A few weekends ago I rented an RV and took myself on a little exploration. It was kind of like those college tours parents take their kids on, where they look at five colleges in four days, except I was looking at places that call themselves intentional communities – condos and ecovillages with mission statements.

Most of us self-identify, in some part, through the neighborhoods in which we live.

Some of us like to keep a nice trim lawn and want to live among people who share their vision. I prefer to use a push mower, the kind without an engine, and would rather my neighbors do the same or even let the grass prosper as a “dreadlawn,” waving and twisting in the wind, bedecked with flowers that lawn tractor folks may think of as weeds.

There are some who feel at home among Black Lives Matter signs and rainbow flags while others are more comfortable with displays supporting the second coming of Donald Trump and Paul LePage. To me, all those corrugated plastic signs and gently waving banners, no matter what point of view they espouse, just add to the pile of useless material that will eventually pollute the air, foul the water and poison the land we all need to survive this life.

Some years back, do not ask me when, I wrote an essay to the effect that all communities are intentional communities, whether you want them to be or not.

Whatever store you run to for food, whether a supermarket or a co-op, a place convenient to where you work or live or even a solitary visit in the middle of a long road trip, the people you shop among are all your community.

You do not have to be on the planning board to have an impact on the lives of your neighbors. There is a whole lot of butterfly effect between a spirited interaction at the checkout counter and the ongoing mood of both the hive in which the conversation took place and the next stop down the road for a casual bystander.

Last week a person ahead of me at the farmers market was trying to decide what sort of bag to take for a couple of gorgeous heads of lettuce. The farmer offered paper and plastic, and reminded her customer that a plastic bag, the customer’s apparent choice, could be washed and used again. The customer, not wanting to take responsibility for the entire future of a plastic bag and clearly frustrated with the moral conflict this raised, said something like, “My actions are too small to make a difference and I do not have the energy to get on a bus to Washington.”

Small decisions and minor intentions are what got us here. I am pretty sure oil price supports and fear of industrial lawsuits contribute to the volume of single-use petroleum-based products we take home, empty out and deposit in a bin for someone else to take care of. But, as the customer at the produce stand demonstrated, every act involves a decision.

Paper or plastic is a limited choice. So is fossil fuel or lithium batteries. Other options exist. Less stuff is possible.

One person’s heartfelt thought on a lawn sign is another person’s eyesore, an overstatement of a personal value that is best expressed through action. Words are great for setting ideas into a form that can be shared, but in this time of increasingly bizarre and often invasive public expression it saddens me to see people hiding their self-developed opinions behind phrases that have been promulgated by designers and marketing mavens.

Maybe it is mask fatigue. I want to see who we are when we stop labeling ourselves, choosing sides and pretending any community can survive when its intention is to exclude those who already live in its midst.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer, and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here on a weekly basis.