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Boomers go back to the commune in retirement

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"Many groups keep a low profile," he says. Income-sharing requires a certain amount of trust. There's a high bar socially, because you're sharing money as well as resources. Those who organize these communities tend to be very selective -- and a great many shun any publicity at all. We think there are at least three to four times as many as the number we have posted."

A microcosm of Communism
The idea of income-sharing has many interpretations. In a commune called Heliotrope, which Chris Burns and his wife Llyn Peabody are in the process of organizing, it means everything is owned in common.

"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs," says Burns, quoting Karl Marx. "That's what living in a commune means."

A grandfather of six whose resume includes stints as an artist, cook, greenhouse constructor, organic farmer and teacher, Burns says he envisions fellow Heliotrope residents as "average middle-class working people whose lives won't be a whole lot different than the way they live now, except that everything will be shared."

Burns and Peabody currently live in Corvallis, Ore., and don't yet have a site for Heliotrope, though they're looking for land somewhere in western Oregon. They're in the process of completing legal documents for the forthcoming community, which will be held in common as a land trust.

"We are nearly ready to file for 501(c)(3) and 501(d) federal tax-exempt-status as a nonprofit formed for educational and spiritual purposes," Burns says. He and Peabody are looking for like-minded people to join them in what they describe as "a land-based project, with urban branches," including a café or something similar where communards can market their produce or products created by cottage industries.

"We feel that it would be good to start out with a versatile group of about a dozen people with a range of ages," Peabody says. "We need to begin with a core of able-bodied, skilled, emotionally mature adults to give the fledgling community the strongest possibility for success."

Shared commitment, assets
How much material wealth prospective members would bring to the community is not as important, says Burns, as "a shared commitment to living in harmony with nature. We're meant to be sharing as a family, but we've gotten so far away from that that we are breaking the natural laws of living. This is what's behind most of the crime and other problems of modern life."

"We would ask that upon becoming a full member of Heliotrope, each person be willing to hold all assets in a common treasury in order to eliminate disparity between haves and have-nots," Peabody says. "Anyone who wishes to do so could keep aside personal assets in trust that would not be accessible during the term of their membership. If they decide to leave the community permanently, their frozen assets would then become available to them."

The benefits, Burns says, include "more security and more social interaction."

Burns says he spent time in two communes in the past, and based on that experience he believes elders make good communards.

"Most of the people in the first commune I lived in back in 1968 to '78 were young," he recalls. "But those who were older had more business savvy and experience."

In the 1990s, Burns says he lived in a large faith-based commune in California called The Church of the Golden Rule that has been in continuous existence since the 1940s. "There were people who had lived there all their adult lives and were in their 70s to 90s," he says. "They were very healthy from lack of stress."

As the gray years encroach, Burns finds himself drawn again to the ideal of a shared community -- but the concept of retirement holds no appeal.

"I'm not ready to slow down," he says. "To me, life is about finding your passion."

Next: "... Someone might ... bring their chickens and dogs along."
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