Birds of a Feather
by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

In his landmark 1951 study of a season, North with the Spring, naturalist Edwin Way Teale devotes a chapter to “May at Monticello.” In this book, the first of four that follow the progression of the seasons across America, Teale describes an incident as he emerges from touring Mr. Jefferson’s residence, in which “all the small birds feeding in the open dashed pell-mell into the bushes.” He then notices a Cooper’s hawk in the sky above and, instead of remaining silent, the small birds enter into “a confused babble of bird voices.”

Teale proceeds to explain this seemingly illogical reaction of being louder, rather than quieter, when confronted with a threat. “By flocking together in the air, small birds are able to divide the attention of the hawk, to distract it by many shapes in motion. As long as they keep together, and the hawk is unable to cut one individual from the flying mass, all escape.”

He continues. “The confusion chorus appears to be a kind of flocking by sound. The calls, coming from all sides at the same time, apparently disconcert the bird of prey. At any rate, the Cooper’s hawk swept on without pausing, reached the edge of the mountainside, and slid down out of sight. The twittering chorus ceased … Now that the danger was past there remained no visible remnant of haunting fear. Monticello in May was once more a place of sunshine and of peace.”

People — smart people, at least — react to crises a lot like Mr. Jefferson’s chipping sparrows and English sparrows did when Teale observed them more than half a century ago.

Rural people were confronted with a crisis three generations ago, as the marvels of electricity were transforming cities and creating for urban residents what would ultimately become the highest standard of living in history. The rural areas, though, were left in the dark, literally. Time-saving, effort-saving, money-saving devices were largely dependent on something that 90 percent of rural people didn’t have: electricity.

But by joining together, they were able to create their own utility — a cooperative — to provide themselves with power, at cost. This effort was repeated over and over in communities across Virginia and across the nation, to the point where today there are more than 900 local cooperatives in 47 states.  

This member-owned cooperative model still works today, more than 60 years later, even as Virginia’s rural areas shrink and her suburbs grow. And that’s because the focus has always been on local people providing other local people with responsive service. And if there’s money left over at the end of the year, it’s assigned as patronage capital to the members, and later returned to them.

Member ownership also means member control, which is evident in the cooperative annual meetings coming up over the next four months. We hope you’ll make plans to attend your cooperative’s annual gathering of members, to elect directors and conduct the business of your business. The cooperative’s policies are set by a board of directors consisting of members, elected by their fellow members, working for the benefit of the members.

In a cooperative, your vote counts. Your voice is heard. Our only purpose is to provide you with the best possible electric service at the lowest possible cost. It’s why our members began flocking together successfully in the 1930s. And it’s why the flock stays together in the very different world of the 21st century.



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