With our digi-mindsets and social media connections, it’s easy to focus on “big” visionaries across the U.S. and beyond for inspiration. People launching big enterprises and books and do-good projects that score headlines & funders & kudos.
It’s easy to lose sight of the real and tangible possibilities at hand – and the real challenges at hand that accompany these possibilities.
By tangible possibility at hand, I mean a possibility that literally involves your hand. In the dirt, planting. In the streets, directing. On the back of a friend in need, patting. In a bereaving neighbor’s yard, hauling and stacking fire wood.
I’m not just talking about “the good ol’ days” of being good neighbors.
I’m getting at real visions that involve real people we see and touch. That we must connect with and relate to in real time and space. The good. The bad. The ugly. I’m talking about grassroots organized efforts that change the way we think about real community, sustainable living, alternative economies, food & seeds, health care, and the value of art.
I’m talking about my own neighborhood. And possibly yours.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been talking with visionaries who live only within twenty or so miles of me and who have been working hard to make visions real. These aren’t visions that bring any of them glory or fortune – although they wouldn’t mind the projects being at least financially sustainable.
A Wall Street trader trades in his suit and portfolio for a t-shirt and bandana to create outdoor experiences that change the way we experience belonging and community.
A festive artist unwittingly becomes a festival organizer for one of the most refreshing music festival models in the U.S. that gives musicians free health care.
A jazz vocalist becomes a vocal activist who gives people a voice and spawns over 40 urban community projects.
A librarian becomes a seed gardener on a mission to take the source of our food out of corporate control and into the dirty hands of gardeners who care.
It’s astonishing, really, the talent that inhabits the several miles of the Mid-Hudson Valley called the Rondout Valley. To a tourist, it might appear as little more than a series of hamlets and a paean to days gone by of rolling farmland and quaint villages filled with antique shops, whose idealized splendor the likes of Frederick Church and Thomas Cole have memorialized in museums and on Google Images.
But in this valley – where the nation’s oldest trading route, Route 209, drives right down the middle between the Southern Catskill Mountains and the Shawangunk Ridge – reside some of the most forward-thinking visionaries and “action-aries” I have ever encountered. Intelligent, caring, creative, and industrious people driven more by a common passion for a better way of living with each other, elbow to elbow, than by fame or fortune.
Honestly, I can say that what holds me in awe here more than the stunning landscape – and it is stunning – are the people.
One such visionary is Deena Wade. Deena arrived in the Valley only a few years ago. A writer, massage therapist, and grassroots activist with a big heart, she started one effort after another with, from what I can infer, three goals in mind –
1) bring people together to 2) share our skills to 3) make our community and way of life sustainable and better for all.
Her latest effort on this path is fairly simple, exceptional, and brilliant: A sort of country fair-meets-TED Talks-meets-grassroots activism. It’s called the
Rondout Valley Common Ground Celebration.
The Rondout Valley Common Ground Celebration (RVCGC) is about bringing people together, recognizing our common ground, and celebrating our shared vision for the Rondout Valley as a healthy, creative, regenerative and sustainable community now and for years to come in an inclusive, fun, and collaborative atmosphere.
I’m wondering about your neighborhood, the people you rub elbows with, the people who share your roads, brick-n-mortar places of commerce, and air. Do you and they share any visions? If so, how do you make those visions real? How do you get through the inevitable challenges required to make them real?
Those are the questions I’ve been sitting with as I’m thrilled to have been selected to offer one of the three YXZ Talks at the Common Ground Celebration. In “Making Visions Real,” I’ll focus on those four visionaries – the former Wall Street trader, the festival organizer, the vocal activist, and the activist seed saver.
Here are seven things I’m learning from them:
Get your hands dirty.
Reach out to and organize people in real space and time.
Deal with the messiness of human relationships.
Build flexible systems.
Lead with your heart.
And one or two surprises – you’ll have to attend the talk I’m giving or wait for a future piece to learn what they are.
What would you add?
These visionaries humble me. My role? For now, tell their stories. Every village and valley needs storytellers, right?
I want to hear from you. What makes a vision real & tangible? What’s happening in your own neighborhood and community that astonishes you and gives you hope?
See you in the woods,