Sheridan Hill hadn’t given much thought to what her life’s last chapters would be like until she turned 70. “Having a seven in front of my age, my plans that were on the periphery are now front and center,” she says.
As a volunteer at the Center for Conscious Living & Dying, Hill has learned more about how being in a community is the ideal way to live and die. She points to the Netflix series, “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones,” which focuses on areas in the world where longevity and vibrancy are prevalent. Researchers in the series point to healthy eating, regular activity, a sense of purpose and close friendships as essential for people who live into their 80s, 90s and even 100s.
With this in mind, Hill has begun plotting her next move. Rather than leave her 5-acre property, which she purchased in 2020 across from Hickory Nut Mountain, she plans to sell parcels to like-minded people interested in creating an intentional community that she is calling Mountain Hearth Village.
Xpress spoke with Hill just before she held the first Zoom meetings with potential neighbors.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Xpress: What will your community look like?
Hill: I want it to be intergenerational with people who are progressive and forward-looking, people who want to live lightly on the land. I’m looking for shared values first, housing second. It’s about how to treat each other, honesty, progressive thinking, nonviolent communication. As my website says, “Lead with love, be there for each other, lend a hand and love the land.”
And you’re initially meeting with potential neighbors over Zoom?
Yes, I’ve set up a series of Zoom meetings and invited interested people to talk about it. The Center for Conscious Living & Dying sent out information to its email list; 20 people signed up for the first Zoom.
To prepare for the meeting, I’ve asked participants to envision their ideal community. Would it include all ages? All genders? How many people? What provisions should we have for people who can no longer live independently?
An intergenerational, small community can provide obvious benefits for all people and more closely mirrors original village/tribal living.
What do you know about building houses?
I served on the Black Mountain Planning Board and the Black Mountain Urban Forestry Commission, and I built several cottages. I think constantly about community and housing. Part of this project for me includes turning my Airbnb rentals into housing for this community. I’m willing to invest in putting in the infrastructure — wells, permits, zoning, electricity — to get this off the ground. I’m taking a financial risk.
What other types of housing are you considering?
I might set up a model, maybe a modular home because it would be quicker. I’m making this up as I go along.
I’m thinking quadplexes built into a hill so there are two stories, each one at ground level. That way there’s less of a footprint and more room for community gardens and outdoor space.
I’m envisioning this so others can see it. There would be HOA agreements. I am not selling housing, and I’m not going to do this if people aren’t interested in [a sense of community].
Why not create intergenerational living with your family?
My son is a chef in New York City. He and his daughters aren’t interested in living in the mountains of Western North Carolina. I grew up in Charlotte. I love it here. My daughter already lives in an intentional community, Laughing Waters in Gerton.
Talk about the health benefits of community.
Our relationships are not icing on the cake of our lives; they are the cake. A recent study by Brigham Young University found loneliness in advancing years can be as deadly as smoking or obesity. According to A Place for Mom [a for-profit senior care referral service agency], loneliness also tends to lead to developing habits that are bad for health like smoking, drinking to excess and not getting enough physical exercise. Additionally, loneliness is also a risk factor for cognitive decline. The Rush Institute for Healthy Aging found that the risk of Alzheimer’s nearly doubled in seniors who felt loneliness.
What else do you want as part of your community?
There’s something larger than us here. We have to live with the land and the creatures that live on it. I look straight at that mountain. It’s astoundingly beautiful. I envision a huge community garden, and I would love to have shared meals a couple of times a week.
I told my kids that I want to drop dead on this land. You know, as Abraham Hicks said, “Happy, healthy, happy, healthy, happy, healthy, dead.”