Sunday, July 29, 2012

Claymont Community

     After a relaxing break at the Rainbow Gathering we were ready to get back into farming.
view out the windows in the great barn
The foyer of the Great Barn
And after two weeks of camping in the woods, we were ready to get back into a shower. The eight hour drive from Tennessee to Charles Town, West Virginia was the longest drive of the trip so far, and we were glad when we finally arrived at Claymont Society for Continuous Education. The Claymont Society has been around since 1974 when John Bennett bought the historic site to establish a center for his teachings in the United States. He was a student of G. I. Gurdieff and the Fourth Way, which focuses on techniques for self-reflection, self-development, and spirituality, as well as having a sustainable relationship with nature. In the past the Society offered ten month courses in the Fourth Way, and had a large community living on the property. Currently about ten people live there permanently, with other past members living nearby and still participating.
Bushrod Washington's Great Barn at Claymont Community
The Great Barn
     When we arrived Jennifer gave us a tour of the Great Barn, where we would be staying.
It is called the Great Barn because it was originally Bushrod Washington's horse barn. Bushrod was George's grand-nephew, and in the 1840s built the existing mansion and barn on the 300 acre property. The Great Barn is, as the name suggests, quite large. The second floor alone has accommodations for eighty people, while the first floor has an expansive dining room, meditation room, and kitchen. We stayed in the WWOOFer dorm, which we had to ourselves, and cooked in a little kitchen off of the commercial kitchen.
     Our first day of work was helping out Rob, a nearby farmer who is leasing land from Claymont for a community-oriented farm, fittingly called Community Gardens. Over the course of his ten-year cultivation, he has evolved into the niche of salad mixes and pea shoots.
Rob's farm
Originally a Claymont resident, he maintains a symbiotic relationship with the current community, and all WWOOFers get to enjoy a variety of produce he provides. We worked there once or twice a week, and helped him harvest produce for market, in addition to tying up tomatoes, planting starts, and stringing electric fence to keep the huge deer population at bay (local land development had forced many animals onto Claymont property, and we saw about six deer a day, as well as a few groundhogs).
Pea shootin'
We also helped plant peas densely in flats, to be harvested just two weeks later as pea shoots, a very popular delicacy at the local farmer's market.
Maurice, Holly, and Rob
At the end of the workday Rob always had a big melon or crate of peaches for him, WWOOFers, and Maurice and Amy Jo (full-timers), to share; a great way to end those 105 degree days.
     One day while we were at Rob's, a team of volunteers from For the Love of Children (FLOC) came to help out. FLOC provides outdoor opportunities for youth and young adults through "adventure challenges, environmental education, and sustainability practices," sometimes bringing the children to the farm to help out. This time, however, it was just the counselors. With about eight extra hands we got a lot done, and we also were invited to an upcoming high ropes course event that FLOC was hosting.
Enjoying the refreshing swimming hole
     The next day we helped clean out and organize The Octogon, a massive room with 20 ft ceilings at the end of the barn which was historically used to show horses, but now is part stage, part storage space. Several members from the ManKind Project (MKP) also came to help with this daunting task. Claymont's main source of income is hosting seminars in its vast buildings, and MKP is one of the many groups to use the space for their retreats. Other Claymont residents helped out too, and we worked with Julie, a fellow WWOOFer, Jenna, the WWOOF coordinator, and Amy, the president of Claymont Society. The Octogon did not have air conditioning, and by the time we had it organized we were hot, sweaty, and dirty. Luckily the Claymont folks knew just the antidote, and later that afternoon we all went to a nearby swimming hole. We swam where a river and a spring met, and the contrast between the warm and freezing water enhanced our frolicking.
planting tomatoes in the garden at Claymont with Great barn in background
Planting tomatoes
     The Claymont garden consisted of the Orchard, West, East, Mandala, and Greenhouse gardens, all of which were impressively mapped out and planned by Jenna. Each garden consisted of between six and ten beds of varying sizes, and each of these had a detailed season-long planting schedule. Unfortunately a recent downturn in WWOOFers had allowed the weeds to get the upper hand. On the upside, the prolific weeds gave us a chance to try out some new wild edibles, including thistle and curly dock seeds. Dock seeds can, through a long and arduous process, be husked, ground, and sifted into flour.
Dock processing
We are still in the middle of this process, but have already invested over five hours for about 2 cups of flour, so it better be good. An instrumental force against the weeds was the weekly community workday, where Claymont residents and members of the surrounding community banded together to plant new crops and get the weeds under control. Most of the harvested produce went to the CSA and is picked up every Thursday.
     As part of the workdays we worked on both the garden and ourselves. Part of the Fourth Way is balancing the intellectual, emotional, and physical aspects of the self, and exercises that help achieve this harmony are referred to as "inner work." During community garden days we would be given a short exercise or mantra to practice while gardening in order to be more balanced and present.
weeding in Claymont garden with great barn in background
Ernest and Holly at a Community workday
Wednesday and Thursday mornings also began with a short inner work meeting to facilitate additional internal reflection.
Meditation room in the Great Barn
The loom room
     WWOOFers get together every Monday with other members of the Claymont community to touch base and plan out the following week. Workshop opportunities were also brought to our attention; one afternoon we were able to take a yoga class with Jenna. After the meeting we all cleaned the Great Barn together, ensuring that it was ready for the next seminar. When we finished the cleaning everyone gathered for a community potluck dinner. One of the high points of community living is sharing meals together, and we always enjoy getting to know people while enjoying delicious food.
     At the meeting WWOOFers divvied up chores including watering and gathering eggs. Most of our garden time was "at will," and we were free to tackle any of the many tasks that needed doing. By the time we left we had redefined five large beds, and planted peppers, pumpkins, and tomatoes.
     The high ropes course FLOC invited us to was on Thursday afternoon, so after rising early and helping with CSA harvest, we packed a lunch and set out. We arrived just in time to join the group of counselors and their visiting families as they headed to the course.
Getting ready to zipline
Neither Randy or Holly had ever done a high ropes course before, so we were excited to do as many activities as we could. After getting our helmets and harnesses, we waited our turn for vertical options to ascend to the zip line platform. Between the gym rope, caving ladder, and the Giants' Ladder, a series of six horizontal 10' timbers suspended at about 4' apart, we chose the latter ladder, because it was the option that encouraged climbing with a partner.
Taking the plunge
After a climb time that was only slightly better than a group of 11-year-olds, we summited. The only way down was a thrilling ride on a 200 ft zip line, which was well worth the effort. Next we tried out the Tarzan walk way, where we tight-rope walked across a cable using hanging ropes for support. All roads led to the zip line, so we got to go on one more zip before heading home.
Pausing mid-course for a picture
     Since it had been well over the obligatory 8 weeks since we'd given blood in Winston-Salem, we were itchin' to donate that hemoglobin. On Saturday we finished work early and headed over to a local blood drive. George, a fellow WWOOFer who had recently arrived at Claymont, had also been wanting to give blood, and came with us. By the time we arrived, a few people had already been turned away because they had not hydrated enough over the course of the day, so the Red Cross workers were happy to get our eagerly flowing blood. Holly even out-paced a "squirter" who had spouted blood all over the place when poked. Once again our completely altruistic action was repaid handsomely with good food, and a coupon for a free milkshake.
Bushrod Washington's carriage house attatched to Claymont mansion
Carriage house by the mansion
     Our second week there, two different groups held seminars at the retreat center. Salvi was a Latin-immersion group, whose members came and only spoke Latin, even to Claymont staff. There was also a Rolfing group, who specialize in a form of holistic body work. With the seminars came opportunities to help out in the kitchen. Helping clean up after meals got us in on Peter Humes' delicious dishes.
     Occasionally we had community lunches where everyone came together to cook and eat.
Jenna, George, Chris and Holly at a community lunch
The community meals were always a relaxing and pleasant time for connecting with each other. The day before we left Jenna and Amy organized a farewell pancake breakfast for us, and we enjoyed yummy blackberry pancakes while saying our goodbyes.

Goerge, Randy, Amy

Carol Ann, Jenna, Holly

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Spring Creek Farm Revisited and Rainbow Respite

Spring Creek Farm Revisited
spring creek farm pioneer tn
Our corn seedlings all grown up

     After Bonnaroo we had some flexibility with our farming schedule, and since we were already in Tennessee we decided to swing by and catch up with our friends in Pioneer. Adam and Shelby at Spring Creek Farm were happy to host us again, and we were looking forward to seeing everyone and how the farm was doing. There were some new faces on the farm, including Shelby's three daughters up from Florida, Jane the resident agricultural expert and summer farm chef, and Bree, a fellow WWOOFer. Adam and Shelby had also adapted the farm with WWOOFers in mind. While there we enjoyed the heck out of their beautiful, large outdoor shower, and had fun staying in a lovely woodshed-turned-cabin.
A much greener greenhouse

WWOOF usa tn     This was the first time we got to return to a farm we had previously worked on, and it was rewarding to see the fruits of our labor. The New Zealand spinach (actually not in the spinach family) we had planted was growing prolifically, the corn we had started in the hoophouse was as tall as we are and quite delicious, and the blueberries we had tended were producing fruit. Not all of our labor turned out so successfully, though. About half of the turken and chicken eggs we had carefully put in the incubator didn't make it due to an incubator malfunction.
Jane, Randy, Louise, Corey
However, the poultry population had already been boosted by the purchase of dozens of new guineas, quail, and turkeys. The number of cattle had decreased significantly due to sales; they had decided to focus more on the thriving sheep. An entirely new species joined the farm in the form of about two dozen rabbits.
     A few days after we arrived, two more WWOOFers came to the farm. Corey and Louise were traveling around the states, and this was their first farming stop. Corey hailed from New Zealand/Australia and Louise was from England. They both very friendly and engaging, and everyone had a hard time not slipping into their pleasant accents.

Bree and Shelby enjoying pizza
Jane and her amazing doughnut meal
Making flower crowns
     With so many friendly folks around we had a great time hanging out after work. We were both bummed that Adam's son wasn't there to hang out, but we had fun with the 5 girls. They all begged us to jump on the trampoline with them, and they especially liked it when Randy jumped because he bounced them all super high. Holly had fun making clover/dandelion crowns with the three little girls, who were duly impressed with her flower-joining skills. Jane was a talented and original cook, and we all had the pleasure of enjoying her culinary creations. Some of our favorites included mint-basil shortbread cookies, squash and beet pizza, orange ginger biscotti, and an indulgent lunch of homemade doughnuts. Adam and Shelby love croquet, and we had a blast racing through the wickets. One night the farm hosted a local get-together featuring a fire and drum circle. Adrienne, Mac and others from A Place of the Heart Farm came over and helped us relax     and laugh around a fire while creating some rockin' rhythms.
Cruisin' in the convertible
Cumberland Falls State Park
     Following the national trend, we had some especially sweltering weather, made worse by the lack of rain. But, the Spring Creek crew compensated by taking off to a local swimming hole one afternoon, and also taking a day trip to Eagle Falls. We decided to take this opportunity to try putting the top down on our car (aka popping the "red pimple" as Barbara, Adam's mom, called it). Because the car is usually too full of stuff to use the convertible option, we have been unable to enjoy this classic summertime experience. It was invigorating to have the sun warming us as the wind played over us. The Cottrills frequent Eagle Falls as a place of relaxation, and it was easy to see why. Gorgeous views of the Cumberland River and awe-inspiring rock formations peppered our 1.5 mile hike to the falls. Once there we cooled down in the pool beneath a narrow waterfall, jumping in off the rocks and playing in the falls. Later we headed down to the actual river which was quite a bit warmer, frolicking in the semi-strong current, sunning, and eating our lunch.
Natural high-pressure shower
Randy gets diving advice
     A downside of having a flashy red out-of-state convertible is that it attracts cops like pigs to fermented grain. We were pulled over by a state trooper a few miles from the state line, with the explanation being he'd run our tags and they'd taken awhile coming back. Since we obviously couldn't have been speeding, he let us go.
Knoxville Farmer's Market
Contemplating produce
     The Knoxville Farmer's Market and Spring Creek's CSA were in full swing, and we enjoyed helping to harvest, process, and sell the produce. We got to see Adrienne and Mac again at the farmer's market, since their booth is next door. Holly especially had fun being able to partake in one of her favorites pasttimes, hawking produce; while Randy savored one of his, exploring the city, including the 1982 World's Fair Sunsphere
A recording of the 1982 World's Fair performances loops continuously inside the Sunsphere, this is probably a close approximation to hell.

Quite a burl

WWOOF usa north carolina

*   *   *

Rainbow Respite
     Many people valued the Gathering as a safe, unique space, and felt that photographs would be invasive. Out of respect for their wishes, we took few pictures.
     The annual national Rainbow Gathering is in its 40th year, and is a gathering centered around praying for peace. It generally attracts counterculture-types seeking an alternative to mainstream consumerism and popular culture. The gathering is held in a different national forest each year, and everyone comes together to provide food, water, and medical care to the 10-20,000 people who attend. Members of Holly's family have attended Rainbow Gatherings in the past, and she has been wanting to check one out for a while. This year the Gathering was in Tennessee, and since we were in the area we decided to make the detour. After mentioning our plans to a few different people, we heard mixed reviews of the event. Opinions varied from it being a beautiful bonding experience with others to it being a anarchistic party in the woods attracting the wrong types of people. We weren't exactly sure what to expect when we arrived on Monday evening. We drove a ways down a windy, bumpy gravel road in Cherokee National Forest, passing miles of precariously parked cars. Some friendly folks stopped us and gave us a map of the area. We eventually found a parking spot and ate peanut butter sandwiches in the car. Soon we were introduced to our parking spot neighbor, Marco, a pleasant nitrous dealer. Since it was quite dark, we decided to just sleep a little ways off the road in the woods, and figure out the lay of the land in the morning. All night the road was home to a boisterous population whose constant din woke us up a few times during the night. After that night we were a bit wary of how the Gathering would unfold.
All the grubby cars had graffiti, we found this on our dust bunny
     The next day we explored the Gathering itself, learning that we had actually slept in A Camp (where the use of alcohol is restricted to), and the vibe of most other areas was more peaceful and considerate. Frequent greetings were "welcome home" and "lovin' you." We also learned that we had snagged an excellent parking spot quite close to one of the main trails. Because Cherokee National Forest is in the mountains, the Gathering was quite spread out along several trails through the woods, and we ended up walking several miles each day. We relocated our campsite to a nice secluded spot on the edge of a meadow. Though we could still hear A Camp in the distance, it was worth it to be hidden amongst the trees and have as many blackberries as we could eat outside our front door.
     We also enjoyed the wildlife indigenous to our meadow. One afternoon we noticed a box turtle hanging out around the tent, and we had fun watching it for a while before it slowly lumbered off. A slightly less tranquil encounter occurred one evening as we were drifting off to sleep. Holly felt something run over her arm, and gave a startled shout. We spent the next five minutes chasing the mouse around the tent, trying to either catch it or shoo it outside. Every time we thought we had it cornered it would disappear into the jumble of blankets and pop up somewhere else. Eventually we weighted down the door lip and it was able to run out.
     During our time there the weather was quite hot, with highs going up to 106 degrees. Luckily, the Gathering was close to South Holston Lake, which was a welcome reprieve. We went almost everyday, and had fun cooling off and practicing our childhood water tricks. The lake also provided the only source of cleanliness, since drinking water was too valuable to bathe in. "Bathing" consisted of jumping in in our swimsuit, while "doing our laundry" consisted of jumping in with our dirty clothes on.
Enjoying the local cuisine
     Our en route dumpstering had come up short, so we were a bit worried about having enough food for our ten day stay. We needn't have worried, though, because there were about thirty different kitchens around the Gathering that regularly served food to whoever was hungry. While most served various meals, others specialized in pancakes or gluten-free fare."Pop corner" always had a different flavor of popcorn with an interesting name; the taco-spiced was "sexy enchilada," and the curry-themed was "kirtan gives me runny poop." "Tea Time" was a kitchen we frequented that had several types of tea available 24 hours a day. Occasionally we would wonder from kitchen to kitchen sampling their "zuzus" (desserts), including deep-fried Reese's cups, 'smores, butterscotch pancakes, and chocolate-banana-peanut butter turnovers. All these kitchens also usually prepared a dish to share at Main Circle, a communal meal served every night. The kitchens donate approximately 2/3 of the food they served, the rest being supplied by money donated to the "Magic Hat" each evening. Nothing may be bought or sold at the Gathering, but contributions are asked for each night as an orange five-gallon bucket, the "Magic Hat" is brought around the circle accompanied by accordions and violins. 
Sadly, we never got to ask
     Besides money, you could help the kitchens by "plugging in" (helping out). They always needed people to haul supplies the 2-3 miles up the mountain and dig latrines. We made several supply runs for various kitchens, and aided in the arduous task of digging a latrine in parched mountain clay.
     As the days passed, it was fun to watch a community of thousands form in the woods. Besides seeing people we knew already, like Adrienne, Mac, and others from A Place of the Heart, and Wade and Kate from Mountain Gardens, we also began to recognize and become acquainted with many other members of the Rainbow family. One of these people was the "pocket trash guy" who seemed to spend all of his time walking around with a trash bag collecting everyone's potential litter. Another niche was Nic at Night, who went around handing out and collecting cigarettes, a sort of food pantry of cigarettes. We also met new people when we were occasionally stopped and asked for a "smoke, toke or joke." Since we never had the first two, we shared and gained a good many jokes. Here are two of our favorites, although their hilarity depends greatly on intonation: "What do you get when you cross a brown chicken and a brown cow? Brownchicken browncow!" (to the tune of bow chica wow wow). Also, "what did the hippie say when the homeowner asked him to leave? Nah-ima-stay."
Thoughtful people hung a swing for everyone's enjoyment
     At night, parts of the gathering had a carnivalesque feel. Once we came upon a woman performing on a circus sash hung from a tree, complete with violin accompaniment and head lamp spotlights. Fire spinners queued up to perform in front of enthusiastic crowds, brandishing a seemingly endless variety of flaming accoutrements. Hula hoopers, devil stick jugglers, and traditional jugglers also enjoyed entertaining the masses.
     Another way for people to show off their skills was at the Granola Funk theater, a stage constructed at every gathering for various performances.
"G-Funk's" amazing stage
This year's stage had a pyramid theme complete with a passing extraterrestrial craft. Some of the performances included a singer/songwriter night and gong and talent shows. Drummers got plenty of opportunity to work the crowd into a dancing frenzy with multiple nightly fireside drum circles lasting until dawn.
     There were also educational opportunities in the form of workshops. Green Path camp offered numerous daily options, and we took advantage of a plant walk. We had already been munching on blueberries, blackberries, and wintergreen, but Learning Deer brought a few new plants to our attention. We learned that all pine needles are an excellent, easily absorbed source of vitamin C, that can be eaten raw or steeped in water bottles.
      A fun part of the Rainbow economy was the lively trading area. Dozens of people spread their wares on blankets while passersby admired and haggled over the goods, reminiscent of an open-air street market. After scoping out the area for a few days we decided to test the trading waters for a sushi mat. Holly was able to make a hemp necklace in exchange for it. After that we were more confident, and traded a MRE for a cargo strap, a tire repair kit for a few books, a piece of turquoise for a pocket mirror, and an Arkansas crystal for a pendant. We also got a sweet magnifying glass from a young entrepreneur in exchange for a few more of our crystals.
     The area was in desperate need of rain, and on Sunday and Tuesday there were two prayer-answering deluges. Sunday night was an epic light show, and on Tuesday afternoon we happened upon people playing Red Rover in the rain, which we excitedly joined. We also learned a new, highly addictive backyard game called Ultimate Ninja.
     The Rainbow Gathering culminates on the Fourth of July in a dawn-til-noon silent prayer for peace, broken by a community om. The silent morning was inspiring, and the lack of traditional communication created a deeper sense of togetherness. It was also a powerful sight to see thousands of attendees gathered in the main meadow unified in purpose and mantra. After the om concluded a drum circle sprang up, and refreshing watermelon was shared.
     We concluded our final day by exploring a section of the Gathering we hadn't even been to, and ended up enjoying the delicious pizza, chili, oatmeal, and barbeque chicken from Montana Mud and Shut Up and Eat It kitchens.
     One of the most important precepts of Gatherings is a harmonious relationship with the land. After the Gathering ends, some people stay to clean up, re-seed and aerate heavy traffic areas, and generally ensure that the forest will soon resume its pristine state.