Visual Storytelling: a personal tale

Hello world, I am moving out of Tryon Life Community Farm! After an amazing 20 years, it’s time for my next chapter. As I processed this big decision over the last few months, I found myself drawing a 7-part story, which I am sharing with you as an example of “visual-based reflective practice.”

Visual thinking tool: reflective practice

I draw in order to make sense of things. In fancy terms this is called visual-based reflective practice. 

Organizations can use visual storytelling as a tool to make meaning – whether it’s in a moment of transition, decision-making, or simply celebrating. I have worked with dozens of individuals and groups to draw out a snapshot or a story, and have seen time and again how this experience creates a sense of ease, gratitude, practical reflections, new ideas, sense of place, and meaning.

Something magical happens when you take the time to draw – it opens a different dimension of knowing when you consider an image, perspective, color, shape or size of something. You unlock new subtleties.

It does take time, but the time is the point, because it allows a person to wander in thoughts, explore nuances and not have to rely on words. 

This storytelling tool is often more about the process than the product. I highly recommend aiming for “good enough” – just try to draw your thoughts and feelings about a story in your life, and allow yourself to be satisfied even if it doesn’t look “fancy” or “perfect.” It’s about the experience.

A picture is worth 1000 words, right?

These seven drawings are my story of a major life decision and transition:  three are about leaving the Farm, one is my pivot moment, and three are what I’m moving toward.

This is a vulnerable share because I don’t fully love how the seven drawings ended up, but the goal was to work through complex thoughts about leaving this project that I co-founded and have lived in since 2004. Delving into these drawings was soothing, and I feel good and grounded about my decision.

Scroll down if you want more of the juicy details behind the drawings.

And now, the 1000 words

Read on for the juicy details about my life transition moment!

Grateful to be shaped by TLC Farm
Picture #1 is worth 433 words 😉

I’ve lived in the most remarkable place for 20 years, and I am so grateful! It’s the “perfect” combination – a 7-acre farm, surrounded by a vibrant 700-acre forest (complete with 6 species of owls, beaver, coyote, salamanders, magic little creeks, etc.), protected in a land trust, managed by an all-volunteer nonprofit education and event center, and shared with 20 residents and a gazillion visitors. For a social change-oriented, earth-loving, community-centered extrovert, it’s simply ideal.

I’ve been reflecting on how what I’m most grateful for is how I’ve been shaped by this living experience. I always say that “your environment affects you, so choose wisely what you surround yourself by.”

The Land: 20 years of watching these trees grow, the rocks and paths I know with my eyes closed, the smell of the forest when I wake up and go to sleep, the owls and frog songs at night. I am so grateful for the people I’ve lived with who constantly remind me that we are living as “earth people” – that we track the first spring trillium, or the fall migrating cranes, and that together we have committed to hold an annual cycle of rituals that tie us to the seasons… I am grateful beyond words to have such a deep connection to a place.

The People: I think I have lived with over 150 official residents, hundreds of “short-termers,” subletters and guests — and interacted with thousands upon thousands of people via TLC Farm. We have been a grand experiment in living and building community and social change action across all kinds of subcultures, changemakers, identities. These edges have been some of the most exciting – and certainly most difficult – parts of the Farm for me. I have had to do some very, very deep learning about my own internalized patterning as a white, cis-gender, middle-class-trained person. And I have been exposed to so many different approaches to social change and ways to live outside “capitalist patterning” and systems. I am humbled and grateful for this “schooling” and for how I have been shaped by thousands of inspiring people (please read more nuance of this here.)

The Work: Volunteering to run a 7-acre land project (with homemade buildings, animals, gardens), a non-profit, a donation-based education center, and a very involved intentional community is no joke. “Accountability in a volunteer-based system” is one of my favorite topics to explore, and wow, we have experimented with soooo many ways to figure out “work” together. I am grateful to be shaped by this sense of community work / community spirit.” It’s simply who I am.

What I’ve given – 20 years at TLC Farm
Picture #2 is worth 883 words 😉

bonus drawing – close up of the things I designed and built!

What I’ve given is also what I’ve learned… so many useful skills and experiences! Here’s a snapshot:

Building: While I credit the Oregon Country Fair construction crew for teaching me about woodworking, it was at TLC Farm where I got to experiment. It turns out that I looooove woodworking, and that I have two personal building values: make it fun/interesting, and only work with re-used wood or earthen materials.

  • Grandmother Woodshed: one of the Farm’s close friends and Elders Robert Dancing Hawk asked for a woodshed for his sweat lodge, and I had the honor of building it! In that project I used saws on my own for my first time, and was giddy to learn about bevel cuts, which led me to making correctly proportioned (Fibonacci) fingers for Grandma’s hands.
  • Yurt and Door Floor: We found a yurt on craigslist and I was in charge of getting it to the Farm and rebuilding the underneath deck – at that point I didn’t know a lot about building so I am grateful for the many skilled TLC volunteers who helped. But when we needed a nice floor, I took it on myself. Lots of people wanted a wood floor to dance on, but that would have been cost prohibitive, so I went to the Rebuilding Center with a creative eye to try to find an alternative. The awesome folks there suggested I try using solid-core doors…. 42 doors later we have our door floor!
  • Back Perch of the yurt: Inspired by the old Shady Grove stage seating area at the Oregon Country Fair, I noticed that people love to “perch” on different levels. So I built a 5-level back “perch” for the yurt. Special feature is that both the deck floor and the 3 main levels are Fibonacci proportions. And yeah, the 2×4 heart is one of my classic silly extra-special features that takes sooooo much extra time and effort, but I think is worth it!
  • Lots of signs! We always have a need to direct visitors around the land… and oy, I have learned the hard way that you just can’t put wood into the ground and expect it to last!
  • Woodshed: I had fun building this using all kinds of scrap wood in funny shapes.
  • Sauna changing area floor: a basic wood deck with an artistic flair. Since we hosted full moon saunas, new moon women’s saunas and quarter moon “tranimal nature” (trans/3rd gender) saunas, I made a moon shape in the floor that represents all three.
  • Composting toilet stairs: built in the hazy skies, wearing a mask during the 2020 fires… I used cedar branches to make pretty handrails. I was proud to finally understand how to build stair treads!
  • Mini Moon: yup. <3

Event Hosting: My favorite part of TLC Farm’s mission is to “host the revolution” – that we are a forum for all kinds of groups to have events, everything from kid b-day parties to trainings to fundraisers to seasonal rituals to mini-festivals. I have helped about a zillion groups use the Farm.

TLC has also hosted our fair share of events, and “back in the old days” we held four large festivals a year. Those were the best – when we all came together to create a very special, multifaceted experience for hundreds of people.

All-Volunteer Nonprofit: A humbling experience weaving together so many volunteers in a shared-leadership “flat” hierarchy, enacting many different visions of “sustainability.” I will simply say here that I’m now applying the lessons learned from our experiments with into my current work with groups.

Very Involved Intentional Community: Wow, another humbling, phenomenal life experience. All of the highs and lows of weaving lives together with a rotating crew of about 20 people (adding up to over 150 housemates through the years). I could definitely share a book’s worth of reflections on this experience… at this moment, I’ll just say that you should ask me about it in person.

Storyteller and Fundraiser: As I looked over my 20 years of work at the Farm, I forgot the whole reason I came in the first place: to stop a developer from bulldozing the land and help run the campaign to raise 1.6 million dollars in less than a year to protect the land in perpetuity.  So: 20 years ago I became a fundraiser and ran our $400,000 capital campaign. And ever since, I’ve told our evolving story in myriad ways, attempting to translate the visions and actions of this land project to whatever audience showed up.

Documenter and Photographer: Since I’ve seen our story evolve over the decades, I’ve realized the importance of grabbing snapshots of all kinds of moments, both small and large. Click here to see my compilation of the first ten years of TLC Farm, and here to see my initial camera-dump of the second ten years (volunteer project available for someone who wants to organize these!).

Welcoming Sparkle: I’m kind of a golden retriever, excited to make new friends all the time. And since my home has been next to our Village Green, I’ve had quite the pulse on the zillions of people who show up here, and have often jumped outside to greet visitors. It’s been fun! And as we always say, “You never know who you will meet at TLC Farm.”

The Mini Moon – my cocoon womb
Picture #3 is worth 325 words 😉

“How can you leave the home you just built!?”
“Don’t you own it?”
“Can you move it?”

Yup, I know. I get it. I spent four years with hundreds of people designing and building this incredibly special little earthen home, the perfect place for me. I poured my heart into every inch of the design, organized about 150 workparties that brought 400 different people to put their hands and sparkle into this building, scavenged all the wood and

horse manure, etc.  It’s designed around the Cozy Cob Corner, and full of playful secrets like indoor hammock spots, my loft, gorgeous walls, wood ceiling, sparkle candle nooks…. The walls are filled with love!

So here’s how I see this story: the Mini Moon has been my “cocoon womb” during the last few years of massive personal growth and change. It’s been a grounding, nourishing, sparkly landing pad as I “moved up a generation” in life… it held me as I entered my 40s, launched my business as a solo consultant, worked through an unexpected and traumatic break up, grieved my father’s sudden death and stepped into more responsibility in my work and my family. It’s honestly felt like a womb that I’m birthing from now – as sad as I am to leave it, I am focusing on how grateful I am to have had this safe haven through all of this transition. I feel ready for my next step.

Oh yeah, the fine print: No, I don’t own it and I have no equity in anything at the Farm. The Farm is protected by a land trust, and the Cedar Moon intentional community is an LLC that owns the houses. Cedar Moon paid for most of the Mini Moon, and I volunteered the labor and have paid normal monthly “rent” (technically a capital contribution to the LLC) my whole time at the Farm. It was a labor of love, and an honor to get to build.

This Pivot Moment
Picture #4 is worth 90 words 😉

What do I call this moment?

I’m graduating from a 20-year PhD-level experimental living course.

I’m emerging from a safe little cocoon — not transforming into something different, just more of my self.

I’m in that moment when an apple breaks from the stem, or a leaf falls from a branch.

I’m joining the “Farmie Diaspora:” once a Farmie, always a Farmie.

Lots of ways to attempt to describe this moment. Whatever I call it, it’s a major pivot point in my life. It’s here, and I’m embracing it. <3

Where am I going?
Picture #5 is worth 178 words 😉

What’s next? Yes, I am still based in Portland. And I’m still spending my winters in Boston, supporting my Mom.

For now, I’m moving into a sweet little 1-bedroom apartment in inner SE, right next to an old friend.

I’ve been laughing at some of the funny quirks that happens when you move from a “hippie commune” (no one actually calls it that!) to living alone:

  • I haven’t bought toilet paper in 20 years (we all have different chores; mine was bookkeeping not shopping).
  • I get to find out my “kitchen sink identity” – will I be a sponge person? A scrubby brush person? A washcloth person? Who am I?!? I can’t wait to find out when I make my own kitchen decisions! Oh, and all of my Tupperware will have matching lids – OMG!
  • I get to have parties in my house! I really miss hosting parties and potlucks without navigating 20 other people’s needs.

Longer term – I don’t know. I just know that first I gotta reconnect with the pulse of the city and go from there.

My work – yaaaaaaaaaaay!
Picture #6 is worth 195 words 😉

I LOVE working as a group process facilitator: this is my offer to the world in this time of dire need for healthier and more functional groups. A major reason for my departure from the Farm is so that I can step it up and serve larger and more complex projects. I am ready!

In the last 5 years I have facilitated 32 groups and 9 individuals through all kinds of meaning making, decision-making, action-planning, learning, reflecting. I’ve experienced joyful moments of group magic and breakthrough, and heartbreaking moments of struggle – it’s all so real.

I’m excited to be challenged, grow and develop more skills and relationships as I bring groups my joy, creativity and experience. I weave myself into a web of mentors, other consultants, actionaries and visionaries – and I want to be influenced and stay rooted in the best, most current ideas of how to support group action for doing good in the world.

I am truly hoping that this move from the Farm into the city will allow me more space and time to invest more into the groups and communities I work with. I have so much energy to give! <3

Weaving Webs
Picture #7 is worth 83 words 😉

I am so excited to weave with more webs of people and places! I am a cross-pollinator, ready to serve the world as needed, and I think that by living in the city I will feel more connected and engaged. I want to show up – so please invite me to things! Potlucks! Events! Meetings! Hikes! Social gatherings! Activisty things! Any way for me to immerse and understand more groups and more of a pulse of what’s happening out there in the world.


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