I have been gardening. I used a scythe and a sickle, shovelled dung to mulch a patch, and turned a compost heap. I barrowed logs from a woodpile into a shed for the winter. I wanted to see the Quaker community at Bamford, what they do and how.
It is a large rambling building, just outside a wee village in the Peak District National Park. Some of the Community members have jobs outside, some give full time to the Community. They hold retreats, and work the eleven acres, and restore the house. I was there for a week’s “Working retreat” with the theme of Pilgrimage.
Most of the grounds are woodland. Three patches have been cleared, one for an orchard, one will have a polytunnel, one has veg. There is also the “meadow”. We had courgettes every day: steamed, in a pasta sauce, a courgette cake, even a little in a trifle. The Community has been going for decades, though three years ago everyone but one left. Some time ago a couple sought to make a living out of it as a market garden, but now they just grow for themselves, rather than selling: they are not self-sufficient. Out the back there is a shed with a potter’s wheel and kiln: it would be a good place for an artist to work, like that, but he has now left. In the grounds there is the art space, a shed with a large window, where we were invited to go to paint, but it is overgrown. They have done some work on the paths, laying down wood chips or logs, cutting back the encroaching vegetation, but it takes more work than they have time for.
Nine of us spent two days clearing the “Meadow”, apart from the wasps’ nest, which we left alone. The scythes made the grass lie down, rather than cutting it: we do not have the practice. M said his friend could mow a bowling green with a scythe. I thought a strimmer could cut it all down in a day, and M, who wants to move here from London, said that would damage “the other communities” in the meadow. G, who stays here, and was organising our work, had other reasons: you have to keep adjusting a strimmer, pulling the wire out; we would still have had to rake and barrow the cut weeds; it covers you with green goo. I was not clear whether M had misunderstood her reasons, or whether G thought what she had told M would not persuade me.
Someone else had accused G of “micromanaging”, so she agreed my suggestion of spending time sharing how things were going. We did this at the start of one morning session, in the Meeting room: apart from me, everyone said how it was going really well and how much they were enjoying it. It seemed to me that they were being Polite and Constructive rather than sharing feelings. As V said, in community we do thoughtful, respectful, loving, truthful but we don’t do Polite. Over time, Politeness covers a huge pile of smouldering resentment, which must explode eventually; but for a week together, I suppose it is OK.
I had moments when I felt Present, and overwhelmed by the beauty of the plants- wet leaves, trees, whatever- and I wanted that feeling in my labour. However, while I worked, my inner voices worked too. Am I doing it right? That is Weak. Could this be done better- that is a useful question, and I was thinking of how to do any particular move, all the time. Pushing a heavy barrow up a short but steep incline felt Wonderful.