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The Good Life

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On Location

1/26/2006 12:00:00 AM


There’s a lot to love about my job at Natural Home. But I think what I love most is the opportunity to direct photo shoots of the homes we feature. I get to step out of my little home-office cocoon and into someone else’s world. And because this is Natural Home, the worlds I step into are inhabited by smart, interesting people with fascinating lives. Spending a day or two in those worlds inevitably changes mine.

That’s exactly how it went this week in Wilmington, Vermont, where photographer Michael Shopenn and I journeyed to shoot an elegant off-the-grid straw bale home. Monday night we were welcomed into a nineteenth-century farmhouse that’s been beautifully restored and respectfully remodeled by our featured home’s architects, Julie Lineberger and Joseph Cincotta of LineSync Architecture, for a lingering evening of good food and conversation (sometimes reaching a level of hilarity that’s just good for the soul). We spent the next day bringing the romance of the straw bale home they’d designed to film and getting to know its owners, Michelle and Dale, who truly are living the good life. Their organic gardens were covered with a fresh blanket of snow, but we did get to meet the resident chickens and guinea hens. Michelle, a chiropractor and energy worker, took off in late afternoon on her Nordic skis, then we all came together for a final celebration of newfound friendships—and more laughter—on Tuesday night.

During these visits I’m inevitably reminded that Natural Home is not so much about houses and home design as it is about the people who bring these houses into being and the lives they live within them. We can’t always capture the magic of that in the one dimension of a photograph (although we do try). There’s always a back story; while we’re carefully placing rugs and flowers just so and searching for the best angles, we’re swapping stories and soaking in the wisdom of the folks who’ve built these beautiful homes. We find out why they chose to live where they do (despite the hardship of actually earning a living in a tiny Vermont ski hamlet, for instance, Michelle and Dale wanted their kids to grow up in the woods and stay innocent for as long as possible). We find out what motivated them to build sustainably and perhaps make the extra effort of living off the grid. Often we share good, local food and indulge in philosophical or save-the-world conversations. No matter what, I leave feeling full and happy and humbly grateful for a job that allows me to entangle a few of my days with those of my newfound friends.

Next January, when we publish the photos of Michelle and Dale’s house, I’ll look at the shot of their antique Shaker dining table and remember all of us gathered around it talking about The Hundredth Monkey (Ken Keyes’s 1981 book about the point at which a critical mass of people have tuned into a new awareness, strengthening the field so that it’s picked up by almost everyone.) As I journey from town to town, I’m experiencing that phenomenon firsthand. And for me, the revolution will be photographed.

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