This past week I spent a half day at Karla Kauffmann's Maple Tree Meadows farm, for a Soil and Soul Retreat led by Karla. Karla is a chaplain and spiritual director (and court interpreter and sustainable foods enthusiast and a woman with a hearty laugh and lots of energy) who dreams of creating a contemplative Anabaptist sustainable farm community on the 12 acres she purchased four years ago, a small section of an over-100 year old farm. In addition to the farm house and fields, she has a couple barns and other outbuildings and a healthy crop of barn swallows.
Following the Benedictine pattern of study, work, prayer and hospitality, Karla led us first in an hour conversation on a chapter in Ellen Davis' book, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible.
Then we had an hour to work in the soil. Cathy and I nearly cleared this small weedy patch near the barn, where Karla plans to have a small garden. I enjoyed the coming and going of swallow shadows on the ground, as the birds flew over us to land on the nearby wires.
We dutifully stopped work when the bell rang, moving to a block of solitude -- for prayer, journaling, walking the land or simply resting in the shade.
I sat for awhile on the front porch, barely journaling and instead enjoying the shade of a huge old maple and the view of a sunny meadow with flitting butterflies and swooping swallows, before I went exploring.
As Karla says, this is a wounded farm that has suffered a lot of neglect and that she is slowing mending. This is the back view of one of the barns, home to an enthusiastic vine and a colony of barn swallows.
The window you glimpse through the door is featured in the photo below and was part of the flight pattern for the swallows.
I contemplated the swallows in flight as they entered this window and flew on through the barn, and hoped to catch a glimpse of their graceful swoop in a photo, but I was never quick enough. The best I could manage were the two below, who paused in their flight, perhaps taking a mini-retreat of their own.
Our retreat ended with a tasty feast of green salad, chicken salad, hard boiled eggs, potato sourdough bread, stir fried garlic scapes, yogurt with strawberries,and iced tea sweetened with maple syrup, prepared by Karla from local foods (including the syrup from her trees). We ate out in the shade of a maple, enjoying the breeze and good conversation with the other participants.
A good day, tending to soil and to soul in beautiful June weather on an old Michigan farm.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"