Why I Came To Live at EcoVillage, Ithaca

by Jay Smith

In the vast expanse of the cosmos, earth is a rare, stunning marvel. Life—abundant and exuberant—is its rare, astonishing miracle. Part of that miracle is how life is formed and informed by direct and indirect transactions of energy with our earth star, the Sun. And yet, a peculiar principle animates the evolution of animal life on planet earth: to survive and thrive, all animate beings must consume other forms of life. Some do so as vegetarians, absorbing energy solely from earth’s solar transformers, photosynthetic plants. Many bloodily devour other animals.

The ultimate threat is species extinction.  Emergent in evolution as an omnivorous super predator—self-described as “intelligent” because of our consummate skill in manipulation—the human primate has ably dominated the earth’s ecosystems, subjugating the earth’s natural economy to the requirements of its exploitative, often bloody (for both humans and animals) contemporary global human economy. We are even able to energize our so-called civilization with the detritus of plants that captured ancient sunlight, yielding the unintended consequences of climatic disaster and the predicament of global addiction to an economically vital but declining resource—oil. Now we have reached a crisis moment of ecocide that is revolutionary in evolution: can the human animal (so unconsciously self-centered, predatory, and technologically rapacious) change its psychological and material mode of being on earth to that of a caring, holistically aware custodian of all life on earth, including our fellow humans of (bio)diverse ethnicity?

These thoughts and questions have haunted my life for forty years, more so the older I get, as I have explored through both literature and experience how to live appropriately on an increasingly despoiled planet. For I am human; and I am earth; and I am cosmos. In order to fulfill the First of  the Four Great Vows I took as a Buddhist, “Sentient beings are numberless. We vow to save them all,” I realized as a young man that it would necessitate a revolution of consciousness in myself and in all forms of human organization, stressing compassion and cooperation over exploitation and competition, to enable  ecological (and racial) healing. And a revolution in all human economies, from energy consumption to food production to construction of human habitats, and methods of transportation, to honor our inseparability from earth-nature. For who is the I in the We vowing to save all sentient beings if not my planetary eye? But, given modern human attachment to competitive industrialization for “profit” and brute technology, is this grand vision even possible?  Spirituality denotes the quality of relationship between self and universe. Where are there models for this spiritual/material revolution and reconciliation between our human selves and the earth?

There is a unique experiment called EcoVillage at Ithaca. Here there is a transformative vision for integrating agriculture and housing, energy and lifestyle, investment and innovation, learning and governance into a model, that though predominantly white and affluent, might be modestly replicated elsewhere, even among people of color with few assets.  Is there a revolution taking place here? Or just the formation of an elitist Noah’s ark? We shall see. I am one of those people of color with few assets, holding to my sacred oath: Sentient beings are numberless. We vow to save them all. Can we all be saved?  I am human.  I am earth.  I am cosmos.  I am here to find out.



Jay SmithJay Smith, who turns 66 in April, has been an environmental activist for 40 years, during which time his accomplishments include 15 years as an urban agriculturalist, co-founding and facilitating The Village House Gardeners, where he taught gardening, soil remediation, and ecological awareness. He served as vice-chair of the Brooklyn Food Coalition (a not-for-profit food justice organization) and volunteered for eight years as a sustainability advocate at N.Y.U., where he was employed for 25 years as a cataloger before retiring this past December. An avid hiker, naturalist, amateur astronomer, and an active Buddhist for 30 years, Smith fatalistically believes “that the enormous social justice and ecological crises of our age are connected as an urgent spiritual crisis that requires a revolutionary inward transformation of humanity, or by next century our evolutionary experiment will have become a terminal cancer.