The eve before our flight from Heathrow, Adrian reflected that in the London marathon it can take almost 45 minutes for those at the back to get to the starting line. All our planning, Skype-ing, packing and spreadsheets have been those 45 minutes, and we’re ready to begin.
Our journey here
After being fed and watered in Ealing by our friend Dave (a magnificent host with a great taste in ‘sports’ calendars) we headed for Heathrow. The flight, security and customs were, to our relief, completely uneventful. The food was awful. By the time the trolleys reached our seats at the rear of the plane they were out of vegetarian meals, and I can’t imagine the mushy offering of chicken-a-la-whatever giving the carnivores much joy either. Adrian managed to get through three in-flight movies although couldn’t bring himself to watch the end of Frozen. One of the stewards was a hoot: [in a thick New York accent] ‘The name’s Mary Bond, double-oh six and a half! Nobody messes with me. Don’t make me get out my lipstick!’ She appropriated a baby from the row in front (the bemused mother – ‘she stole my baby!’) and strolled down the aisle with it exclaiming ‘I bought it from duty free!’
Getting the train into New York City and out again to Hudson couldn’t have been simpler, and we were met by Marcy (our main point of contact in the community during our stay) at Hudson station. The view from the train was magnificent, the tracks skirting the edge of the river. A half-hour drive brought us to the Quaker Intentional Village, Canaan, where we’ll be living for the next eleven weeks.
Introducing Quaker Intentional Village – Canaan (QIVC)
QIVC was founded in 2000, although the seeds were planted in 1993. There are currently eight households living in a variety of buildings including several ‘First Day Cottages’ (flat-pack housing) and a strawbale house. For those unfamiliar with sustainable building, strawbale houses are made of more than just bales of straw! There’s a wide spread of ages. The youngest member is 8 months old, and there’s a large bunch of teenagers. The Farm House is the communal space shared by everyone in the community. Built on the remains of the dilapidated original 18th century farmhouse in 2003-4, it plays host to Friday ‘pot-luck’ (bring-and-share) meals and community meetings. It also has a couple of guest rooms upstairs, and is our home whilst we’re here. It is stunningly beautiful with many delightful touches. At the top of the stairs is a moufraj – a middle eastern term for an upstairs room with a view. This is my favourite space, light and beautiful and very peaceful, and has become my spot for morning and evening prayer.
There is a very strong vision behind community. You can see it in the architecture of the common house, and the beauty of the gardens. There is also a lot of love. I felt it very clearly as we all silently held hands in a circle before the potluck on Friday.
There’s an almost constant hum of insects, and we’ve been delighted by fireflies and huge butterflies. The watermelon and the peaches taste so much sweeter than the imported stuff in the UK, and there is an abundance of homegrown produce. Everyone has been so generous that we’re up to our ears in cucumbers.
There’s a sort of unfamiliar familiarity about being in the US. We appear to speak the same language, and after the amount of US TV and film I’ve ingested over the years you’d think it would be easy fitting in, but there are still lots of little things that remind me I’m a foreigner, a stranger in a strange land.
Now that we are in a very rural setting, I have to face my dislike of nature. Now I love nature in its proper place, but not on me. I was disturbed to find that ticks are very common in the area. Only a few weeks ago, my sister was describing her horror at finding one crawling up her bed post, and the latest news from Windsor Hill Wood, a community we visited in February, details one of the community members discovering a tick in a very unwelcome place. Most people in the community have, or have had, Lymes disease (carried by ticks), and I just have to get over myself. I need to be careful but not neurotic, and not let my dislike of many-leggéd-things stop me from mucking in and doing my share of the work.
Another thing I need to get over is driving on the right. I’ve done it once, coached by a very supportive member of the community, but I can’t say I felt relaxed about it. It really felt like learning to drive all over again. The gear stick is in the wrong place, your sat on the wrong side of the car, and all my other automatic reactions made me feel a complete novice. I love to play the expert, so being a beginner is a hard thing for me.
This is the first community we’ve visited where eating together is not a daily activity. It’s very unusual for Adrian and I to cook for just the two of us, and we’ve done quite a bit of that this last week. We’re still finding our way into the rhythm of the community, which as a co-housing community, rather than a residential community, is a new thing for us.
‘In God we trust’…
Sitting in the waiting room of New York Penn Station, we were opposite a TV screen issuing a constant stream of instructions. We now know what to do when we see an unattended bag or someone photographing the train’s wheels. We also know what to do in the event of a mass shooting, including how to incapacitate a gunman as a last resort (the filmed example suggested throwing a gym bag). To us this seemed heavy handed to the point of lunacy, more likely to inspire fear than a feeling of security. I read on the plane that US bank notes were imprinted with ‘in God we trust’, and ‘under God’ added to the Pledge of Allegiance, as part of a Cold war initiative. God was used as a cultural weapon to counter Russia’s atheist communism. Claiming to trust God whilst stockpiling nuclear weapons seems a little bit contradictory. Ben Pink Dandelion, in his recent Swarthmore lecture, asks British Quakers to stop being fearful, and trust in the Spirit. I’m making a practice of Lectio Divina in the mornings, slowly reading through Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul explicitly links righteousness (right living) with faith (trust). We cannot live rightly and be paralysed with fear.
I’m not sure where I’m going with all that, but it’s at the forefront of my prayers at the moment. I suppose we feel very safe in the Farm House at QIVC, precisely because we trust the people around us. (Incidently, they don’t allow firearms on the premises.) Their generosity, expressed in warm words, advice, lifts to the store, cucumbers and scones, makes us confident that our time here will be very special.
Listing all the amazing things we’ve seen in the last week would be too much for one post, but here are our selected highlights:
- A huge butterfly, not yet identified. Biggest butterfly I’ve ever seen
- Chipmunks – now I finally have context for Chip’n’Dale Rescue Rangers
- Pileated woodpecker
- American redstart
- Ruby-throated hummingbird