Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Rebels and Ice Cream

In 1910, the writer Upton Sinclair moved to Arden, DE, after the experimental Helicon Home Colony he started near Englewood, NJ, was destroyed by fire. His bungalow in Arden, referred to as the “Jungalow” after Sinclair’s muckraking book The Jungle, sits within a half mile of my present home. I pass it when I take a walk. It is perhaps because of Sinclair’s celebrity that an incident in Arden received national attention in 1911.

 On July 30th of that year,  vengeful anarchist George Brown had eleven fellow Ardenites, including  Sinclair, arrested for playing baseball and tennis on a Sunday which violated the Blue Laws, which outlawed shopping and other leisure activities on the Christian sabbath. Those arrested that July day did not pay their fine on principle and instead went to the work pile for their sentence of eighteen hours. Upon their release, they celebrated with ice cream and even treated their jailers and the police who arrested them. (There had been ice cream at the baseball game. The ice cream man himself had been arrested.) The group went on to protest the Blue Laws and were instrumental in getting them repealed. The 1911 event was written up in a full page spread in the New York Times, the editor of which sent a reporter down to Delaware to cover the story.

This past Sunday, Arden celebrated this famous event with a reenactment of the baseball game which included homemade lemon ice cream so delicious that it should have been a crime. It is this kind of hell-raising and outside-the-box action that is celebrated in the Ardens by those of all ages. I noted residents from 3 to 91 years of age at Sunday’s game. My 17-year-old daughter watched the game from a precarious seated position on a blanket with a foam donut at the ready. The day before, she broke her tailbone when she fell off the roof of our screen porch trying to sneak out after her curfew. Apparently, teens sneaking around to hang out in groups is another hell-raising tradition in Arden. As coincidence would have it, I recently opened up a historical book about Arden to see a photo of a group of kids camping out by the old pool (a dammed up section of Naamans Creek). Midnight swims were a big attraction to the youth of 100 years ago.

Today, the kids have a few whistleblowers out to get them. There are those, just like George Brown, who take upon themselves to police the activities of others. They call the police at the sound of a firecracker or to report the noise when gatherings of kids playing KanJam at the Gild Hall parking lot gets too loud. It is a right of passage for Arden youth to gather in places and at times that are prohibited, such as Indian Circle after dark. This is the story of youth everywhere, but perhaps more-so in Arden. Since its inception, Arden has attracted a population of rebel thinkers and doers. As one longtime resident put it, Arden was “a community that most nice post-war families would never have considered visiting, much less buying into.” How can we expect the children descended of a population of rebels to…well…not rebel? My daughter just happened to get caught, and in a humiliating way. The doctors and nurses at the emergency room did little to disguise their amusement when she relayed what had happened. And then there was the fact that she had to wake us, her parents, at 2 AM to drive her to the ER.

Mark and I are still getting used to the culture here.  Our former home was in such a remote location that if our kids did sneak out, they really wouldn’t have anywhere to go or anyone to do it with. We are learning what it means to be in community of free-thinkers at all stages of life.  We are contemplating the rules, the price of freedom and of creativity. We observe the sometimes heated banter that happens on open Arden internet forums and at town meetings. That, too, is part of the energy of intelligent free-thinkers.  The outcome of this particular incident is that our very lucky daughter will live to tell her story. She has made good friends here who brought her…what else?…ice cream to help her heal. We, as parents and citizens, don’t have the ins-and-outs of Arden delinquency  figured out yet, but ice cream seems to be an essential part of it.

Friday, August 1, 2014


Arden Gild Hall
What is Utopia exactly? What is an intentional community? Put simply, a intentional community is designed from the beginning around common ideals and the assumption that individuals within the community will pool resources and share responsibilities to work toward those ideals.  In The Ardens (Arden, Ardentown, and Ardencroft) those common ideals are the single tax (based on Henry George); the importance of art, music,  and theater; and the environment. Arden is a Tree City which boasts 50% green spaces including two forests and a 73% canopy.
If you know of my love of art and nature, it is easy to see why I would place myself here, in Arden. But I was drawn to the intentionality itself. My hometown of Lititz, PA was created, not because it was on a trade route or near a river, but as a religious community for the Moravians, a protestant sect that placed a high value on music. My ancestors came there and helped found the place. It wasn’t a closed or intentional community when I lived there, but that is where its roots were. Later, when I attended college, I sought out special interest housing. Instead of rushing to become an adult in my first apartment, I chose to live in housing with a purpose. In my case, it was honors housing, but we had activities with all the houses, many of which were formed around cultures (The French House) or interests (The Music House).
And too, I have a fascination with the Revolutionary Period of our country’s history. I’ve read all the biographies of our founding fathers, visited the homes of Washington, Jefferson, and Adams. I’ve been to Williamsburg no less than fifteen times. Why am I such a groupie of this time period? These men got to invent a freaking country! They got to start from scratch and found a place based on their ideals. Talk about intentionality.
Probably the biggest influence on our decision to move to Arden was the many years we lived without community. In the eighteen years leading up to our move, we lived in a spot which wasn’t accessible to much. We had to travel five miles to a grocery store, over twenty miles to attend a church that matched our beliefs. The school district where our kids went to school was made up of a lot of small little burgs and villages. There was no centralized town around which to rally. Added to that was the fact that in the most recent high school mock election, Obama came in third to Romney and Paul (who was a write-in candidate). The sense of isolation and the fact that our liberal ideals were so far removed from the population made us feel very lost. We were not only looking for a place to belong, but for a place where we could make meaning.

A lot of press has been given to living the intentional life with an emphasis placed on the individual. Not everyone can make the move to an intentional community. My hope, with this blog, is that those who are curious about life lived in such a place can have their curiosities satisfied and move on to new questions about what makes meaning in their own lives. What makes community? How can we satisfy those very human needs? Perhaps we can have a community right here. Feel free to join the conversation in the comments section.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Getting to Arden

Arden Welcome Sign
Roughly thirteen months ago, my family and I moved to Arden, DE, from Lancaster County, PA, where, with the exception of my college years, I have lived my whole life. It was a big change for all of us. My daughter, who turned sixteen shortly after we moved to Arden, had never lived anywhere but the home we had just sold. While our son was getting ready to leave for college, she had to contend with a new school.  We chose to come here, in part, because my husband’s job landed us closer to Philadelphia, and this move would cut his commute in half.  But why did we specifically choose to come to Arden? To begin to answer that question, I enter into evidence, a blog entry I wrote five years ago in June of 2009.

A few weeks ago, Mark and I were invited to stay in the community of Arden, Delaware for the weekend. This is a community that was set up as a stab at Utopia under the heading of the single tax. In the years since its founding, it attracted many artists, free thinkers, and civically minded people. How can we describe the visit beyond saying that we both looked online at real estate following our weekend there?
The weekend didn’t start out too well. Mark was supposed to get off work at 12. He told me to meet him at his workplace because he was already halfway to Arden. I met him, but he didn’t actually get out of work until 1:45. I was not a happy camper and neither was he, so we started out our weekend a little on the aggravated side. But we did hit Chaddsford winery on the way down and got a few sample pours to help smooth the edges before arriving at friend Cynthia’s place. The cottage where we were to stay and her property in general were adorable. Something out of a fairy tale–Snow White, but with a better design sense. After visiting with Cynthia in her garden over drinks and snacks, she called up all these artists who lived in the community—spur of the moment—and asked them to let us see their studios, which they did with an abundance of hospitality. We also took in a play. Footloose. Mark and I felt a bit guilty about going to a play that didn’t feature our daughter or any of her acting chums. It felt wrong to go to get tickets where we know nobody. Turns out the guy playing the Reverend in Footloose played Max with Maren in Sound of Music. We stalked him after the show. Even more funny—he was the roast beef carver for the dinner theater. We didn’t recognize him when he was carving our meat.
The next night we went to a community dinner. They have them every Saturday night. BYOB. Community announcements. Their community is so charming. So walkable. We explored every niche, and just about every trail. We took our picnic to a rock in the stream in the woods. We had subs from Capriotti who did some of Biden’s Inaugural feast. Thanksgiving on a bun: Turkey, mayo, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. Our other sub was hot pastrami, cheese, Thousand Island dressing, and coleslaw. We washed it all down with wine. I hope we can take the kids there to see Shakespeare in their dear little 100 year old 100 seat outdoor theater. Jonah is getting his first taste of Shakespeare this year and he LOVES it. And you already know of my little theater girl. We also went on a home and garden tour on Sunday.
All of this left me questioning what it was I want in community. Arden, Delaware is a heck of a place to start that conversation.

I have to admit, that after living here a year I am deeply embarrassed at some of my adjectives. Dear. Charming. Adorable. I suppose I can forgive myself knowing how enchanted I was and how different it seemed from the experience I was having back in Pennsylvania. So here I present the fairy tale. The dream. And in living here, I find many complexities that cannot be summed up in a sentence or even a blog entry. My hope with this blog is not to demystify Arden so much as to share what it is like to have a daily life and creative practice here so that others may find ways to bring bits of Utopia (whatever that means to you) into your own life. It exists, if not always in the way you think it does.