10 06 24 Rediscovering Village Life JH

Recently one reader of this column wrote to suggest that in light of our energy and ecological crisis it will be necessary to rediscover village life, even in our cities. I find that thought intriguing.

For more than half a century, villages have been emptying out to fill up ever-expanding cities. The first generation to move usually felt the loss of village life quite keenly, but their descendents soon lost even a notion of what village life was all about. Out of touch with their neighbors, this new way of life soon began taking its toll. Especially as suburbs supported by the ubiquitous automobile took over, unexpected loneliness began to emerge. Even some churches began functioning more like spiritual shopping malls than communities of faith.

Today most urban “Baby Boomers” see it as their right to live as they wish. And that way increasingly is characterized by loss of community and ever increasing patterns of pollution.

The foundation of modern cities is cheap, abundant energy. But as the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico symbolizes, oil is increasingly harder and more dangerous to extract from the earth. No one really questions anymore the fact that we have reached “peak oil” at a time when global demand for oil is skyrocketing.

This can have at least two consequences. One is escalating conflict as the more powerful grab what oil they can to maintain their way of life while the rest scramble to survive as disenfranchised individuals. An alternative, as our reader suggests, is to rediscover village life that reduces our need for energy while building healthy communities in the process. We would do well to pursue the latter.

But what did village life look like. Who can remember? For one, villagers tended to stay close to home with little need to travel long distances and spend lots of money in order to enjoy life. Entertainment was often home-grown and home-appreciated. Most food villagers consumed was either grown in backyard gardens or purchased from local producers.

Equipment, tools and ideas for survival were shared without a thought for reimbursement. Often the hard work of harvesting and preserving foods was done together. Work bees often were social highlights of the year. (When I was young, hog-butchering and saskatoon picking days rated right up there with Christmas!) “Getting away” meant heading down the road to a local fishing hole or camping with friends or family at a local destination run by people you knew.

Of course the natural consequence of village life was that people spent a lot of time together with other villagers. And in the process they helped each other survive while building community and reducing loneliness.

The question remains whether it is at all possible to recapture the essence of village life in our modern world. I think we must. It will become a question of survival and in turn will actually enhance our quality of life. In a future article I will explore just what village life in our modern context might look like.