The Empty Nest

It's late summer with hints of autumn, and the mourning dove nest in the pot on my baker's rack sits empty now.  My family watched as the two little chicks had their flying lessons.  The young doves lingered near the nest for another two nights, and then they left for good.  On occasion, I still see them foraging in my vegetable garden.  They are not quite fully grown, nor altogether capable, but they do all right on their own.

It has been a long time since I posted here, with many changes.  As initiator of Transition action in Los Angeles, and one of the original circle that created the Transition Los Angeles city hub (TLA), I've been doing a bit of the "empty nest" syndrome myself.  For successful initiators in large areas worldwide, this too is part of the natural and evolving Transition journey of building local community.  The empty nest phenomenon is something I haven't seen discussed much.

How the Nest was built

People often ask me “Which comes first, the city hub or the local groups?” For us in L.A., the answer will probably be “Yes.”  As in both.  As in: first we created the hub; then we launched local groups; and one day we’ll need a city hub again.

I have described here the origins of the TLA city hub -- how it launched in 2008 out of a "Training for Transition" hosted by the Environmental Change-Makers group that my co-conspirator and I had founded. 

The Los Angeles area is a megacity of 4,652 acres and 11+ million people.  From the "Training for Transition" discussion circle that was TLA's origins, we have always known that the L.A. area would need many, many Transition groups.  Transition US has, at times, considered TLA to be almost a "region" rather than a single initiative. 

Yet in the early years the TLA city hub met as a single circle in my living room.  We local initiators were few and far between (miles between).  We needed each other because we were a peer group that understood the path ahead.  We gathered and grew close.

From the start, each local Transition group developed its own unique personality.  Transition Mar Vista took an early interest in health care and inner transition.  San Fernando started a time bank. 

In the early days, attendees to our events would drive miles to events that interested them -- attendance seemed topic-centric rather than localized.  Thus centralized messaging about all events was very important -- the TLA city hub maintained an active email list on which we attempted to give the full picture of all the Transition action going on in the greater L.A. basin.

Flight lessons

The groups began to develop their own, local email lists.  People who arrived first through the city hub list were helped to find their local group.  Early members were simultaneously on the city hub list, but as time went on many local newcomers had no interest in doing so.

Local steering groups met more frequently than the city hub group did.  The local groups had the vitality of a colorful list of shared activities (the city hub hosted city-wide events only occasionally), plus they had the intimacy of shared local geography.

Over time the individual groups grew stronger.  Most of them developed a web presence and began hosting a schedule of activities.  Attendance at events in my own "back yard" -- the meeting site two blocks from my house where Environmental Change-Makers was started in 2005 -- thinned out considerably. 

I realized that in the early years people had traveled miles to attend ECM events because it was pretty much the only What We Can Do game in town.  Now that there were so many more events, people were -- rightly so -- localizing their attendance.  For many meetings, this left me with an empty hall, sparsely attended events (with the same workload to publicize and produce them) ... and an empty heart.

Our city hub in-person steering meetings became less important.  Now there were scheduling difficulties and excuses and lower attendance.  We still yearned for the personal connection with city hub individuals, and reminisced fondly about it on the occasions when we did see each other.  But our attention was now necessarily focused elsewhere:  locally.

I tried hard as Momma Bird to keep the city hub steering group functioning for as long as it could, for as long as it had a viable purpose.  The fledglings would return to the nest -- some one month, others another, but no longer the full brood together.

Meanwhile things began popping in my own local neighborhood too (we were in construction on a one-acre community garden plus setting up the framework for the 501c3 organization to support it).  I missed my old friends but I was far too busy to mourn.

The Nest empties out

Mourning doves do not gather sticks or grasses to make a nest.  They are kind of ground dwellers, so in my flowerpots they simply pushed the plant aside and crouched on the potting soil.  When they eventually left “the nest” there was little evidence remaining behind.  A few extra bird poos but not much else.  You would hardly know they had been there.

Suddenly, and all at about the same time, the community garden elected a successor Board, my landscape-architect friend took on management of the heavy construction, and the city hub pods found their wings.

The TLA city hub has never been incorporated nor become a 501c3.  (I wrote about its premises-free, employee-free nature here ).  There was no Board nor empty offices left behind.  There was simply nothingness.

It felt to me, accustomed to my very vital and central role as initiator, so sudden and so final.  I have never been great at this “letting go” stuff.  The emptiness was crushing -- even if it was the emptiness that is the natural result of phenomenal success.

Don’t get me wrong – I still found plenty to keep me busy.  I reworked parts of my Economic Resilience manuscript, I started a Meetup about Transition economics (more on that in another post), I had some family issues to iron out.  But it was with a profound sense that the Chicks had flown the Nest.  I fell silent here on this blog, not able to find much positive to write about.

I began work on a food gardening book for high-yield production in our unique local climate – that made me feel happier.  I sought solace with close friends – some had been members of the city hub steering group, others had worked with me on the two community gardens. 

In my back yard I raised a bumper crop of early string beans, a fair crop of peaches.  Abundant late tomatoes are ripening now and volunteer cucumbers threaten to overwhelm me.  I “thought about” doing a major overhaul of my front yard landscaping but couldn’t get shovel to dirt. 

I knew I needed to get back to building up our local neighborhood action but my heart wasn’t in it.  I often missed publicity deadlines so event attendance in my local neighborhood became thin and dispirited.

Another Nest

Mourning doves in our area raise multiple broods per year.  There was an early summer nest too, in a different pot, on a different baker’s rack.  Its occupants grew up and flew away, and after a brief time the parents started the late summer nest.

Now I’m starting new ventures too.  After years of asserting that resilient nonprofits can exist and thrive without cash accounts and without legal structures, I’m doing the reverse of what I said.  After 7 years of such existence (and plenty of success) we’re in the midst of incorporating Environmental Change-Makers and making it into an official 501c3 so that we can do even more. (Yes, even more than building two community gardens, experimenting with time banking, and launching the Transition movement in Los Angeles.  We are nothing if not ambitious.)  Starting a new nonprofit is a big project which I hope to blog about here.

We’re going at it a little differently – with complete consciousness of economic descent.  Our plan is to explore how the gift economy ideas of Charles Eisenstein (Eisenstein website ; Hopkins comments  ; my comments ) might “dovetail” with nonprofit finances.  I’ll let you know.

I’ve worked with social change organizations and nonprofits for decades but never had to for-real run a nonprofit entity.  So I’m skilling up:  learning about strategies and Boards and fundraising.  Also learning about using social media in new and different ways.

The TLA city hub isn’t dead, it is “in Transition.”  It is becoming something new, something yet to be discovered and defined.  The central core team in-person gatherings of the original initiators are no longer.  But its hub nature – its wiki web presence, woven feeds from all the Transition action in L.A. – continues.  It continues to serve as a single-stop place for people to find out about the Transition movement and to find their local groups in the greater L.A. area.  It continues – albeit morphed – its “cross-pollination” functions, of sharing between the many local groups.  And, I believe, one day an area-wide steering group will be needed again.

The Business-in-Transition and economic resilience ideas have grown beyond my local geography – Transition US has asked me to do a webinar about them (info coming soon ).

And I’m rebuilding my front-yard garden.  The Good Karma Gardens group – a project of Transition Mar Vista/Venice – came and built some urbanite terracing.  I’m (finally) hiring a local Transition entrepreneur to help me clear the worst weeds and get things started again.  Do-it-myselfer that I am, it has been a big hurdle to admit that I really need the help, and to accept their eager care.

The next gen

Fledglings grow up.  My family often sees several mourning doves sitting on nearby telephone wires and we suspect they are the parent doves plus the young adults from the early summer nest. ...

Which comes first, the city hub or the local groups?  Each one in its turn:  The initiating hub.  The local groups.  Probably one day a mega-city hub.  Let it go where it needs to go.

... The doves gather on the wire, occasionally close enough to touch shoulder-to-shoulder.  They look out for each other and – we believe – together they watch over the youngest generation feeding in the garden.  One day the new generation will grow big enough to have their own brood.


Joanne Poyourow is the initiator of Transition action in Los Angeles.  She is the co-founder of the Environmental Change-Makers in the Westchester neighborhood of Los Angeles.  At present there are several active local Transition groups around the greater L.A. area: Transition Culver City, Transition Mar Vista/Venice, NELA Transition, Transition San Fernando Valley, Transition South Bay LA, Transition Whittier, groups in Inglewood and Brea in-formation, and the Environmental Change-Makers.


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