This post was written by Spring 2017 intern, Sam Totten.
Springtime is well underway here in marvelous Moab. As the mercury continues to rise, the CR team is starting earlier in the morning so we can balance our work and play. The first of the mulberries are ripening on the trees and throngs of tourists are flocking to this desert oasis to marvel at the glory of the red rocks.
Four of us interns recently popped the Moab bubble and fled to Green River for the Building Man festival. Building man, a solar powered event, is a music, arts, and educational festival centered around sustainable living. Jenky looking trailers bumping electronic music, statues constructed from found, recycled, repurposed flotsam, and geodesic domes housing plant medicine workshops dotted the salt streaked hills leading up to the dramatic Book Cliffs.
Further north, deep in the remote Uintah Basin, beyond the party lights and loud music, a struggle is ragging. Development of tar sands and oil shale, prolific in the high desert landscape, looms as rural communities consider the cost and benefits of the latest industry while environmentalists stand their ground to protect the desolate beauty of this ancient land. There are many voices in this debate. People speaking on behalf of the plants, animals, and water that cannot voice their needs or concerns, old ranching towns whose subsistence on cattle and sheep is threatened by a changing, arid landscape that seeks opportunities for growth and stability for their children and future generations.
In it’s short history, Moab has faced a similar dilemma of changing industry as uranium mining swept through the valley leaving less than the dream of nuclear energy promised. Though tourism has since replaced yellow cake, it comes with it’s own set of compromises and not all regions of Utah are blessed with multiple National Parks and alien land formations.
I often sit, pondering these changes as I consider my future, the future of this great state, indeed, the future of humankind. Building man was an inspiring holiday in the sun away from the industry of this small, bustling town. Workshops about resilient communities and sustainable livelihoods prompted me to reflect on my position as an intern here at Community Rebuilds. How thankful I am that I have the chance to live and work in community with 15 of my peers, alongside homeowners who are empowered to make design decisions about their own homes as they work alongside us in completing these builds.
The other week I started reading The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen, a short biographical piece about a man named David Suelo who used to grace the hills and valley of Moab on his journey to rid his life of money. The tale of this heroic quest blended my heavy heart, saddened by the future of the Uintah Basin, with the elation I feel working as a team to build sustainable housing. Culminating in a moment of what felt like divine realization, I see now more clearly the many ways money poisons our goals and pursuits. It’s been many years since I’ve let money be my primary motivation but I now feel more ready to let it slide even further down my list of priorities. I like to imagine what the conversation surrounding the fate of the Uintah Basin might be like without the corruption of greed and dependence on nonrenewable resources. I like to imagine a world where Building Man and festivals like are not retreats away from the relentless industrial machine but reflections of a more widespread way of life in which community and local, decentralized economies and energy grids are the norm.
Community Rebuilds has offered me an opportunity to live these values, if only for a short while. To work a full time job in exchange for education, experience, and personal relationships instead of money. On days that feel particularly empowering, I know that the reward is based on my decision to be here free from any financial obligation. On days that feel more challenging, I am held by my peers and mentors in a space of love and commitment; commitment to my ideals, the homeowners, and the CR team. This is very unlike other jobs, paid jobs, I’ve had, where when stress becomes too great, I can simply quit and move on because I’ve earned enough money to support myself for the near future. For me, money is flighty, pulls me away from my center, in the words of a fellow CR intern, “money makes relationships anonymous”.
I’d like to acknowledge that my own journey away from money is nowhere near complete and is built upon a hefty amount of privilege that has made this transition a rather comfortable, albeit challenging, one. I have a network of friends and family who are still very much committed to earning, saving, and investing who share their wealth whenever I cycle back into their lives. I feel inspired to be part of a team that has chosen to take 5 months of our time and commit it to something greater than the almighty dollar, a decision not usually supported in our money hungry society and one that I hope becomes more common as humankind moves into an uncertain future. These are trying times, and it’s time to ditch the dollar!
– Sam Totten