Let us not go to far from Thy bosom, beloved Jesus.
Let us not go too far from They love.
Let Thy word frame our world of rejoicing,That the city of God is our home
Thursday, June 17, 1976. I packed my few belongings, Harpo the canary, and my dog Lena into Mary’s car and said goodbye to Mary. As I left New York City and drove to Detroit, my thoughts were awash in memories of my years with The Trees. It had been an incredible journey since I first climbed the steps to the Loft in 1969. I refused to accept it but in reality a chapter of my life was about to close and a new one was beginning. Still as I drove across country I also thought about the future. I was not giving up the fight yet! If there were two of us, there was still the possibility of growth and new life for our community. I would do whatever it would take to coax new growth from the uprooted, leafless Tree.
I drove home using the last paycheck from the Gift Shop ($120) to pay for my gas and food on the way back and for food to live on while I’d be away. I moved in to an old spacious three-story boarding house at 160 Virginia Park where my sister Heidi was living. It was a quick bus ride away from Wayne State University and in a run down area of Detroit. She and I started our five-week modern dance class at Wayne State and I was thrilled to be dancing again.
Severed from the Trees and New York, I embarked on a strange new life. Almost as soon as I arrived, the landlord’s brother, Kulbir, asked me out and pretty soon I was dating again. Nevertheless, my new life seemed strangely empty. I felt disconnected and I missed the rhythm and flow of my religious life with daily mass, Greater Silence, daily services and prayers. After all that had happened I also was extremely depressed.
My parents invited me to a weekend retreat/marathon with their therapy group, Coprin. I accepted and in a short time I realized that therapy could really help me. I started seeing a therapist once a week (my parents paid for it until I could get my own health insurance). As I delved more deeply into therapy, it was obvious that six weeks in Detroit would not be enough. To continue with psychotherapy I'd need at least another six months. I wrote to Mary asking if she would consider moving to Detroit so maybe the community could continue there? Would she pray about it to see if the Lord was calling her in that direction? Then in May when our sublet was up, maybe we could return to New York City. We wrote and talked back and forth for awhile and consulted with Canon West, Alan Jones and Sister Mary Michael. Alan wrote saying yes, it would be an excellent idea to get our emotional houses in order first (with therapy) before trying to rebuild the community. Canon West agreed but said nothing more (I suspect he was disappointed and saw the writing on the wall when we did not). Sister Mary Michael of course thought therapy was an excellent idea. So Mary and I prayed and talked, prayed and thought about it, weighing the possibilities, trying to see if it was really God’s will. Eventually Mary decided to come and the Trees Community would officially move to Detroit – at least for a short trial period. Our reasons as I outlined in the Chronicle were:
1. To attend Coprin and become involved in their therapy program for a year or two or as long as need be in order to get help with our problems and become healthier, more whole people who’ll be more stable and able to lead the future community.
2. We weren’t getting much support from General Seminary. In fact, we believed that since we’d fixed up the apartment for them, they now wanted us out so they could use it for married students.
3. The Cathedral had always been a lot of talk but never came through with real tangible support. They’d offer us gifts then later slap us with a bill, which added up to a debt of roughly $5,000 to them. There was little reason to stay in New York anymore, except for close and dear friends (like Jack).
4. Practically, rent and life would be cheaper in Detroit with benefits of a “country” environment i.e. grass, birds, trees and not just solid concrete.
Mary worked taking care of Mrs. Powney and getting things squared away at the apartment. She stayed in NYC until Mrs. Powney died on August 14th. Then she went on retreat at a convent and took a brief vacation. She would move to Detroit sometime after August 21st.
On August 4th I moved in with my brother Chris and a roommate Dave to 4052 Country Club Lane in Birmingham Michigan. I spent the next two weeks scrubbing and cleaning, trying to get it ready for when Mary would move back. Meanwhile she sorted through things trying to get things ready at her end.
With our bus insurance set to expire in mid August, my dad Dave Ruetenik agreed to drive back with me to New York City to pick up the bus and help clear out our General Seminary apartment. We finagled a “drive-away” car (you drive someone else’s car to a specific location and only pay for the gas). We left quite early and drove all day. As we approached the City, we listened to the radio and learned a Hurricane was bearing down, heading directly for New York City and due to arrive the same time we were. We decided to keep driving and hope the Hurricane would veer off course. As we approached the outskirts of the City, the sky was a weird yellow gold color and the freeway was practically empty. We had the sensation that we were in the twilight zone. Nervous and a little frightened, we kept chatting away, trying to ignore the ominous sky. We flipped the radio back on and learned the hurricane had veered away at the last minute, leaving only rain and thunderstorms. Thank God! We drove safely into the city and zipped over to General Seminary, making it inside just before the storm clouds let loose pelting rain. Inside David K., Kateri, Mary and Jack were sitting around the living room having just finished dinner. How grand to be back! Famished, they offered us left overs and we told them of our strange experience. What a relief to visit with old friends and family. Knowing it would be ages before I saw Jack again, the reunion was bittersweet as we talked on and on, late into the night. Bone tired, my Dad excused himself and went to bed.
It took all day to pack instruments, filing cabinets, and sort through what to take and what to leave behind. I had 7 years of my belongings to squeeze onto the bus. I took the desk David Lynch had made me (hammered together from scrap lumber, sanded and stained with love) the antique chair found one night on a nearby street corner, the antique night stand/chair my mother bought me, the hope chest my mother gave me, rugs Mary and I had braided from our old clothes, and the entire Trees archive: boxes and boxes of files, photographs and notebooks. Each piece held memories and I found it impossible to part with them. As we carried things down 87 steps and 5 flights, my Dad kept commenting that he couldn’t imagine how we had managed to ferry our instruments up and down so many stairs! Some things were driven uptown and stored at the Cathedral for our eventual return in the fall.
The day before we left, we had to drop our drive away car off at a wharf in Newark, New Jersey, something that ended up taking all day. My Dad returned to the apartment, exhausted and retired to bed while Mary and I rushed over to Melody's for dinner.
David Lynch said he and Dorita needed a ride out to New Mexico, so he offered to help my Dad drive the bus back. That turned out to be a Godsend since it was not easy to shift the bus gears! Actually, it took several practice sessions before my Dad got the hang of double clutching, and he still reminices about how thankful he was to have David’s help driving on the long journey back. The morning we were to leave, we finished loading the bus, and then sat down to wait for David and Dorita. We’d arranged to meet at 10a.m. and it was 9:55 a.m. Great timing! Unfortunately, they didn’t show up. We waited and waited, until finally, at 12:30 my Dad said that was it, he wasn’t going to wait anymore. He started up the bus and just as he was about to pull away, David and Dorita arrived. Phew! After a few more delays getting a check cashed at the bank, we were off. My Dad was extremely grateful to have David along once he saw how cantankerous Athanasius was to drive!
Two weeks later I was back in New York City for a whirlwind weekend with Kulbir for his cousin’s wedding. Only this time I was almost completely enmeshed in their families parties, get togethers and wedding. I enjoyed his family’s warmth and friendliness, the gaiety and laughter. It felt like immersion therapy as I was swept along from one gathering to another. I was even dressed in a Sari for the wedding. With no where else to stay, Kulbir and I called at the last minute and booked a guest room at General Seminary, which they ended up giving us for free. There was no time to visit the Cathedral or see old friends so the whole weekend had a dreamlike quality.
Once back in Michigan, I started a new job as a secretary at Rea Home in Detroit. My father was the director of the Federation of Girl’s home and this was one of the homes for delinquent girls. My first week on the job the girls at Rea Home set three fires and I left work late one afternoon amidst the sounds of sirens, girls screaming as they vacated the front house and smoke pouring from one of the rooms!
The rest of August and early September, I finished my modern dance class at Wayne State and continued working, anxiously awaiting Mary’s arrival. Mary moved to Detroit on September 9th. She arrived feeling conflicted and disappointed, but willing to give “The Trees” one last try. Both of us moved through each day in a haze of denial, struggling with our feelings of disbelief and pain as more and more it seemed the end of the Trees was inescapable. Still, we clung to our vision and our routines. Each week in my hour-long individual therapy session, I poured out my distress.
Desert Haze by Katheryn Shishonee Krupa
A thick haze traps my mind
I wander around in it, escaping from you
but you call me back and I’m forced to answer
forced to face the possibility of the pain
which is constant.
No one now understands
how much our lives together meant to me.
Every Tree that left cut a gouge
into my flesh leaving another open wound.
No one now can understand
the depth of this sadness
what every minute,
every hour, every day of that experience
meant to me.
It was a marriage
between people each so intricately special and unique
each so beautiful and yet cruel
each loving and but also unkind
we bled and died together
we sacrificed our lives for one another
and were reborn
finding so much to share in return.
I don't want to focus in on the pain
in response to your probing, your gentle urgings
putting those years under the intense scrutiny of therapy.
I pour over the days, the chronicle of what has passed
and I am there again, instantly alive again
with every single emotion I felt
reliving every dream, every vision we shared.
The past becomes the present
and I re-enter those cherished events
walking into the memories
like a living painting
that is too painfully real.
I don’t think you can understand
why I flee into the haze,
the cloudy denial
that frames my world.
It’s because I’ve lost everything
that meant anything to me.
I'm left with nothing except myself.
I’m left with lingering memories and an intense desire
to return home to a family that has vanished
leaving me feeling abandoned and desperately alone.
We were all sick, we were all lonely,
We were all young
but it went far beyond all that.
I knew the Lord had called us to be together…
what hurts is that I never heard Him call
for it to end.
That is the source of my pain.
At the core of my sadness
I'm left with unending, unresolved doubt
that returns and returns,
washing over me in relentless waves
in spite of all that we ever said or promised,
when everyone was gone except for the two of us,
I never heard the Lord calling me home.
You can’t understand,
unless you’ve heard
Cool and warm inside you all at once.
Unless you’ve answered His call and
surrendered yourself to Him,
sacrificing everything to love Him.
Then to see the destruction
of everything you created together to praise Him,
To have to watch everyone leave
who was married to you,
abandoning the Lord
abandoning that powerful ministry.
The pain of that loss is searing and deep
like the death of a child.
It’s cold at night in the desert.
I feel parched and weightless.
I’m trying to be open again,
to take the first steps toward change
but I’m not sure you can truly understand.
(For my therapist after a session October 13, 1976 )
That fall I worked all day at Rhea Home, took evening classes at Oakland and continued therapy (a process that eventually took over 15 years). I took harp and voice lessons and practiced as often as I could. I dated and drifted through various love affairs and relationships, not feeling strongly about any of them. No matter how sad I was at the hopeless state of affairs with the Trees, I was still committed to our original vision. I strongly believed it wasn't time to throw in the towel.
After Mary arrived we returned to following our “Daily Order”, held services, prayers, and followed our contemplative/religious life as much as possible, given there were only two of us. Mary and I both felt strongly that God was calling us to finish writing the “Rule” of the Trees. Hoping that the Lord would soon send us new members, and still thinking being a member of the Trees was an honest vocation, we decided to finish what we had started with Sister Mary Michael and write down the Tree’s Rule. We met and talked about it, working through various drafts. Others too had written their own versions, which were more focused on the spiritual aspects of what the rule should be. We focused more on the day to day and the mundane, hoping to at least capture what had developed into our daily lifestyle, discipline and purpose, hoping against hope too that new postulants might arrive to refill the decimated ranks of the Trees.
The Tree’s Rule (Draft One):
Let us not go to far from Thy bosom, beloved Jesus.
Let us not go too far from They love.
Let Thy word frame our world of rejoicing,
That the city of God is our home.
--Early Trees’ prophecy
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream,
And does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green,
And is not anxious in the year of drought,
For it does not cease to bear fruit. Jer. 17:7-8
To organize and perpetuate a community, within the tradition of the Episcopal Church in the United States for men and women, dedicated to living the religious life and carrying the fruits thereof in music (arts), liturgical services, and charitable works.
To provide a lifestyle (a “stable structure”) in which a person could share in Christian fellowship, grow stronger in his faith, and develop his personality and talents within the discipline of silence, prayer, work and active ministry.
Silence is kept in the bedroom of the house until Chapter of Faults in the mornings and after Compline in the evenings.
Daily Schedule (fall 1976)
7:15 Chapter of Faults and daily conference
7:40 Leave for work
4:30 Work ends, travel home
Music practice is held whenever it can be fit in on each day, of one half hour or one hour duration.
Weekends are free, from Friday evening to Sunday evening. Everyone is expected to go to church somewhere on Sunday.
A quiet day is held monthly. Silence is observed all day on a quiet day and fasting (on bread and fruit) replaces the usual meal times. It is a day for reflection, prayer and study. On quiet days, the community meets in the chapel at the usual prayer times and also at 11:00 and 1:00. Those who work try to get the day off.
Potential novices are asked to communicate their desires for membership to the leader of the community.
All novices are asked to make a visit to the community of at least two weeks duration and to return home after this visit. This enables the novice and the community to decide on the vocation of the applicant and the suitability of the applicant for this community.
Suitability, from the community’s point of view, means that the aspirant is a serious-minded Christian who feels “called by God” to this community and who is willing to worship according to the community’s schedule of prayer, that he/she is free from debt or serious health problems, that he/she is willing and able to undertake the disciplined life of the community, that he/she has no psychological impediments and is willing and able to pass a test for psychological health, that he/she seems happy within the community’s structure.
One week after the aspirant leaves, the community meets to discuss and decide on the application. If the aspirant is accepted, he/she will come for a three-month trial period. At the end of three months, he/she will be asked to commit himself/herself to the community until May 2, the Foundation Day of the community. It is possible to extend the trial period for another three months.
Yearly commitments will be made to the community on a day on or about May 2, Foundation Day. The community has the right to dispense a member from his vow at this request.
Removal of members:
In the case of continued lack of cooperation or behavior which is long-term disruptive to the community, a member may be removed by the following procedure:
The leader of the community speaks to the individual privately, being specific about the possibility of his removal. If this “verbal correction” brings no change, written notice is given to the individual at a community meeting to be hold to present the complaint and to allow the individual to defend himself. This meeting follows.
The community may then decide by a majority vote to remove the member. He will be given written notice of this decision and specified time period for his leaving.
These written notices are initiated by the community, signed by the superior, and do not include reasons for removal.
Major community decisions are made by a vote of the community. All members under a year’s commitment (for new members, a commitment to May 2) may vote.
Any member can call for a vote.
Any decision making meeting should be announced.
A decision is made by the majority of votes cast.
A majority of voting members can delay a vote until a designated time in order to allow experimentation, compromise, or consultation.
The leader of the community is elected for one year by a majority vote. He can be re-elected.
The duties of the leader are as follows:
1) to implement community decisions in regard to daily schedule and work.
2) to be a liaison to outside world
3) to make immediate decisions when community decisions are impractical.
4) to convene meetings.
The superior can be vetoed on any decision by a 2/3 vote.
If the superior fails to convene a meeting upon request, 2/3 of the community may convene it.
In the Spirit of Poverty:
All earnings, donations, and other funds are kept in common, with the following exceptions:
1) money earned on one’s own time (i.e. on weekends, in the evening)
2) donations or gifts designated to individuals
3) a $5.00 weekly allowance (when possible)
There is a treasurer who represents the community in money matters and who is responsible for the community money (handling bank accounts, paying bills, keeping financial records, reporting to the community).
Any major expenditure of community funds or any unusual personal expenditure of community funds will be brought up for approval before the community.
Our goals in this area:
1) to respect God’s creation and to be good stewards of it
2) to live simply so that we and others may enjoy God’s creation, to be aware of the world’s needs, to be wary of greed
3) to remember that our hope is not in the riches of this world
4) to be a witness of these ideas to others.
Meatless days are observed twice a week, Monday and Wednesday. The grocer should be generally conscious of our “simplicity of life.”
Poverty also embraces the desire to accept willingly experiences, relationships, and circumstances which seem to be the will of God.
An individual who desires to be an associate of the community can discuss with the superior of the community what he hopes this bond will mean. Each associate will have an individual agreement with the community. He will be expected to help the community when he can.
The rule can be changed by the decision-making process described above.
When further developed, this material will be divided into a Rule, a Constitution, and a Customal.
It was sad and ironic that it had taken so long to finalize a Rule and get it in written form and now there remained only two Trees to carry it out. Still, we refused to give up and remained hopeful that the Lord would send us new members – but when?
Mary put our archives in order and carefully listened to and labeled all our reel-to-reel tapes, transcribed and notated our songs, cleaned and cooked and found a job as a nurse’s aid. We lived with my brother Chris Ruetenik and his roommate, and sometimes listened to his rock band rehearsing in the garage. Naomi and Shimshi our cats loved their new life. My puppy grew into a big collie and my canary loved our new home in the country. (I even bought a rabbit, something I had always wanted!)
Disheartened and feeling set adrift, I would go for long walks in the nearby woods and orchard behind our house. As I walked, I prayed, asking for God to show me a sign, to lead me to do His will, and to send us new postulants. I’ll never forget one day I was walking through the pear orchard nearby, thinking about St. Francis and how Canon West had asked us to reflect and study his life. I marveled at how connected St. Francis was to God and His creatures. I reached up and picked a ripe pear from one of the trees and as I took a bite, I noticed a small bird sitting on a nearby branch. Remembering my experience with the salmon long ago at Leelanau and the fly that had flown so readily onto my hand, I wondered if I could once again communicate with this little bird? I stretched out my arm and quietly spoke to the bird, telling it not to be afraid, to come have some pear. It flew directly onto my arm! I watched in amazement and delight as it began pecking and eating the pear from my hand. I don’t know how long this went on, I just remember feeling totally at peace with God and infused with a sense of contentment and joy. I knew that once again the Lord was with me. After it flew away, I rushed back to the house to tell Mary what had happened!
As winter approached, Mary and I struggled with our vocations, our calling. What did God want us to do? Was it time to end the Trees? What about all our work on the rule and our ideas for a religious order? Was this just a dry spell as Father Stark had said or was it time to go our separate ways? We talked and prayed about it. I didn’t notice at the time how the world was creeping in, pulling me away from our vision, tempting me with love affairs, sexual freedom, money, a job, school, personal freedom, and everything else. For nearly seven years I had done by best to keep my vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Now my resolve was beginning to fall apart in the face of this new life. Still, I held out hope that the Trees could survive and I refused to give up.
Meanwhile, each month, we sent a check to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine for $50 to pay down our debt. A promise was a promise and our intention was to keep at it until the debt was completely paid off. It was a day to celebrate when Mary and I finally paid it off in December 1977.
In hindsight I realize it was a mistake for us to leave New York City and the support network we had there. Though it “saved” me personally (since I desperately needed psychotherapy), without spiritual leadership and direction, I drifted away from our religious life and roots. During that same time, many people wrote telling us it was time to let go of our dream. Alan Jones and Canon West wrote that when we left New York the Trees had died and we’d abandoned our religious vocations. ?!? Only Brother Bruno and Timothy Luce continued to offer their prayers and support. After a three-week retreat at a convent, Mary reluctantly agreed to stay with me for three more months, to see if there was a future for the Trees. It was a noble commitment, but a futile effort.
In September 1976 we were forced to let go of another dear friend, our bus Athanasius. (It cost too much to pay for storage). We ran an ad in the newspaper and finally met with a married couple that were moving to South America and wanted to find a bus or RV to live and travel in. They finally agreed to pay us $1,000 (which we promptly sent to the Cathedral to pay down our debt). It was sad and I was even more disappointed when they told us they wanted to paint over our beautiful murals and totally rebuild the interior. I begged them to reconsider but realized it was time for me to let go. Carefully, I removed our icon of St. Athanasius that Lavrans had painted, and other remnants of another age.
As I walked away from dear Athanasius, I kept praying as I remembered countless journeys, listening to the Firesign Theater traveling through the desert plains out west, or creeping slowly up the sides of the Appalachian mountains, or parked on a sandy beach in the Florida keys. No, don’t change it! Leave it like it is! Don’t you realize there’s history in that old gray barnwood and that is David Karasek’s art we so lovingly painted on that ceiling! I wondered too if Sister Anna Van Dyck’s angels would still patiently guard each wheel on the bus or would they finally be released from their duty and return to heaven? It was a very, very sad day.
From September through January 1977, Mary and I soldiered on. We held vigils and Compline and struggled to maintain some semblance of our former religious life. We read scripture, prayed together and sometimes wrote duets and songs. We finished writing the Tree’s Rule and put it aside, to use when the community would grow again. We visited Peter Klein at the Church of the Messiah in Detroit (an offshoot of Redeemer), but somehow, I just didn’t feel called to join there. I continued with therapy, learning to open up and talk about problems and feelings rather than keeping them bottled up inside, learning to think rather than act out based on my emotions.
In October, I wrote Alan Jones at General Seminary of our intentions and desires to continue the Trees:
October 4, 1976
Hi, how are you? Please pardon my typing errors, even though I’m the secretary here at Rea Home, I still make a lot of mistakes and can’t type very fast. I’m enjoying my job as secretary and receptionist at a home for delinquent, abused or neglected girls. Lately, the girls have begun to accept me and come to sit and talk with me while I am working. I enjoy this, and having come from a similar background as they, we have a lot to share. Mostly they are just very lonely and looking for love. Hopefully, when the full time secretary returns, I can get a job as a child care worker. Mary has lined up a job as a nurse’s aid also here in Detroit. She will begin working there upon her return from a two week retreat. I think she may have told you that she took your advice and will be staying at the convent in Boston that you suggested to her. Also hopefully by the time she gets back, we will have bought a new used car.
Coprin is extremely helpful for me. It is hard to explain just what it has done but others have noticed the change in me. With my therapist’s help I am beginning to uncover areas where my life was warped or should I say became unwhole because of various experiences. Largely he deals with showing me my “script”, what things I picked up for example, from my mother, and how to change my script. Doubtless this explanation is very vague, but I really am glad to be getting this help. Jerry also met with Mary, but I’m unsure if she feels she wants or needs therapy.
I am also getting some schooling done, am enrolled as a music major at Oakland University. Maybe as I get some college behind me, then General would be more willing to accept me later on as a student, than they were when I’d had no college at all.
I sincerely hope that we can continue to write and share things. I don’t know what Mary has written but I am dedicated to the Trees Community and I don’t yet feel that it should cease or die. I do realize that this is a transitional period and that at any one moment it may actually be right for us to cease. However I haven’t as a result of prayer and discussion with others, yet felt that this is God’s will. Unfortunately, it is very hard for the two of us, since we have been getting a lot of negative feedback from old friends, members and people whose opinions mean a lot to us. I pray that you will continue your generous support and I hope that there are no bad feelings, especially since our move here. We surely need your prayers! We have been in communication with two other Episcopal orders who have either gone thru or are at a similar place. Order of the Holy Family in Denver who we’ve known for quite a while also were down to 2 members for a year and had little support, also The Community of the Reconciliation are down to 2 members and are still continuing. (I realize we are not quite on the same level as an Order or such).
Besides continuing our legal obligations to the Inc. we are also saying offices (Vigils and Compline) and going to church together on Sundays. When we get more settled with jobs, routines, etc we may be able to work more in, and also set up a regular practice time. For now, we have to squeeze in a rehearsal whenever we can. I’m kind of busy…therapy for two hours two times a week, dance class for two and a half hours two times a week, harp and voice lessons, and I practice for an hour daily on my harp and a half hour of voice, plus working full time. But still I feel a strong urge to share my life with others, rather than do this all alone or living by myself, etc.
If we return in two years (I’d like to) then I know that David Karasek and his wife will possibly join us, as they have told us before.
Please give my love to Charlotte and Lena. And especially Prem. I hope classes are going well? Our guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs, cats, bird, Mary and I send our love to you all. With grunts, sniffles, barks, meows, and hugs and kisses! Lots of prayers too.
Yours in Christ,
Shishonee Ruetenik, 4052 Country Club Drive, Birmingham, MI
During that time Mary worked hard to iron out the wrinkles in the dissolution of the corporation. Our lawyer Jim Proud guided us through the difficult process. It meant writing all the former officers and getting them to vote Shipen out as president, and then signing and returning their resignations. We sent out a stiff and formal letter to all the members of The Trees Inc. which read something like this:
Greetings. Since the second meeting of the Board of Directors, there has been a proposal presented for the approval of the members of the Trees, Inc. That is that Mary Eileen McCutcheon and Shishonee Ruetenik be elected new officers of the Incorporation. Enclosed, too, is a copy of the new banking resolution.
Our purpose is to continue The Trees Inc, and to this end we have also enclosed The Rule which we have adopted upon its completion three months ago. Although it is still in somewhat of a rough form, it has proven workable and we have chosen to live by it.
Also, beginning April 1, 1976, we met with Chauncey Parker of The Cathedral of St. John the Divine and agreed to pay $50 a month off the debt that The Trees Inc. acquired there. It is projected that it will take from seven to eight years to conclude the debt.
It is our hope that we can clearly discern whether each member is desirous of continuing in the Trees community: living in it, supporting it and carrying their share of it’s responsibilities or not. If a member no longer desires to be a full and active participant in the Trees, Inc., then this should be so stated, to avoid confusion. Please let us know your position.
Thank you and God bless.
Sincerely, Mary McCutcheon and Shishonee Ruetenik
It sounded cold and clinical, and the responses we received from former Trees typically said something to the effect of: Give it up! It’s over! What are you guys hanging on to? etc. Eventually we did manage to get resignations from almost everyone.
We closed out all the Trees accounts and paid off any old Trees debts or obligations with the money. Mary carefully weeded through our accounting records, balancing and sorting old receipts until everything was in order. She completely organized the Trees archives, putting letters and all kinds of paperwork into files. It felt sad watching everything we had once been be reduced to manila folders packed neatly into boxes.
Over the next three months, Mary and I finally came to terms with the inevitable. Though we valiantly struggled to hold together our dream, we finally accepted the reality that we’d reached the end. The Trees was over. It was time to move on.
On a bitterly cold sunday afternoon in February 1977, we sat quietly together in the living room, the drifting snow banked high against the icy edges of the windows. Before us lay two sheets of white paper, as white and merciless as the snow outside pressing unremitting against windowpanes. There was nothing more to say. We’d prayed and talked, talked and prayed, until the maze of ideas, hopes and promises funneled us relentlessly to this tragic day. Silently Mary's pen scratched across the white page as she filled out her resignation, signed and dated it. With a heavy heart, I paused, then signed mine.
We had reached the end. The Trees Community was finished. It was such a painful loss to me that it was months before I finally wrote about it in the last pages of the Trees Chronicle:
"In February 1977 the Trees officially ended. Mary resigned on January 6th and later Shishonee resigned. This came after months of prayer, discussion together and the realization it was time for each of us to take separate paths.
Mary helped work out the problem of voting Shipen out and getting official papers with signed resignations for the Incorporation. Also we closed both Trees accounts and paid off all bills (except the debt). We arranged for David or someone else to keep subletting our old 412 West 110th Street apartment. (Soon after Robert DeRivera simply signed a new lease and now it is in his name and we have no further claim or obligation). Mary took the icons with her to St. Mary’s Convent in Sewanee, Tennessee where she joined as a postulant. First she visited with her family. Shishonee agreed to keep a Trees archives. In two different trips, we both went to New York to explain everything to Alan Jones and Canon West and to go through what was left stored down at General Seminary. Also, Shishonee saw Jim Proud our lawyer. We sent him $200, which was all we had left from our bank account.
In the fall of 1977, Shishonee again went to New York to sign papers our lawyer drew up, satisfying in full all our debt and obligations to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. We gave them the remainder of the record albums of “The Christ Tree” and the amplification equipment in exchange for wiping clean the debt. Also she went up to our old apartment and saw Robert DeRivera, the former subletter. Dan, Charmaine, and Bont came on the trip [my brother, his wife and a friend]. After signing papers, the group “Father” composed of the Ruetenik family and others [I couldn’t completely give up music!], bought the Pevey and amplification equipment back from the Cathedral for $400 cash [they had no use for it]. We returned to Michigan with it.
In December 1977, Shishonee wrote a final Trees newsletter and sent it out to all our old friends so that they could be informed of what actually became of the Trees. This was the final breath of the Trees. All our obligations and responsibilities have been attended to and finished. It felt very good to get this handled and to “end cycle.” A copy of the newsletter is here attached.
Shishonee - December 14, 1977 [end of excerpt]
The pages after this last entry sometime in February 1977 are blank except for a few poems. My final entry in the chronicle doesn’t begin to reflect the depth and intensity of emotions I felt at the loss of the Trees. Even the poems I wrote barely skim the surface. The last newsletter relates bare details and facts. It tells nothing of the incredible pain and sadness I felt at the time:
Greetings! After such a long silence, here again is a Trees newsletter…our final one. To fill you in, our last tour was from New York City to California and back. The four of us (David, Mary, Stephen and Shishonee) enjoyed the tour – finding it rough but rewarding. We were surprised and encouraged by the response. Many people remarked that we sounded as full as we had with seven or nine members. (The angels must have still been joining in!) Upon our return, both David and Stephen resigned from the community for personal reasons. This left Mary and Shishonee as the two remaining branches, and we were very uncertain if the tree could survive.
We had already moved from our 110th Street apartment down to General Seminary in early 1976. So there was a warm, supportive community surrounding us. After prayer and discussion with Canon Edward West, our director, and Rev. Alan Jones, our chaplain, we decided to make a go of it and continue, hoping that if there was a song to be sung, the Lord would provide the voices and the musicians.
In the summer, we uprooted again and moved to northwest Detroit. We piled everything into the bus and reluctantly said goodbye to many dear and important friends. Athanasius was unruly as usual but at least he didn’t break down on the way. Once moved, we settled into a house in the country, got jobs, enrolled in some classes, sold the bus, played in nearby churches and kept praying for growth. However, since aspirants weren’t flooding through the door, we began to be discouraged. We questioned whether it was worthwhile to continue with the burdensome remnants from another age… the incorporation and its paperwork, the debt with it’s payments, the silent instruments, the Rule without an Order to give it life and meaning and so on.
It was all very sad, like walking through the deserted remains of a ghost town – wind torn and empty. So after six years plus one, the Trees ended with Mary resigning in February of 1977 and soon after Shishonee resigned. There were a lot of details to attend to, papers to sign, etc. (Shishonee agreed to keep everything of historical value in an archive). It was an experience we embarked on with hope, excitement and a sense of unity of purpose in spite of our differences. Each gave a lot of themselves and in return, we all gained more than can be defined, by our experiences. Someday maybe one or all of us will write about those six years.
Presently, Mary has entered St. Mary’s Convent in Tennessee and is busy with classes at the Seminary and is becoming quite a good sacristan. Shishonee is in another group called “Father”, which includes five family members and plays a combination of soft rock, folk, and original and some Trees sounds. She is a child care worker in a Children’s Home and is politically active as a socialist in the Left.
The Trees Inc. finally breathed it’s last when the debt to the Cathedral was officially satisfied for, among other things, the recordings of our concert “The Christ Tree.”
These can now be obtained from: The Cathedral Gift Shop
1047 Amsterdam Ave.
New York, NY 10025
Thank you for all the love and support we have received from everyone over the years. May you have a joyous and blessed Christmas and New Year.
It took many years of intensive therapy sessions with skilled therapists to deal with the depth of my depression and slog through the pain I felt at the ending of the Trees community. Curiously, the writing of this book has closed the chapter on this healing process started so long ago in the summer of 1977. I’ve wrestled with the ghosts and challenged the demons, finding healing as I moved through each stage of mourning. It’s been quite a dance! How wonderful to finally be able to explore my intimate relationship with the life and death of the Trees and receive the gift of God’s healing. Thank you for joining me on this cathartic journey.