LINCOLNVILLE, Maine — Seth Silverton was working in New York City when the airplanes hit the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
The following day, he volunteered to help firemen who had lost many colleagues, and the combined experiences were life-changing.
“That event compelled me to fundamentally reassess my role and my relationship with my family. My relationship with my neighbors; My relationship, primarily, with place,” he said last weekend in his cozy Lincolnville home, where he, his family, their chickens, rabbits, guinea hens and ducks all live.
One year later, Silverton and his family packed up and moved north to the coast of Maine, where he had spent summers as a child. Once there, the changes continued as the Silvertons kept exploring the idea of community and sustainability, and have culminated with the recent opening of the Wood Chop School.
The school, which does not yet have a home to call its own, aims to provide participants with a hands-on experience that provides them with practical skills. It also will help them find a new framework for thinking about sustainability, Silverton said.
One class he’s offering this fall is called “The Attributes of the Sustainable Mind,” and is geared toward helping students prepare for what he calls the coming paradigm shift of challenges that lie ahead in a world where, he believes, oil and clean water will be scarce and extremely valuable commodities.
“There are plenty of groups out there bellyaching about the current state of affairs on planet Earth,” the school’s website states. “Wood Chop School is about knuckling down and doing something about it.”
Silverton said he spent too much time buying into what he calls the myth of success in modern-day America.
“I lived in New York. I commuted to a job I hated,” he said, adding that he thought it would be worth it in the end when he could retire and do what he really liked. “I figured, why am I waiting to do that? Let’s come here, to this place I love and just make a life. As it turns out — it was without question the smartest thing I could have done. My kids are thriving. We are happy.”
He said they are no longer defining themselves by their fancy cars or other possessions, or relying on nice vacations to be happy.
As Silverton talked, he and his wife, Jessica Manbeck-Silverton, prepared roasted butternut squash and apple soup. Some of the ingredients came from their big garden. Others came from local farmers. It’s the kind of sustainability and interconnectedness that anyone can practice, they said.
Silverton said that in his former way of living, he thought that conforming to the expected path would provide an insurance policy, in a way, for his life. But the changing world and further shifts he expects to come down the road — the end of cheap oil, for example — have ended that policy.
“That guarantee is now off the table,” he said. “Wood Chop School is formed to give a different insurance policy — and it’s one that should never decline in value. In our 401(k), the k stands for knowledge.”
Students who want more knowledge about sustainable practices through the class also have the option of taking it the evening of Dec. 21, 2012.
That date was no accident, Silverton said, adding that that night’s class is called “The Attributes of the Sustainable Mayans.” It’s the date when some people believe that ancient Mayans predicted the world would end.
“The Mayans didn’t think this was necessarily an end-of-the-world event,” he said. “I believe I’m going to be alive starting Dec. 22. In order to teach people how to thrive Dec. 22, I’m teaching this class. The Mayans thought this was an auspicious time to be alive. They have no calendar that starts Dec. 22. We do. My class encourages a fresh start.”