This is the story of The Trees Community, a semi monastic Christian group that left NYC on a bus in 1971 on a journey of faith. When most of our money burned up the first night, we relied on God for all our needs and he provided! We traveled the United States growing in our new faith, finding a ministry in music and eventually becoming artists in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Seven years, seven "stories" are woven into this amazing journey.

From Coast to Coast: The Last Tour

On March 13, 1976 four Trees set out on our last tour: David Lynch, Stephen Gambill, Mary McCutcheon and myself, Shishonee Ruetenik. We would be gone from March 13-May 2nd. This was to be our last tour together, though none of us would have guessed it at the time. Usually our musical tours brought us closer together. Not this time.

The tour officially began with our first performance during the Sunday morning service at Holy Trinity Church in Hicksville, New York. The afternoon before two seminarians, Rick B. and Holly, had helped us load up the bus with our instruments, knapsacks, sleeping bags, dishes and all the usual items we needed for a long stint on the road. I had a hard time saying goodbye to Rick B. but he promised to call and write and then we were off at 3 p.m. For the first time I was not eager to be heading off on tour.

Immediately after our performance at Holy Trinity, we were paid $350, loaded up and rushed over to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Stamford Connecticut for a 4pm concert there. Thankfully we had help loading and unloading both times as our time was tight. In Hicksville the music had been a little shaky but by the afternoon we were slipping into the groove so the concert went smoothly. We followed up with dinner and then Stephen zipped back to the City to pick up the lights that for some reason we had forgotten. With the evening free I tried to call Rick but there was no answer. Already I was lonely. Oh boy. It was going to be a long six weeks.

March 15th. Mary and I did some quick shopping for an embroidery project to work on as we traveled while David loaded up our sleeping bags, pads, cats, and other belongings. When he went to check the oil on the bus he discovered that the transmission was leaking pretty badly. Of course, hadn’t we just taken in $350? Would God ever let us get ahead? After checking at a nearby truck place, it seems there was a leak in the transmission seal so we decided to just keep an eye on it. Stephen returned with our two large fennel lights and the strings we had ordered for the Cheng, good! He reported that he ran into Rick B. who had asked where I was and seemed disappointed that I wasn’t with him… “When my soul is downcast within me I think of you…”

With Stephen on board we drove all day headed toward Ohio, making stops for propane gas and to check on the transmission leak. We hit heavy snow in Pennsylvania so we stopped to eat and went shopping for groceries somewhere in the Pocono Mountains. Stephen was being really silly and he jumped onto our shopping cart full of food spread eagled and went rolling down the parking lot. That got all of us laughing hysterically. We parked for the night at a truck stop with “no comfort facilities” (that was a mistake) and ended up surrounded on all sides by semis so we couldn’t exactly go to the bathroom outside. That meant using pots and then having to wash them out afterwards – disgusting!

March 16th – 17th. Somewhere along the road we picked up a very thankful hitchhiker who road with us the rest of the way to Akron, Ohio. After a quick stop to change the oil (to a heavier weight) we arrived at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Market Street. The rector was very helpful and showed us where to unload the instruments into a room that could be locked overnight and then let us use the shower at his parsonage. The rest of the day we relaxed and cooked dinner. I was delighted when the rector also offered me a winter coat of my choosing (I had forgotten mine in Connecticut) from the donations in the basement. I readily accepted since our wool blanket/serapes weren’t very warm in freezing cold weather.

The following day was quite restful since each of us had private rooms to use in the mammoth place and I had time to catch up on my chronicle entries. Mary answered letters about future tours and tried to line up more concerts for the current tour while Stephen worked on our NYC concerts for the upcoming summer (with the hopes that David would at least perform with us when we returned). Set up of our concerts was more labor intensive for Mary and I with only the four of us since we had to take over dragging and setting up long parish tables to put together the barge platform that we used for a stage. Mary and I rolled up our sleeves and set to work while the priest stood back and watched, looking amused. Ah, a little help over here? Then we rolled out the big heavy rug and schlepped all the instruments up. Finally, as usual, we tuned up. Just before the concert the amused Father George Ross strode up and introduced himself. I thought he seemed like a rather rude character, especially since he stood by and watched two women get red in the face struggling with heavy tables rather than offer to help! We dressed in our costumes and sat looking out at a crowd of about 125 people eagerly anticipating our performance. Just as I went to play the first harp notes, the church’s furnace came roaring to life and blasted right onto our instruments. It was so noisy it completely overwhelmed the usually graceful silent pauses and transitions in our music. Meanwhile I tried frantically to keep my harp and the Koto in tune. I forged ahead, tuning as we went, getting hotter and hotter but the audience was oblivious to my anxiety and smiled back at us happily. I felt like a baking potato.

After the concert, I was anxious to find out what the people really thought of the music so I stood behind a door that was slightly ajar and listened for some candid responses. The comments were overwhelmingly positive and I felt quite relieved: “I loved it! How do they do all that with no sheet music…all by ear? Wasn’t that fantastic?!” We ate dinner as was our custom after the concert and packed up so we could leave first thing in the morning. Bed at midnight.

March 17-18th. Our philosophical thought for the day was “Life is but a series of rest stops” as we drove along through Kentucky, praying the bus wouldn’t break down. We left the snow behind somewhere near the southern border of Ohio and pointed the bus toward Gethsemani, our next stop.

Following tradition, on Thursday the bus broke down just outside of Louisville as it always did and as we knew it would. It was 7pm and we were practically at Gethsemani, exactly as it had happened the past three times we neared the monastery. This was our Bermuda triangle! We called for a tow and were towed to the exact same GMC truck garage by the bowling alley that we always ended up at, only last time there were twice as many of us. As we awaited the verdict on the bus, I thought about our previous breakdown and felt sad as I was visited by the ghosts of Gethsemani’s past: Shipen, Ariel, David Karasek, Christopher, Patricia, Sarah, Dorian and Melody.

After about an hour word from the mechanics was, just as before, they couldn’t even start on it until Monday. It was a broken crankshaft and the repairs might take a week! We decided to call Gethsemani. Trapped in a déjà vu, of course the switchboard was closed for the night and no other places would work on it until Monday either. So we sat on the bus eating supper and feeling sorry for ourselves. With a concert in St. Louis, Missouri and the rest of the tour fast approaching, we could not afford to be stuck like this so we tried to face the grim alternatives:

1. Hope somehow we could get the bus fixed quickly for under a thousand dollars.
2. Cancel a few concerts.
3. Buy a new bus or vehicle.
4. Cancel the rest of the tour.
5. Quit and go home.

Trying to be optimistic we hunkered down in the bus trying to ignore noisy air compressors, metal clanging and all kinds of other racket. Meanwhile Stephen had the flu with chills, nausea, a fever and no voice or energy left. No, this wasn’t the Bermuda triangle it was a black hole!

The only bright and humorous spot in the day had been earlier when the bus broke down in front of a row of houses and a bright eyed, lanky, funny young boy of about 12 strolled up to the bus and right away invited us to come into his house for a free tour. We were a little leery until he said it was chock full of antiques and since he seemed so intent on showing us around we finally accepted. He broke into a huge grin and excitedly gave us a complete tour of his house that did have some beautiful antiques in it. More importantly, he kindly let us use his phone to call a tow truck. By the time we left we were good friends and had learned all about the life of this young boy. We autographed one of our albums as a parting gift and as we were towed away we could hear him on his CB radio saying, “Grave digger, this is grave digger…we’ve had some very, very, very famous people in front of our house today…” As the tow truck hauled us to the garage we tuned in on our CB and listened to this kid raving on and on about the famous music group that had stopped right in front of his house! What a kick!

March 19th. In the morning we were able to telephone the Cathedral in St. Louis where we were supposed to perform on Sunday. Luckily they had only sold about 20 tickets so they agreed to cancel the concert. Though they sounded disappointed there was nothing we could do. Then we called Timothy Luce who had arranged the Sulphur Springs concert and explained our situation, eventually rearranging it for a week later.

Thankfully that left us with a week of no concerts, which we hoped would be enough time to repair the bus. We reached Brother Lavrans who rescued us at about 11 a.m. along with Brother Gerat and Brother John. First we had lunch together at a nearby Holiday Inn (Lavrans treated) and then we took clothes, sleeping bags and some of our things over to Gethsemani. David and Stephen would sleep in Lavrans studio (no room in the men’s guest house) and we two women stayed in the women’s guesthouse up the hill. After dinner, Mary and I walked over to the studio and sure enough the only thing the three men had done was talk for three straight hours. We joined in and stayed until about 11:30p.m, seeing Lavrans’ new paintings, talking, drinking (pop) and snacking. Mary seemed upset that David and Lavrans were smoking weed and about that time she decided it was time to leave them.

March 20th Saturday. Lavrans drove Stephen to the airport to pick up Italo, his friend who had flown in to visit for a few days from New York City. Why hadn’t I thought of calling Rick and asking him to visit! Most of the day was spent resting and catching up with our Gethsemani friends. I met my dear friend Brother Bruno and he peppered me with questions about changes in our community…What had happened to those who left? What were our intentions and goals now? How was our prayer life? How was my contemplative life going? Later in the afternoon Mary and I walked over to Lavran’s studio so I could use the phone to try to call Rick but, alas, there was no answer. We wanted to stay and visit awhile but for some reason I felt uneasy and unwelcome. After using the phone, she and I walked over to Compline and then back to the women’s guesthouse.
As we headed up the hill we noticed a menacing thunderstorm was fast approaching so we ran the last part of the way and barely made it inside as the storm broke. We settled down to read with silvery, horizontal sheets of rain lashing the building, and brilliant flashes of lightening followed by thunderous booms. For awhile Mary and I sat mesmerized watching the storm. Eventually, Mary curled up on her bed reading Paradise Lost while my thoughts turned to scheming a way to visit Rick in New York City. Maybe I could hitchhike (too dangerous), take a plane (too expensive), ride with Lavrans (doubtful) or get him to come visit the monastery? (nope) Longing filled my heart and I poured out my frustrations into a letter to Rick:

March 20, 1976

Dear Rick,

There are tornado warnings out and it’s lightning and pouring down rain outside our room. We’re here at Gethsemani stranded since our bus broke down in Louisville. Since we can’t do any concerts for a week, I’ve been sitting here trying to devise some way that my body which is here at a monastery in the hills of Kentucky, could get to visit yours which is somewhere in New York City. As I was scheming away, I again tried to call you but there was no answer every time, so I gave up and fell to scheming again.

So far I’ve figured out that it costs $105 round trip by plane. I discovered that since Stephen’s friend who has lots of money flew in to Louisville today to stay with him this week. So, this alternative being out (I don’t have any money), I thought of hitchhiking – which would be free but considerably more dangerous and time consuming. It takes approximately 14 hours. That would be a possibility except for the storm, rain and tornado warnings. So I’m sitting here frustrated and trying to think of someone I know who is rich…no luck.

The storm is raging with waves of rain smashing against the door, lightening crashing in the yard outside and an eerie bluish purple color to the sky! Mary and I have our faces pressed to the window watching it with delight and terror.

The crankshaft in our bus broke so we had to cancel St. Louis, Missouri and Sulphur Springs, Texas concerts. We had to be towed into a GMC truck garage Thursday where we spent the night listening to mechanics repairing trucks. To have our bus fixed may cost a thousand dollars, which we do not have. To add to our hassles, David seems to be flipping out again and is acting strange. Ah, but such is tour life! [end of excerpt]

March 21-24th. Stephen’s friend stayed for three days and then flew back to New York. I, on the other hand, finally I gave up trying to get back there and decided to just enjoy our visit at the monastery. Late Sunday evening I finally reached Rick and we talked and talked, both of us missing each other. Rick said he had been offered a job at a church in New Rochelle for the next year. I hung on his every word – I was way too in love.

Lavrans and David were smoking grass, drinking and talking at length together. Lavrans enjoyed hearing David’s many guitar songs and I think what bothered me most about it all was being excluded (not that I wanted to imbibe). Usually Lavrans had joined us for meals in the women’s guesthouse but this time he didn’t, so I guess I was jealous. On Sunday we were invited to “jam” with some visitors from the families of St. Benedict farm. David and Stephen weren’t interested so just Mary and I went over to the Gatehouse. We had a delightful afternoon singing Bluegrass, folk songs, mountain tunes, some of my songs or just chording away. The music we created together was beautiful and it was a great fun. The afternoon had a timeless quality and my only regret was that David and Stephen had missed it.

As the week progressed at Gethsemani it became more and more obvious to me that David was intending to pull out of our community all together. Mary and I had several long discussions about the future of the Trees and how we could survive with just the two of us. We kicked around the idea of doing duets or maybe having to give up the music altogether and rethink our ministry. With no interested people trying to join the Trees and with the prospect of so many possibilities like a tour of England, new costumes, a whole new concert developing, to have it all die was extremely depressing to me. Later in the week, Father Dupree gave an inspiring lecture about the place of the artist as prophet. He spoke about how the poet and the musician are the voice of God in a Godless age and that sacred art is profoundly important. I prayed that David and Stephen were listening. I found it disheartening to be facing the annihilation of the Trees when I believed so strongly in the importance of our ministry.

The chronicle entries for that week are filled with my frustration at both David and Stephen for their waffling and indecision. It was particularly upsetting since I didn’t think they realized how their decisions would impact Mary and I. In reality the continuation of our music, the tours and our whole way of life would be affected by what they decided to do. Mary and I tried to influence David but it seemed to be a pretty one sided conversation and he refused to give any hint of what his intentions were. Frustrating!

On Tuesday we met with Abbot Timothy informing him of our bus problems and filling him in on our move to General and other new developments. He listened with sympathy and interest but didn’t have many words of wisdom to share. When we related our story of the day with the IRS man he shared that their community too was dealing with similar problems.

After calls back and forth about the prognosis on the bus, we were informed it wasn’t the crankshaft, it was something else – call back later. We moved the Sulphur Springs concert to Saturday and prayed the bus would be fixed before then.

Finally, Brother Wilfred was kind enough to join Mary and I at meals at the women’s guesthouse and I delighted in hearing some of his wild escapades. He told us that once he snuck behind the cow barn at night to smoke a cigarette. He heard someone coming so he grabbed what he thought was air freshener and sprayed himself to cover up the smell. When he got back to the monastery he saw that his arms were covered in bright red paint – it had been a can of spray paint!

He had another funny story about playing a prank on his sister and another monk. When she was visiting, he told the monk that his sister was hard of hearing and then he told his sister that the monk was hard of hearings. So they yelled back and forth at each other while he tried to keep a straight face. Finally he burst out laughing and when they realized his trick they chastised him for the next ten minutes. He was full of stories like that and our meals lasted 45 minutes with us busting our guts laughing - he was hilarious!

Mary and I also went on long walks with Brother Bruno. He brought a book for us to read called Silent Music by William Johnston. Sometimes he brought over cassette tapes of lectures on contemplative prayer or other topics. I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. Brother Bruno was a rare breed - a quiet, humble, and unassuming monk who was so dedicated to the Lord and unusually thoughtful and loving.

On Wednesday we learned the bus repairs would only cost $200 (hurrah!) – something about the flywheel bolts, front seal and cleaning off the clutch. It was a great relief to all four of us.

Two artist friends of Lavrans came to visit him in his studio. They sat out by the lake, picnicking and talking. Lavrans would soon be leaving the monastery and it seemed like he was adjusting to his decision as he enjoyed the remainder of his days there. When we spoke with Abbott Timothy about it, he talked about the changes Lavrans would face and shared how concerned he was for him. All of us hoped the Lord would protect and guide our friend in his new life. [Unfortunately, our dear Lavrans only lived a few years after he left Gethsemani].

March 24th. We packed our few belongings into a station wagon and Lavrans drove us to pick up the bus. After a tearful goodbye, we paid the bill and started to pull out of the repair shop. Just as we were pulling away, one of the mechanics rushed up and said that they hadn’t yet worked on the front seal! What!? Stephen and I asked David (who had paid the bill) if this were true and shouldn’t we ask them about it? David got really angry and defensive and refused to stop so we could ask them. He drove off the lot, arguing with Stephen. Stephen replied, “Don’t use that tone of voice with me, I was only asking you a question!” That started the day off on a sour note. David was quite upset and wouldn’t eat anything, complaining he had stomach cramps.

We drove all day with David and Stephen taking shifts, and late at night Stephen pulled into a restaurant so we could grab something to eat. It was starting to rain. I went inside to use the bathroom facilities and when I got back to the bus I noticed the bus lights were still on. As I climbed back onto the bus, I yelled over the blaring music to David that the headlights were still on. He didn’t respond at all. Wondering if maybe he hadn’t heard me, I yelled again, “The headlights are on!” He yelled back that it wasn’t HIS fault saying didn’t I know where to turn them off and turn them off yourself! Then he stalked off into the rain. Mary finally figured out how to turn off the headlights and she and I snuggled into our sleeping bags and tried to get some sleep. Sometime later, David came back in and yelled out, “I have an announcement to make to this community!” Mary quietly suggested that he should relax and that if he still had bad cramps that maybe it would be more appropriate to talk about it tomorrow. He insisted he had something to say TONIGHT!
David sat down angrily, waiting for Stephen to come back in. As soon as Stephen returned he exclaimed again, “I have an important announcement!” Sensing this was going to lead to a fight, Mary again calmly tried to reason with him to talk about it later but he kept cutting her off and then he exploded,” I’ve had it! If I don’t receive a formal apology from Shishonee for her rudeness, I am going to take my backpack and leave!” Oh boy. Stephen responded with, “Oh come on David, we all are rude to each other and could demand apologies for everything we do to each other…” But David cut him off saying, “You don’t need to defend her!” Groggy with sleep, I sat up rubbing my eyes and asked, “Apologize for what?” “For being rude, THAT’S what!” David replied angrily. With a nonapologetic (and somewhat annoyed) tone, I responded, “Okay, I apologize for being rude” and then I turned away and tried to go back to sleep. Meanwhile, David cried out, “See, that’s just what I expected. I’ve decided that I’m resigning as of May 2nd and I am handing in my resignation to the Community in Dallas!” This was followed by dead silence. Great, just great. It was one more melodrama played out on a cold, rainy night somewhere in Arkansas or Texas parked outside a greasy spoon restaurant. Unfortunately, it was much more than that. It was the beginning of the end but I didn’t realize it at the time. David got behind the wheel and he and Stephen drove through the rainy night until we finally stopped at around 3:30 a.m.

March 25-28th. After a brief rest, David and Stephen drove all day until we arrived at 2011 Rosebud in Irving, Texas late in the afternoon. Christopher and Patricia Gambill came out to meet us and introduced us to James Staudt (whose house it was) and showed us around the airy, five room house they shared with three dogs. Patricia showed off her garden and we spent the next four days parked there. Stephen and Christopher’s parents Bud and Mary Wells were also visiting, and with the bus and their Vaquero camper Tricia kept saying it looked like an RV campgrounds in their backyard. Mary Wells graciously did a lot of cooking and I really enjoyed that.

Over the next four days, Christopher attended classes at the University of Dallas and Patricia went to nursing school . Mary and I joined her for an evening dance class. We caught up on laundry, played tennis and reminisced about old times.

On Saturday, we performed at the Methodist Church in Sulphur Springs. Timothy Luce had orchestrated everything, pulling together three local churches, including the First Christian Church. His prayer group helped us load and unload and set up. Also in attendance were Dr. Bob Ekert and his wife Nancy whom we knew from our Church of the Redeemer days. Christopher made many excellent suggestions such as shortening Psalm 46, which we decided to try at our next concert. After we played, Timothy chatted excitedly with us while he helped us pack. He was in high school but seemed quite impressed with the Trees and seemed eager to join our community further down the road. [Unfortunately for Timothy this ended up being our last tour so, alas, it was not to be. In the Trees archives are bundles of his chatty letters and he remained my close friend until is recent untimely death and one of those few souls who will always be a Tree in my heart.]

That Sunday we drove to the University of Dallas and set up in the same chapel we had performed in a year earlier. It was a last minute affair, so we were pleased to see familiar faces in the crowd of about 50 people. The atmosphere was warm and friendly and most everyone participated in the chance chord, which sounded lovely. (The chance chord was akin to signing in tongues and we always invited the audience to join in singing with us. We discovered over the years that it was a pretty good gauge of how well our music had been received). The priest invited us over for wine and cocktails at his apartment so we chatted with many of the same folks we had had dinner with the last time around.

As we drove back to the Gambill’s house, the bus began to lose power and it slowly dawned on us that we were out of gas. Both Stephen and David got angry but there was nothing else to do but call Christopher who came and rescued us around 1:30 a.m. David stayed with the bus so once we were dropped off, Stephen and Christopher drove back to retrieve David and our sleeping bags and tried to find gas (no luck). While they handled that, Mary, Tricia and I sat up until 4:00 a.m. telling jokes, laughing, talking about the baby Patricia wanted to have and reminiscing while trying to shush each other so we wouldn’t wake up James. Visiting with Patricia reminded me how much I missed her and the natural comradery we shared. She was good company!

March 29-30th. We had two days to reach Albuquerque so after a final day of visiting and shopping, we gassed up the bus, left at 9am and drove straight through to New Mexico. I even cleaned the bus windows so I could have the best view possible. When we crossed the border I got out the camera and started snapping pictures as I raved on and on about how “This is my home! This is God’s Country! Isn’t it spectacular?” and stuff like that. Driving along, I was enraptured by the desert landscape, the distant mesas, the brilliant azure sky filled with billowing white clouds, and the red parched earth. Stephen too was inspired and sat typing a line on the typewriter, then he’d pause, gaze quietly out the window, then type another line. I felt revived and refreshed as the land spread out for miles around us. Like a parched cast away, I drank it all in, finding each landscape more beautiful than the last until finally we came through the snow capped mountains into Albuquerque. From this high point we could see for miles as the desert stretched endlessly below us stopped only by the majestic mountains painted in rich hues of gold and red. Each pine, each rock outcropping was more beautiful than the last. I longed to stay there and never leave again.

In town, we meandered through the dusty streets, enjoying the Spanish flavor of the buildings and open squares. We arrived at the Episcopal Cathedral in Albuquerque and one of the Canon’s helped us get situated. The 7:30 concert was sparsely attended (70 or so) and our only payment was the meager donations. Debbie Wonn, who had been a member of our community for a few weeks, graciously helped us load up. I felt the reception was somewhat cool and very few people spoke to us after the concert (never a good sign). We headed for Santa Fe where Peter Rogers gave us a much friendlier reception. Though we didn’t arrive until 12:30 in the morning and he looked pretty tired, he still offered us a glass of sherry. He let us bed down in his studio and we used it as a base while there. It felt comforting to be back in a fellow artist’s world. We had one month to go on the tour.

March 31st. We enjoyed a leisurely morning with Peter Rogers, a bit too leisurely. David Lynch had arranged a concert at Pecos but no one could recall if we were supposed to arrive at 3pm or play at 3pm. We rolled into the monastery at 2:15 and ended up frantically unloading and setting up - something that normally took several hours in just 45 minutes. The adrenaline was pumping by the time we played for 200 retreatants at Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Pecos monastery. After a standing ovation, Father David thanked us and gave us $50.00. Frayed and exhausted, we had less than an hour to walk around the grounds of our old home. I was quite disappointed since I wanted more time to trip down memory lane. This place was embedded in my heart! I ran down to the Pecos River, visited the little log cabin Sarah and I had lived in, and then visited Maggie the horse I used to ride – savoring every minute of the short time we had. Why oh why had we ever left?

Far too soon it was time to drive back to Santa Fe to play another concert at the Christ Brotherhood house for some of Peter’s friends. Stephen wanted to do a formal concert but David and I didn’t (we finally agreed to give our full concert). Then David asked if he could start with one of his guitar songs before the usual opening song Holy, Holy. This was voted down and it was suggested he could do it as an encore (which never happened). Why we argued on and on about all this when there were only 20 people God only knows. They sat shyly on the floor in the back of the room and no amount of cajoling could get them to move closer. Peter and his wife were enthusiastic but it was hard to gauge the response and it all seemed a bit awkward and tense.

April 1-2nd, 1976 - A morning off. Mary and I went to the Navajo museum in Santa Fe, others wrote letters or visited with Peter Rogers. Around noon we said our goodbyes and drove part way to San Diego. On the way, one of the tires blew so we had to buy two retreads for $130. Broke again. That handled, we drove all day until we reached El Centro. The plan was to go visit Robinson’s Harp Shop, so we stopped to get directions. We only made it part way up the mountain with the bus spewing transmission oil and vibrating so much it was frightening. By the time we had driven our rattle trap most of the way up the narrow winding mountain road, my nerves were shot and all of us felt totally frazzled. Then the bus conked out and David barely managed to coast onto a dead end road in a little valley. There we spent the night.

Saturday April 3rd. In the morning things seemed brighter, especially after Mary fixed steak and eggs for breakfast. After cleaning up, David collected the oil pan full to the brim with transmission oil and poured it back in somewhere under the hood (should have got that seal fixed). The radiator too was leaking so we refilled that and then hunted down Naomi the cat.

After a couple of cranks the bus roared to life and we drove the rest of the way up the mountain, while I leaned out the window trying to spot the harp shop. Thinking we must have passed it, we asked someone who said, yup, it was further up ahead. Phew! I thought the main road was bad but then we turned onto Sunrise Highway, a narrow curving path cut into the side of the mountain it seemed more like a donkey trail. We crept along for ten more hair-raising miles. Nursing the bus along in third and then second gear, David cursed enthusiastic harpers, faithful harp makers and unfaithful busses. Finally we stalled out in a cloud of dust, the old bus smoking, steaming and gushing forth oil. Stephen and David leapt out and tended to our temperamental machine while Mary and I ran further on up the road to a cabin that we hoped was Mr. Robinson’s house. It was!

From a small shed out back emerged a smiling, tossle-headed man covered in saw dust and khaki. Wiping his hands on his rumpled pants, he smiled warmly and stretched out a calloused hand saying, “You must be from the Trees?” We’d made it! After a hot cup of coffee, he showed us around his new harp shop. I watched enviously as he plucked each of the seven folk harps he had made.

Mr. Robinson with one of the harps he made

I invited him to our concert but he smiled wearily and tapped a huge stack of letters that he insisted was just one day’s worth of correspondencehe needed to answer. He was six months behind on production and part of the reason was he insisted on answering every one of the hundreds of letters he got. Nevertheless, after I retrieved the harp from the bus he fixed some of the loose tuning pegs and sold me a new tuning key. What I really wanted was a new harp, but that would have to wait for another day.

Just as we prepared to leave, we realized Naomi had jumped out one of the open windows so we spent the next two hours poking through the woods and underbrush. No Naomi. Finally time ran out so we left a forwarding address and phone numbers where we could be reached and then waved goodbye. As we drove off Stephen yelled out the window, “I hope you like your new home Naomi!” We barreled along down the mountain road and made it safely to our host Ken Jacobsen’s house. We took showers, ate snacks and then borrowed his van to move the instruments into the nearby Presbyterian Church in San Diego. It was a beautiful space with lovely acoustics but the stage was a bit slanted and I felt like I was going to slide off during the performance. Only about 30 people came and all of us were feeling pretty haggard, especially David and Stephen who had been doing all of the late night driving. We shuttled the rugs and instruments to our next stop, Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, then had turkey dinner at Ken’s with other guests.

Sunday morning – how glorious to be able to sleep in! Then we wrote letters, did laundry or shopped for food. Mary called various churches to line up more concerts. Stephen talked long distance on the telephone with Italo for three hours. The lengthy calls were getting to be a daily habit and it was getting expensive, since the calls were charged to our home phone. Mary approached him concerned that we didn’t have money for such excessive long distance calls. Unfortunately, he only agreed to pay half but wanted us to pay the other half of his calls. What?! Mary tried to get him to keep the calls shorter but somehow that didn’t go ever well. For my part I kept trying to reach Rick but the few times I got through I sensed hesitancy in his voice. I probably would have talked for hours myself but Rick didn't seem eager to chat. I wondered if something was going on, but was too afraid to ask. It seemed like something was up but that he didn’t know how to tell me. Or was I just imaging things? Hmmmm. I decided it was all in my head and kept counting down the days till we would return and I could be in his arms again.

We dropped the bus off at a garage to have repairs done. (Maybe fix a seal or two?) The concert that evening was a huge success with two youth groups and about 300 people, a welcome change. David gave a hilarious, lively introduction and it was one of the better shows of the tour. Many kind folks helped us pack up and some joined us for turkey sandwiches at Ken’s afterwards.

On Monday David, Stephen and Ken went to check up on the bus situation and were informed it would cost $1,000 to get it fixed properly, money we didn’t have. We had less than $500.

It was time for a family meeting. We talked about David’s decision to leave and haggled in pretty good humor over which tapes and instruments he could take and what should stay. It started out good natured and friendly until Stephen then said he’d better explain his position. He stated that he’d decided to leave when we got back to go back to school and he didn’t want to continue with the Trees past the month of June. He wanted to strike out on his own. It felt like I had been punched in the gut! I was totally floored. Mary and I both implored Stephen to stay but no matter what we suggested he was firm on his decision. So this was finally it... Eventually we got to discussing the debt and that Mary and I didn't think we were capable of paying off the entire $4,500 debt to the Cathedral without their help, what obligation did they felt toward it? David flashed back, “None! Fuck Chauncey Parker! If I was the two of you I’d tell him to shove that debt up his ass!” He proceeded to let us know in no uncertain terms that he felt no obligation toward the debt and that many of the church people he’d talked to said we shouldn’t have to pay it at all. He’d been opposed to getting in debt in the first place. Okay. Then Stephen patiently explained he’d stayed in the community two extra years paying off that debt when he really had wanted to leave, so he also no longer felt obligated to pay on it. Fair enough. Mary countered that for those two years we hadn’t been paying much on it at all since that was during Shipen’s reign when his philosophy was different about the debt (something like: the Cathedral owed us the money so we shouldn’t have to pay it back). She pointed out that it had only been a few months since the beginning of our change in leadership and that we had signed a contract with Chauncey agreeing to pay back $50 a month until it was paid off. We had made a committment.

As we got further and heavier into the argument it became crystal clear that only those who remained The Trees would be responsible for the debt. Obviously Shipen, Sarah, David and Stephen were not willing to be liable for any of it, so whoever remained a Tree would have to pay it off. We moved on to the idea of severance pay and finally agreed to $200 per person.

Now it was official. It was going to be just Mary and I as the only “Trees.” I was devastated. I felt like I was being swallowed by a churning, black hole and there was no way out. I was staring at the death of my dream and I simply could not reconcile my faith in our family with what was happening. Immediately, Mary and I faced a lot of decisions: Should we sell the bus? Continue the music? Get jobs? What to do with the 412 West 110th street apartment we were subletting and all the stuff in it? Stay at General or move? Would God send us more people? Why was He letting this happen to us?

David left in the afternoon to spend a few days out in Los Angeles with his sister Lizzy. That night Mary and I talked into the wee hours of the morning struggling for answers but we didn’t really arrive at any. The one thing we realized was that both of us had a strong conviction to stay in the Trees. We agreed to stick with it for another year (until the summer of 1977), which was how long we’d been promised we could stay at our new place at General Seminary (or so we thought at the time). We decided to talk it all over with Rev. Alan Jones when we returned home.

April 6, 1976. As the harsh reality of what had just happened sank in, we spent a pretty quiet, subdued day. I wrote in the chronicle and Mary doggedly worked on concerts for the remainder of the tour. Stephen no longer worked on any NYC concerts, of course. I caught up on loads of laundry and then did some sunbathing. Shimshi the cat meandered around crying forlornly looking for Naomi and demanding attention. In the evening Stephen, Mary and I went dancing at a Harvey Wallbangers bash that had a decent jazz band – it was a blast. David would have enjoyed it.

On Thursday we scraped together $708 to pay for the bus, packed up, thanked Ken for his hospitality and then drove to Los Angeles. We met David in the afternoon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, set up and prepared for the 7:30 concert. During a break I called Rick and immediately noticed his voice was cold and flat. He said he’d written (hadn’t I received his letters?) with news that he was going to be in some IPC program and wouldn’t be living at General the following year. I had the distinct impression he was trying to let me down easy. What did I expect after only knowing him for a week? I was madly in love and his aloof demeanor filled me with dread. I tried to shove aside my feeling of foreboding but for the rest of the trip it continued to gnaw at me.

The St. Paul concert was our smallest yet – only 28 people came. Small crowd = more inhibited, as usual. The acoustics were great though that didn’t help much. Father Bob Boyer took us to a Mexican restaurant for supper. We slept in the church after wearily deciding to leave the packing for the next day.

April 9, 10th. Next stop, St. John’s in downtown Los Angeles. We stashed the instruments in a small locked room and drove to Lizzy Lynch’s Hollywood hideaway to hang out for the next two days off. I tried to catch some rays and we all reveled in the sunny, warm weather. Saturday, Stephen kept busy most of the day typing something (a novel or a letter, I couldn’t tell). We joined Rev. Bill Purcell, the pastor of St. John’s for dinner. We’d been there three years before but I barely remembered it. For me, one church tended to run into another in a hazy blur. The difference in this case was that Father Purcell was a white minister in a nearly all black congregation, so at least I remembered that!

St. John's Episcopal Church - Los Angeles, CA

Palm Sunday, April 11, 1976. Three television stations had cameramen to cover the 10:00 service at St. John’s, which was an elaborate two-hour affair. We set up outside on beautiful oriental rugs underneath palm trees with a backdrop of lush, tropical flowers. Just as we were about to begin our prelude, it started to rain so we had to rush over to a covered area on the driveway and quickly set up all over again. This took ten minutes so we skipped to the Mustard Seed I and II and then only played part of Psalm 45. Then the Bishop arrived leading a procession so everyone fell in line and marched over to the church shaking Sanctus bells, jangling car keys, and ringing bells, chimes and gongs. Throughout all cacophony, various cameramen jockeyed for the best shots. It was quite a flamboyant event!

After the mass, I met Mrs. Marjorie Tayloe and her family of harpists. All five children, husband and wife played the harp, touring and performing together all around the world. That was pretty amazing to me and I was quite impressed with their massive collection of harps of every size, shape and kind. Their house was a museum of harp artifacts and they also collected all kinds of animals from roosters and chickens, to cages and cages of doves, parrots, parakeets along with six Sheltie dogs. Clearly they were out of our league. I was shown an awesome Japanese harp and Marjorie told me I could buy it for $400 but that was a small fortune for us. What bothered me most about the visit was that they had so many harps tucked here and there that they had forgotten about some of them and yet all I had a 100 year old Venezuelan harp with a big crack up the back. I left feeling very very poor and a wee bit jealous.

We performed a final concert in the evening and some of the Tayloe’s attended. We were paid but, of course, the next day we took the bus in and the repair bill to have the head gaskets replaced was $600 so we were totally broke once again.

We visited with the Lynch household, eating yummy meals David’s mother cooked and playing Black Jack or pinochle while Stephen used the phone. I longed for mail call but it wasn’t until we left L.A. that we finally tracked down our mail. We drove all the way to Father Halapua’s church (he’d been holding it for us) and when we arrived the place was dark and no one was around. We peered into all the church windows and walked through the courtyard, searching for a way into the building. Finally, we spotted a large manila envelope on a kitchen counter and we could make out the words “The Trees” on bold black letters. Amazingly, the kitchen window was open and, feeling a little nervous, we reached in, grabbed the envelope and then drove off before someone might call the police or something. Hurrah! There were letters from Alan Jones, Holly and even one from Rick. I was happy again!

Wednesday April 14th. Driving up Highway 1 along the California coastline was always an amazing experience. The road swerved round and around along sheer cliffs with the ocean crashing down below and salt spray blowing into the bus windows. I was in awe of the beauty of the mountains as they rolled out into the sea. We picked up four hitchhikers and all of us sat up at the front of the bus hanging halfway out of the windows as we roared along. David was our tour guide as he drove, “Hills, curves and grades next 60 miles…Pounding surf on your left, giant boulders on your right…” - all while spinning the wheel right, then hard left again, then right as we motored on up the coast.

Calvary Episcopal Church - Santa Cruz

Next stop, a small weather-beaten, seaside Episcopalian Church in Santa Cruz. Father Mark Asman approached and introduced himself. At age 25 I thought he was quite young to be a priest! The evening show was packed and as the final notes rang out, the entire audience rose to their feet and applauded for what seemed like ages. Wonderful! Praise the Lord! Oh how I would miss this life!

April 15th. An English family from the parish invited us over for brunch after we’d squared away the bus and all. As we pulled up, Mrs. Mackenzie stood smiling from the doorway of her English looking estate dressed in an apron, surrounded on all sides by a beautiful garden of flowers. We sat down to a stunningly set out table with fresh fruit, homemade bread, scones, hot ham and coffee. What surprised me most was how quiet and well behaved their children were, compared to all the other American kids we’d met over the years. I kept thinking, the British certainly know how to raise their children properly! I was immensely impressed by their home, their family life and their various hobbies. One hobby was breeding canaries and there seemed to be some singing away in every room. Their son Ian told me all about taking care of them and when I showed a keen interest, Mrs. Mackenzie straight away asked if I would like to have one? I blushed and stammered and sensing my hesitation, she assured me canaries made easy pets. I wasn’t convinced until she ended by saying, “I wouldn’t give you one if I didn’t know it would survive the trip.” David wasn’t too happy about it but Ian rushed around getting a cage, food and writing out instructions. Before I knew it we had a lovely bright yellow canary! They were very nice people with a grand house and wonderful children but it was the canary that would make the day unforgettable. I placed the cage on top of the counter and wedged it so it wouldn’t fall. As we drove off it dawned on me that I’d forgotten to mention we had cats. Oops. As it turned out, the cats were fascinated but left the bird alone and it made it safely back to the apartment. [That canary stayed with me for a year until one day my mother let it out of its cage by mistake and it was mouthed to death by Lena, my collie.]

Next stop Pleasanton Presbyterian Church, Rev. Bob Vogt presiding. First up was a Maundy Thursday prayer service then a concert for a rowdy, happy crowd of over 200 folks. After it was over we all remarked it had to have been the best audience and concert of the tour. It was Good Friday weekend and in keeping with our tradition we went sight seeing. This time, instead of New Orleans, we drove to San Francisco first thing in the morning. We drove over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito in search of the “ahh-tists.” Then lunch at a deli and a visit to Golden Gate Park, ooohhh, ahhhh. Next on the agenda was a drive through the streets of Haight Ashbury and the Hippie hangouts. David remarked sadly that it wasn’t the same as when he lived there during the “summer of love.”

Then up to Telegraph Hill to watch the sunset and on to the wharf, seaside, for oysters and shrimp. Typical tourist traps abounded: wax museums, horror houses, street musicians.” But we weren’t finished yet. Off to Chinatown and the porno district looking for a place to get drinks AND hot fudge sundaes. A couple of places we tried were full of hippies straight out of the 60’s and when we walked into one place a guy asked Stephen if he was a cop! It was interesting to me that the gay crowd blended right in with the straights and there didn’t seem to have to be separate bars like in New York City. Bed at 4am.

Saturday there was a rummage sale right next door so we bought new-old clothes for 25 and 50 cents. That was in our price range! Stephen also gave me my first (and I think my only) tennis lesson at the tennis courts nearby.

We celebrated Easter in San Francisco at Grace Cathedral. Bishop Kilmer Myers gave an excellent sermon for the midnight mass all about an American Indian mystic journey vision and his own visions. Canon West would have been surprised to see the bishop invite everyone to gather cross-legged with him around the altar for the sermon. Then we drove through the ritzy section of San Francisco, walked around Chinatown, and got home about 3 am.

Easter Sunday. The four of us attended 11:00 services at the Presbyterian Church, then sat down to Easter dinner in the library with our canary singing away. Mary had fixed ham, jello salad, potatoes, artichokes, wine and chocolate cake. As we ate, we tried to figure out a good name for our singing canary. I vetoed George, Naomi, Daffodil and Saffron until Stephen hit on the name Harpo. Perfect since Harpo Marx had always been my hero. Supper at Rev. Vogt’s home and then he showed us his impressive bell collection including a Tibetan bell that was 2,000 years old. Thanks, best wishes, packed up and off to Colorado, Harpo singing away as we went.

April 19-20th. It seemed like a long haul through the Rocky Mountains - ten hours of driving a day on our way to Pueblo, Colorado. The trip was awesome, like driving through the Alps, elevations of 11,000 feet. We made it with a little time to spare, but maybe it was too many late nights or else the altitude that left us feeling whipped. Our host was Chauncey Minnick at the Search Center. It was a return engagement (we were there 3 years before) though we heard the usual comments that it sounded just as good if not better with four musicians after we played.

Just as we had the last time around we visited the Order of the Holy Family in Denver. What a transformation! Formerly, they had women, men and married couples in the Order but now it was an all male community. Father Stark explained that they just didn’t have room for women. Also, they had divided the house up for more privacy and used only the basement of the church for “crashers.” They were dressed in tonsures and when Father Stark entered the room, everyone rose showing him respect. They were charitable to us as always, gave us a gift of $100 (Praise God!) and let us do laundry there.

Father Stark explained that their community began in 1969 (about the same time we did) and recently had gone through a loss of nearly all its members (1973) except for Father John and one other brother, as well as having financial problems/lack of support. As Mary and I washed and folded clothes, he explained that everyone left just when they were supposed to take first vows and were in the middle of developing their structure of the Order and a Rule. (Wow, just like us!) Father John was very encouraging saying that just our surviving for six years was a tremendous witness. He gave us a magazine called “New Life” with articles about various old and new orders including Holy Cross and St. Mary’s in Peekskill that he pointed out were less structured than the Trees but yet were recognized in the Church. After his pep talk, I began to have hope that we could make it, even if it was just Mary and I for a time. It buoyed up my spirits! Lunch, showers then we drove off toward Chicago. It rained hard the whole day.

April 23, 24th were traveling days. My entries in the chronicle show a sketch of the bus in Nebraska driving through rain, the bus in Iowa driving through harder rain and the bus in Illinois driving through blowing snow, wind AND rain. One week to go until the end of our tour and our life together.

Friday evening we parked at a rest stop and huddled around our small black and white TV watching an old Bogart movie with rain pouring down outside. Just at the climax of the movie the picture slowly began to fade so David cradled the TV in his arms and he rushed into the restrooms trying to find an electrical outlet. Then he dashed back through the rain to tell us, “Found one! Come on, hurry up!” Barefoot and in p.j.’s we sat outside under the pavilion huddled under a drinking fountain (the only outlet) watching the rest of the movie at 1:30 a.m. Bogart ended up trying to strangle his second wife so he could marry (and later kill) a third but was caught in the end. We must have been a strange sight, the flickering blue glow of the television illuminating our faces huddled under the drinking fountain as a swirling misty light rain drifted in from all sides of the pavilion.

The long haul (and late nights) had worn us out. We reached Chicago a day earlier than planned so we moved into our temporary digs at Seabury Western Seminary for an extra night. Each of us was given our own room (with a roommate) but it still felt luxurious to be in a comfy bed after the damp, cramped quarters on the bus.

April 25, 1976. Gave a 7pm concert at a church (?) in Chicago. It was a bit complicated to prepare for because there was a symphony concert rehearsing until 6pm in the same space so we had to tune up in the basement and we couldn’t set up any tables for a platform. After we played, Father Pitcher invited us back in the summer (we didn’t tell him that might be an impossibility). Brother Paul (from Gethsemani), who was studying in Chicago, dropped in so he took us to a restaurant in Old Town where we caught up on news with each other.

April 26-27th. Monday we had a day off, then a concert at Seabury Western on Tuesday evening in the chapel. A young man named Paul who had been jamming and practicing with David, sat right up front and sang along as we played. Immediately afterward, he asked the Dean of Seabury if he could join us but the Dean persuaded him to finish his studies first, then see if the Lord was still calling him to join The Trees. Drinks, dinner and conversation with Dean O.C. Edwards, bed by midnight. Four more days and counting…

April 28-29th. We had planned to be off by 9:30 but as usual didn’t get moving until 10:30. We made it to 6505 Alden Road, West Bloomfield to my parent’s home by 6pm. I had written a letter AND called earlier in the week to be sure they knew we were coming, but somehow the messages got crossed so my mom acted quite surprised when we showed up. Still, she fixed chicken dinner for us while we relaxed or sat on the patio overlooking Green Lake. Since my folks (the Ruetenik’s) both worked, we had the house to ourselves for the next two days and had lots of time to canoe, lie in the sun, play the piano, read, watch TV, write or take naps.

Shishonee standing with quilt pad at Green Lake

On Thursday we played at my home church, Church of our Savior Presbyterian Church (we’d played there once before) in West Bloomfield, Michigan. Heidi, Ben, Dan, Chris (my family) my brother Chris’s band (Russ Wells and his brother) and Tom Percha (friend) came and raved that we were the best group in America! It was a last minute concert so we didn’t mind that the collection netted us only $40. Reverend Bill Saum helped us pack up then the my parents put on a feast of pot roast, barbequed roast, asparagus, noodles, gravy and salad prepared by my Dad. My mom made cherry pie for desert. At midnight, they hit the sack and we cleaned up the dishes.
I lay that night thinking at least my family and friends got to hear our last concert – maybe the last concert they’d ever hear from the Trees. The tour was coming to an end and it made me very sad. Usually by the end of tour I’d be slogging through the days, wishing it was already over. This time I wanted to slow time down and freeze frame the days before this last journey together was over. It was a long time before I got to sleep that night.

May 1st. We drove directly to Batavia, New York, Mary McCutcheon’s hometown to visit the last set of parents. We stayed over night at the McCutcheon family cottage, Raving Brook located on a river in the woods. It was picturesque but I had the uneasy feeling that it was haunted! Lights flickered bright, then dim, a picture rattled over the piano and a light suddenly caught fire in the bathroom. Frightened, we all walked together in a tight bunch up to the bus and got water and the kerosene lanterns. We slept right next to each other in the house, which made me feel a little better. The next day our fears seemed silly and we had a picnic down by the river, then read books or wrote – laughing at our superstitious fears the previous night. At 1pm we drove to Hobart, College in Geneva, New York, settled in, then played for the morning service. Father McDonald had hoped to have it outside but it rained over night so the ground was too soggy. That evening, we gave our final concert of the tour to a quiet, reserved crowd at the nearby Presbyterian Church.
Finally, the tour was over and as we packed up and drove home to New York City, the mood was somber and I felt nothing but melancholy. This time we would arrive without fanfare and no shimmering sanctus bells. For the first time there would be no May 2nd foundation day festivities, no Canon West to entertain, and no end of the tour celebrations. Mary and I slept while Stephen and David drove us most of the way home. It just seemed terribly sad.