One of the things I'm enjoying the most is that there is a really significant sense of community here. Everyone not only seems to know everyone else, but it matters. For example, I went to the democratic Iowan caucus on Tuesday in order to learn how it works and to make some suggestions for platform resolutions. Twenty-eight people for my section of town showed up, and since I had met the two men running the group before and they remembered me, I was sort of volunteered into doing more than I expected. I realized after the fact that I can't expect to just disappear into the crowd anymore, but now I can say I'm trying new things! Like going to the county caucus and attending monthly Winneshiek County Democratic meetings. Apparently Iowans are political anyway, so really I'm just trying to fit in. And the caucus was a really neat experience - it's actually really cool to be involved with ideas at the starting level - the resolutions we passed will go onto the county caucus, and from there the state and up to the national. Building the platform issues!
Because Decorah is so small, it ends up being that everyone lives really close to each other, and knows where everyone lives too. I'm pretty sure I pass at least four co-worker's houses on the morning walk with my dog if I head towards the fairgrounds, and if I go the other way I get into the historic district and pass pretty churches and houses. Even more, the librarian at my work knew the people who lived in the house before me. The most hilarious part of this all to me is the phone book. I got the 2012 version in my PO Box, all 56 pages of it as a little booklet no bigger than a DVD case. That's no phone book - you couldn't stop a door with that!
I'm slowly building my personal community, starting with co-worker friendships. I'm lucky that most of my co-workers are about my age, are social, and live in town. It's rather fun to be able to call up someone to meet at a bar only a block away from both, or wander a block in the other direction to watch a movie. Today, a handful of us went to the Yellow River to hike around the state forest. Bailey absolutely loved being able to run around unleashed, and I enjoyed the beautiful view and gorgeous weather (it was in the mid-forties! and sunny!). I saw a bald eagle that was quite majestic, a very large tree that beavers had chewed down, and even waded across the creek - in the cold January waters! We crammed two dogs and four people into my little honda, but lucky for me the guys got stuck with my smelly dog on the way back. There are a few more holes in my car ceiling as they discovered her drive to catch reflections of shiney things, however.
And while I like all this community stuff a lot, I find it's not always easy for me. The hardest part about creating communities is the newness of it all and my apprehension of putting myself out there. Plus, I have a tendency to get really overwhelmed if I encounter too much of the unfamiliar and new. On my first day here, I almost had a complete break down. I needed to get things in town and I wanted to explore, but nothing was familiar to me and I started to feel closed in. In a weird way, the co-op smelled like Davis Co-Op and the Walmart looked very similar to the one in Dixon, so wandering around in both made me feel a little less lost. With time, I found I could experience more and more of the new as places became recognizable, but I find myself having the same reactions with new friends and people. I've had plenty of opportunites to meet new people and make new friends, and I have really been trying to push myself to get involved and ignore the apprehension. I really like my new co-workers and have really enjoyed becoming friends with them, I went to a church this morning and met more people, I've become recognizable to those involved with the county's democratic party, and I'm starting a yoga class later this week. But sometimes I find myself tightening up again, especially when I open up to new people as you do when you make new friends. After I shared a lot about myself on Friday I found myself closing in on myself today, apprehensive of exposing myself and longing for a place where I don't feel so vulnerable. I know it's fine, and I have no need to feel this way - but the reaction to the new is there, and it's more notable when there's nowhere not-new to seek refuge in.
And with being new in a new community, I was reminded at church today that it is also a new year. I know what I've left in 2011, and I know that pieces of it are still apart of me in 2012, but I'm grateful for the reminder to think about what I want this year to be for me and to plan for that. I'm in such a unique position to really be starting new in 2012, so I need to make sure I sit down with this thought process and take advantage of what I can do. Part of it, of course, is learning to live here in Decorah. And so far, so good on that [... except that my house still needs a decent amount of furniture, and I find myself missing random important things like a can opener just when I need it]. But another part of it is really coming into my own because I have this wonderful opportunity to rebuild myself, to be what I want to be and take what I've learned from 2011 and keep going with it. Plus, I find my co-workers and this community really inspiring. Everyone cares about the environment and thinks about agriculture along the same lines that I do. And unlike in California, I feel like I can take my passions and these things I care about and do something about them in a way that will matter. It's an exciting feeling, and the spark is only just beginning to ignite the possiblities within me. I didn't realize when I left Davis that I could become fired up like this, but I like it.
I'm really glad to be here right now. Despite the craziness of moving to Iowa, I really think it's going to work out well for me. And I have only, now once, fallen on my ass due to ice. So far so good for being here a whole month!