Prayers at Maple Tree Medows

Prayers at Maple Tree Medows
Three Rivers, MI

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

APPLE FARM BARN: Woman Built Womb

I have known of Apple Farm for many years, and visited three times. My barn visit was the longest, and most soulful. You can read about Apple Farm Community at their website. Here is their own introduction. I will let it, and the barn, speak for themselves.

Apple Farm in Michigan is not a "Community" in the ordinary sense of the word. It was not founded as a planned institution but came into being as a focal point for a number of women who had been drawn together already by a community of interests and values.

Helen Luke who was trained in the work of Carl Gustav Jung, came to live in Three Rivers in 1962. Within a year, four persons who knew her came to live in the area, seeking answers to the search for meaning in life. Others came to live and work nearby and persons began to come from a distance. It was clear that a center was needed for the group, and through the generosity of friends, a house was bought with some land and a barn. An old school house was converted into a guest house. Over the years other buildings were added as needs arose. Apple Farm is a non-profit charitable corporation supported by contributions from guests and friends.

Here is the story of my life as a barn as I have been told it:

Helen Luke, Jane Bishop and Elsa, shepherding horses, cows, sheep and cats, walked down Hoffman Road in 1966 to the land and pasture and woods around me known as Apple Farm. They came home to this abandoned farm whose old orchard was past productive bearing. They, too, in their late years, made a new beginning, community, deliberately, together, and deep.

Dreamers have gathered round me, those, with the women, who listened to the wisdom of the innerlands and then rooted their lives in daily feeding, watering, milking, riding, teas and meals, artwork and recitations, and on and on in the seasonal lambing, Christmas and Easter, birth, deaths and slaughter.

Rooted in Jung -- images, stories, and sensations deep from the dreaming soul -- they dug longing roots.

Before them the old school house that stands before me had been moved down the same road to serve as the barn for the animal, land, people and dream community. But it was such a good space that humans dwelled there.

Yet a barn was necessary. So Jane and Elsa built me. Jane, having grown on a farm, knew the way. Elsa, it is said, dropped a two by six on her head, but she was only stunned. Here is the evidence of their work, their love. I stand.

A woman made barn, I have a soul different. I am the protection of all barns, but surface dreams into consciousness, a meeting place between the instincts of earth, the souls of animals and the psyches of seekers.

Moon, the blind mare, lived here with her obstinate son, Sunny. He mistreated her, so there, under the old apple tree, she had a safe place of her own.

Pigs lived here. Sheep and lambs. A cow. Horses. Always chickens.

All seasons have met within me.

Birth: The Christmas eve, after the fancy tea, a calf was midwived by impeccably dressed guests, into life.

Growth: La Leche style intervention was applied by Joan to the ewe who birthed three lambs. To get the third to suckle, the ewe was turned, and held on her back, teets to the air, while the tiny straggler latched on. The little lamb (“who made thee?”) survived, thrived, with the aid of motherly insistence.

Romance: Entering heat for the first time, another calf found Don. While he was working on foundation, 1968, painting tar on stable walls, this hefty heifer cornered him, moaning, wooing, yes, even climbing his back, and placing her hooves on his shoulders, until he broke a broomstick over her head and led her, lowing, into the security of a stall.

Death: Keeping vigil for a dying cat drew the community from group meeting to the barn to be, to wait for her passing.

The Barn.

I may not appear so to the uninitiated eye. But forty five years later I stand with all my adaptations showing boldly.

Life is arranged as needed here. “Just so,” it can be. Useful. Accommodating. Even so, as Helen died, and then Jane, and the backs of those living around me became weary, worn and sad, the animals went.

No more Guernsey cow to milk, nor thick cream for tea. No more sheep and lambs on the hillside to draw the eye of the troubled guest into stillness. The horses were last. Moon and Sunny. Hard to let them go.

The addition that was the art room holds only storage. A drawing table, cobwebbed.

The area above the stable has become home to George, who tends the property for the community living here and guests.

There is a shop for necessary things.

There is storage, and that which is waiting to be let go. When the time is right.

My barn door is the liminal space between shelter and the open.

It is consecrated by Saint Francis whose blessing is evident, even all these years later. He who knew Jesus amidst animals from birth cherishes both the memory and mess of me.

Animal souls live on. Humans come and go.

Three hens remain. Fitting, don’t you think? Three bold hens. Laying. Murmuring to each other. Praying.

The people in this community hear their prayer and join the longing for the animals to return. They will, when the time comes.

Here we (yes, I am included) read the psalms and Shakespeare, poems and dreams. My favorite poem is here, with fondness for Helen and Jane and Eleanore, the hens, the women, who have given me heart. You are welcome here.

Let Go. Return
by Josephine W. Johnson
(1910 American novelist, poet)

This is the need, the deep necessity of every life:
To scatter wide seed in many fields,
But build one barn.

This is our blunder, to have built
Gilt shacks for every seed,
And followed our sowing on fast anxious feet,
Desiring to grind the farmost grain.

Let go. Let go. Return
Heighten and straighten the barn's first beam.
Give shape and form. Discover the rat,
the splintered stair.
Throw out the dry, gray corn.

Then may it be said of you:
Behold, he had done one thing well,
And he knows whereof he speaks, and he means what he has said,
And we may trust him.
This is sufficient for a life.

Helen Luke and Apple Farm Community --

Then may it be said of you:
Behold, she had done one thing well,
And she knows whereof she speaks, and she means what she has said,
And we may trust her.

This is sufficient for a life.