the world that peace can exist here. Chip planted 59 cedars over seven acres at 43 foot intervals. Cattle graze in and around his work of art and hope.

“We do not get up in the morning and go to work. We get up in the morning and we live.”

How will we live tomorrow?

img_8685“Sustainably.

“To be sustainable we have to live simply. We have to learn to cut back, that cutting back can increase the quality of our lives.

“I was chasing the wrong thing, making good money, buying the things I thought I was supposed to have. But something was missing. I didn’t figure it out until I was in my forties; living a simpler life with the people I love the most. Less is more.”

Posted in Responses | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment