On the table in front of them is the lunch they’ve prepared, which includes chili made from road-kill deer, an egg-and-goat-cheese frittata from the goats and chickens in their yard, beets they received in a trade with their Amish neighbors, and some greens they stored through the winter in a root cellar made out of a broken refrigerator buried in the ground.
Everything in front of them and around them on this 10-acre plot of land in rural Maine they call the Possibility Alliance represents a very deliberate choice about how to live, which is defined by what they have chosen to live without — electricity, petroleum, and, as much as possible, money.
During his college years at the University of Vermont, where he studied environmental science, Ethan Hughes spent a semester in Ecuador, living with a semi-nomadic tribe in the rain forest.
“They were completely removed from modernity, but their life felt superior. There was no homelessness. They had a storytelling night. There was laughter and playfulness. Everyone was integrated. . . . People in their 80s were totally functional and necessary.”
Sarah Hughes had grown up in Houston, and, in high school, had dreams of doing something big, like international relations. But during her first year of college, she had her own epiphany. “I just did a 180 degree turn where I wanted to just change the way I lived on the earth.”
So when she met Ethan, she was not put off by his petroleum- and mostly-money-free existence. Instead, she wanted to take it a step further. “Let’s live without electricity,” Sarah proposed. Ethan was smitten. “What was so magical about it was that it wasn’t so much a moral decision,” Ethan says. “It was an act of beauty.”
And so theirs would be a candle-lit life. “At night, it’s like you’re walking through a children’s novel,” she whispers, as if sharing a happy secret.
They began an experiment they called the Possibility Alliance. They purchased land with loans from friends. Among them was a teacher in Chelsea. When Ethan had dispersed his inheritance, he had given her money to start a community garden. Now, the giving went the other way: When the teacher sold her house, which had tripled in value, she donated a large chunk of the seed money for their experiment.
It was to be a self-sustaining farm that was also an educational facility and a community attempting to function outside of capitalism while offering and receiving offerings of food, knowledge, and living space, all for free. They held classes, such as a weeklong immersion in what life is like without fossil fuels, and storytelling nights. They sang around the campfire. Above all, they lived simply. Ethan and Sarah opened the experiment to anyone who was interested in experiencing what they were up to — come stay for a day, or forever…
They were able to can and store enough food to make it to spring, and a wood stove with an innovative heat-exchanger kept the house warm, cooked their food, and supplied hot water for showers. They made it through the long cold months with a cord-and-a-half of wood, all cut from the property. Their only bill was for a landline phone.
As summer neared, the Possibility Alliance moved into full swing. On a recent day, there was activity everywhere. A group was weaving a wattle fence around the garden. A man was teaching people how to use a scythe to clear the tall grass around two solar ovens. In a field, a group of children from a home-schooling collective were singing songs.
It is a life that will continue to quietly shift and evolve. Each winter, Ethan and Sarah sit down and reassess, asking themselves if their plan is working, if they’re happier. So far, the answer has been a resounding yes.
They say they have found their vocation in helping their visitors, and themselves, to answer a simple but daunting question: What do you want to do? “How do we find the gift each person has?” Ethan says. “If they don’t find it and they’re the only ones that can bring it into the world, it’s wasted.” “We’re not saying this is what everyone should do,” Ethan says. “We’re saying this is what our hearts told us to do, and we’re here to help you find what your heart is telling you to do.”
The Possibility Alliance can be reached at 207-338-5719. It does not have a website.
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