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.

The 2nd New England Tour: Lobsters and Barnwood

Fox Hollow by Shishonee

By the tall pine trees a small group of gypsies sat
Spinning ancient tales on lutes and strings
Ballads, loved and dear
Through the damp August woods
Roved bands of children, flutes in grubby hands
Four fiddlers stood under an evergreen
Lost within their dancing tunes
Bows flashing, feet tapping
Nearby a kilted Irishmen
Strode along playing bagpipes
Puffing ruddy cheeks,
Marching slowly through the woods
Mimicked by little dancers feet
skipping along behind.
A family of artists and musicians
Reaching back into the past
Dulcimers and dancers
Ancient songs and ballads
“Hey, ho me daryoo…”
“Poor Johnny, my love will ne’r come home,
he’s lost to the sea, tis there he must roam…”
memories and melodies, sweet and sad
stirred our hearts
as the stars danced in the eyes
of each lovely lass and lad.

August 8-11, 1974
Our first stop on the New England Tour was the Fox Hollow folk festival. I found it a delightfully laid back folk festival in a beautiful New York countryside setting. I thoroughly enjoyed going to hammered dulcimer workshops and listening to the wide variety of folk music. We dressed in long green robes for our performance, which was scheduled at the very end of the entire festival, in freezing cold, drizzly weather. At the end of our set, a lone bag piper walked out playing Amazing Grace. Soon everyone rose to their feet singing the words as he slowly walked away and disappeared into the misty night. Then we stood - hundreds of us - holding hands, eyes closed, singing round after round of Amazing Grace. Very moving.

New York Times article about the Fox Hollow Folk Festival

August 12, 1974. We performed three concerts at the Paulist Center in Boston, then left everything set up for one final performance and went to tape a radio interview. Unfortunately, when we returned we walked in and immediately noticed that both the sitar and clarinet had been stolen! We stood in stunned amazement, wondering who in the world would steal a sitar? As we pondered what to do next, in walked Melody, who had just arrived by bus. Immediately she took charge of the situation, grabbed a phone book and called the local pawnshops. Sure enough, that’s exactly where they were! Shipen and Melody rushed off to retrieve their instruments and we were able to perform our concert that evening. I was duly impressed by Melody’s acumen.

August 17th. Next stop was St. Martin’s Church in Pawtucket, Rhode Island where we met Aaron Usher. Set up, performed and then enjoyed a potluck dinner (Always my favorite! So many dishes, so little time…)

August 20 and 21st we took two days to cut a sound track and shoot a film for two friends, Hubert and Arkie. First we taped Psalm 42, Psalm 45, Taka and Jesus He Knows and then we filmed the visual portion as we listened to the playback. For one song we played in a beautiful misty meadow, for Taka we walked through woods full of pine trees and then strolled down a country road singing Jesus He Knows. Hubert and Arkie planned to edit the tapes and hopefully the end result was awesome. [Would that I had a copy of those films now! Who in the world were Hubert and Arkie?]

August 22 through 25th we headed back to the rectory of St. Paul's Episcoal Church in Brunswick, Maine to stay with our friend Glen Richards (the lobster dinner man). He had offered to let us park at his home while we fixed up our newly acquired bus. Shipen (or was it Stephen) had the idea to use old barn wood for the interior so they scouted out a run down, abandoned New England barn and got permission to tear off the grayed planks of wood, which they then used to build kitchen cabinets and shelves. They also built couches and beds. Meanwhile David Lynch installed speakers in each corner of the bus for our quadraphonic tape deck. David K created a beautiful ceiling mural with curling vines and grapes which we women helped paint.

It was great to relax in the evenings with Glen, feasting, working and having lively discussions. On the sly over the next few days we prepared an elaborate four-act play for Shipen’s 32nd birthday, which we then celebrated on August 31st.

The skits we put on centered on our hassles in acquiring the bus and featured all the important characters like Canon West, the bishop, Madeline and others. It was hilarious and great fun, as usual!

After the play, we celebrated with mint juleps and another of our Trees traditional "cake failures”, a Huckleberry thin cake and an “icebox” cake. What a blast!

September 5th. After a week finishing bus renovations, we reluctantly said goodbye to Glen Richards and drove across the Canadian border to play at Christ Church Cathedral in Montreal, then on to Ottawa where we played St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church and the Cathedral Christ Church, both excellent concerts.

Then we enjoyed another week off that allowed us time to finish outfitting the interior of the bus, do laundry, take showers, and rehearse. Mary and I sewed and sewed until we finished several colorful quilt covers for the foam pads that doubled as couches. The rich burgundy and dark green earthy hues matched the weathered gray barnwood perfectly.

Meanwhile, Mary and Melody plugged away learning our music and songs, not an easy process in the midst of a tour and the men hammering away at the bus interior! Even so, with the addition of Melody's clarinet, Mary's keyboard parts and their lovely voices, I thought our music was sounding much richer, more like the old symphony sound. Furthermore I was very happy to have women in our family again.

September 11th, we played St. Paul's Roman Catholic Seminary. We met Canon Chelsyn Jones who was visiting from Oxford University. After the concert, he rushed up and immediately invited us to England. He seemed very excited and insisted he would do his utmost to arrange for us to perform there. (Sounded great to me!). We promised to stay in touch and then were off to Toronto. On the way, we finally got our propane tanks hooked up so we could use the stove. Hot food, baked bread, luxury!

Friday the 13th did NOT turn out to be a good day at all! Upon arriving at St. James Cathedral, whoever was driving the bus was backing it up it when all of a sudden I heard a loud CRUNCH! Immediately we came to a jarring stop. We poured out of the bus only to discover that our bus had smashed into a car. Oh oh. Instantly Melody came down with another ulcer attack that lasted all night. Oh boy. Right after it happened, the owner of the car walked up. Remarkably, he was friendly and exchanged information with us. Thank God when we then went into the Cathedral to pick up our mail, lo and behold there was an envelope with our brand new insurance policy, which, Praise God, was in full effect before our mishap. Phew! We called the car owner and gave him all the insurance information.

After checking out the sanctuary and relishing a hot fried chicken dinner, it was time to have a long heart to heart to clear the air. Each of us let out our anger (at smokers and bad drivers), resentment (about ulcer diet restrictions), and the usual frustrations, which helped us all release some pent up emotions.

September 14th. Mary, Patricia and I finally finished another bus quilt and it was beautiful! The interior of the bus was really starting to shape up. We played to a small crowd but, luckily, we’d arranged for a flat fee honorarium this tour (no more passing the plate and ending up with only $5). Now we were getting either $200 or $300 for each performance. Very wise! As we tuned and then started the concert, I kept looking out and hoping to see Sarah Benstein, who had promised to be at the concert. She had taken a Greyhound bus earlier in the day and was going to call St. James upon her arrival. However, she showed up hours late which I found quite disappointing since I had been looking forward to seeing her.

One of the most unusual things about our concerts was how they were complete theatrical events - not your typical sit-down-and-play type performance. For this concert series, we opened up the show with the lights dimmed, candles or lanterns lit and no one on the stage at all - just our exotic instruments spread out on a large, oriental carpet. Shipen would warm things up by giving some history about our journey in Christ and demonstrating the unusual sound of each instrument. Then from far in the back of the room the audience would hear a distant, dischordant Holy...Holy...Holy coming from different corners of the darkened space. Gradually, as we each sang the word Holy on a slightly different note, slowly and eerily, we would move up through the crowded room towards the stage. At the same time, Stephen (or Shipen) would slip on stage and kneeling would call out in an anguished voice from Isaiah 6:5: "Woe is me for I am ruined. I am lost! I am a man of unclean lips and I live amoung a people of unclean lips!...yet mine eyes have seen the king, mine eyes have seen the Lord." Then, as we quickly settled on stage and gathered up our instruments, David K. would continue reading from Isaiah:
"See now, this coal has touched your lips,
your sin is taken away, your iniquity is purged...
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying:
Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?
...and I answered, Here I am, send me. He said,
Go and say to this people, "Hear and hear again,
but do not understand;
see and see again but do not perceive.
Make the heart of this people gross, their ears dull,
shut its eyes so that it will not see with its eyes,
hear with its ears, understand with its heart,
and be converted and healed...
There will be a great emptiness in the country
and though a tenth of the people remain,
it will be stripped like a tree of which, once felled,
only the stock remains....the stock is a holy seed..."

Then after a short silence, we would play Psalm 42. At other times we would move into the audience singing, or pass out instruments and invite them to join in playing with us. The finale was the hymn, Glory be to Jesus where we gradually added a variety of shimmering bells and sanctus bells. As we moved from behind closed doors into the sanctuary, the hymn gathered strength as we invited the audience to join in singing the chorus. At that point, while shaking sanctus bells over the heads of people, Shipen and Stephen would walk across the tops of the pews, stepping between peoples shoulders, bells peeling and then we would all face our colorful banner with a silhouette of Jesus on the Cross with these words on it,

Lift ye then your voices,
swell the mighty flood,
louder still and louder,
praise His precious blood!"
On that night, over 500 parishoners rose to their feet, singing with us and then they exploded in applause, smiling and joyous. It was a joyful noise to the Lord! It was one of our best concerts and as often happened, I felt renewed and totally blessed after the experience.

The next day we had the bus in for repairs caused by the accident. It had been overheating, needed new taillights and there were other minor leaks. In the meantime we women picked out burgundy colored velvet material and sewed curtains for the bus windows. Unfortunately, as so often happened, the bus “repairs” didn’t even last us to our next stop and we had to continue on without rear lights and the bus was still overheating. What was up with that?

September 17th we played at a small church called St. John the Divine - a bit of a flop. The priest couldn’t find the lights or electrical outlets and afterwards our dinner was, once again, another cold meal of greasy Kentucky Fried chicken. Ugh.

September 18, 1974 we took the bus in again to repair the thermostat. Melody coveted the mechanics’ nice red uniforms and we joked around about that while we waited for it to be repaired. We held a discussion about family living and then discussed other minor and major frustrations. Shipen shared how frustrated he felt trying to lead us when we were always complaining and not putting forth enough effort, how difficult it was to hold things together AND deal with the bus constantly breaking down. We talked about problems with several songs and expressed some ideas for changes. Dinner was Kentucky Fried chicken, again! We’d hit the chicken belt!

September 19th we arrived in Oakville and enjoyed a wonderful day off. The next day we played at St. Jude’s Church in Oakville and out in the audience were sisters from the nearby convent where I had gone on retreat back during the Hutterite days. Thankfully, we went back to the old order of songs and it was a much better concert. Afterwards, oh joy, Chinese takeout! What a relief! After visiting briefly with the nuns, we were off to Christ Church Cathedral where we played to a largely Italian crowd at the mass and then gave a concert in the evening. I definitely felt as if we’d hit the mid-tour slump as all of us were fighting colds and exhaustion.

September 23-24th. Played Trinity College in Toronto. The first night went so well after our performance of The Christ Tree that the students spontaneously decided to have a Eucharist afterwards. The second night was equally successful. Just three more weeks until the end of the tour.

September 25, 1974. I woke up full of excitement. We were going to visit the Hutterites! With three days off we planned to surprise our dear friends at the Community Farm of the Brethren. Filled with joyful anticipation we headed toward Bright, Ontario. As we drove, we women folk sewed up our skirts to the proper mid-calf length, tied up our hair under scarves, removed any jewelry and put on sweaters. Then we tidied up the bus, and scrubbed and cleaned until everything was neat as a pin. At 2:30 we drove up the long dirt road to the farm and I eagerly scanned the farm for familiar sites and faces. Ah, there was the old stone house and the row of giant poplar trees. There were the flocks of squawking geese and the egg factory, just as we’d left them!

A bit apprehensive, we emerged from the bus in a tight little group and were greeted by Ann who rushed off to get Brother Alexander. Meanwhile Old Alex walked up and immediately began talking about doctrine and the heresy of various churches. As he continued talking on and on in a stern voice, I felt a bit taken aback and surprised. We’d barely said hello before he was launching into a lecture condemning the Roman Catholics and evangelists like Billy Graham and others. So much for smiles and joyful embraces at our return. What was up with that!
Just then the whistle blew for tea and I recognized many old friends as they spilled out of the noodle factory and other buildings heading for the main dining hall. Feeling self conscious, we entered the dining room with Alex. During tea time, Alex cornered Shipen continuing on with his lecture so the rest of us women sat with Ma Kubassek and Mary who wanted to know all about how Claudia and other former group members were doing, who was married, who had babies, etc. Julius and Old Fred walked over and we enjoyed reminiscing for a bit. We explained we had three days before our next concert and had decided to come visit.

After a little while, I noticed that everyone else in the community was keeping their distance. Was it just my imagination or was something amiss? Many of the Hutterites were acting aloof, and didn’t come over to say hello. I wondered if maybe we weren’t welcome after all. I felt really strange and awkward and after tea, we huddled together in a small knot outside the dining hall as Alex, young Fred and Old Fred and Julius argued in German. It dawned on me that they must be trying to decide what to do with us. Finally, they appeared to reach a consensus. We were given a tour of some new buildings and then invited to dinner. Once again, as I sat eating, it seemed as if people were looking at us but no one walked over. In fact, most everyone avoided us. Even the little children I had so loved and remembered didn’t come by to talk or even say hello. After dinner, Old Fred and Julius approached and informed us with an embarassed expression that they were terribly sorry but we would have to leave because we had caused a disturbance to some of the brethren.

Hurt and disappointed, we stood up, said goodbye to Old Fred and Julius and drove away. As the farm faded from view, everyone in the bus was silent as we each tried to make sense of what had happened. What had become of our dear friends who held such a high place in our memories? What in the world had we done wrong? Why were they so afraid of us? We pulled into a rest stop, gloomy and downcast. That night the bus was oddly silent as we settled in for the night, each wrapped up in our own sad thoughts. I couldn’t help thinking back to our summer working alongside the Hutterites…praying and singing German hymns together in the chapel, scrubbing the dining room floor, taking fruit and vegetables to market, picking cherries out in the orchards, and many long discussions out on the bus with Julius. The hardest part for me was to realize how much that summer had meant in the growth and maturing of our community, yet it appeared it had been one sided. I had been so eager and excited to see my old friends but now it was doubtful we would ever be able to go back. Curled in my sleeping bag I prayed for understanding for the brethren and asked the Lord to touch all of our hearts with his healing love. I felt deeply hurt and sad.

Sept. 26-28th. In contrast, when we arrived in Guelph and explained why we were three days early, they received us with open arms and offered us the parlor and large kitchen to use. Over the next three days we worked on the bus.

The men finished building cabinets and installed a new gas heater to “winterize” the bus. We women sewed and sewed until all the rest of the curtains were hemmed and up. We finished the last of the beautifully patterned quilt covers and embroidered sleeping bag covers to double as bolsters for all the beds.

Saturday we were off to Kitchener market, which for me was a bittersweet trip down memory lane reminding me of past trips with Brother Julius selling Hutterite goods. We enjoyed a lovely dinner with the Canon of St. George’s Church, Canon Smith and his family. The performance on the 29th went very well and then we were off to Hamilton.

Sept. 30-Oct.3rd we played at St. Cuthbert’s Presbyterian Church and then St. George’s Church in St. Catherines, Ontario. Then we headed to St. John’s in Niagara Falls. Tired and still a little depressed, we soldiered on. The concerts all went quite well. The high point of our stay for me was a late night visit to Niagara falls, very impressive! The next day we played tourists and did the usual touristy things at the falls, super!

Oct. 5th was Calvary Church, then Church of the Advent in Kenmore and finally, a delightful visit with another dear old friend, Sister Anna Van Dyck. I was surprised to learn that the organist at Calvary Church was Sister Anna’s son, Peter. It was truly heart warming to see and talk with her again. She remained one of the people who had made a lasting impression on me and I delighted in visiting with her again. I especially enjoyed the tenderness and love that was so much a part of her. She gave me some tapes of her lessons on scripture, which I treasured (and still do).

October 7-9th. Now we approached the dreaded, bone weary end of the tour. I had reached the point where I was very, very tired of the same questions, the same show, the same problems, the same responses, the same faces staring back from the crowd. Each concert ended with, “Where did you get all those looovely instruments and hoooow did you EVER learn to play them all?” Town after town, day after day, setting up and tearing down, and night after night spent stretched out in noisy parish gyms or crowded nurseries with a bed roll crammed between a rows of cribs, the dirt and grit clinging stubbornly to our face and hands wondering when would we ever get another shower? Scrubbing out my underwear and taking bird baths in grimy restroom sinks. The time spinning away behind me left me wishing I was some place in the future, some place with some privacy and time to be alone. Over and over I put on a smile and shook hand after hand, when really all I wanted was a warm, home cooked meal and my own soft, comfortable bed to snuggle into. Driving through the countryside, watching the old homesteads huddled under dying elms, empty and frightened and the trees stretching tall and gray like scarecrows covering the plains…sitting exhausted, I’d long for sleep. Night after night pulling together my waning energy, I’d focus my eyes on the motionless, stern faced crowd waiting to be entertained and throw myself into the void, trying to get through to the other side, wishing it would just be over again, struggling to break through to the cold, frozen faced masks, to touch people's hearts. Forcing myself to give and give, to smile, to be cordial and wondering if anyone had a clue what I was really feeling. Sometimes I’d wake up from a dream and with a dull ache I’d realize it was time to start all over again. Five years seemed like an incredibly long time. Come on now, just seven more days. You can make it. Just seven more days and then a three-week vacation…

October 7th we played at Nichols Girls School and the worst thing that happened was that our cat Shimshi decided to take off. As usual we searched everywhere and couldn’t find her. I had to put the loss out of my mind, play the concert, and then rush over to play at a high school, then drive back to park in the same parking lot, hoping Shimmie might find her way back. No such luck. We hunted through nearby bushes and hedges, around buildings, calling and calling for her. She was long gone. I fell asleep praying to the Lord to help her find her way home.

October 8th – After staying up all night, David Lynch finished his financial statement of how all our money was spent on the tour. We drove to the Salvation Army on Main Street in downtown Buffalo, New York. There we played a great concert for a group of senior citizens and blind folks. As often as not, we invited guests for lunch or dinner on the bus, which we did again in Buffalo. One of the beds converted into a table for meals, making a quaint setting with barn wood and kerosene lamps.

Lunch guests on the bus

After eating, Mary, Stephen and I again went in search of Shimshi, looking throughout the area where she’d last been seen. Still no luck. We returned again to the exact location where we had parked when she had first disappeared, hoping Shimshi might find her way back home to the bus. I prayed and prayed that somehow she’d return. Please Lord.

October 9th. In the morning we walked over to visit Sister Anna Van Dyck in the Wheelchair Home. She read us some of her poetry about the Garden and how we would find our true Love (Jesus) there. I listened enthralled, soaking in every nuance, totally entranced with every word but when I glanced over at David Lynch his head was nodding onto his chest and he just seemed to be fighting off sleep. And I want to marry this guy? Anna once again prayed for an entourage of angels to guard and protect our bus (as she had with our first bus) and then after prayers we left. I was deeply touched by our visit and pretty annoyed with David.

October 10, 1974. When I woke up the next morning I heard a forlorned mewing outside the bus. Could it be? Peering outside the window I saw a black shape huddled by the front wheel. Shimshi! Hurrah! Praise God! Somehow she had found her way home and when I opened the door she zipped back onto the bus. Oh happy day! Since we were leaving, I was greatly relieved. Finally!

We drove to Calvary Church where we stayed overnight. We all had showers, yeah, and I washed and folded six loads of laundry, ugh. Father Kreider was a warm and gracious host! Then Shipen did a strange thing. He went out and had his beard and hair cut off at a nearby hairdressers. What was that all about?

Outside Calvary Church

We slept at Calvary Church and left with a parting gift of two jugs of cider. Our final stop was in Cazenovia, New York where we played at the Province II Diocesan Youth Retreat. We gave some workshops and then did a final concert of The Christ Tree on Saturday night. Many of the people had seen us at the Finger Lakes conference so the hall was packed. It was a wonderful grand finale to the tour and I was touched by the warm reception and response. The chance chord at the end (a sort of singing in tongues with the audience) went on spontaneously with everyone joining in for a full five minutes. After some workshops the next day the tour was finally over. Halleluiah!

I took the opportunity to relax on a bench overlooking the water. It was a stunning view and I sat thinking about how wonderful it was to be starting a vacation but also how sad it would be to have David Karasek leaving for good.

Driving the last miles home, it hit me how much I would miss David K's quiet ways - all the goofy, annoying but wonderful things that made him so much like a brother to me. Since the beginning, there had always been the five of us: Shipen, David Lynch, David Karasek, Stephen and I. Others came and went but the five of us had always been the stable core of our community. I would dearly miss him.